Nicola Bertolini, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia - Green transition is not an ideology, but a necessity

Source: eKapija Monday, 22.05.2023. 15:00
(Photo: Promo)

The green transition is not an ideology, but a necessity for the private sector to improve its offer, modernize business plans and create better living conditions for its employees, as well as for all citizens - said Nicola Bertolini, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia, in an interview for eKapija. He noted that Serbian companies are ready for the green transition, and that they need advice, technical support, and access to finance.

They can obtain all this if they apply for the "Challenge for Innovative Solutions for the Green Transition of the Serbian economy", published as part of the "EU Green Agenda in Serbia" initiative. As our interlocutor says, this is one of the most successful initiatives in recent years for the green transition in the Western Balkans, the value of which is estimated around EUR 16 million.

eKapija: As part of the initiative "EU Green Agenda in Serbia", a multi-year Challenge for innovative solutions for the green transition of the Serbian economy was published in February. Who is this call primarily intended for - smaller or larger companies? In what area should they operate?

- Public, private and social enterprises, research institutions, civil society organizations, farmers' associations and cooperatives, local governments and managers of protected areas can apply to the Challenge, individually or jointly.

The goal of this Challenge is to support the implementation of innovative business solutions in all five areas of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, namely: decarbonization, i.e. reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources, circular economy that contributes to the preservation and more efficient use of natural resources, reduction of environmental and air pollution, protecting and preserving nature and biological diversity, as well as establishing sustainable systems for food supply and rural development.

eKapija: Why is it good for companies to use the chance to apply for this competition and how can they do it?

- The response we received after launching the first Call in 2022 was impressive. Over 140 companies from the public and private sector submitted their innovative project ideas for response to challenges and removal of barriers for the green transition, worth around EUR 80 million.

This proves - if it is necessary - that the green transition is not an ideology, but a necessity for the private sector to improve its offer, modernize its business plans and create better living conditions for its employees, but also for all citizens.

The European Union, together with its partners, provides this kind of support to the green transition so that we can direct investments where they are most needed, and we are very happy to see that Serbian companies are taking the opportunity to apply for this Call. To apply for our new Call, launched in February this year, interested companies just need to go to the website and follow the instructions.

eKapija: The call for innovative ideas will be open until the end of the project, i.e. until the end of 2026. What is the interest so far? What kind of support can companies that pass the "first round" of selection expect?

- As I mentioned, last year we were very impressed by the response, and the new Call showed us that since then the interest of both the public and private sectors in Serbia for the green transition has grown even more.

Since February, we have received over 160 innovative proposals for the green transition of the Serbian economy. They came from public and private companies, research institutions, civil society organizations, associations and local governments.

After passing the first round of selection, when the project becomes a candidate for co-financing, companies enter the acceleration phase, where they receive mentoring support and technical assistance adapted to their needs, so that they can perfect their project ideas and improve their business plans.

This phase also provides an excellent opportunity for companies to network, share best practices, develop ideas and synergize.

After the first round, we select the best-ranked and most promising projects that will receive financial support from the EU grant through UNDP. Other companies can continue to work on developing their project ideas.

I would also like to mention that more partners have joined this initiative.

We started with an EU grant at the beginning of 2022 in the amount of EUR 8 million.

In the second half of 2022, Switzerland and Sweden provided an additional USD 6.9 million and USD 1.4 million for the "EU Green Agenda in Serbia" platform.

Serbia has also contributed USD 826,000 from the state budget.

A few days ago, UNDP added USD 150,000 from its own funds for new activities related to energy efficiency.

This is exactly the kind of support and synergy that makes up the European Green Deal. This is undoubtedly one of the most successful initiatives in recent years for the green transition in the Western Balkans.

eKapija: The European Union has already financially supported the authors of 16 innovative solutions that applied to previous competitions within the "EU for Green Agenda in Serbia" initiative. In what way will their application contribute to the green transition of the Serbian economy?

- These are small pilot projects that will directly contribute to the decarbonization of the economy, for example by installing solar panels, accelerating the green transition, reducing waste and pollution - e.g. by using waste to create new innovative products. These are examples of concrete activities to accelerate the circular economy, reduce pollution and combat climate change.

The basic idea of our initiative is to first start with small pilot projects and then work on expanding them in the next phase. By that I mean that we want to see more of these types of projects, on a larger scale, as well as an increase in available financing, that's why the European Investment Bank (EIB) is our partner in this initiative, which will provide the Government of Serbia with advice on green financing and provide favorable loans for green financing.

eKapija: How ready are Serbian companies for the green transition?

- The companies are fully "ready". They need advice and technical support, access to finance, simplification of procedures. These are the results of a study we conducted two years ago with UNDP, entitled "Increasing the share of green financing in the private sector in Serbia in the post-pandemic period". The study shows that companies are very aware that maintaining competitiveness and reducing dependence on fossil fuels is key to their development.

eKapija: Why is the green transition of the economy important for Serbia and the EU?

- It is important - not only for Serbia and the EU - but for all of humanity. We have no other planet to live on. In terms of the speed of climate change, we are very concerned about future generations. There is a small chance that we can slow down and reduce our emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, and we must seize that chance. This is a global endeavor and every action counts.
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