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Regional Cooperation in Europe

Sida’s regional cooperation with Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Türkiye focuses on democracy, human rights, gender equality, climate and the environment, and economic development. The cooperation also helps to bring countries closer to EU membership.

Sida's regional support in Europe

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Progress has been made

Important laws has been passed

Some of the Western Balkan countries have passed laws that strengthen equality, and protect the rights of children, minority groups, LGBTQI people, and persons with disabilities. 

Modernising environment legislation

Many of the countries in the region have modernised their environmental legislation, bringing countries closer to EU membership while benefiting the environment and climate, for example the facilitation of operation of organic agriculture in Belarus.

Economic development

The Western Balkans have developed economically in recent years. Growth is expected to reach 4.8 percent in 2020, which is higher than the EU average. However, the current pandemic is having a negative impact on growth throughout the region.


Challenges remain

Widespread corruption

Many of the region’s countries are rife with corruption. For example, politicians and officials may have exploited their positions of power for private economic and political interests instead of prioritising important societal reforms.

Deteriorated democracy

In recent years, democracy and human rights have deteriorated in several countries in the region. The situation of independent media is generally difficult, and freedom of speech is severely restricted. Discrimination, gender-based violence and trafficking are widespread.

Shortcomings in the judicial system

Organised crime is widespread, and the judicial systems have major shortcomings. Among other things, not all trials are conducted properly.

Development cooperation in Europe

With its 730 million inhabitants, Europe is home to both some of the world’s richest countries and countries facing major democratic challenges and widespread poverty. In some countries, ethnic tensions make their challenges even more difficult. Unemployment is high, especially among young people and women. The region as a whole ranks relatively high in terms of human development (according to the  UN Human Development Index) relative to the rest of the world.

Sida’s regional cooperation in Europe extends from Belarus in the north to Türkiye in the south – and includes some of Europe’s poorest countries:

  • Eastern Europe: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Azerbaijan
  • The Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro
  • Türkiye

Economic development and integration with the EU

The region is slowly approaching EU membership. The goal of EU membership is and has been a driving force for sustainable development, but is increasingly being questioned in some parts of the region. This, in turn, is becoming a source of division. Serbia has entered into membership negotiations, Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied to negotiate its membership, and Albania and North Macedonia are now candidate countries and can begin negotiations on future EU membership.

High unemployment is one of the region’s biggest challenges – especially for young people and women. Overall, economic development in these countries is slow. Corruption and bureaucracy are obstacles to sustainable economic development.

Supporting female entrepreneurship

Fewer women than men work in Europe, often with lower wages and poorer working conditions. Together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Women in Business Programme, Sida helps to make it easier for women to start and run successful businesses. Through this project, women can participate in practical training and build networks with other female entrepreneurs. The project also increases opportunities for SMEs owned or operated by women to take out bank loans.

About the Women in business Programme at European Bank for Reconstruction and Developments web page

Easier trade within and outside of Europe

Today, many companies in the region are excluded from the international market. In close cooperation with the EU, Sida helps to facilitate trade both between the region’s countries and the rest of the world. This is accomplished, inter alia, by adapting products and service standards to the EU’s safety requirements. Quality checks are conducted on equipment and tools. This improves the quality of equipment for, e.g. firefighters and hospital staff. Increased quality increases consumer confidence in the company that sells the product or service, making it easier to compete with EU countries and the rest of the world.

Democracy and human rights

Although democracy and respect for human rights have generally been strengthened in the Western Balkans, the region is still characterised by political instability. In Eastern Europe, many societies have become increasingly closed-off and governments have become more conservative, putting human rights and democracy at risk. This makes it more difficult for civil society to combat discrimination and promote stronger rights.

Supporting independent media

The space for independent media has declined in recent years. Via the  Balkan Investigative Reporting Network(BIRN), Sida strengthens free and investigative media in the Western Balkan countries. Internews strengthens the ability of local media in Eastern Europe to conduct market and target group analyses, thus increasing their revenues. Sida also supports the  Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a network of media organisations that conduct investigative journalism to highlight corruption and organised crime.

Strengthening minority rights

Discrimination against Roma is commonplace. Via the  European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Sida works to strengthen the rights of Roma and respect for their human rights. The  Roma Education Fund increases educational opportunities for Roma groups in the Western Balkans, Moldova, Ukraine and Türkiye.

Increasing women's political influence

Gender stereotypes and norms are a widespread problem in the region, although the extent of these problems varies between countries. Kvinna till Kvinna and local and regional networks of women’s organisations work to strengthen women’s rights and their participation in processes aimed at approaching EU membership.

Environment and climate

Climate change is expected to have major consequences for the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, thus altering the conditions for agriculture and food security.

To become a member of the EU, countries need to have well-developed legislation on nature conservation. EU membership is an important carrot by which to encourage countries to work more on this issue. Although several of the countries have already adapted their environmental and climate legislation to EU standards, a strong political will is needed to make the transition towards a more environmentally and climate-sustainable economy a reality.

Sustainable and efficient use of energy

The use of energy and natural resources is often highly inefficient, and the management of emissions and waste is often inadequate. Via the  Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (E5P), Sida invests in energy efficiency, district heating, waste water treatment and waste management. In total, the Sida-funded projects are estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around one million tonnes per year.

Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnerships web page

Strengthened nature conservation and ecotourism

Biodiversity is under threat in the Western Balkans. Causes include climate change, illegal logging, the expansion of infrastructure and hydroelectric power stations, and the rapid growth of cities. Through the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Sida contributes to strengthening nature conservation and making ecotourism a potential source of income for local entrepreneurs and communities. Through  collaborations between schools and the organisations that manage the protected areas, children learn about nature conservation, biodiversity and how they can contribute to a sustainable future.

About WWF Nature Academy at the Nature and people web page

Updated: April 30, 2021