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Serbia

Capital Belgrade
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 381
Mobile Codes 60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67
ccTLD .rs
Currency Dinar (1EUR = 101RSD)
Land Area 88,361 sq km
Population 7.3 million (excl. Kosovo)
Language Serbian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

Serbia’s Vojvodina to Meet EU Energy Goals Alone

Editor’s note: In this special report for Balkanalysis.com by guest author Kostis Geropoulos, readers are treated to insights on a unique case of Balkan local government taking the initiative on renewable sources of energy. The article is complemented by exclusive comments from national and local officials from Serbia.

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By Kostis Geropoulos in Athens*

Serbia may not be part of the European Union – at least not yet – but its northern region of Vojvodina is striving to meet the bloc’s 20-20-20 goals to battle climate change and drive energy sustainability in the Balkans- on its own, if need be.

Vojvodina is at the forefront of renewables and energy saving, trying to meet EU climate change goals. “Yes, of course, [meeting] European goals and targets is a part of our policy because an EU future is at the center, it’s at the heart of what we are doing as a government so energy policy is devised in this context as well,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told me on 19 May at a seaside resort in Lagonissi, south of Athens.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference that discussed current developments in the region. Asked if Vojvodina’s energy policy would reduce reliance on natural gas, Jeremic said that “renewable energy is the future as far as we see it, so we are looking to develop as much capacity as possible.”

Further, Branislava Belic, Vice President of the Vojvodina Assembly, told me earlier this spring on the sidelines of a climate conference in Brussels that “Russian gas is too expensive, and it was always expensive, so this is an initiative.”

She noted that her region of Serbia in particular is on the right track. In March, Vojvodina completed the Peer Review, in a joint project with the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and the Central European Initiative. She stated in Brussels that experts have observed that this project has very strong political support.

In addition, added Ms Belic, her region has “well-drafted strategies in several energy-related areas [and] important competencies in key section fields.” She mentioned in addition that the population in Vojvodina has the mentality of a global player.

Experts have recommended that in accordance with the government of Vojvodina each local community should continue with improving energy management. They would organize monitoring and energy audits, explaining the benefits of saving energy and, at the same time, saving personal budgets, she told me. Belic said that Vojvodina has a very good project line with EU funds, but no specific budget for energy issues, and that “the State gives very weak financial incentives.”

Nevertheless, while Ms Belic added that Vojvodina has rich experience in cross border cooperation, it does not yet boast similar experience in the field of public private partnership. “Since the Temerin municipality already has renewable energy potential, we have to focus on coordination of technical actors,” she said, referring to energy managers and consultants, as well as plans to include and coordinate communication with NGOs, schools, and local politicians.

“The project has started with an improvement and I hope it will continue that way,” Belic said, referring to a primary school and a kindergarten in Sirig. “This is a new trend in Vojvodina, of using more and more renewable energy,” she said.

As Foreign Minister Jeremic told me, Serbian energy policy is aimed at meeting EU rules and goals. But some are skeptical. For Sanja, a spirited 24-year-old woman from Subotica, Vojvodina’s second largest city, it will be a very long time before Serbia joins the EU. “Vojvodina could join on its own,” she told me laughing. “But the rest of Serbia is far behind.”

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*Guest contributor Kostis Geropoulos is the Energy and Russian Affairs Editor of the New Europe newspaper. His weekly column, “Energy Insider,” is available at www.neurope.eu, and he can also be followed on twitter (@energyinsider).