Support to the European integration process in Vojvodina
The European Affairs Fund of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina (hereinafter referred to as the Fund) is an integral part of the institutional network of Vojvodina active in supporting and promoting the accession of the Republic of Serbia into the European Union. The importance of an institution that would provide guidance and support in this comprehensive process in Vojvodina was recognised by the Provincial Government and the Provincial Assembly. Thus, the Fund was established by the Provincial Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and designated as the legal successor of the Office for European Affairs of the Executive Council of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina that had operated since 2006. The Fund has been established in order to monitor, analyse and implement the European integration process and build and strengthen the institutional capacities of the provincial administration, aiming at faster integration of Serbia into major European political and economic processes, as well as to establish economic, scientific, educational and cultural cooperation with European cities and regions and their institutions.
The Fund builds partnerships and establishes cooperation with a wide network of organizations operating in Vojvodina and European regions, ranging from regional and local authorities to civil society organizations, educational and cultural institutions. In addition, the Fund specializes in EU funds management and it has been recognized as the focal point in terms of preparation and implementation of EU funded projects in the province. Given that the Fund’s strategic goal is capacity building of institutions and relevant partners in EU project management by utilising all available options offered by the EU programmes, the Fund performs different activities – training courses, consultations, field visits, as well as promotional activities aimed at raising awareness of the issues relevant to the EU integration process.
In order to increase the absorption capacities of Vojvodina regarding the utilisation of available EU funds, the Fund organizes training courses in project cycle management, project proposal preparation and implementation. The main objective of the course is to transfer the know-how to participants in terms of EU funds management, project proposals writing and project positioning within defined priorities and measures as well as financial constraints. During the course participants develop skills and attitudes necessary for taking an active role in the development and implementation of projects at the local and regional level.
Another highly valued activity of the Fund is the “Open Doors” action, aimed at anyone having a question and needing clarification regarding the EU integration process. The activity is most popular among citizens and civil society organisations interested in EU funding opportunities, regional cooperation and networking with institutions from European regions.
As a part of the information system on available EU programmes and funds, coordination groups gathering representatives of relevant institutions of Vojvodina have been established to improve the flow of information on available EU funds and to motivate local actors to collaborate on finding joint solutions to everyday problems. So far, four coordination groups have been formed aimed at: municipalities and cities, public-utility companies and clusters, provincial institutions and development agencies, and civil society organizations.
Since local authorities play a crucial role in the implementation of EU policies, a close cooperation with them has been developed. All year round field visits to municipalities and towns are made in order to raise the awareness of European affairs, EU policies, available EU programmes, EU negotiation process and regional initiatives.
EU funded projects contribute to regional cooperation with neighbouring countries
Vojvodina is an active participant in four cross-border co-operation programmes (Hungary-Serbia IPA CBC, Romania-Serbia IPA CBC, Croatia-Serbia IPA CBP, Serbia-Bosnia and Herzegovina IPA CBC) co-financed by the European Union. Over 80% of the approved projects having received EU contribution within the aforementioned programmes are implemented in cooperation with partners from Vojvodina. The most successful programme by far is the Hungary-Serbia IPA Cross-border Co-operation Programme and the Fund has actively participated in the development and implementation of projects in the areas of importance for Vojvodina. A major success story of the Fund is the project “Support to Allergen-Free Environment – SAFE” implemented under the 2nd Call for Proposals of the Hungary-Serbia IPA Cross-border Cooperation Programme 2007–2013. In the frame of the ongoing evaluation of the Programme identification of high-quality projects has been done according to their relevance, results, impact, sustainability and transferability and the SAFE project has been selected as one of the eight “best practice” projects under the Hungary-Serbia IPA CBC Programme for the period 2007-2013 among 200 implemented projects. The project tackled the problem of the excessive presence of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in the Pannonian plain. This plant, next to its allergenic properties, is an invasive species that disrupts the normal vegetation composition that develops in and around settlements. Since it has no natural enemies, its pollen is singled out as the dominant allergen in the region. In the light of the aforementioned, the project overall objective was the improvement of the environmental conditions in AP Vojvodina and Bács-Kiskun County by preventing further expansion of ambrosia. After the project, the count of ambrosia pollen in the border region was lowered, especially in Sombor, where it decreased by more than 50% in August 2013 in comparison to the values before the project start. The project brought together stakeholders from both sides of the border to combat an important common issue that affects the everyday life of a significant number of citizens both in Hungary and Serbia.
Vojvodina’s presence in Brussels
Over 300 representations of EU regional and local authorities, acting like regional embassies, are based in Brussels. Despite being informal bodies, they are recognised by the EU as partners to be consulted. In 2011, the Fund opened an office in Brussels – Vojvodina European Office, and so far it has proved as an important step in connecting Vojvodina with relevant regional partners. Nevertheless, the possibility to be present at the place where decisions are made is crucial. The main task of the Vojvodina European Office is to promote the economic, cultural, educational, scientific and other potentials of Vojvodina and Serbia in Brussels and other European capitals.
The European Affairs Fund of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina was established as a major institution with the task of strengthening the European agenda in Vojvodina and with special aim to enhance the absorption capacities for development funds. With representatives in Brussels and with a strong team working in Vojvodina, the Fund is an important and essential engine and link in the overall development of the province.
Author: Siniša Lazić, Director of European Affairs Fund of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina