More than 700 EU backed cross-regional projects aimed at helping reconciliation and improving the economy have been conducted in Serbia and neighbouring countries.Serbia is currently cooperating with seven neighbouring countries – Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia- on various issues including ecology, education and agriculture.
According to the EU ambassador to Serbia, Vincent Degert, the purpose of these EU facilitated projects is to boost regional cooperation.
“We want to enforce peace and stability in the border areas through these projects, but we also want to improve economic stability in these often poorly developed regions,” said Degert, adding that “Borders should unite, not divide the region.”
Degert says that the EU’s role is to act as a facilitator, helping countries to address joint issues together.
“We deal not just with current issues, but also with issues inherited from the past. For example, yesterday we were in the [Serbian] town of Negotin, which is near the border of both Romania and Bulgaria, where we cleaned the Danube of bombs, left over from the NATO bombing, but also from WW2,” he explained.
Sanda Simic, the assistant director of the Serbian government’s EU office, says that the programs that had been initiated between ex-Yugoslav countries were particularly successful.
“The cooperation between Serbian and Croatian artists has been great. Young directors from both countries came together to make short films about the region’s rock bands, and these were shown at both the Palic film festival in Serbia, and the film festival in the Croatian town of Vinkovci,” Simic said.
She also pointed out the successful partnership that had been formed between NGOs in Sarajevo and the Serbian town of Sremska Mitrovica, who jointly educated another civil society organization about eco-tourism.
“There is also a group of Montenegrin and Serbian towns which run joint bicycle tours to promote cooperation and dialogue among the border towns,” she added.
Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, Suzana Grubjesic, says that the connections that are created among people and the towns are more important than the economic benefits.
“This is about more than financial benefit, as the citizens of those areas now know how important cooperation is, and what it brings to their communities,” Grubjesic concluded.