Cross-border Cooperation in Southeastern Europe

Cultural tourism in the Panonian Plain

This hot summer, almost everyone sought a place to refresh. This is a beach on the Tisa River in Hungary, near the town of Szeged. Although the Panonian Plain is usually not associated with beaches and tourism, in Hungary they think otherwise. This country is one of the most visited in Europe, raising a significant annual revenue from tourism.

What draws tourists to Hungary, apart from Budapest and the Balaton Lake?

This is Opusztaszer, an ethno-historical park, located some twenty kilometers from Szeged. Built in a historically important place, where Hungarians first arrived in this area of Europe, the park presents Hungary’s history and popular tradition in an original way. The results are very positive. Three hundred thousand people visit this place every year. The Main Curator, Klara Keckemeti, says their interest is to attract people who live right on the other side of the border – in Serbia.

Klara Kecskemeti, Curator of the Ethno-Historical in Opusztaszer:

“We have worked together several times during the Palic days and last October during the Novi Sad Tourist Days. This was a display of exhibitions and we had very positive experiences because we got to know many travel agencies in these exhibitions. As a feedback we had a lot of visitors here in the park from Novi Sad.”

Novi Sad is only a hundred kilometers away and there also many see an opportunity on the local and the regional level. Biljana Marceta is the manager of the Magellan tourist agency, which, apart from classical trips to well-known destinations in the Mediterranean, would like to offer something new. Marceta sees a huge potential in the development of ethno-tourism in Vojvodina and in cooperation with colleagues from Hungary and Romania to offer joint regional opportunities.

Biljana Marceta, Manager of the Magellan Tourist Agency, Novi Sad:

“What we would like, not only as a tourist agency, but in general if we look at things globally, is to establish cooperation between tour-operators, to bring them here from Hungary and Romania and let them see what we have to show them and establish the ways of future cooperation.`

That triangle between Serbia, Hungary and Romania represents a genuine cultural and geographic entity, with many common trends. Within the Stability Pact, it was recently formally established as the Euro-region Danube-Krish-Morish-Tisa, (or DKMT). One of the priorities of the Euro-region is the promotion of cultural tourism. The Faculty of Mathematics in Novi Sad launched the project of a digital map, which should present the cultural offer of the region in a modern fashion, and boost the development of this new concept.

Pavle Tomic, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics in Novi Sad:

“The second important thing is that our economic needs are the same, as well as our infrastructure needs – highways to be more precise. That means that the corridors that are ending on the border should be lengthened and I think that the Euro-region should be and maybe is already the first step for integration and accession to the EU.`

Indeed, the European Union is largely established on the principle of “Europe of the regions”, giving a lot of importance to decentralized, regional policy and cross-border co-operation. One third of the Union's budget is spent on regional development projects. Regions can receive direct subsidies from the EU when presenting sound projects according to certain criteria.

In the agricultural region Vale di Non in Italy there is also a tourism development project. The construction of small family hotels, promenades and wine routes is financed from the so-called EU structural funds. Those funds are intended for regions facing economic problems or that are lagging behind in terms of development. Another example – the case of Northern Ireland. EU assistance here has been focused on crossborder cooperation programs, because the local economic underdevelopment was the result of interethnic conflicts and mutual distrust in this border region.

Here in Southeastern Europe we have both – dire economic underdevelopment, coupled with distrust and absence of cooperation between neighbors. Therefore, cross-border cooperation and decentralization of power are top priorities of the Stability Pact. This was confirmed at a recent meeting in Szeged of the so called “Core Group” consisting of key agencies responsible for cross-border-cooperation projects. Several newly-established regions in Southeastern Europe are now trying to formulate and realize mutual projects.

Elizabeth Rehn, Stability Pact Chairwoman in charge of local democracy and cross-border issues

“It's very important that we have a core group to come together now and then. We were discussing today very intensively the possibilities for cross-border cooperation, democracy of course and also the funding, how to get the money, should there be some kind of memorandum of understanding between governments, what should be done so that we can really support this cross-border cooperation.”

Vera Budway, Stability Pact:

`What we can do is that we can raise the awareness of what is really happening on the ground and also we work very closely with the donors in identifying some of the priorities. We have a steering committeewithin our local democray initiative that met for the first time in April in Brussels to basically identify what are some of the key priorities for cross-border cooperation. This steering committee brings together not only bilateral donors , but alos a core group of implementing agencies and some of the foundations like the Open Society,and the East-West Institute, which are very active on the ground supporting Euro-regional cooperation.”

Joszef Kozma, Deputy Mayor of Szeged:

“I think that this region is a very attractive one, but not as one part taken off. The Szeged region, the region of Subotica and region Arad or Timisoara, they belong together and form a genuine and very colorful region. So, when we try to cooperate in this field, we have to synchronize the programs.”

But this colourful region could, apart from tourism development, solve some important problems related to transport infrastructure and environment protection. When Hungary becomes a member of the EU next year, this region could even compete for the Union's structural funds. For Djordje Djukic, the Chairman of this (DKMT) Euro-region, environment protection is the priority.

Djordje Djukic, Chairman of the Executive Council of Vojvodina:

`Organic food is one of the main export opportunities for Vojvodina. In order to be able to promote organic food, in order to be able to produce it in the first place, we have to have ecologically sound, non-polluted land and clean water. That is precisely why in the framework of this Euro-region DKMT we put as the first priority these environmental issues, seconded by the problems of transport infrastructure.`

Nothing is more logical than to present the Opusztaszer Park and the Palic Lake in the same tourist package. One can only hope that the introduction of Hungarian visas will not spoil these plans. The Hugarian part of the DKMT Euro-region and its inhabitants will next year become EU citizens, but the majority will still require a visa to enter the Union.

