The EU accession process offers the unique opportunity for Serbia to raise its environmental standards, acquire the latest technologies and ensure a better quality of life for the people, says Ambassador Sem Fabrizi, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia. He tells Balkan Green Energy News that Serbia should increase its resources allocated to environmental protection, in human resources, and in funding, for example by applying the “Polluters Pay Principle”. In an interview, Fabrizi discusses EU assistance to Serbia in the environment sector, messages of the European Commission’s annual report, and results of the integrated campaign on environmental protection carried out this summer.
The European Union is the first partner and the biggest donor to Serbia, with more than EUR 3.6 billion in non-refundable aid since 2001 and the key trading partner, accounting for nearly two thirds of Serbian overall foreign trade; also, two thirds of all foreign investments come from the EU. The EU supports Serbia in improving the environment and striving to achieve European standards, for the benefits of Serbian citizens.
Which projects can you name as most valuable in terms of their impact, lessons learnt and potential for replication?
The EU is the main partner of Serbia to protect the environment. All our projects are designed and implemented to have a positive impact on environmental protection and citizen’s quality of life. Over the past 19 years the EU donated EUR 402 million to Serbia for environmental protection. We are talking of donation and not credits.
The largest projects are in the construction of wastewater treatment plants, regional landfills, the construction and renovation of the water supply system, air protection systems, and medical waste management systems. People already can see a better air and water quality in many parts of Serbia – thanks to EU funding.
Over the past 19 years the EU donated EUR 402 million to Serbia for environmental protection
Currently, the preparation for a waste water treatment plant in Niš is ongoing, so that sewage waters of Niš will no longer pollute the Nišava River. This project is possible because of remarkable cooperation between the Ministry of Environment, the city of Niš, and the EU Delegation. We will also build waste water facilities in Brus, Blace, and in Kraljevo. We will also start an important support to municipalities to add waste separation systems, in order to boost local circular economy. We are also supporting the creation of Natura 2000 network, to ensure protection of wild life.
EU will build waste water facilities in Bruce, Blace, and in Kraljevo
These are great examples of how benefits of the EU integration process are felt by people in Serbia already now. Of course air and water quality and climate change are long-term issues. If I may say those are “evergreen topics in the very sense of the word”. There is still a lot to do, but it’s not a mission impossible!
- built an air quality monitoring system, able to inform citizens in real-time about air quality, with 28 Air Quality Monitoring Stations and equipment for laboratory.
- built waste water facilities, and people now enjoy better water quality.
- built waste water treatment plants in Indjija, Šabac and Leskovac. Another plant is currently under construction in Raska.
- built a solid waste treatment facility in Duboko-Užice, in Srem-Mačva and in Pirot.
- built a Regional Waste management Center in Subotica, including 3 Transfer stations and a solid waste treatment facility.
- developed a medical waste management system, with 80 health care institutions which received modern equipment for medical waste treatment
- equipped a national laboratory for air, water and soil analysis
- rehabilitated three lakes for infiltration of drinking water
- rehabilitated 60 km of river channels
The EU is also assisting Serbian authorities in alignment of national legislation with the EU acquis. What is the current state of play and where does Serbia stand in its efforts to ensure environmental protection and achieve European standards and goals?
The European Commission annual report assesses the current state of play across all sectors for Serbia’s accession to the EU. In the area of environment and climate change, the 2019 EC Report says that Serbia has achieved some level of preparation, but regrettably only limited progress was made in further alignment with the acquis and on strategic planning in the last years.
Serbia thus has still a road ahead when it comes to the legislation and its institutional setup. Additional public resources – funds but also human resources – are needed to the protection of the environment.
Only limited progress was made in further alignment with the acquis and on strategic planning in the last years
The implementation of the Paris agreement is also an important project for all signatory States – including Serbia. Thus Serbia should engage more in climate-friendly policies, in particular adopting the new Law on climate change and the new Climate Strategy.
On a different level, Serbia has to invest in waste reduction, separation, and recycling, reinforcing air quality monitoring, advancing river basin management and preparing for Natura 2000.
