How are the various strategies and funds of the European Union intended for connection, transport and energy implemented in Serbia? What do these investments mean for the Western Balkans, and what is their potential for economic development? The world was the topic of the third debate within the EU Talks 2.0 series.

The European Union supports connections within Serbia, as well as countries with the region and member states, according to the head of the cooperation department of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Ingve Engstrom. Through the Western Balkans Investment Framework, over 2.5 billion euros have been invested, mainly in transport and energy projects.

“This has led to the transfer of knowledge and the establishment of common high standards to achieve harmonisation of procedures, modernisation of railways and ensure road safety. The connection also refers to the connection in people’s daily lives, and other programs such as Erasmus in the field of education, or Horizon 2020 in the field of science and research should be highlighted, “Engstrom explained and announced the start of a new campaign to highlight the results of EU action. Serbia in the field of connections.

The General Secretariat of the Transport Community is the first EU institution based in Belgrade, opened last September and shows the EU’s ambitions to help connect the region. Director Matej Zakonjšek says that one of the highest priorities of this institution’s activities is the improvement of the railway system.

“It is necessary to recover the existing and build new lines. The railway is one of the greenest modes of transport, and that is why it is essential. The transport community is also focused on road safety. The number of victims is much higher than in the EU, and we want that to change so that there are no casualties. Facilitating transport and crossing the border is also at the top of our priorities. The waiting time at the borders is too long. And finally – the road network itself – roads that are resistant to climatic situations. I also include waterways, which in Serbia primarily imply the navigability of the Danube and the Sava, “Zakonjšek pointed out.

The importance of connecting neighbouring markets, industrial centres and river and seaports was especially emphasised by Zvonko Tufegdzic, director of the Regional Chamber of Commerce for the Moravica and Raska administrative districts.

“Renovation of the railway lines to Shkodra and Athens would revive not only Kraljevo but all five districts that gravitate towards this junction. The economic-investment plan envisages the renewal of the railway that would connect Belgrade and Pristina, and that would revive the railway junction in Kraljevo. The benefits are great for us, but also the EU. The most significant benefit will be for the metal and car industry, whose products and raw materials are large, but tourism and ordinary citizens will also benefit greatly, “Tufegdzic emphasised.

When we talk about energy, the need for decarbonisation and efficiency is emphasised, but also the financial challenges of that process. Aleksandar Kovacevic, a senior visiting associate at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, stressed that new taxes and duties would be introduced in the EU to support green policies. As an example, he cited the tax on carbon dioxide emissions, i.e. on products from countries that have a high level of CO2 emissions.

“It is very significant for Serbia because we are economically connected to the EU, and we also emit carbon dioxide in large quantities.” “Urgent decarbonisation is necessary,” Kovacevic added.

Gligo Vukovic, the project manager for energy in the EU Delegation, agrees with him.

“In the past, the focus was on the revitalisation of existing plants and sustainability, i.e. supply stability. However, the focus now is on energy efficiency and renewables, and that is part of the process of decarbonising Serbia. It must be gradual, but it is also inevitable. Connection projects serve for the green transition, connectivity in the region and competitiveness. “There will be investments in wind generators in Vojvodina, and these projects will enable energy to be transferred from that region to other regions,” Vukovic explained.

The debate was organised by the European Movement in Serbia (EMinS) with the support of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia within the series “European Talks 2.0” with experts in various fields were organised to bring the citizens closer to the topics related to the relations between the EU and Serbia and European integration.