Swedish aid to help Western Balkans meet EU entry rules

SARAJEVO Mon Jun 2, 2014 12:20pm EDT

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sweden will give four Western Balkan countries 400 million euros ($546 million) in aid to carry out reforms needed to qualify to join the European Union, the Swedish ambassador in Bosnia said on Monday.

EU entry requirements and membership rules are meant to ensure new entrants have strengthened their economies and institutions enough to thrive within the trading union.

Ambassador Fredrik Schiller said the funds will help Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia to overhaul public administration and the judiciary and to protect human rights.

So far only Serbia has begun talks on qualifying to join the EU.

Schiller said the damage in Serbia and Bosnia caused by last month's flooding, the worst in the region in living memory, will be taken into account when it hands out the funds between 2014 to 2020.

"Devastating floods have changed the reality on the ground," he said at a function to present Sweden's new program of assistance to the Western Balkans in Sarajevo.

Sweden aims to help the two countries with short-term and long-term assistance, he said, adding that Bosnia alone would receive around 100 million euros from Sweden.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development estimates the damage caused by the floods in Serbia at up to 2 billion euros, or 7 percent of national output. In Bosnia, the bank estimated the damage at 1.3 billion euros or 10 percent of output.

The slow pace of reform in the Western Balkans, and waning enthusiasm within the EU for further enlargement, has held these countries back from joining the bloc.

But they are keen to join the EU, even after the government debt crisis that threatened the euro currency bloc. Croatia joined the EU in July 2013, although its economy has continued to shrink.

($1 = 0.7328 Euros)

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by James Macharia/Ruth Pitchford)

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