H.E. THOMAS SCHIEB, German Ambassador to Serbia: YOU HAVE TO SIT AND TALK

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What role do the EU and Germany play in the renewal of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue, given the stronger presence of the United States in the process? Will the format of the dialogue stay the same, or will it be changed? Is the USA going to bring in a new dynamic? These questions are very much debated both in Belgrade and Priština. We took the opportunity to ask H.E. Mr Thomas Schieb, the German Ambassador to Serbia, to give us his overview of the current phase in the dialogue.

The format of the dialogue remains unchanged. Germany strongly supports the Brussels-based normalization dialogue facilitated by the EU-HR Federica Mogherini”, says our interlocutor. “We welcome the progress achieved so far, such as in the fields of freedom of movement and mutual recognition of diplomas, and the telecommunication and justice sector.”

Mr Schiev notes that these results have improved the living standard and living conditions of bothethnic Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo. However, he says that “in order to achieve such solutions you have to sit and talk. We hope very much that the dialogue will resume soon. We therefore urge the authorities in Kosovo to abolish the tariffs that were imposed in clear violation of the CEFTA rules. And we encourage both sides to refrain from any acts that further jeopardize the dialogue.” The result of the dialogue needs to be an agreement that is comprehensive – dealing with all open issues – acceptable to both sides and implementable, says the ambassador. Such an agreement should be based on the principle of multi-ethnicity, ensure minority rights and democratic standards, as well as contribute to regional stability.

In that context, how should we view Pristina’s decision to disregard EU’s appeal to remove fees on goods coming from Serbia, despite the fact that the fee is not line with CEFTA and the spirit of European integration?

– As I said, we agree completely with Federica Mogherini that the tariffs established by Kosovo are a breach of the CEFTA and need to be abolished. The German government has communicated this very clearly to Pristina. We encourage both sides to come back to the negotiation table and proceed with the Brussels dialogue.

How does this issue affect the overall pace of Serbia’s Eurointegration process?

– The German government strongly advocates the EU accession of Serbia and the Western Balkans. The Sofia summit last May has shown unanimity among the EU leaders to reiterate the EU perspective of Serbia and the Balkans. However, the EU accession depends on the reform progress. Of course, the necessary conditions have to be met. These conditions are well-known. The reforms in the rule of law field are a clear priority. We are talking about justice reform, the fight against corruption, improving the situation of journalists and strong and good laws protecting the citizens. The more these reforms are implemented, the more of the remaining chapters can be opened. We have noted some progress, and I can only encourage the government, parliament and everybody involved in that huge task to keep being committed to this endeavour. Normalization of relations with Kosovo is another prerequisite for EU accession. In the accession negotiations this is reflected in a specific chapter on the dialogue, Chapter 35.

What are the most visible results of the Berlin Initiative today?

– The Berlin Process, launched in 2014 by the Federal Government, has resulted in the Western Balkans deepening their regional cooperation politically, economically and culturally thus fostering the EU perspective for all countries in the region. This has clear positive results. Issues such as connectivity, security and regional cooperation, including youth-cooperation, are now more important than ever. Achievement milestones up until now have been: 9 transport connectivity and 2 technical assistance projects; Joint declaration on Regional Cooperation and Good Neighborly Relations on missing persons and on war crimes; and Roadmap to solution to illicit illegal possession, misuse and trading of firearms. The Digital Summit that will take place here in Belgrade on April 4/5 will be the next very visible event of the Berlin Process. Already 30 million euro have been allocated for broadband deployment in the WEB. Also, together with France, we want to continue our support for the established Regional Youth Office (RYCO). It is based in Tirana and is modeled after the Franco-Germany Youth Office and seen as a major stakeholder in reconciliation process of post-Yugoslav countries.

What, apart from the European integration, are the most important priorities in bilateral relations between Serbia and Germany?

– Our bilateral economic and cultural relations are excellent. Germany is tops the list of Serbia’s trading partners – with the bilateral trade value of EUR 4.8 billion in 2018. Around 400 German companies have created around 55,000 jobs in Serbia and have invested more than EUR 2 billion here since 2000. The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK) plays an important role in expanding our economic ties. Apart from the satisfaction from seeing the steadily growing number of companies active in Serbia, this country also seems to have become an interesting location for more complex and higher value-added production. Generating sustainable growth is an important aspect in our economic relations. I am confident that we can further perpetuate this positive trend. There is also a close relationship in the German-Serbian development cooperation, for which Germany has provided more than 1.8 billion euro since 2000. Our priorities are sustainable economic development, environment, and good governance. Dual training, which Germany supports, is another good example for cooperation in the area of sustainable economic development. It improves the job prospects for young people here in Serbia and enables them to participate in the production of increasingly demanding products. As far as culture is concerned I can proudly say that, only recently, we have opened an impressive exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Belgrade. The exhibition presents the works of over 100 German artists and in that sense, covers 60 years of Germany art history. The exhibition will be opened until the end of March and I highly recommend it to all lovers of modern art . Coming in March, there is also the famous Belgrade Dance Festival with two German shows by Gautier Dance and Frankfurt-Dresden Dance Company, both notable pieces of contemporary dance. Student exchange programmes between Germany and Serbia are also very popular. There are many scholarships for studying at German universities. All this is a strong basis for mutual understanding and for further cooperation between our two countries.

After the rules regarding the import of workforce in Germany become more relaxed, what opportunities will open up for Serbian workers?

– Germany strongly supports the idea of circular migration, which would allow people to work abroad for a certain period of time and return to their home countries with the improved know-how and experiences. A new immigration law for skilled workers still needs to be discussed in the German Bundestag; hence we do not know what the final text will look like.

To what extent can the departure of skilled work force affect the decision of German companies to give up on investing in Serbia? What did you find out in talks with investors? What are their most important reasons for and against investing in Serbia?

– According to a survey conducted by the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce in 2018, 85% of the surveyed companies would invest in Serbia again. This reflects a very positive overall perception. Qualifications and motivation of Serbian employees have again been positively noted. However, companies continue to see room for improvement in some areas, such as anti-corruption, legal safety and public procurement transparency. This also shows the importance of progress in the area of the rule of law for further expansion of our economic relations. We are cooperating closely on this with our Serbian partners. I clearly see the perspective for substantial further German investments and I will actively work towards this goal.

What is your assessment of the overall economic reforms in Serbia and what are your expectations in this segment?

– Serbia has successfully implemented a series of important reforms, which have been widely recognized. Only recently, the International Monetary Fund mission has confirmed strong results of Serbia’s economic programme. Serbia has recorded the fastest growth for over a decade in 2018, with the annual inflation in the lower half of the target band, fiscal performance remaining strong and declining unemployment. This positive trend should be maintained and boosted. I welcome the commitment by Serbian authorities to making further progress in structural reforms, which should foster private sector-led growth and allow for a faster convergence towards EU income levels. In this context, feedback on how private companies perceive framework conditions of their activities in Serbia and where they see potential for improvement (as e.g. the survey I have just mentioned) can provide a valuable additional input. Germany will certainly continue to support Serbia in its efforts to address remaining challenges, to create the basis for sustainable growth and prepare for the EU internal market.

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