Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy, which is why it is important to invest in them, it was said at the first panel within the MSP forum, which was held online.

Mateja Norcic Stamcar, the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, pointed out that the EU had invested EUR 30.8 million through the Innovation Fund within the program for the co-financing of innovations and that a total of 132 projects had been supported.

When it comes to rural areas, SMEs are supported through the EU PRO program.

– The aim is to support companies which produce food, furniture, textile, clothes and those that process wood and metal. A total of 203 small and micro enterprises from southeast and southwest Serbia are supported with over EUR 4.3 million in grants. A total of 550 jobs have been created – Norcic Stamcar said.

She also pointed out the Delegation’s Office was in the final phase of preparing an electronic brochure with all the possibilities of financing for SMEs, to be available on the website in the middle of the next week.

Mateja Norcic Stamcar also said that the European Union had set aside EUR 78 million in financial help for SMEs:

– This is a package we are working on as part of the joint programming with the Government of Serbia. It is a part of a larger package of EUR 93 million, which the EU has made available for fighting COVID-19 and its economic consequences. An economic-investment plan worth EUR 7 billion for the entire region of the Western Balkans was announced as a long-term goal. It will also be directed at important questions for the economy as a whole: fast internet, road construction, railways, upgrade of waterways and so on.

She added that EUR 1 million in help to rural tourist subjects in eastern Serbia had been secured and pointed out that the EU remained the main donor, investor and trade partner of Serbia and the Western Balkans.

Alessandro Bragonzi, the Head of the EIB Regional Representation for the Western Balkans, said that the bank had invested more than EUR 4.2 billion for SMEs in the Western Balkans and that over 28,000 companies had been supported, that is, 500,000 jobs in the region.

– So far, the EIB has invested EUR 2.2 billion in Serbia, which, according to our estimates, has helped preserve over 300,000 jobs – he said.

He explained that the EIB Group helped the economy through cooperation with commercial or national banks which offer more favorable conditions for SMEs in the sense of lower interest rates or longer repayment periods.

– The European Investment Fund provides loan guarantees, mostly for capital investment projects, working capital, research, development and innovations. They can be used for environmental and agricultural projects – Bragonzi said.

He also noted that over USD 1.7 billion had been invested in the region in 2020 in order to mitigate the effects of the COVID crisis.

– USD 320 million was directed at SMEs, and, in Serbia, there was a credit line of USD 175 million and a credit guarantee of USD 70 million from the European Investment Fund – he specified.

He concluded that SMEs needed to accept the changes related to digitization and climate change in their everyday operations, that is, to dedicate themselves to a digital and green transition, which he believes is crucial to the competitiveness of the local economy.

Let us remind that MSP Forum Belgrade is the only and the most important business event of the year in Serbia meant for owners and management of SMEs (companies with 10-250 employees) in the real sector. The event aims to point to the importance of SMEs as the engine without which there is no quick recovery of the local economy and to facilitate the solving of problems in the considerably changed conditions of doing business, through exchanging international experiences.

This year, it was held on March 30-31 in an online format. It was organized by the InStore business magazine and under the media sponsorship of the NIN weekly.