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Focused On Regional Cooperation

Michela Telatin Ph.D., UNOPS Serbia Multi-country Office Director; UNOPS Representative In Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro

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UNOPS is a project-based and outcome-oriented United Nations organisation. The UNOPS office headquartered in Serbia covers the organisation’s operations across four Western Balkan countries

With the profile of our Multi-Country Office, a strong capacity and deep understanding of the region and its needs, we can act as a facilitator of regional change, an enabler of transnational cooperation and a supporter of inter-regional integration,” says UNOPS’ Michaela Telatin, pointing out the great potential of the region.

The mission of UNOPS is to help people build better lives and help countries achieve sustainable development. How are you fulfilling your mission in the Western Balkans?

― We have been present in Serbia for over two decades and have been working successfully in North Macedonia and Montenegro for more than five years. In Bosnia-Herzegovina we liaise with the United Nations office of the Resident Coordinator and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be able to offer our expertise and we will soon contribute to the joint UN efforts in the country.

We focus on providing tangible results to people by expanding partners’ capacities to implement projects at the regional, national and local levels, fulfilling our mandate in project management, infrastructure, procurement, human resources and financial management.

We create capacity at local and national level to support solution-focused environmental projects

The projects we’ve been implementing in the region are needs-based and carried out in partnership with the European Union, international financial institutions and bilateral donor governments, such as those of Switzerland, Sweden, Norway the United Kingdom and the United Nations, as well as national host governments. The entire portfolio of our office, which has also served as a hub to launch operations in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, amounts to a value of 350 million euros, while the projects we’re currently implementing are worth 120 million euros.

EU accession is embedded in the national agenda of every country in the Western Balkans. How is UNOPS supporting the region’s EU accession aspirations?

― The context of operations defines the needs, while the operational flexibility of the mandate and modus operandi of UNOPS ensure it is best suited to respond to different countries’ priorities and partners with a variety of stakeholders at local and national levels, including international financial institutions. Ultimately, the context is about people, and through the implementation of projects in the Western Balkans, where EU accession has a strong normative weight, UNOPS is actually doing EU integration in practice. We also provide expertise to ministries dealing with the technical requirements of EU integration, such as translations of European laws, training for journalists and the procurement of IT equipment that supports the path of EU integration.

We are also facilitating regional dialogue and cooperation, not only between the Western Balkans countries, but also with the countries that are part of the future enlargement that could benefit from the expertise that this region has acquired in the revised EU accession negotiation methodology.

Could you provide some examples of promotions of national capacities in the countries where you operate?

― We’ve been working on socio-economic development, the environment, good governance, social cohesion, the rule of law and healthcare, but we’ve also been a proven partner in emergencies like floods or Covid-19 in all three countries. We have been building social housing, providing vulnerable citizens not only with infrastructure, but also with inclusion measures that stimulate social cohesion. We have supported small and medium-sized enterprises in Serbia and Montenegro, helping them enhance their competitiveness and resilience.

The 120 million euro current portfolio of our Multi Country Office supports local economy, infrastructure, EU accession, and is creating the bases for further investments in the region

Both our social cohesion and socio-economic development initiatives, predominantly supported by the EU, are implemented through grant methodology, enabling not only financial support and readymade solutions, but also the capacity building of beneficiaries, be they national institutions or local organisations. Another field of growing importance is the rule of law, where we support national authorities predominantly through the procurement of sophisticated and complex digital solutions, ensuring efficiency and transparency for fundamental rights and security.

We work together with municipalities in upgrading their infrastructure, which needs to be more energy efficient. However, we are also aware of the great number of unmet needs in the economic and infrastructure sectors that are linked to local and rural development, as well as accessibility to social services through enhanced good governance services.

As this region is working towards being part of the European Union, where do you see the added value of UNOPS in this region in the future?

― UNOPS is committed to continue supporting the region of the Western Balkans in its EU accession path, including by enhancing regional cooperation on project implementation. This year, for instance, along with delivering for impact, we have worked on designing context-specific projects that respond to shared challenges linked to waste management, digitalisation, EU accession and other areas requiring regional responses. This is a region of great potential and UNOPS has proven its ability to deliver tangible solutions tailored to the needs of the people.

Dedicated to a Healthy Environment

The environment is an area of our operations in which we are increasingly active, especially in North Macedonia, where we are cleaning one of the country’s most hazardous environmental hot spots – the former OHIS chemical plant – and implementing the EU for Clean Air project, aiming to reduce air pollution in four major agglomerations: the capital of Skopje and the municipalities of Bitola, Kumanovo and Tetovo.


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