The most fulfilling moments in a politician's life are meetings with people whose lives were transformed, or even saved, thanks to well-prescribed policy. My visit to Serbia gave me that opportunity, witnessing the impact of the EU neighbourhood policy on Serbians who can finally breathe clean air again. Another highlight was witnessing Prime Minister Vučić's announcement of his country's first national commitment to join global efforts on climate change.
Serbian girls and boys are no different than others. They want to play, learn, and grow up in a healthy environment. They probably read similar books and watch similar films to other children around the world. But if you ask them about 'Snow White', they would probably not think about Disney but of the fact that their snow is literally white again. For years, Serbia suffered from high air pollution, whose devastating effects ranged from damaged crops to respiratory diseases which kill thousands and cost billions every year. The situation was so bad that the snow would turn black within 24 hours on the ground, simply because of poor air quality.
One of the major causes for air pollution was the Obrenovac power plant near Belgrade. A significant EU investment of €200 million, allowed boosting the plant's energy efficiency and restore appropriate quality levels of water and air. When visiting the plant just over a week ago, I heard first-hand from Serbians of this area what energy efficiency means to their everyday lives. Their children literally have a brighter future.
During my visit to the country's capital, Prime Minister Aleksander Vučić announced the country's climate contribution ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris this year. In professional jargon we call it the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or simply INDC. In the case of Serbia this was a major sign of the country's true ambition to full integration into the EU and taking action towards the global fight against climate change. It was the first time Serbia made a national climate commitment and it was the first EU candidate country to do so. For this reason, I warmly congratulated the Serbian government.
Climate policy was one of the main policy areas I discussed in Serbia but not the only one. My meetings with the government's ministers, local civil society organisations and businesses who were all motivated to come closer together to the EU. NGOs were telling me about their growing role in Serbian society, one which is critical for a healthy democracy. Businesses were very much concerned about the country's high dependency on Russian gas and therefore welcomed Serbian's place in the EU's Energy Union which promotes diversification. Finally, ministers expressed their satisfaction from the progress we're making in the accession negotiations. Being part of the accession negotiations of my own country, Slovakia, into the EU I could sympathise with the hard work it entails, but I could also reassure them from our own experience how very well worthwhile this effort was!
From Belgrade I went for a short visit in Turin to attend the annual World Chambers Congress. This was an opportunity to speak with major global businesses about their important role in fighting climate change through sustainable and efficient manufacturing. I told them how the EU could support their efforts to generate green sustainable growth.
Video of 9th WCC 12/06/2015 - Media Plaza con Maros Sefcovic
On the margins of this conference, I also met with the Mayor of Turin, Piero Fassino, who is one of Europe's front-runners when it comes to building a sustainable "Smart City". But he doesn't stop there, he is very keen in sharing the knowledge and cooperating with other cities across Europe (and the globe). Cities are not islands, they are hubs. That is why his work is so important!