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Tomislav Momirović, Minister Of Construction, Transport And Infrastructure Of The Republic Of Serbia

Open Balkan Is Both Our Chance And Obligation

When it comes to the Government of Serbia, there is no capitulating on the implementing of infrastructure projects, as they represent the foundation of our economic strength and create opportunities for the arrival of foreign investors

The most important infrastructure projects in Serbia are being implemented despite the intensifying global crisis, explains Serbian Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Tomislav Momirović, adding “we have the strength, resources and will to change Serbia for the better! Open Balkan is both our chance and obligation”.

What do you see as the most important opportunities provided in your sector by the Open Balkan Initiative?

Imagine travelling or doing business without obstacles hindering you at borders in the Balkans, no stopping, no crowds, no anxiety, no administration – this is just a fraction of what the Open Balkan Initiative will mean for the region. The ideas built into the foundations of the Open Balkan Initiative are freedom, regional cooperation and the mutual sharing of responsibilities. The current crises have shown just how important regional cooperation is and how accurate that folk saying that there’s no one closer than a neighbour really is. The stability of the region, and the increasing of our preparedness to confront current and future crises, are dependent on our desire, focus and organisation in implementing the ideas of the Open Balkan and the initiatives launched. A task force for crisis prevention was formed at the last meeting of the Initiative, which is so important ahead of the coming winter, as President Aleksandar Vučić has also warned about.

How quickly is it possible to implement projects that are being discussed intensively within the framework of the Open Balkan Initiative? For example, the project to digitalise road toll collection?

It is a question of the day when we make operational the Open Balkan electronic toll collection on the highways of the Initiative’s member countries and citizens will be able to use one TAG between Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania. Any Electronic Toll Collection user in any of the countries within the Open Balkan Initiative will be able to pay road tolls in all other countries of the Open Balkan Initiative with just one TAG, without having to stop or to purchase any additional device or card in countries where their vehicle is not registered.

Our plans remain ambitious, as they are based on realistic goals, deadlines and sources of funding. First and foremost, there is the decisive political will to make the most of this moment and take advantage of the wave of referendum support from voters to launch the biggest wave of infrastructure construction in the history of Serbia

Each of our joint initiatives faces numerous obstacles, but our task is to utilise this historic moment to turn around the situation on the ground and ease everyday life and business for citizens. Every connection between the countries relates primarily to infrastructure, i.e., to road, rail and air transport, and that’s why projects in these areas are critical to the future of the region.

How does this measure fit with the ministry’s plans to digitalise the sectors you cover?

The digitalisation of the sector is proceeding at an accelerated pace and the Government of Serbia is continuously increasing the readiness of all levels of government, especially in contacts with the citizens of Serbia, to provide services in a digital format as quickly as possible and to the highest possible quality. We have clearly defined the objectives with the Republic Geodetic Institute, as an institution that is our serious partner in the entire reform cycle and the implementation of major infrastructure works. The digitisation of the cadastral register already represents a great benefit and assuredness for all participants in the processes related to its work.

The global crisis, inflation and shortages of materials have caused slowdowns in large-scale infrastructure works in many countries. How have these circumstances impacted the Ministry’s plans for the year ahead?

Our plans remain ambitious, as they are based on realistic goals, deadlines and sources of funding. First and foremost, there is the decisive political will to make the most of this moment and take advantage of the wave of referendum support from voters to launch the biggest wave of infrastructure construction in the history of Serbia. We will, of course, continue to vigilantly monitor global capital market developments, as well as global and European supply chains, because the dynamics of our work are directly dependent on that.

We aren’t noticing any serious delays in meeting deadlines for now and we will strive, as we did during the pandemic, to ensure that plans unfold smoothly and that we are able to finally resolve some of the urgent projects that are incredibly importance to the future of Serbia.

At what pace are plans progressing for infrastructural connectivity in the Western Balkans and how is your cooperation in this area with colleagues in the region and international donors?

Each of our projects, as I often mention, is crucial for the region, because Serbia is not an island, but rather an unavoidable country of Southeast Europe. If our aim is to maintain the cleanliness of the Danube basin and to build wastewater treatment plants in all cities located within it, then that’s important for all countries through which this beautiful river runs. We have great responsibility, but also great willingness to help, which we proved when we decided to provide support to our Bulgarian neighbours in cleaning and deepening the Danube riverbed, under the conditions of record low water levels, thus enabling unhindered flows of international and local traffic.

