Information News

European integration is the encounter of the political will of two parties

26. December 2017. | Belgrade

European integration is the encounter of the political will of two parties

Photo: Nemanja Jovanovic

 

In the previous years, Serbia managed to withdraw funds from different EU instruments, such as the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II), Western Balkans Investment Framework, EU Solidarity Fund, MADAD Fund and others, Jadranka Joksimović, Minister of European Integration in the Government of the Republic of Serbia reminds in the interview for The Serbian Economy and adds that also the effects of the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are known and positive for our economy and that the EU is the most important foreign trade partner of Serbia with a 64.4 % share in the total exchange.

If we take into consideration institutional and financial performances of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia at the moment when they became the members of the European Union, is it really necessary that Serbia at the earliest opportunity becomes part of the European market, regardless of the level of readiness and its factual competitiveness?

We had the chance to hear that the European Union political vision of the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, apart from the comprehensive Union reform, includes Serbia as well. It is a leadership statement which observes reform efforts and recognizes Serbia’s capacities, both now as the candidate and tomorrow as the EU member state. Talking about the market, let me remind you that Serbia is indeed already part of the European market to a great extent. Upon entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) or, more precisely, upon the expiry of the interim deadlines provided for in the Interim Agreement with the SAA, a free trade area between Serbia and the EU was established. The effects of the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are known and they are positive for our economy. Today, we can say that the Union is the most important foreign trade partner of Serbia with a 64.4% share in the total exchange. This is about six times more than the second-ranked on the list, which is our nearest neighbourhood, and that is the CEFTA region. Serbia has significantly increased export to the European market. At the beginning of the implementation of the Agreement in 2008 we exported approximately four billion euros and at the end of 2016 almost 10 billion. The trade deficit has been reduced and at the end of 2016 the coverage of export by import was 80.9%. As a reminder, when Serbia started the implementation of the Agreement in 2009 it was at the level of 44.4%.

Indirect effects of the SAA implementation
The most significant indirect positive effects of the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement can imply the growth of investments originating from the EU, which affected an increase of new jobs. It is enough to say that on average 75% of investments annually originate from the EU member states in which proportionately the greatest number of new jobs was created.

To what extent are state institutions and the civil sector aware of the method of use of European funds and what is the percentage of use of these funds intended for Serbia in the last year?

Whereas we have been using IPA funds since 2007, on average 200 million euros annually in grants, the question is how it is possible that in 2014, when I became the Minister and National IPA Coordinator, only a small percentage of citizens, and even institutions, knew about IPA funds and how to apply for them. It is a question for some other people. I proudly say that, as much as we deal with negotiations in the Ministry, to the same extent we also deal with IPA funds and programming, coordination and monitoring IPA, as well as other bilateral development funds which are at the disposal of Serbia as a candidate country. This is the reason why two of four existing sectors in MEI are dedicated to IPA and development assistance, but also to cooperation with organizations on the local and regional level, cross-border cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia, transnational programmes and macro-European strategies (Danube and Adriatic-Ionian). Now, the percentage of citizens recognizing that the EU is the greatest bilateral donor of Serbia is significantly higher, as well as the awareness that these funds are at our disposal. We continuously work on raising the capacity of state authorities and civil society organisations so as to ensure a high rate of use of these funds and the awareness of the importance of EU support for the success or reform processes conducted by the Government of Serbia and the success of the regional development policy.

How much is this important for the negotiations on chapters?

It is particularly important in the context of negotiations under chapter 22, which deals with the regional development and the preparation for much larger cohesion funds when we become the EU member state. MEI is in charge for the negotiations under chapter 22. Therefore we have recognized the importance of regional development agencies (RDAs) and this year, in cooperation with the Serbian Association of Regional Development Agencies (SARDA), we organised trainings on the use of EU development funds in the post-accession period so that we could enable these institutions to help local self-governments in the preparation therefore. Talking about the use of the EU funds, it is important to emphasize that in the previous years we managed to withdraw funds from different EU instruments, such as the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II), Western Balkans Investment Framework, EU Solidarity Fund, MADAD Fund and other. As regards contracting, let me remind you that in March 2014 the European Commission has for the first time entrusted the institutions of the Republic of Serbia with the responsibility to manage EU funds. Until the expiry of the deadline for contracting the approved funds from IPA 2013 Programme (6 June 2017), the rate of contracting amounted as high as 94% which is a rarely good result when compared to other pre-accession assistance beneficiaries. To avoid confusion as to why we are talking about 2013 at this point of time - the principle of IPA funds is such that from the moment of programming you have three years to contract and another three to realize the project, and this is why we are now starting with the implementation of some projects from the previous years.

