In the pre-accession period, a number of countries in the region have followed almost the same path as Serbia in using EU funds for agriculture.
According to the latest official data, out of 175 million euros available from IPARD, 50 million has been contracted to Serbia so far and about 19 million has been disbursed. The money can be used until 2023, and the state expects that advance payments to users, as a novelty, will speed up the withdrawal of money.
How successful have other countries been and what were the biggest pitfalls that farmers and the administration initially faced and can Serbia avoid? Experiences are different in countries that have long benefited from generous EU funds.
“You cannot expect IPARD to solve all your problems. The initial money that you withdraw should be first used to strengthen the whole system,” said Saša Bukovac, Deputy Director of the Croatian Agency for Payments in Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development.
He shared some of his experiences with representatives of the media and the Ministry of Agriculture who were in Zagreb a few days ago, under the auspices of the ‘Pulse of Europe – EU media visits’ project. He says that it is the state’s task to analyse the money in the right way and ensure its purpose. This can easily be achieved even if you ‘spend all the money on ten companies that are strong and can finance projects on their own’.
According to him, European funds were particularly mystified in public as something impossible to get and requiring a mountain of paperwork. Meanwhile, the EU has tightened its control, so procedures have become more demanding.
“When you are a candidate country, then you are in an unequal position. The regulation prescribes one thing, but as a country that is not yet a member, something else is expected of you,” Bukovac admits.
Joining the EU opens a new horizon with much more money and opportunities, Bukovac adds. His advice to Serbia is to choose precise measures to be funded and provide technical assistance in time. He also warned that it is difficult to find a way out of an unfavourable situation when there is a bad response from the potential fund users and that it took Croatia four to five years to get the same number of fund applicants as they had had during the first call for pre-accession funds.
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