Responsibility is with the whole government and not only line-Ministries, like the Ministry of environment. For example, we see that the Ministry of Mining and Energy works on identification of gaps to further align the Law on Efficient Use of Energy, the Energy Law and secondary legislation with the EU Directives. Those are significantly important regulations if we aim to achieve goals set for energy savings and reduction of CO2 emission.
The environmental protection topic spans over different sectors. Mining industry is not an exception with huge quantities of mining waste generated in the process. The EU is supporting Serbia and the Ministry of mining and energy in dealing with historical mining waste. Who will benefit most from this project?
The EU assists Serbia in the development of an inventory comprising some 200 to 250 abandoned mining waste sites and some 200 active mining sites with mining waste facilities. Location, size and composition of waste from around 500 mining sites will be included in the Cadastre. We are definitively helping to map out the mining waste.
Such information serves as a starting point for the Ministries and local governments’ actions toward risks mitigation, mining waste management or further use, if possible, by Companies that exploit mineral resources.
At the end, local communities and people living near such mining waste sites would be the immediate beneficiaries from all of this.
One of the major environmental and climate challenges in Serbia is related to emissions from coal-fired power plants. How has the EU helped Serbia so-far in reducing their negative impact?
We are putting efforts and funds in mitigation of negative impact caused by thermal power plants in Obrenovac and Kostolac. You can see the results when you visit the area: the fumes in Obrenovac are now been brought within the norms thanks to the filters financed by the EU. This is a good example on how the emissions of a coal fired power plant have been made friendlier and cleaner for the environment and the people in the area. This is a piece for the overall picture.
Serbia’s investment needs in the water sector are said to be worth billions of euros. Are there concrete estimates of these investment needs? And what can the country do itself, and what can it do to secure EU funds for this purpose?
Serbia is preparing actively its Negotiating Positions on Chapter 27, the Environment and Climate change chapter of the EU acquis, which is the legal and policy basis. These positions are based on a solid analysis of what is needed to comply with EU Directives, all in terms of institutional mechanisms, human resources needs, and of course investment needs.
Serbia should increase its resources allocated to the sector, in human resources and in funding, for example by applying the “Polluters Pay Principle”
The estimates exist and are public. They are definitively high as the environment protection has been neglected in Serbia for a long time. The accession to the EU offers the unique possibility for Serbia to raise its standards environmental protection, acquire the last technologies and ensure a better quality for the people.
The EC 2019 report says that Serbia should increase its resources allocated to the sector, in human resources and in funding, for example by applying the “Polluters Pay Principle”. Serbia can also define better its priorities and programming of projects, by accelerating the preparations of technical documentation for investments projects, ensuring that the projects proposed are mature enough, and that arrangements are done so the projects can be sustainable.
The EU is ready to continue support investments in environmental infrastructures.
Can you please tell us about the purposes and results of the recent campaign about environment in Serbia?
The EU Delegation and the Ministry of European Integration together with the Ministry of Environmental Protection carried out from June 12 to July 28, 2019 an integrated campaign on environmental protection and EU assistance to the Serbia in the environment sector.
We focused on: increasing citizens’ awareness about the importance of the environmental issue; EU’s substantial assistance and its benefits for the environment; and inviting citizens and communities to take part in environmental protection and to understand and support the policy. Protecting the environment is of course a job not only for the government. It is for everybody.
In campaign on environmental protection we reached millions of people in Serbia
These were the overall messages of the campaign. The motto “Look around yourself and move!” was an encouragement to the people to engage. It has been very exciting to run the campaign: through television, social media, traditional media, we reached millions of people in Serbia and through events and competition, we engaged with thousands of citizens, in particular young people.
I have been myself engaged in a number of initiatives with citizens, business, influencers, and of course public administrators, both at central and local level.
With this, Serbia has been part of global efforts to raise awareness on environment and climate change. We already see that more and more people in Serbia understand the message, promote the message, and get active in transforming the society, especially the youth. This is one of EU’s most important objectives, and we are making it happen.