Is the education system in Serbia adapted to the needs of the European market?

Our education system, as anywhere in Europe and throughout the world, adapts to the needs of the time and technological innovations. In this sense, today’s programmes are much more modern compared to earlier generations. With the knowledge acquired in Serbia, our pupils and students are competitive on the European market and their level of knowledge is often higher and wider from the knowledge that can be acquired abroad. However, in order to achieve complete alignment with the EU it is necessary to align the system of acquiring professional qualifications with the one recognized throughout the EU. In this way, the qualifications acquired in Serbia will be automatically recognized in the Union. In the field of education, which is treated within the negotiation chapter 26, the European Commission has estimated that the Republic of Serbia reached a good level of compliance and that it met the benchmarks required for the provisional closure of this chapter. At the same time, the European legislation contains a set of regulations defining minimum requirements regarding the duration and the type of education and professional experience for certain groups of professions. This issue is treated within chapter 3 - right of establishment and freedom to provide services and represents a segment in which the Republic of Serbia has to conduct important reforms aiming at the adjustment of the Serbian education system to these requirements in order that professional qualifications acquired during education could be recognized in the EU and in order to enable practicing a specific profession in member states after acquiring education in Serbia.

How do you estimate activities of the states in the region within the Berlin process and will the establishment of the Transport Community be substantially used for economic improvement, or will it be yet another political declaration without effects? Is the infrastructural connection of the region a significant factor of these states on the road to the EU?

The Berlin process was initiated in 2014 by the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Angela Merkel, and supported by certain EU states with a process of rotating presidency. The aim and the idea were to initiate better political cooperation in the region by infrastructural, transport, energy and environmental connections. I emphasize that the Berlin process is not and must not be a substitute for the full process of European integration, and we have received assurances in this sense. Still, we should not forget that this part of Europe is very close to the centre of the European Transport Network, leaning on it, so that the interest of the EU countries is all too high, and this is precisely the reason why a good part of the envisaged projects will be partly financed from regional multi-beneficiary funds - WBIF (Western Balkan Investment Framework), but also from national IPA funds, favourable loans of the European Investment Bank, EBRD, etc. Investing in infrastructure projects is never a waste of money, it is cost-effective in the long run and ultimately raises the quality of citizens’ life. Serbia has, with the consent of all in the region and the EU, got the seat of the Transport Community because our offer was realistically speaking the best one. I believe that, with the announced possibility from the EU that candidate countries will also gain access to the funds of CEF (Connective Europe Facility), this will be our additional chance to strengthen connections in the region, but primarily to raise our own capacities.

Jadranka Joksimovic
Photo: Nemanja Jovanovic

Is the economic sector of Serbia ready to meet high criteria of European consumers and to what extent are Serbian products competitive on the European market?

