EU funds - Challenges and opportunities for the Montenegrin municipalitiesJun 13, 2013
Absorption of the significant part of European Union funds depends, directly or indirectly, on the activities of local governments. The experiences of other countries in the process before joining the European Union have taught us that coordination and cooperation among various stakeholders at the national and local level are the most important prerequisites for success. Simple as that.
As part of its Local Development Programme, UNDP Montenegro has recently organized a conference on „Challenges and Opportunities for the use of EU funds at the local level in Montenegro“.
The conference was primarily intended for presidents of municipalities and their associates responsible for the preparation and implementation of projects financed from EU funds, as well as representatives of relevant institutions at the national level. The aim was also to provide more information on the use of funds from the European Union through the direct experience of Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia in this area.
Ambassador Aleksandar Andrija Pejović, State Secretary for European Integration, the Chief Negotiator for the accession of Montenegro to the EU, said at the conference that: “Montenegro has set two key objectives to their local governments: process monitoring and adequate preparation for future membership. When it comes to implementation, our country participates in two transnational, one Adriatic and five bilateral programs. Those projects have undoubtedly had great significance, but the local governments should be more active and decisive in their approach to the absorption of funds from the European Union in order to reach European standards in development.“
The local government has recently contracted and implemented 38 projects with a total value of 16.5 million euros. It's about crafts, village, children, sustainable development, cultural heritage, energy, migration and cross-border tourism cooperation. "I would say that this is a good result, but we noticed that the local government could better utilize the available resources. These resources were well used in Croatia, thus for certain projects they got even 36 million euros, Mr. Pejović concluded.
Professional staff is needed for such activities, according to Mr. Ivan Mrzljak from the Water and Sewage Company Karlovci, Croatia: "In my opinion it is important to form a high-quality, professional team of people who will be educated in conferences such as this one today.“
Everything depends on the ambitions of local governments, said representatives of the EU Delegation to Montenegro. They emphasized that when applying for an EU project the municipalities must take into account the economic risks of certain projects.
Mr. Andre Lys, Head of Operations at the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro spoke about the challenges and opportunities for using EU funds at the local level: “Participation is the essence of this important work, because local governments are too weak to cope with the challenges in the domain of environmental protection. Transparency is a necessary consequence of the control and management of resources. The era of top down decision making is over, and the decentralization transferred activities to the local level. Subjects who have previously received instructions have become the actors responsible for the implementation of projects.”
The end result of efforts, as estimated by the conference participants, should be providing of better services to citizens in a cost-effective manner, which is the overall objective of UNDP's Local Development Programme in Montenegro.
Rastislav Vrbensky, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Montenegro pointed out that, for the sake of progress in municipalities and efficient integration into the EU, it is necessary to convert development strategies into practical and well-coordinated actions at the local level. “For the purpose of integration into the European Union the priority of Montenegro at the local governments should be harmonization of local strategic documents with national strategic documents and policies, with the full participation of all parts of society and the accountability of public sector institutions. It is also necessary to strengthen the institutional capacities for strategic planning and the implementation of strategic plans and to put development strategies into practical development activities. Taking into account the limited capacity of some municipalities in Montenegro, it is necessary to encourage inter-municipal cooperation, which would contribute to the efficiency and quality of services that local governments provide to citizens,” said Mr. Vrbensky.
“In appreciation of the importance of local strategic planning, UNDP has supported development of strategic plans in Kolašin and Žabljak. I am using this opportunity to encourage other municipalities that have not adopted strategic plans to work on them, because they will serve as a basis for the development of projects that will be financed from the funds,“ Mr. Vrbensky emphasized.
The significant presence of representatives of local government, various ministries and representatives of the European Union at the conference showed the willingness of all to coordinate the work and cooperate towards accomplishment of a common goal: more efficient utilization of EU funds for the purpose of better quality services that local governments provide to the citizens of Montenegro.