Apart from highways, you are also focused on railways. How is work in this sector progressing on the domestic front and in the construction of the railway to Budapest?

That will be a great victory for the policies of Aleksandar Vučić and confirmation of Serbia’s determination to join Europe.

Despite all the difficulties, we are linking Belgrade and Budapest with the highest quality rail infrastructure. We will connect the capital cities of Serbia and Hungary in the same way we connected Belgrade and Novi Sad, and thereby prove ourselves to all those who didn’t believe that Serbian railways are ready for the future and the most difficult tasks. The high-speed Belgrade-Novi Sad railway has already transported more than two million passengers, and the reasons for such high use are clear.

Patriotism is today measured through the number of kilometres of new or modernised roads, the number of kilometres of new railways, the length of the new sewage network and constructed wastewater treatment plants

Speeds of 200 kilometres per hour, a half-hour journey, comfort and punctuality are the main reasons citizens are returning to rail transport en masse. Following the commissioning of the first section, work immediately continued on the second section, from Novi Sad to Subotica, and – as President Vučić announced – we will have a constructed railway in precisely three years, while the Hungarians will complete their section in 2025.

How would you evaluate the dynamics of the construction sector until the end of this year and during next year?

Although some elements of crisis are appearing at the global level, the situation is much more favourable on our territory. We haven’t registered withdrawals of investors, interest in new projects is very high, prices are stable and are even rising despite elements that could possibly cause them to fall. This testifies to the market still being very active, to there being real sources of financing and to the entire sector being in an accelerated working phase. It is tough to predict how the entire sector will develop if we have a war that’s practically in the neighbourhood and if we are facing a very difficult winter during which the whole of Europe will be confronted by the challenge of securing the energy required for the unhindered running of business and “life” activities.

Various obstacles were removed in the construction sector specifically in the last few years, which accelerated the process of obtaining construction permits significantly and improved the work of the cadastral register. What tasks that could help maintain the current dynamism of this sector remain?

The dynamism of this sector is dependent exclusively on private investors. We welcome every public-private partnership initiative and are ready to participate in a constructive way. When it comes to the Government of Serbia, there is no capitulating on the implementing of infrastructure projects, as they represent the foundation of our economic strength and create opportunities for the arrival of foreign investors. This is how patriotism is now measured: through the number of kilometres of new or modernised roads, the number of kilometres of new railways, the length of the new sewage network and constructed wastewater treatment plants.

It isn’t necessary to list everything currently being implemented, new highways and expressways, the modernisation of airports, new Serbian railway projects being prepared, the launch of construction of the Belgrade Metro, the accelerated boosting of our river transport capacity etc. These are all parts of the jigsaw puzzle that, when assembled, will show the picture of the modern, European Serbia as an indispensable transport and traffic hub of Southeast Europe and a pillar of regional stability.

Your area of work also includes infrastructure projects that are strongly connected to ecology. How is the “Clean Serbia” project currently progressing?

That’s the project of greatest importance to the future of Serbia and our children. Many people spout hollow ecological slogans at this time, but we have launched projects that will really change Serbia’s ecological perspective. I won’t repeat the dull statistics on how many Serbian villages and towns lack modern landfill sites, wastewater treatment facilities, normal sewage systems or even normal water supply systems. Approximately 300 kilometres of the new sewage network and four wastewater treatment facilities will be built this year, under the scope of the “Clean Serbia” project. These are major steps, and this government has implemented a great change in perception when it comes to environmental projects. We’ve built the most modern treatment facility in the country, in accordance with the highest European standards, in Kruševac. The situation is similar in Vranje, where 140 km of new sewage infrastructure will soon be completed. We are expediting work with our Chinese and German partners on all environmental projects and that will be our greatest legacy for our children’s future.

RESPONSIBILITY

The stability of the region, and the increasing of our preparedness to confront current and future crises, depend on our desire, focus and organisation in implementing the ideas of the Open Balkan and the initiatives launched

ECOLOGY

We are expediting work with our Chinese and German partners on all environmental projects and that will be our greatest legacy for our children’s future

DIGITALISATION

Digitalisation is proceeding at an accelerated pace and the Government of Serbia is continuously increasing the readiness of all levels of government, especially in contacts with the citizens of Serbia, to provide services in a digital format as quickly and qualitatively as possible

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