The economic sector in Serbia is ready to meet the criteria of European consumers, to a great extent. In Serbia, there is a stable and operational system of quality infrastructure enabling, both a domestic and a European consumer, the access to safe and quality products which are mostly harmonized with the prescribed requirements of the EU, standards and other technical specifications. This means that a product, with the support of the national system of quality infrastructure, is designed, produced, previously checked and that its conformity has been verified. Domestic producers are in a significantly facilitated position because, in addition to the fact that while exporting to the EU market they can directly apply requirements of European regulations and standards, these very regulations and standards are valid for the domestic market too and are available in Serbian language. In this way, the alignment of technical legislation and standards enables Serbian producers to place products on the domestic and European market under the same conditions and thereby improve their competitiveness. Quality infrastructure on which the competitiveness of Serbian producers depends is addressed within chapter 1 regarding free movement of goods. With the aim of opening this chapter, Serbia should meet two benchmarks regarding the harmonized and non-harmonized areas. It is important to mention that the process of the adoption of a new law on the technical requirements for products and conformity assessment is ongoing, its adoption was planned by the end of 2017 and the adoption of by-laws until the end of 2018. Technical regulations which will be adopted on the basis of this law prescribe the placement of the Serbian conformity mark, whereby the transitional provision prescribes that the CE mark shall be applied as the conformity mark from the moment of Serbia’s accession to the EU, or if Serbia signs an Agreement with the EU on conformity assessment and the acceptance of industrial products (ACAA). The CE mark is guarantee that the product is aligned with all important requirements of European Directives of the new approach applying to it and that the conformity assessment has been performed demonstrating the fulfilment of key requirements.

Rules for performing specific professions
One of the most important steps will be the adoption of the law on regulated professions defining detailed rules for performing specific professions. The ultimate result of these reforms would be easier access of our professionals to the European labour market. Also, in the field of qualifications, one of the significant reforms is the adoption of the Law on the National Framework of Qualifications providing for the legal basis for connecting the Serbian National Framework of Qualifications with the European Framework of Qualifications. As the European Framework of Qualifications defines skills which one will have at the end of the process of education and enables easier connection of qualifications in different countries and on different labour markets, connecting the Serbian Framework of Qualifications with it would be one step more in facilitating the access of workers to the European market after acquiring education in Serbia.

 

If we compare the states of the region with the members of the Višegrad group, can citizens in the region expect such a fast economic dynamics after EU accession?

Citizens can expect that we will have at our disposal much more instruments for the development of the country. Comparative experiences show that the economic dynamics and growth speed up with the accession to the EU. On average, it is approximately one percentage point on the base growth of GDP during the years after the accession. Therefore the EU membership represents an added value both in the economic and in the political sense. However, grants mean nothing if you do not have prepared projects and if you are not capable of absorbing development funds. It is even more important on which sectors you spend development assistance. In other words, funds invested in strengthening the competitiveness of the economy and direct payments in some other sectors do not have the same effect on economy.  Short-term effects of direct payments are positive but investments in competitiveness ensure real, long-term progress. It is evident that in this case it is necessary to opt between social and economic policy. It is a political decision and all its good or bad effects cannot be assigned to Brussels nor can we copy the Višegrad context from 2004. It is a political decision in real time and real circumstances.

On the basis of your experience, what is it that generates European integration of Serbia, are those political decisions and doing or economic potential?

If we are talking about criteria, the so-called Copenhagen criteria are well-known - rule of law, economic criteria, good governance and they are covered by negotiations within all 35 chapters. However, European integration is primarily an encounter of the political will of two parties - EU i.e. all member states, and the state as the initiator of the process. Hence, they undoubtedly have a political nature. Therefore, this process is not immune to changes in international relations, changes within the EU, within member states, etc. The keyword is the process, and this process inherently has its ups and downs, speeding up and slowing down. I think that Serbia has strategically very well established European integration as an inside instrument of development, which should bring us to membership - to a more regulated, politically and security-wise more stable and wealthy state and its citizens.

What is the greatest barrier of Serbia on its path to the EU?

I think that the previous answer clearly suggests that if the political will for enlargement disappears in the EU, if weaknesses and implosive policies prevail, these will bring about the loss of motivation with candidate countries, including us. I know it is popular to say that it is important that citizens are satisfied, that membership is not that important, but I believe, as Minister of European Integration, that membership and clear perspective are all too important, because then you have a more stable framework for the success of all reforms and the progress that you initiated. With all problems and internal questioning, the EU is still the best place for life and work, it is a project of peace and progress of European states. I am not sure whether those who forgot this, and there is also a lot of Euroscepticism in the EU states, would easily accept the loss of all benefits from the single internal market, Schengen, more affluent everyday life, greater security of life, prosperity and stability. This is why it is important that both the EU and us show credibility and commitment in the process, but mutual trust as well.

Source: Serbian Economy