Governments reinforce activities to increase eligibility for and use of EU's IPARD funds.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 23/08/13
More small farm households, like this one near Skopje, are eligible to apply for EU's rural developments funds. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]
Balkan countries are increasingly seeking ways to more readily use EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance for Rural Development (IPARD) funds to jump-start agriculture and related industries.
Macedonia recently introduced new rules to allow more applicants, hoping at least 1,000 will apply, up from 70 in 2013.
"There are more opportunities now for applicants who were previously not eligible. Also, the agency operating procedures in providing the necessary paperwork were improved. Finally, we engaged in field activities to introduce the public to the increased amount of co-financing and its benefits," Toni Dimovski, director of the Agency for Financial Support in Agriculture and Rural Development, told SETimes.
The IPARD funds allow entrepreneurs to purchase modern agricultural machinery, build greenhouses, rebuild dairies, farms and food processing facilities, said Deputy Agriculture Minister of Macedonia Zoran Konjanovski.
"The possibilities are now much greater. For those who want to build new greenhouses, the limit of allowable costs is raised to more than 2 million euros. The funds can also be used to build new hospitality facilities in rural areas, up to 30 rooms and 70 beds, to further tourism and create new employment. We think there will be much interest," Konjanovski told SETimes.
The IPARD programme co-finances initiatives to construct or renovate small food producing plants, natural food collection centres, and to support handicrafts and rural tourism.
There are 85 million euros for the 2007-2013 IPARD programme for Macedonia. Only 45 million had been utilised by 2012.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) cannot utilize any IPA funds, including for rural development, because it lacks a state agriculture ministry, though it does have two entity ministries.
"Republika Srpska politicians do not support a state agriculture ministry. Because we cannot access IPA funds, we lose the possibility to advance the agriculture sector, which can offer thousands of jobs in a state where more than half a million people are unemployed," Sanela Klaric, president of the Green Building Council in Sarajevo, told SETimes.
Moreover, the EU has suspended 5 million euros set aside for rural development because the country failed to complete the framework for two projects.
Following the EU decision, the entities' agriculture ministers Stevo Mirjanic and Jerko Lijanovic Ivankovic and the BiH Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Minister Mirko Sarovic met last June to prepare a joint proposal on a model to harmonise IPARD operations.
"We agreed on the model of harmonisation and to establish the structures in accordance with the demands of the European Commission, which are prepared in the country's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations," FBIH agriculture minister Lijanovic Ivankovic told SETimes.
He said given that the agency for IPARD funds distribution has not yet been formed, the distribution will be carried out by the existing Office for Funds Distribution and the entity ministries.
"We expect this proposal will be acceptable to the European Commission," he said.
By contrast, IPARD funds are not available to Serbia because the country does not have official EU member candidate status, even though the European Commission has initiated the process.
Serbia's agriculture ministry began the IPARD accreditation process earlier this year in an attempt to tap overall Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance 2013 funds available for the next three years. It began the required self-assessment for accreditation and finished it at the end of last month.
"By finishing the draft IPARD programme and self-assessment, the ministry fulfilled the basic requirements for IPARD accreditation, but because of external conditions the funds are not acessible to Serbian agriculture this year," Serbia's agriculture ministry told SETimes in a statement.
Correspondents Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.
What can Balkan countries do to increase participation in and use of IPARD programme funds?