Opening 700 new jobs and 96 enterprises, contribution to investments in economic and social projects worth over ten million Euros to date, and promotion of social inclusion through improving the social and economic status of more than 9,000 people from the vulnerable groups, are just some of the results achieved by a three-year European PROGRES development programme implemented in cooperation with 34 local self-governments from the South East and South West of Serbia with the financial support of the European Union (EU) and the Governments of Switzerland and Serbia.
“The partnership between Serbia and the EU is much more than a political process of accession, opening and closing negotiating chapters, as it is usually perceived. It is much deeper and strong cooperation through which the EU provides support to overall social, economic and political development of Serbia”, the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić has said on the occasion of marking the completion of this development programme. She used the opportunity to thank the EU and Swiss taxpayers who allocated funds to implement projects in 34 local self-governments in Serbia.
The Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has assessed that there are already visible positive effects of more than 250 projects implemented in the domain of local governance, infrastructure, competitiveness and social inclusion, underling that out of 96 newly registered enterprises, majority is owned by women and youth who find it more difficult to get a job, while a number of existing enterprises, with the Programme support, increased exports.
“We have demonstrated that our local self-governments have capacity and knowledge to use the funds coming from the EU and, what is most important, the money invested has remained in Serbia for the benefit of the citizens and their better lives. I reckon that we have shown both responsibility and readiness to learn and together with the ministries, the EU Delegation, the Government of Switzerland and UNOPS have achieved a good result, while in the future we will be ready to absorb even more funds," Minister Joksimović said.
The progress that 31 of 34 programme municipalities achieved in the field of competitiveness, particularly in the fields on which the donors’ support was extended through European PROGRES, i.e. in financial management, technical and planning documentation development, issuing construction e-permits and the provision of municipal services to both citizen and business sector, was qualified as especially important.
„Strengthened capacities of municipalities to prepare and implement projects is important in the context of available EU funds, but also along Serbia’s path towards the European Union, since local self-governments will implement 70 percent of the EU acquis”, Head of the European Union Delegation to Serbia, Ambassador Sem Fabrizi said.
Ambassador Fabrizi pointed out that over the past 15 years the EU has supported more than 900 projects with a view to improving the living conditions in the South West and South West Serbia, and reminded that the EU is already main trade partner, the largest donor and investor in Serbia. European PROGRES, as he said, was an important programme since it directly contributed to the improvement of people's lives.
"The EU remains committed to supporting local development, and the new programme, EU PRO, which begins in March, will include 99 local self-governments and focus on the economic development," Fabrizi said.
The Ambassador of Switzerland to Serbia, Philippe Guex underlined that trough European PROGRES 273,000 citizens directly benefited, while indirectly, the programme covered the territory of population of one million citizens.
"The purpose of European PROGRES was to facilitate a genuine societal change, meaning better governed, better regulated, more equal and more inclusive local communities“, Ambassador Guex said and added that, through the Programme, Switzerland transferred to the municipalities in Serbia its expertise and experience of good governance in a manner tailored to the local context.
"The main reasons behind success of European PROGRES lie in the commitment and efforts invested by the local self-governments, civil society, private sector and Serbian citizens themselves”, said the Swiss Ambassador.
As Ambassador Guex said the Swiss Government would continue to enhancement of local governance in 99 municipalities through a new programme, Swiss PRO, worth over 6 million Euros.
Graeme Tyndall Manager of the United Nations Project Services (UNOPS) in Serbia, Operations Centre Manage, which implemented European PROGRES, said that the results of the projects are tangible and visible starting from the procurement of equipment for 93 new entrepreneurs, support to existing enterprises to improve production, to implementation of concrete measures to improve social inclusion of over 9,000 people from the vulnerable groups, including 3,600 Roma. Twenty construction projects, worth over 2.6 million Euros, have significantly contributed to improving the quality of life in the south of the country through the construction and reconstruction of education, social and health institutions, as well as improving municipal infrastructure.
The Programme assistance to the preparation of technical and planning documentation has already given measurable results – seven of the 40 main designs prepared received the funds in the amount of 3.3 million Euros for the project implementation, while 36 detailed regulation plans have so far facilitated investments of 6.5 million Euros.
“We believe that European PROGRES and predecessor programmes, funded by the EU and the Swiss Government, laid foundation for new investments and development projects that, if implemented, can really help the South East and South West to catch up with more developed parts of Serbia”, concluded Graeme Tyndall.
In order to achieve that, as Tindall underlined, municipalities need to invest significant efforts in planning and preparation of projects and persistently work on development, while politics should serve development and not vice versa, as sometimes is the case.
The project of the anti-erosion protection of the Raška River basin implemented in Novi Pazar was presented as a good practice example, which, according to the Mayor, Nihat Biševac, contributed to better protection of the population and their property from the floods.
"The project, supported by the EU and the Government of Switzerland with 650,000 Euros, included the construction of 13 anti-erosion barriers on ten tributaries of the Raška River and afforestation of more than 200 hectares of land, and proved to be effective during the floods in 2014 and 2016, when it prevented flooding and damage to the population and buildings along the river", the Mayor of Novi Pazar said.
The Mayor of Vranje, Slobodan Milenković presented the project related to the infrastructure equipment of the Free Zone "Bunuševac" thus emphasising the importance of long-term and timely planning for economic development, attracting investments and new jobs.
"The technical and planning documentation created conditions for large investments, while with further improvement, construction of water supply and sewage networks, and access roads, we are ready for new investors," said the mayor of Vranje.