Serbia has not yet opened Chapter 22 of the EU accession negotiations on regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. For the European Commission, the lack of an institutional framework and administrative capacities in key institutions remains the main obstacle
A candidate country since 2012, Serbia started EU accession negotiations in 2014, following the first intergovernmental conference between the government in Belgrade and political representatives of the EU and member states.
Together with Montenegro, Serbia has long been considered a frontrunner in the integration process; for several years now, however, the country’s accession path has been stuck in an impasse from which it seems to be increasingly difficult to break out. In addition to an ongoing, worrying deterioration of democratic standards, including for example high levels of corruption and continuous attacks on press and media freedom, the most crucial point remains the problematic normalisation of relations with Kosovo, that the EU has indicated as a necessary prerequisite for the country's future entry into the Union.
The European integration process involves a long and often cumbersome dialogue between the candidate countries' governments and the European institutions around 35 negotiating chapters divided into six thematic clusters. In this pre-accession phase, the candidate countries must work to align their legal systems with the so-called acquis communautaire, i.e. the set of values, regulations, and procedures that make up the European body of law.
After almost 10 years of negotiations, Serbia has opened 22 out of 35 chapters , temporarily closing only two of them - Chapters 25 and 26 on Science and Research and Culture and Education, respectively. The last intergovernmental conference took place in December 2021, when the fourth thematic cluster dedicated to the green agenda and sustainable connectivity was opened.
Chapter 22: the European Regional Policy
Within the accession negotiations, Chapter 22 is dedicated to regional policy - also known as cohesion policy - and covers regulations and procedures to prepare candidate countries for the future management of EU funds.
Cohesion policy is the main framework for local and regional development in the EU and one of the most important European policies in terms of resources invested: for the financial period 2021-2027, resources dedicated to cohesion amount to more than EUR 377 billion, approximately 35% of the total EU budget.
Serbia has not opened negotiations on chapter 22 yet.
Following a request from the European Commission, in 2019 the Government of Serbia adopted the Action Plan in which it identifies a number of measures - with corresponding timeframes - that should contribute to the adoption of the requirements for the implementation of the regional policy. The Ministry of European Integration leads the negotiating group for Chapter 22, coordinating the work of other key actors including the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Public Administration, and Local Governance and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.
In its progress report published in 2022, the Commission described Serbia's degree of preparation for Chapter 22 as 'moderate'; the lack of a legal and institutional framework for the management of European funds and the insufficient number of qualified and competent staff within the public administration are among the main shortcomings reported by the Commission.
Cohesion funds will only be available after Serbia obtains full membership; in the meantime, the country participates in 10 European Territorial Cooperation (ETC - Interreg) programmes, which is one of the two general objectives of regional policy. Namely: four cross-border cooperation programmes with EU countries (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia), three with candidate countries (Bosnia Herzegovina , North Macedonia , and Montenegro ) - largely financed by the Pre-Accession Instrument IPA III - two transnational cooperation programmes (Danube and Adrion) and the URBACT programme.
In addition to fostering cooperation with neighbouring countries on issues of common interest (e.g. in tourism, environmental protection, infrastructure development), participation in these programmes contributes to the country's preparation for the future management of cohesion policy, enabling it to gradually adapt to European standards and good practice in strategic planning, financial management and the design and implementation of investment programmes at national level.
This publication was produced in the frame of the project "Programming the EU cohesion policy: exchange programme on Chapter 22 in Serbia and Montenegro", funded by the CEI Fund of the EBRD, with a contribution of Italy. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the CEI Fund
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