Insights from Slovenia's Former National Aid Coordinator Ms. Andreja Jerina
We had the honor of speaking with the former National Aid Coordinator for Slovenia during its pre-accession to the European Union, Ms. Andreja Jerina. Ms. Jerina offers valuable advice to candidate countries in the Western Balkans as they navigate their own paths toward European integration amidst current economic and global challenges. She highlights the need for genuine commitment, open discussions, and ambitious investments in human resources to successfully drive and implement green initiatives, promoting a sustainable future. Ms. Jerina also shares memorable moments and the rewarding journey of supporting the growth and development of public sector professionals in close cooperation with the CEF.
As the National Aid Coordinator during Slovenia's pre-accession to the European Union, you established the national system for external assistance management and negotiating arrangements with the European Commission. Considering the current economic and global challenges, what valuable advice would you offer to the candidate countries of the Western Balkans as they navigate their own paths toward European integration?
That was a very intense period, as we had no comparable experience, no one to learn from. Our success in that period was that we were honest with ourselves. We focused external assistance on the areas that were critical for the accession negotiations but simultaneously, we believed that with additional efforts in those areas we can progress quicker and better. What we were not very keen of was institutional building; we would have preferred investments. However, looking back, investments in people, teams and institutions were the most valuable part of the EU assistance. Knowledge is the magic stick for any issue, including accession negotiations.
So dear friends, invest in yourselves, your knowledge, skills, abilities, and your institutions. With enhanced capacities you will determine your own goals smarter and govern your country better. The EU is there to help you with these efforts. With managing the EU funds, you will train yourselves in coordination and implementation, talking and listening to each other. Honest assessment of what we are doing well and where we can still improve is fundamental for any progress. Pre-accession assistance is a great tool to master these skills. Make full use of it.
Over the span of approximately 20 years of working closely with the CEF team, you have provided invaluable support and advice, and also facilitated numerous collaboration opportunities. Could you share one or two particularly memorable moments with the CEF team that hold a special place in your memory?
I heard of the CEF for the first time when it was still just an idea and we tried to provide some EU pre-accession assistance for its first steps, institutional building. We were not successful, as our partner, the European Commission at that time, did not see any particular need for such an institution. We did not stop, as we believed in the idea and developed it with our own resources and partners. Over the years, the CEF grew into an international organization and has now strong partnership with the EU. If you follow your dream, success will come sooner or later. For the CEF it was sooner.
I also remember the challenging times of economic and financial crisis in 2008, when I was part of a governmental team coordinating anti-crisis measures and an exit strategy. It was a hectic, challenging and demanding process, full of everyday constraints. From time to time, I went to the CEF for different events or occasions, and there all was in order. They all knew exactly what they were doing and why; the atmosphere was inspiring and positive. This was when I realized that the CEF is a mental wellness center.
This year, the CEF started a new EU-funded project aimed at supporting young public sector professionals in the Western Balkans. From your wealth of experience, which personal qualities do you believe are most instrumental for fostering the growth and development of future young leaders in the public sector?
We say that the future is in the hands of the youth, and rightly so. Investing in young public sector professionals is a valuable contribution to a better future. There is a whole range of skills that should be taught, from managerial to financial issues, communication … But knowledge without a personal attitude is not sufficient. Leaders are not bosses, they lead with personal engagement, inspiration and empowerment of others to develop their full potential. They are inclusive but decisive, and bear full responsibility.
As a strong advocate for green transformation, you understand the importance of addressing challenges in the public sector to make green transformation a reality. In your view, what are the key challenges that need to be overcome in the public sector to successfully drive and implement green transformation initiatives?
There is no halfway in greening. This is not yet another political measure. It is horizontal, as it affects all of us and all policies. It is a process, not a project. It takes time and resources, both human and financial. People working in green transformation need to believe in it, only then will they be able to hold open discussions with colleagues and reach acceptable compromises. Compromises are needed because green transformation means a different way of doing things, sometimes with higher initial costs, and this cannot happen overnight. But we are late, and we need more ambition. Again, I believe the most productive investment also in green transition is investing in people. If the right people will manage green transition, it will happen.
And something personal for the conclusion. Looking back at your impressive professional path and the enjoyment you experience in retirement, what are you most proud of?
I never planned my career; with open hands and mind, I accepted the challenges on my way. My work had to have a meaning, as I wanted to contribute to a better society. I was looking for the unknown and new that required constant learning, and it was rewarding. I enjoyed working in different areas and benefitting from different experiences, meeting different people, networking. I am proud of what I have accomplished, in particularly when I think how my younger colleagues have grown professionally and personally. They say that working with me helped them in their own development. This is the highest reward I can get.
And now is the time for my loooong to-do list. I enjoy every moment of completing it.