Hey Europe, Someone Still Wants You. Serbia Eyes EU Slot A Decade After Miloševic

Serbia has positioned itself as one of the next countries likely to join the European Union. Still, a simmering conflict along the border with its old nemesis Kosovo -- plus deepening unemployment -- put the candidacy at risk.

Belgrade (rudlavibizon)
Belgrade (rudlavibizon)
Francesco Semprini

BELGRADE - "If you want to understand this land, look at the coat of arms of our capital," says Srbobran, a middle-aged guide and expert on Serbian history.

Designed in 1931 by the painter Ðorde Andrejevic-Kun, Belgrade's coat of arms includes images of opened doors, to symbolize the city's commercial soul, and towers, to represent its sovereignty and fortification against its enemies. Two wavy white lines symbolize the Sava and Danube Rivers, which surround Belgrade, and a Roman trireme marks the antiquity of the city, which has Celtic, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Magyar, and Slavonic roots. Belgrade was seen by many as the last rampart of the Western world against the Ottomans.

"Now we are at the start of Serbia's journey into the new millennium," says Srbobran.

The country is indeed at a crossroads -- and one of its possible paths leads straight through Brussels. On Oct. 12, 2011, the European Commission adopted its first response to Serbia's application for membership of the European Union, recommending the Council of Europe to grant it the status of candidate country of the EU, with talks on the candidacy slated to begin next month. The current 27 EU countries will have the final say.

Serbia's journey to Europe began more than a decade ago, in October 2000, with the adoption of democratic reforms after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, 20 years of war and the end of the Slobodan Miloševic dictatorship a decade ago.

"We still have the signs of all this," says Srbobran.

Many buildings in Belgrade remain damaged or destroyed. It is a city with many faces: young people wearing Nike and Prada, but also an occupied university and Orthodox Christian churches everywhere.

Economics and Kosovo

The country has moved on from its political crisis, but is now a victim of the world financial slide. Despite the market turmoil, the fear of default on the debt for some European countries, and the debate about the future of the euro zone, Serbia is as eager as ever to join the EU.

Srdjan Majstorovic, deputy director of the government's Office for European Integration, notes that Serbia has already obtained the visa exemption for travel in EU countries, a necessary prerequisite to EU membership. "We have begun important judiciary reforms and have normalized relationships with neighboring countries."

Serbia is working on economic reforms as unemployment has reached 20%. Among young people, the jobless rate is nearly 50%.

At the last elections in 2008, the pro-European coalition led by Serbian President Boris Tadić obtained 39% support, just edging out the conservative coalition.

Relations with Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia, are a serious issue, and spark a range of reactions, from both citizens and politicians. Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic quietly explains that the government is working with Italy and Germany to find a solution, while Interior Minister Ivaca Dacic threatens rallies to protest.

According to Marko Blagojevic, an official with the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, those opposed to joining the EU rose to nearly 50% during the recent unrest at Serbia's border with Northern Kosovo.

Borislav Stefanovic, leader of Belgrade`s negotiating team with Kosovo, admits there are forces on both sides that want to undermine the peace – and Serbia's EU candidacy. "We have been threatened, but our journey to Europe will go on," he says.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - rudlavibizon

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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