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Serbia anticipates substantial EU assistance from Western Balkans Growth Initiative

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The initial disbursement under the Reform and Growth Instrument for the Western Balkans, offering the region six billion euros in additional financial aid, is poised to be finalized by the upcoming summer. This instrument, serving as a financial cornerstone of the Western Balkans Growth Plan unveiled by the European Commission last November, is expected to allocate up to two billion euros in grants and four billion euros in credits from 2024 to 2027.

According to insights from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS), Serbia is forecasted to secure approximately 1.7 billion euros, with one-third of the sum in grants and the remainder in highly favorable loans. The core objective of this initiative is to bolster alignment among Western Balkan partners with EU values, legal frameworks, standards, policies, and practices, paving the way for future EU accession.

Alek­san­dar Ra­do­va­no­vić, overseeing the PKS Regional Cooperation Center, stressed the necessity of directing investments towards reforms essential for EU regulatory compliance, carbon emission reduction, and the establishment of new capacities for clean energy generation. Priority is also given to advancing infrastructure development, particularly in the realm of railways.

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Investments in the modernization of railway networks, connecting Croatia to Bulgaria and extending to the North Macedonian border, are highlighted as pivotal for enhancing Serbia’s economic connectivity with key ports and facilitating access to distant markets in a cost-effective manner. Moreover, the increased utilization of rail transport is expected to alleviate congestion at borders and contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions.

Nevertheless, Ra­do­va­no­vić acknowledged the possibility of certain countries missing out on funding due to inadequate reforms. He emphasized the imperative of complying with EU standards, particularly in the realm of renewable energy sources and hydroelectric power, to circumvent tariffs imposed by the EU on non-compliant goods.

Discussing the new growth plan, Slo­bo­dan Ze­če­vić, a scientific advisor at the Institute for European Studies, underscored the EU’s aim to expedite the development of Western Balkan nations to align with EU norms. He noted that Serbia presently stands at approximately 30 to 50 percent of the average EU standard of living.

Ze­če­vić proposed that the additional funds, offered under favorable terms, could be channeled into various modernization and facilitation efforts. These include integrating specific sectors into the European economy, such as digital technology and energy, streamlining the free movement of goods, expediting border crossings, and enabling seamless telecommunication between Western Balkan countries and the EU. He also highlighted the allocation of approximately 37 percent of funds toward environmental protection measures.

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In addition to these measures, Ze­če­vić emphasized that Serbia would be required to advance normalization efforts in its relations with Kosovo. This would entail sectoral conditions and scrutiny of improvements in the country’s overall governance and democratic practices.

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