Topics: dialogue Pristina/Belgrade and situation in Macedonia

Interviews with Members of the European Parliament during this week`s session in Strasbourg, France

General views in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, flags, hemicycle
MEPs talking together
Joost Lagendijk (NL) in the picture

Joost Langendijk, MEP, The Netherlands

On the EU's role in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina:

`The present situation in Kosovo doesn't really favour dialogue but I think it's really up to the EU to put maximum pressure on both sides, at least to get together and to try and see what is possible and I am saying that because I think that is the only possible solution. I don't see any other solution neither to continue the present situation with no dialogue and then hope for the future or that the EU makes up a plan of its own without the two sides being involved, so this is the only formula that can work but it will be extremely diffocult in September with the situation as it is now to strat off but I think really the EU has to put all efforts into this dialogue, into these talks because again it 's the only way out. `

On the duration of the dialogue

`I think it 's pretty hard to predict how long it will take. I mean it's clear, it's very difficult so it won't be one or two months. On the other hand, I can't imagine that these talks will drag on for years. I am thinking myself that within a period of one year it should be clear what are the possibilities. You don't have to be a magician or a scientist to see what really are the possibilities. This has been put on paper before by all kinds of think-tanks in the past so the possibilities should be clear, I think, within, maximum one year.

Will the EU military force stay in Macedonia?

Yes, I do think that the EU will stay for two reasons: one is that the Ohrid agreement is so crucial in stabilising the whole region, not only Macedonia, but if Ohrid fails and the whole Albanian problem will/could explode, second is that, as you may know, the presence of the EU in Macedonia has a high symbolic value for this new EU security policy and it would really be a disaster for this new policy when for the first time when problems arise, the EU would draw back and show that it 's not able to cope for the problems, so I think for that reasons the EU will do its utmost to prove that it can do a military and security job in the Balkans on the borders of the EU and show that this new EU Security Policy is really a substantial thing and not only something on paper where , which disappears if there are problems. So I think that for that reason the EU will be willing to invest a lot of energy and time and money in staying in Macedonia and trying to stabilise the country.

Shots of MEP Hannes SWOBODA (Austria) with Joost Lagendijk


On the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue

`The fact that the positions are far away from each other on the Serb side and on the Albanian side is not a problem, because otherwise you wouldn't need talks, but violence is a problem. Violence is a problem, and the attitude of some Albanians thoughts that hang in the. I think the Albanians are not yet ready to accept that the violence is not only hurting the Serbs, killing even young people, but is killing the hope, let' say, for an independent Kosovo. Unless that is clear for the Albanians in Kosovo, negotiations cannot start and , anyway,they cannot proceed and I cannot see that the Serbs are ready to go to negotiations unless they have made it very clear from the Albanian side to do whatever they can to prevent that kind of violence.`

Well, I think we have to learn form other regions, regions which are more crisis regions, like the Middle East. Only to define steps and roadmaps is not enough, you have to clearly define the final status and I cannot imagine anything else than the final status of an independent Kosovo but a multiethnic Kosovo, a Kosovo which is able to protect all its citizens and its interest is to protect all its citizens, that is Albanians, Serbs and any other kind of minority and that,of course, has to be proved before, one cannot wait and first -rate independent Kosovo and then, `let's see` ,and that, of course, has to include a vital influence of the Serb, Yugoslav, no, Serb government concerning the future of its minority. If these talks are accompanied by positive measures by the majority, by the Albanian speaking majority in Kosovo, …………….it must be a real change in the whole atmosphere, unless that change is done, even to start talking is not of much help .

On the EU military mission in Macedonia

Well, for the moment, there is peace, there is calm, and theoretically one can stop on the 15 December. In practice I would not advise to do so, because the situation is calm for the moment but there is no long run stability already reached and, therefore, I think it would be good for the country if the Mission is continued and it 's good for the EU if they have some more practice and training in the military Mission, at the place. So, because of that a bit unsecure, unsafe, not finalized stability in Macedonia I would advise to stay there at least for about another year.



There is really a big lack between both sides but they have to feel it.They have to speak together because as long as the final status in Kosovo is not defined,there will not be peace in the region, even for Macedonia, so I think they should really come together and the new High Representative there, Mr. Holkeri, should really press them to come together. But, on the other hand we see that although in Kosovo there is still ongoing murdering against the Serb population and that is not helpful, I cannot understand that Serbs do not want dialogue at this moment but I think they should overcome the present situation. I don't know how long it will take with this dialogue but it has to start once and then it is difficult to convince one side or another side of the right way. What the right way is, is not so clear. For me it's clear that they don't want, that they can't come once again under the Serbian authority, they cannot become members of the Serbian state, but I think they understand because there was a time when they have been in this situation and I think they should have a possibility to run their own affairs but they have to respect the fact that the part of the citizens of Kosovo are not Albanians, are Serbs, mostly Serbs, some Romas, some others, and I think as long as they don't face this situation seriously they cannot have our support to become independent.

On the EU military mission in Macedonia

It 's our first common mission and I think we are ready to stay there and even to intervene if it is necessary. And I think in this moment it's not the best moment to speak on the end of the mission . Unfortunately, the government asked for the end of this mission. But I think ………………that the Mission is longer than the end of this year. We are ready to stay , I presume, but it's up to the government to accept.