The conference “Consolidating civil society involvement in the Economic and Investment Plan: The Way Forward “organized by the European Movement in Serbia and the Cooperation and Development Institute (CDI) from Tirana was held on May 15, 2024, in the Media Center in Belgrade.

The goal of the meeting was to present the key findings and recommendations of regional studies:

  1. State of play of specialized civil society organisations and think tanks in the Region  
  2. Institutional Actors, Mechanism and Actors Engagement of  CSO

, as well as mechanisms for their participation.

The speakers were focused on two landmark flagship initiatives under Clean Energy cluster of projects in the region situated in Serbia: i.e. the Kostolac Wind Farm and the Trans-Balkans Electricity Corridor project.

In the introductory part of the meeting, the president of the European Movement in Serbia, Jelica Minić, spoke, emphasizing the significant importance of this topic, since support for infrastructure development is one of the most significant and visible aspects of cooperation with the EU, but also cooperation within the region.

“Our main goal is to jointly advocate and promote the increased participation of civil society, but also of local communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of large infrastructure projects in our countries, to open that very closed decision-making space for ideas, needs and fear of citizens, demystifying the issue of representatives of the general interest that we rapidly develop infrastructure in the region, as a prerequisite for successful development in all other areas,” said Minic.

The moderator of the conference was Dragana Đurica, Secretary General of the European Movement, who emphasized in her speech that it is necessary to use the enormous potential of CSOs in this area because “their presence increases transparency and responsibility, understanding of local needs, and also promotes environmentally friendly practices.”

In his presentation, the Head of the Cooperation Department of the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia, Nikola Bertolini, referred to his previous professional experience in the field of civil society: “When in 2013 we drew up guidelines for the European Union’s support to civil society in the Western Balkans region, we managed to make civil society important government partner in all countries, except Serbia. Now, after ten years, the Council has finally been established to create a stimulating environment for the development of civil society”.

Speaking about the Economic and Investment Plan, Bertolini pointed out that the plan represents an excellent opportunity to improve economic and infrastructure ties between countries in the region. However, he admitted that the role of civil society was not clearly defined in that framework. He emphasized that it is not only about creating space for civil society, but also about their ability and capacity to be reliable partners in working groups, noting that civil society must hire experts, not just activists.

Ardian Hackaj from the Cooperation and Development Institute (CDI) highlighted one single request – “In every LIP tender procedure, whether it is preparation or implementation, introduce or add a budget item that will be exclusively and necessarily intended for local civil society organizations, communities or basic grassroots initiatives that are affected.”

Ognjen Mirić, regional manager for the Western Balkans, spoke about various mechanisms for establishing systemic solutions in the field of cooperation with the civil sector, emphasizing the necessity of having technical knowledge of CSO actors to be able to create effective recommendations and provide quality input in joint consultations.

Dragoljub Rajić, Director of the Railway Cluster for Southeast Europe, presented the problem of direct settlements of political elites and circumvention of rules and procedures – “Do you think that such a thing is possible in the EU? It’s not.”

Other panellists at the conference were:

  • Ljuba Siljanoska, Deputy Director, Permanent Secretariat of the Transport Community
  • Aleksandar Kovačević, senior visiting researcher at the Oxford Energy Institute
  • Dirk Bušle, Deputy Director, Secretariat of the Energy Community (online)
  • Jovan Rajić, Chair of the Board of Directors, Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy (RERI)
  • Nemanja Nenadić, program director, Transparency Serbia
  • Will Bartlett, Senior Researcher, Political Economy of Southeast Europe, London School of Economics and Political Science