The development of transport infrastructure in the western Balkan countries will facilitate their access to regional and EU markets and help them meet accession requirements.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times -- 28/08/13
Thousands of kilometres of roads have been improved in recent years. [SETimes/Nikola Barbutov]
Billions of euros have been invested in the past decade in the upgrading of existing or the construction of new transport infrastructure in southeast Europe to integrate the region's transport network into the European one.
In 2004, seven Western Balkan participants -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and UNMIK -- and the European Commission signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of the core regional transport network. The multi-modal system consists of almost 6,000 kilometres of roads, more than 4,600 kilometres of rail, the rivers Danube and Sava, seven seaports, two river ports and 11 airports.
In 2005, a regional organisation, the South East Transport Observatory (SEETO), was set up to facilitate the implementation of the plan and to promote co-operation in the development of a comprehensive network.
A total of 9.2 billion euros have been disbursed from 2004 to 2012, with another 4 billion euros committed to the network, SEETO said in the report. Nearly four-fifths of the investments disbursed between 2004 and 2012 were in road infrastructure projects.
Between December 2012 and May, a total of 1.8 billion euros were secured for nine priority projects via financing agreements and committed investments.
Croatia made the largest investment commitments, 695 million euros, for two railway priority projects, while Albania signed the largest financing deals, securing 345 million euros for three road priority projects, according to the report.
"Each western Balkan country wants to develop a transport system to connect with the rest of Europe," SEETO General Manager Nenad Nikolic told a July conference in Vienna on Balkan infrastructure and construction. "The governments of the western Balkans are giving lots of incentives."
Currently, there are 23 priority projects eligible for funding and another 21 for preparation listed on the SEETO website.
The projects in the first group, most of them for road infrastructure, have a feasibility study completed and are ready for financing negotiations, SEETO transport planning manager Ana Simecki told SETimes.
"There are different sources of funding for priority projects," she said, listing national budgets, loans from international financial institutions, EU grants and commercial banks among the possible sources. "When the project is on the SEETO priority list it has strong support in order to receive funding as it is marked as a top priority for the … region."
Until 2012, only Croatia and Macedonia were eligible for funding under all components of the EU's Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. Thus, the bulk of the completed or ongoing projects have been financed largely with national resources and IFI loans.
Aside from the direct effects, such as faster and safer common communication and transport of passengers and goods, the implementation of the projects also facilitates the western Balkan countries' integration into the trans-European transport network and thereby their EU accession.
"That is one of the main goals of the SEETO co-operation," Simecki said.
The rehabilitation of the Katlanovo (Brezica) to Veles road section along Corridor 10 is listed by SEETO among the priority projects eligible for funding.
"We are committed to the implementation of priority projects and improving overall transport infrastructure and transport services, not only for the citizens of Macedonia, but for all citizens transiting through the country," Macedonian Minister of Transport and Communications Mile Janakievski told SETimes. Road Corridor 10, he said, is the most important element of the main transport network in the country.
Corridor 10 runs through Belgrade, creating traffic congestion as well as environmental and road safety problems. Currently, there are 164 construction sites along the Corridor 10 in Serbia. According to the Corridors of Serbia company, work on the key artery is scheduled to be finished by 2016.
Correspondents Klaudija Lutovska in Skopje and Katica Djurovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.
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