This year we celebrate 140 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Serbia and Romania. We took the opportunity to talk to H.E. Oana – Cristina Popa, Romanian Ambassador to Serbia about the ongoing Romanian presidency over the EU, bilateral relations between two countries and regional relations with Vojvodina.
How capable is Romania, during the country’s presidency over the EU, of keeping the Union’s attention on the accession process in Serbia and the region?
— Romania remains a firmly committed promoter of the enlargement policy and that is reflected in its stated priorities of the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Therefore, in light of our own expertise and lessons learned in the process of accession, we are willing, able and ready to support Belgrade’s efforts in the process of European accession.
How would you rate the bilateral cooperation between Romania and Serbia and are you satisfied with the treatment of the Romanian minority in Serbia?
— Romania and the Republic of Serbia are constantly working together to strengthen the excellent historical relations and their strong traditional friendship. This year we celebrate 140 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between our countries. The very good level of bilateral relations is evidenced by the numerous political visits and by the amount of trade exchange which has grown steadily in the last years, reaching over € 1.3 billion in 2017. We are confident that this positive trend will continue, given the potential offered by our economies. We look with optimism towards 2021, when Timişoara and Novi Sad will be European Cultural Capitals, a title which brings additional opportunities to promote new joint projects in tourism and development. The Romanian community in Serbia and the Serbian community in Romania represent a solid bridge between our two countries and hold a crucial role in strengthening the bilateral relations. The bilateral cooperation in this area aims at ensuring the welfare of the citizens of both communities and the preservation of the cultural and linguistic heritage. In this regard, a considerable progress has been made with the reactivation of the Romanian-Serbian Intergovernmental Commission in the field of national minorities by designating a co-president by the Serbian side. We are confident that the commitments in this field will be translated into practice in the near future following the resumption of the work of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission, which represents the most appropriate framework for bilateral dialogue on national minority matters.
How much does Romania and municipalities in Vojvodina manage to utilize the funds from the EU programs for cross-border cooperation?
— The Interreg-IPA Cross-border Cooperation Romania-Serbia Program provides the opportunity for both countries to continue their cross-border cooperation under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA II) financing instrument, using European Union support. The European Union’s contribution represents 74.906.248 EUR. With the support of the European Union funding and the partner states in the Program, so far, 46.85 million EUR were contracted by 34 Romanian-Serbian cross-border projects, including 2 strategic projects. Currently, there are an additional 176 submitted projects which are under evaluation for accessing the available 20.28 million EUR from the IPA budget. The majority of the selected projects are proposed in partnership by Romanian and Vojvodina authorities. The largest strategic project, to date, is the ”Increasing cross– border competitiveness by improving the accessibility and connectivity of the cross border region through raised transport and mobility infrastructure standard Enhancing Bega Canal Area as internationally recognized, green, visitor friendly destination”, which amounts over 13 million EUR. The statistic are encouraging and show a fairly efficient use of the available IPA funds. I am confident that this trend will continue in the benefit of both our communities.
To what extent does the economy of Vojvodina use the potentials of the Constanta port and the possibility of cooperation with other Romanian partners?
— The cooperation between Constanta Port and the Serbian ports has a great tradition. On September 27, 2018, Belgrade hosted the 12th edition of the Constanta Port Day, an event organized by the National Company Maritime Ports Administration S.A. Constanta. This edition has brought together over 200 participants from the region, representatives of the authorities, ports on the Danube, transport and logistics companies, confirming the interest that the port of Constanta arouses for the European transport market. Pančevo, Novi Sad, Bačka Palanka and Bogojevo Ports are connected on daily basis with the Port of Constanta due to common logistics projects. The quantity of goods transported by the Danube river from Serbia to the Black Sea port and vice versa has significantly increased in the last years, amounting in the first 8 months of 2018, over 3 million tons, mainly grains, chemical and natural fertilizers and coal. Several other companies from Vojvodina have also direct and indirect business ties with the Constanta Port facilities. Majority of them are doing business in transportation, as well as in the agricultural and commercial sectors. The business ties between Romanian and Serbian companies in Vojvodina are fruitful not only in transport and commerce, but also in accessing through joint endeavors third country markets, as well as overseas markets through the Port of Constanța.
Since regional development is one of the EU’s priorities, what advice could you give to Vojvodina’s policy makers based on your experiences?
— Regional development expertise and funds are available for the candidate countries through the Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) cross-border collaboration programs. Beside the immediate advantages provided to the local community, the active participation in this program supports the setup of the required institutional framework and the developing of the necessary expertise at the level of the central and local administration in order to manage the procedures and the European regional development funds that will be accessible to Serbia as a EU member state. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) is another excellent platform that addresses a wide range of issues consistent with regional development. The EUSDR Actions are pre-defined in the EUSDR Action Plan aiming at moving “from words to actions”, by identifying the concrete priorities for the macro-region and responsibilities for the implementation and follow-up of the priorities. Over the years, the priorities evolve and the actions and projects need to be updated, transformed or replaced. The Action Plan is therefore “rolling” and should be regularly reviewed in light of new, emerging needs and changing contexts which gives the opportunity to the involved actors to promote projects aimed at enhancing the cooperation and development of the Danube region. Serbia and Romania are both part of EUSDR. Starting with November 1st, 2018 until November 1st 2019, Romania holds the Presidency of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region.