Olivér Várhelyi, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, said on Thursday that the European Union wanted to speed up the enlargement process, adding Serbia played a key role in the region and Europe and that the Western Balkans was one of the EU highest priorities for the EU.
That, according to him, meant Serbia could open two clusters in the accession negotiations this year.
„Enlargement policy remains at the heart of our activities, and we want to speed it up,“ Várhelyi said in a written statement to the conference „Serbia and the EU: Support for Development and Membership Negotiations“.
„This was clearly shown during the pandemic when the EU treated its partners in the Western Balkans as future members,“ he added.
He said the Economic Investment Plan adopted by the EU for the Western Balkans should help the region transform and emerge stronger from the crisis.
The head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Sam Fabrizi, told the conference in Belgrade that „the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA 2) was a financial instrument that helps Serbia implement reforms, achieve its goals soon before becoming an EU member“.
He recalled that within IPA 2, Serbia received 1.5 billion euros and another 900 million euros from regional projects from 2014 to 2020.
About 40 percent of those funds were used in the rule of law reform and good governance, 40 percent were spent on economic and social development, and about 20 percent on emergencies, such as floods, the migrant crisis and the pandemic.
Fabrizi said the Serbian economy had shown resilience during the pandemic crisis „in the sense that the foundations of the economy are strong“, and that it had recovered quite well after the pandemic.
„Today’s economy is not only what GDP tells us, but it is also sustainability, inclusiveness, green agenda as broader ideas that affect the economy,“ Fabrizi said, adding Serbia had dedicated a lot of resources to innovation.
Fabrizi added the reforms should be carried out not only at the national but also at the local level, especially in environmental protection, recycling, and wastewater treatment.
„The goal is to bring the region closer to the Union and to bridge the economic gap between the EU and the Western Balkans; to connect capital and people; to make the economy comprehensive; to make renewable energy sources primary as in Europe and to make the whole region fighting against climate change.“ change,“ Fabrizi said.