With more than EUR3 billion in non-refundable aid over the past 15 years, the European Union is the biggest donor in Serbia and the country’s number one partner in supporting development and ongoing reforms. In 2016, the European Union and Serbia celebrate the 15th anniversary of development aid under the slogan “15 Years of Partnership.“ The long-standing financial assistance has been spent on programmes and projects which fostered development and concrete reforms, thus contributing to the well-being of citizens in many areas.
The history of the partnership dates back to March 2001 through CARDS or Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation Programme. In 2006, the CARDS Programme was replaced by the Instrument for Pre-accession (IPA) which ran until 2013. The IPA was followed by the IPA II which will bring Serbia EUR1.5 billion in grants in the period from 2014-2020 (some EUR200 million per year). The IPA II Programme is focused on the key areas which should facilitate Serbia’s preparation for its membership in the European Union.
Every year, Serbia and the EU sign the IPA financial agreement for projects whose implementation is planned in the coming period. A total sum of 2015 IPA financial package amounts to EUR196.6 million; the first financial agreement approving EUR39.7 million was signed on 12 July 2016 by the representatives of Serbian Government and European Commission Directorate General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. The funding is earmarked for projects in the area of justice and internal affairs, as well as projects contributing to negotiating process and alignment with EU justice. The programme will, inter alia, finance capacity strengthening in the following areas: combating organised crime, money laundering and terrorism; strengthening of the internal control within the Ministry of Interior; setting up of an efficient emergency response system; implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and improving the efficiency of public prosecutor’s office.
The European Union is by far the biggest donor of non-refundable assistance to Serbia. Also, Serbia is the largest recipient of EU donations in the Western Balkans and one of the largest in the world. Currently, there are some 600 EU projects being implemented in close cooperation with Serbian authorities, businesses and civil society organisations. 2014 introduced a novelty in fund management, putting Serbia, and not the Delegation of the European Union, largely in charge of the management of funds: in March 2014, Serbian administration was accredited by the European Commission to manage the EU projects approved annually in order to prepare Serbia for membership and management of future EU funds. The EU Delegation to Serbia oversees the implementation of these projects.
The European Union is traditionally Serbia’s key trading partner, accounting for nearly two thirds of Serbian overall foreign trade. Also, two thirds of all foreign investments come from the EU. Serbia is also the main beneficiary of the European Investment Bank loans, with EUR4.6 billion approved in the past 15 years. Finally, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is an important investor in Serbia: since 2009, it has invested EUR3.5 billion, mainly in infrastructure and development of financial institutions.
WHAT AREAS HAVE IMPROVED NOTABLY SINCE THE INCEPTION OF SERBIA’S OFFICIAL RELATIONS WITH THE EU
- – Visa free travel to the EU introduced in December 2009.
- – Benefits for workers, consumers, businesses derived from trade and investment.
- – Since 2000, €3 billion in free assistance for comprehensive modernisation of Serbia and preparations for joining the EU
- – Study opportunities in the EU and EU-funded exchange programmes for university staff and students: 3.257 scholarships granted so far.
- – A number of projects have been carried out in the education sector including the reform of vocational and education curricula, introduction of adult education as well as social inclusion in schools. The EU has helped to reconstruct and refurbish 27 faculties in Serbia including the Rectorate of the University of Belgrade, the Belgrade Botanical Garden, as well as a new building for the Faculty of Sciences in Novi Sad.
- – The EU has equipped hospitals, laboratories, institutes of public health and blood transfusion centres and provided 252 emergency medical vehicles for health centres around Serbia.
- – The EU has assisted the reconstruction of the Sloboda, Gazela and Zezelj bridges, as well as roads, and the construction of Corridor 10.
- – Over 1,500 new apartments and houses for Serbian refugees and internally displaced people built.
- – EU funds have helped to protect Serbia's environment: waste water treatment plant in Subotica has been reconstructed; many illegal landfills have been closed down as EU funds had helped the construction of modern waste treatment systems such as in Uzice, Sremska Mitrovica, Pozarevac and elsewhere. Citizens of Obrenovac and Belgrade enjoy cleaner air due to EU-funded ash-filters installed in thermal power plant Nikola Tesla.
- – Over 800 EU funded cross-border projects have engaged border communities and facilitated regional cooperation and reconciliation.
- – The EU supports Serbian private sector and innovative companies. Over the last five years, the EU has helped to establish the Innovation Fund in Serbia and funded over 50 innovative projects, which have improved the competitiveness of Serbian SMEs and helped to create some 300 high-end jobs.
- – The EU has helped to establish a consumer protection system by financing EU projects and helping to draft and implement the core laws on consumer protection adopted in 2010 and 2014.
- – The EU has helped to establish a National Cancer Screening Programme in the Republic of Serbia.
- – The institutions of the Ombudsman (citizen’s defender) and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection were established in 2007 with strong support of the EU.
- – EU has assisted in establishing the Agency for Fight against Corruption; support continues ever since.