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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article28 October 2022Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Statement by President von der Leyen on the occasion of her official visit to Serbia

President von der Leyen official visit to WB

Mr President, dear Aleksandar,

It is wonderful to be back here in Serbia. I am very glad to be at this very special place, which I think shows the profound bonds we do have and our great cooperation. Today, we are watching the progress of the interconnector between Serbia and Bulgaria. It is great to see that this important project is taking shape. Indeed, you have just mentioned the funding that is coming from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank. It is round about 80%. And what we want to see is not only gas flowing from Bulgaria to Serbia, but this project will be one step further to bring us closer to each other. It will open Serbia's gas market for diversification. It will improve Serbia's energy security. And it will be important to see that we are very much looking forward to having this project now completed in hopefully one year. So we will press on both sides – I know that it takes two to tango, in this project, too – so that we are on time, because it is needed. We need to diversify our gas supplies. We see that dependency that is too much focused on Russian gas is not good. We have felt it bitterly during the last months. So the diversification away to reliable suppliers is paramount for us.

I am very glad that we are also here today with an energy project, because we are already together in an Energy Union. By that I mean that, whatever the European Union does, the Western Balkans are included because we are so much interconnected that, in our Energy Union, whatever the one or the other does has an influence on us. If something happens in the European Union, it has an influence in the Western Balkans. If here something, for example an improvement with the gas interconnector, happens, it has a positive influence for the whole European Union because we are in an Energy Union.

And we have been working very hard during the last months in this Energy Union to master the energy crisis. Just a reminder for you: Russia has cut 100 billion cubic metres of gas and we have been able to compensate. We have been able to compensate by diversifying away to other reliable suppliers. Now, we invite everyone, and Serbia too, to join us in our EU joint procurement of gas because we want to use our market power as the Energy Union to achieve better results on the global market where there is a lot of competition for gas, mainly LNG, and to be there as a European Energy Union exerting our market power for better results on the prices.

You are here in Serbia as affected as the rest of the European Union by the difficulties we have in the energy market overall. So there is another step that we are taking forward. We have decided that we want to take two steps: One is a short-term support, not only for the Member States, but also for the Western Balkans. And here, I am happy to announce that EUR 165 million in grants for immediate budget support are available for Serbia. And I think this is absolutely necessary so that Serbia, like other countries, is able to support vulnerable families, vulnerable households and vulnerable businesses, small and medium enterprises, so that they can cope with the high energy prices. But this is not a long-term solution. It is not a sustainable solution. What we need is investment.

And therefore, Mr President, dear Aleksandar, the second part, I think, is at least as important. These are EUR 500 million in grants in investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure like we see it here. Infrastructure that is badly needed. For example, if I may quote a few topics that are on our list, the Trans-Balkan Electricity Corridor – that is fascinating. It is going to be electricity from Italy to Bulgaria via Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of it will be interconnected so that we can help each other, that we can serve each other and that we are never going to be again in such a bottleneck situation as we are today.

Another project that is very dear to my heart is that we want to support Serbia together in building a new, a modern and more energy-efficient University Children's Hospital in Belgrade. This is a project on which I am very glad that we can advance together. Let me give you one figure: 40% of the emissions we lose go through buildings that are badly insulated. So the other way round is also true: The better, the more energy efficient we build buildings, the better it is for the climate. But of course, the better it is also for our energy efficiency. This hospital should be completed by 2025.

And then indeed what I just saw, and Mr President, you explained to me the third element that is so important, that is the gas interconnector between Serbia and North Macedonia. Here too, this will allow to complete the region. All this is in our projects and in this package.

Finally, a last point: This energy crisis stems from the atrocious war that Russia is leading against Ukraine. And this war is redefining the security landscape of our entire continent. So it is for the European Union of utmost importance to invest even further in our Western Balkan partners – more than ever before because these investments are investments for the future. They are investments in peace. They are investment in the stability, in the prosperity of our shared continent. And let me assure you that the European Union is and will remain Serbia's most important political and economic partner.

Due to the good progress that was made in the past, Serbia is one of the most advanced countries on the European path. And as you know, we want you to take now the next further very important steps towards the European Union. We know the topics, we will discuss them later bilaterally – be it the independence and the accountability of the judiciary or the fight against corruption. I know that you are very engaged in that. And may I thank you, Mr President, for your latest announcement that the Serbian visa policy will be aligned with that of the European Union by the end of the year. This is an important announcement, many thanks for that. This is absolutely the right direction to head forward.

Last but not least, we will have tonight a bilateral meeting. I think there are other topics on the agenda. If I may express a deep wish, that is the wish that we will have progress in the Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Here too, I know it is always necessary to have two sides. But we all know by experience that only with dialogue are we able to solve conflicts and to move forward in an acceptable way for all of us. So my comment in the very end is: I know that Serbia's future is in the European Union. I know that our European Union is not complete without Serbia. We share the same commitment to our common European future. Therefore, let us continue the hard work for this common future.

Thank you very much for having invited me here today.

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