Newsletter 11/2011 - Our South East Europe
Cross-border cooperation programmes, strategic interest for South East Europe
Recovering from global economic crisis and returning to sustainable development and growth is a challenging task for countries in South East Europe (SEE), especially given the necessity for numerous reforms and adjustments in their societies with the European Union (EU) standards.
These demanding tasks require use of all assets and resources available.
“The countries in South East Europe have not been left alone in taking on this challenge”, says Gerhard Schumann-Hitzler, Director for Financial Instruments & Regional Programmes at Directorate General for Enlargement of the European Commission.
“The European Union is providing substantial financial and technical assistance to the countries making these reform efforts, in particular through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA).”
The IPA instrument is designed to address the needs of the beneficiary countries within the context of pre-accession policy in the most appropriate way. Its main aim is to support institution-building and the rule of law, human rights, including the fundamental freedoms, minority rights, gender equality and non-discrimination, both administrative and economic reforms, economic and social development, reconciliation and reconstruction, and regional and cross-border cooperation.
Schumann-Hitzler stresses as equally important the fact that the countries in the region can help each other by combining their efforts, finding common solutions and opening up their markets to unleash growth potential.
“Initiatives like the Danube Strategy and innovative mechanisms such as the Western Balkan Investment Framework (WBIF) provide a favourable environment for concrete and pragmatic cross-border and regional cooperation.”
“Multi-beneficiary programmes inter alia promote private sector development, competitiveness and innovation, energy efficiency, education, training, and support public administration and civil society”, explains Schumann-Hitzler.
Hrvoje Dolenec, State Secretary from Central Office for Development Strategy and Coordination of EU Funds from Croatia, adds that the most practical way of cooperation in South East Europe is to share the benefits of allocated EU funds and projects financed by them.
“Although every country in the region can use the benefits of larger national allocations, there is a lot of room for projects that exceed national borders. We can speak about different cross-border, transnational or multi-beneficiary programmes. I would particularly stress the multi-beneficiary programmes as an instrument where cooperation is vastly appreciated due to the fact that it improves our contacts and cooperation with colleagues from the region.”
Dolenec adds that Croatia welcomes the steps made by the European Commission over the last few years to help the region achieve political stability and economic prosperity, with a view of future EU accession of the beneficiary countries. He adds, however, that there is still a lot of room for improvement in the overall management of the programmes.
“An example of a successful project under the Multi-beneficiary IPA programme is the Western Balkans Investment Framework, as a facility for project preparation. The interest for use of this facility in social sector or in the sector of energy is very high since at the moment there are no other opportunities to access EU funds in social or energy infrastructure investments, especially for the expensive and important first step in project preparation. Additionally, as a country with the status of an EU candidate, Croatia has access only to sectors which are not eligible under the national IPA components.”
Nevenka Savic, Director of the Directorate for European Integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers, stresses the importance of projects that are of common interest for the IPA beneficiary countries, such as police and judiciary cooperation, fight against organised crime and corruption, protection of witnesses, etc.
“Cooperation of countries from the region is much more than an obligation for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a strategic interest of the country.”
According to Savic, the Regional School for Public Administration (ReSPA) that was formally launched in September 2010 with offices and training facilities in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, is an example of regional cooperation projects that should be mentioned in this context.
“Specific importance of involvement of the countries from the region in cross-border cooperation projects lies in the fact that it represents preparation for future use of the EU structural funds, given the similarity of the implementation rules.”
“Regional cooperation is a very effective mean to build up the necessary political and administrative capacities and to use financial assistance from the EU and other donors in the most efficient way”, concludes Schumann-Hitzler.
The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), as a focal point for regional cooperation in South East Europe, will continue to generate and coordinate developmental projects of a wider, regional character, to the benefit of each individual member and the region as a whole, supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration of the aspiring countries.
“With the RCC Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013, we have a very elaborated and targeted, project-oriented period ahead. . And it is all about persistent, hard work. Brick by brick, project by project, we must continue to re-profile the concept of cooperation in our region by bringing European standards into each and every area”, said RCC Secretary General Hido Biscevic referring to the future plans of the organisation.
 Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), Summaries of EU legislation, http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/agriculture/enlargement/e50020_en.htm