Serbia is one of the most attractive countries to invest in Eastern Europe in the eyes of Spanish companies, not only for business and economic reasons, but also because Serbians and Spaniards have very similar characters and we get on very well
H.E. Raúl Bartolomé Molina came as Spanish ambassador last summer. He tells in interview in Diplomacy and Commerce about how he sees our relationships, what we can learn from each other…
Will the election of a new government affect Spain’s foreign policy?
— Spanish foreign policy is a State policy. That means there is a wide consensus among all political parties in Spain as regards the main priorities and lines to take in our foreign policy. Spain has a reputation for being a loyal and trustworthy partner and this is partly due to the continuity in our foreign policy regardless of the political party in the Government. This also allows us to pursue a more effective and enduring foreign policy. With respect to the Balkans, Spain will continue to support the European perspective of the countries of the region and encourage them to undertake the necessary reforms in order to align with the European standards. And, of course, Spain’s stance towards the conflict of Kosovo will remain the same.
Spain was not traditionally present in our region, because it has mainly been focusing on Latin America. Now, Spain seems ready to invest in Eastern Europe. Where is Serbia’s place in all of that?
— Well, Spain has been traditionally present in Latin America, in Europe and in Northern Africa due to cultural and historical reasons. These common ties are stronger, indeed, in the case of Latin America. But Spanish growing interest in the region is fostered by two main causes: the rapprochement of those countries to the European project and the expertise of Spanish companies, which feel now more ready and competitive to invest in new countries. In this context, Serbia is one of the most attractive countries to invest in Eastern Europe in the eyes of Spanish companies, not only for business and economic reasons, but also because Serbians and Spaniards have very similar characters and we get on very well. I am fully convinced of the added value our companies can offer. Our “late” arrival to the region makes it more difficult for our companies, since there are already other internaonal companies better positioned and with more expertise in the Balkans. Nonetheless, one of our main missions as an Embassy is to provide assistance, guide and help our companies. I can assure we are fully devoted to that end.
Spain and Serbia politically have very good cooperation and progress, but economic cooperation is below the desired level. What can be done to improve it and reach the potential companies better positioned and with more expertise in the Balkans. Nonetheless, one of our main missions as an Embassy is to provide assistance, guide and help our companies. I can assure we are fully devoted to that end. Spain and Serbia politically have very good cooperation and progress, but economic cooperation is below the desired level. What can be done to improve it and reach the potential?
— Well, economic cooperation and bilateral trade have been increasing over the last years, although there is still big room for manoeuvre. As incredible as it may seem, Serbia remains a hidden treasure for many in Spain and therefore one of our main tasks is to bring both countries closer together. In that sense, Air Serbia direct flights and the celebration in 2018 of the first business forum between Spain and Serbia here in Belgrade are good contributions for that purpose. Direct flights have an impact on the number of Spanish tourists who visit Belgrade and some of those tourists may have businesses in Spain and have an interest in expanding their services or goods. Therefore, the more we know each other, the more exchange in trade and investments there will be. Furthermore, I do believe in the forthcoming years we will see an even more steep increase in our bilateral cooperation, because there is also political will to strengthen our ties. And if there is determination and interest from both sides, the rest will follow.
Following Franco’s rule, Spain became a modern and democratic country in quite a short period. In almost 30 years after Communism and wars, many countries in Eastern Europe are yet to find their own way. What was the Spanish method?
— I would say consensus among all political and social actors enabled Spain to recover its place in the world as a modern and dynamic democracy and economy. Internally, consensus was also fundamental to turn the page over our recent obscure past. Furthermore, our great Euro Atlantic conviction also contributed to the spectacular change Spain experienced in quite a short period, as you say. Expectations about joining the European Union, the European Economic Community as it was called at that time, were a driving force to make the necessary reforms.
What can Serbia adopt from the Spanish experience in economics and economic transformation, because after Franco, Spain changed with a phenomenal step?
— In my opinion, the Spanish experience shows, above all, that reforms are essential and that, although in the short term they might be difficult, in the long run, they are beneficial. Social inclusion and cohesion must guide any economic transformation, since it is the best guarantee for a sustainable and lasting development. In a nutshell, there is no real economic transformation if only part of the society benefits from economic development. Prosperity will only arrive when the least-favoured part of the society reaches certain economic and social standards. There cannot be true social peace and cohesion if part of the citizens lag behind.
You were born in Bilbao – the largest city of Spain’s autonomous Basque community. Bearing in mind the experiences of your country, do you believe that issues of national identity can be resolved without changing borders?
— History has showed us that changing borders is a never-ending story. I do believe national identities should be guaranteed within broader and diverse states. There are mechanisms to allow different identities to live together and cooperate within the same borders (i.e., autonomous regions, federal states, etc.). On the other hand, becoming member of the European Union implies a cession of sovereignty by the State towards a supranational organization in which differences between national identities and borders would inevitably wither away.
Do you believe that Serbia can become an EU member state if it rejects calls to recognise Kosovo’s independence?
— I believe the most important issue for Serbia’s EU accession is to undertake all necessary reforms. In the end, if Serbia is fully aligned with European standards and ready to become an EU member, I don’t think the fact that Serbia does not recognise Kosovo will hamper the accession. If you read carefully different progress reports by the European Commission on the negotiations of accession of Serbia to the EU, you will notice that the emphasis is always on the reforms to be undertaken in different areas (rule of law, foreign relations, and economic, social and environmental policies).
What are the Embassy’s plans for the future?
— In general, we intend to increase our presence in Serbia: not only from the economic and political point of view, but also from a cultural, social and media perspective. I am convinced Spain can offer much more to Serbia: we are a loyal and trustworthy partner who truly believes in the Serbian European path and its potential to accomplish all necessary reforms to underpin an inclusive and sustainable development. I hope we can strengthen even more our excellent cooperation with Serbian authorities and society.