The goal remains the same: fostering Serbia’s economic growth based on innovation-driven, inclusive and sustainable development
In an interview for the magazine Diplomacy and Commerce H.E. Urs Schmid the ambassador of Switzerland in Serbia discussed about the foundation for the decades-long diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Serbia and about the plans for the next period.
What are your impressions after living in Serbia for a year during the time that has been very challenging for the whole world and our country?
I would like to emphasize that these challenging circumstances did not prevent me from getting to know and appreciate Serbia as a hospitable, diverse and fascinating country. The early and well-organized vaccination campaign of the government and the improved pandemic situation in the summer allowed me to travel around the country and thereby to get to know Serbia and its people better. These experiences have strengthened my intention to discover as much of the country as possible in the coming years of my term. In any case, I am convinced that the people, and by that I mean in particular the large Serbian diaspora in Switzerland, form the backbone of our strong bilateral relations. I would like to continue to build on this in the future!
We seem to be on the verge of a new infection wave again, and epidemiological measures are being tightened in Europe. What is the current situation in your country and what measures are in place?
The last year has been challenging for all countries, including Serbia and Switzerland. And new COVID variants are indicating that the pandemic is unfortunately going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. The Swiss government is pursuing a pandemic strategy based on vaccination, testing and contact tracing. The presentation of a valid Covid certificate has become mandatory for participating at most social events. At the moment, about 66% of the population is fully vaccinated. This figure is not satisfactory. In view of the rapid spreading of the new variant Omicron, the government has increased its appeals to the population to get vaccinated and has accelerated booster deliveries. I would also like to mention that the Swiss population has already been called twice to the ballot box to decide on COVID measures since the outbreak of the pandemic. Both times, the proposals of the government were confirmed with clear majorities. But regardless of a country’s political system, it has become evident that we can only overcome this pandemic together and that we must not allow this pandemic to divide our societies. Thus, a shoulder-to-shoulder approach between government, science, business and civil society is required more than ever.
I am convinced that the people, and by that I mean in particular the large Serbian diaspora in Switzerland, form the backbone of our strong bilateral relations
Switzerland is one of the major bilateral donors. What will the donation agenda look like in the coming period?
I would like to emphasize that Swiss engagement in Serbia is characterized by continuity and reliability. This year we were able to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our bilateral cooperation. What had started with humanitarian aid in a very difficult and different time, in the year 1991, has developed over the years into a comprehensive bilateral cooperation program, covering a wide range of topics, such as fostering dual education efforts or strengthening the digitalization of local public administrations. Our current priorities will remain the same for the upcoming period until 2025. We will place a clear emphasis on sustainable development. Reconciling economy and ecology is one of the greatest challenges of our time. I am convinced that Switzerland, with its know-how and capabilities can provide real added value here. We will also continue our commitment to economic cooperation and in particular to dual education. The goal remains the same: fostering Serbia’s economic growth based on innovation-driven, inclusive and sustainable development. Finally, we will continue our engagement in governance, with a focus on working with local authorities and civil society. Switzerland is convinced that democratic societies with open, transparent and citizen-oriented authorities offer a decisive advantage in a country’s development.
Political dialogue and economic cooperation between our two countries are developing. How would you rate the overall relations between Switzerland and Serbia?
Switzerland and Serbia enjoy excellent bilateral relations. These are characterized by frequent contacts and dialogue at all political levels, the long-standing commitment of Switzerland to the democratic and economic development of Serbia as exemplified by the above mentioned cooperation program, a solid presence of Swiss economic investments in Serbia and an important Serbian diaspora in Switzerland. We are among the most important donors and foreign investors in Serbia and we cooperate concretely and closely in many important areas, in bilateral as well as in multilateral affairs. This year we met in Belgrade for another round of political consultations and we were able to organize the tenth meeting of our joint economic commission in order to promote trade and investments. Other fields of cooperation include for instance scientific diplomacy: Switzerland actively supports the establishment of the South Eastern European International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (SEEIIST), which aims at delivering not only cutting-edge research in the region, but also the newest and most advanced clinical instruments to treat cancer and finally to enhance cooperation among the countries in the region.
Elections will be held in Serbia next year. What should be Serbia’s priorities on the road to EU membership?
Switzerland has been supporting Serbia on its reform path to European integration for a long time. My country continues to encourage Serbia to move forward with these important reforms. They not only contribute to Serbia’s goal of becoming an EU member state, but they also strengthen the country in various ways and to the benefit of all its citizens. Democratic reforms are imperative to the resilience of state and society. Economic reforms enable the development of private entrepreneurship and create jobs. A well-functioning judicial system and the rule of law are important preconditions to sustain a strong economic performance. Good and friendly relations of Serbia with its neighbours, including normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, will contribute to stability and prosperity of the whole region.
With 1.6 billion euros of net investments in the 2010-2020 period Switzerland ranks as the 6th largest foreign investor in Serbia.
Have all the opportunities for economic cooperation been exhausted and how can Serbia attract more Swiss investments?
With 1.6 billion euros of net investments in the 2010-2020 period Switzerland ranks as the 6th largest foreign investor in Serbia. We estimate that Swiss companies in Serbia generate approximately 12.000 jobs. We are also observing that bilateral exchange in services is developing very dynamically, having overtaken in value the bilateral trade in goods. Consequently, last year, in terms of trade in services, Switzerland ranked as the 4th largest trading partner of Serbia. Our close economic and social ties allow us to strengthen continuously our bilateral relations, especially in the field of investments in innovative, green and sustainable solutions, thus creating highly qualified jobs and contributing to sustainable and inclusive economic growth. So, in short: the prospects of further enhancing our economic cooperation are good. The digital services and the demand for sustainable growth present excellent opportunities for both economies. I see it as one of my top priorities to continue to intensify the economic relations between Switzerland and Serbia.
The Swiss government has supported the Science and Technology Park since its inception. Can start-ups and innovation development be the driving forces behind Serbia’s development?
Switzerland attaches great importance to strengthening innovation, technologies and to support start-ups. The Swiss approach is to provide, what I like to call, excellent framework conditions for universities, companies and start-ups to be innovative, and a trustworthy and stable legal framework, including reliable political institutions. Our long-standing support for the Science Technology Park Belgrade (NTP) is exemplary of the importance we attach to promoting innovation. Importantly, our cooperation with the NTP is very concrete: last September, we organized a Clean-Tech exhibition at the NTP, showcasing innovative private sector solutions of Swiss and Serbian companies and start-ups. The goals behind this: establishing a dialogue between Swiss and Serbian key representatives on the topics of sustainable economy and environmental protection, to promote Swiss and Serbian Clean-Tech-Start-Ups and to foster bilateral collaboration in this ever more important area.
Impressions of Belgrade and Serbia
I got to know Serbia as a very diverse, culturally and historically rich country. Belgrade absolutely lives up to its reputation as the “metropolis of the Balkans”. The size and diversity of the city, the general liveliness and vitality are impressive. It is a city on the move. Another pleasant aspect is the friendliness and hospitality of the people, which facilitates settling down in this city. I am very much looking forward to getting to know Belgrade better in all its facets over the next few years. And most of all I am looking forward to the exchange with the people.