It is a great honour to be leading the second biggest EU Delegation in the world, in a country that has embarked on an epic journey to join the European Union. Serbia is of pivotal importance to the European Union, which is committed to taking forward its enlargement to include all countries of the Western Balkans. This is essential for achieving prosperity, security and stability, as well as regional co-operation and reconciliation, across the region.
In that context, it is crucial to continue the progress which Serbia and the Serbian government have made in so many areas over the last few years. It is equally important to continue to pursue substantive improvements in Serbia’s relations with its neighbours. Here, we can single out the Dialogue with Kosovo*, which opened the door to reaching an historic agreement on 19 April 2013.
EU’s top diplomats have hosted numerous meetings between the two Prime Ministers, resulting in landmark agreements which are in the process of implementation. Engagement of the Government of Serbia in their implementation is of the utmost importance and significance.
This progress, taken together with Serbia’s continuing strong focus on maintaining the momentum of domestic reforms, has transformed prospects for Serbia’s accession path. The European Council recognised this on 28th June 2013, in deciding to open accession negotiations with Serbia. The first Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels formally launched the negotiations on Serbia’s accession on 21 January 2014.
The EU Delegation works in close co-operation with the Serbian Government in screening the negotiating chapters and preparing for the opening of negotiating chapters. The Delegation also works with the Serbian Government on the delivery of extensive programmes in support of Serbia’s accession priorities, notably in implementing economic and structural reforms, as well as strategies for the judiciary, fighting corruption, modernising public administration and tackling discrimination. I am confident that the successful completion of negotiations and modernisation of Serbia, which the EU has been supporting through sizeable technical assistance to the country and its people, will lead Serbia to full membership in the EU.
I take pride in the fact that the EU responded immediately and comprehensively to the floods that hit Serbia and neighbouring countries in May 2014. Since then we have cooperated closely with the Serbian authorities on the reconstruction works and support for citizens in flooded areas. Already in July 2014, €30 million in grants from EU’s IPA funds were allocated for the reconstruction of schools, kindergartens, construction of roads, as well as livestock restoration and assistance to local businesses. Serbia will obtain additional funds from the EU Solidarity Fund. The European Commission has proposed aid of €60.2m to Serbia from the Fund, yet to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council. When applying for the Solidarity Fund, Serbia was already treated as an EU Member State.
The accession negotiations with Serbia offer new opportunities for the Serbian citizens to learn more about the EU, its values, history, organisation, policies, practices and benefits. The confirmation of the new EU leadership and commissioners following May 2014 elections to the European Parliament is an excellent opportunity to get to know the EU.
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