I can only but encourage the Government of Serbia to continue to work on the strengthening of the rule of law as an important basis for the further development of the economy and for attracting foreign investments
At the start of my tenure as the Swiss Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia, I note of course that the bilateral relations between our two countries rest on a very solid foundation. Supporting Swiss companies established in Serbia, but also attracting new companies and new investments will be amongst my top priorities. Another top priority will be the elaboration of a new cooperation program for Serbia, based on the new cooperation strategy adopted by the Swiss Parliament in 2020. It will allow us to continue to work with Serbian authorities and in partnership with international organizations and with the civil society in supporting national reforms in a wide range of fields, stretching from strengthening local administration to mitigating climate change related effects.
The current crisis is challenging to countries worldwide. Switzerland is among the hardest hit in Europe. What is the current situation in your country and what measures are in place?
The current pandemic has indeed left no country immune from it. The Swiss authorities have been adopting a series of measures at the federal, cantonal and local levels, with the aim to protect the health of the population and to alleviate the economic and social consequences. Striking the right equilibrium between restrictions of movement and social contacts on the one hand and protecting vital economic activities and interests on the other hand is a delicate balancing act. Given the considerable level of trust that the government in Switzerland enjoys and the fact that there is a well-routed tradition of joint decision taking and of compromise has certainly contributed to maintaining a high degree of social and political cohesion in these very challenging times.
There is certainly always room for improvement of the cooperation, particularly in the economic field.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges for Europe and Switzerland in the coming year related to health and economic crisis?
Due to the globalization of our economies, the current pandemic has wide ramifications all over the world. In my view, it illustrates the necessity to act together and to find common solutions. Switzerland is convinced of the benefits of cooperation and is determined to strengthen multilateral institutions built up in order to respond to such global challenges, starting with the UN institutions, but not limited to them. In addition to these coordinated efforts at a global and regional level, each country will need to define strategies to support the most affected sectors, like the hospitality sector, transport industries or the arts for instance. This crisis makes us realize the vulnerability of our societies, but by overcoming it, we might be more resilient and better prepared for future challenges.
What are your impressions of the overall cooperation between Switzerland and Serbia? In what segments can the relations between the two countries deepen and improve?
In general, the overall bilateral relations between Switzerland and Serbia are good and dynamic. There is solid cooperation and exchange in the areas of business, education, science, research and digitization. A strong link between our two countries is certainly the important Serbian diaspora that lives in Switzerland and that is well rooted in both cultures. It contributes significantly to the quality and intensity of our bilateral relations, which are further facilitated by geographical proximity and excellent transport connectivity. There is a growing interest of Swiss investors, recognizing the considerable potential of Serbia, specifically in the ICT sector, renewable energies, food processing, and other industries.
Regarding the advancement of energy efficiency and renewable energies, I observe a growing awareness of its need at all levels
Switzerland has made donations towards financing public administration reforms, developing SMEs and strengthening the dialogue between the authorities and citizens. How would you assess the implementation of the reforms in these segments so far?
Switzerland’s cooperation programme with Serbia is covering three areas: governance, economic development and employment, and the promotion of sustainable energy and better disaster preparedness of cities. Work is advancing in all these fields at a different speed and to a different extent. Significant progress has been registered with regard to improving public finance management, creating a business-enabling environment and fostering competitiveness. One concrete example is the Science and Technology Park in Belgrade, which is achieving encouraging results with Swiss support for high-tech start-ups.
Regarding the advancement of energy efficiency and renewable energies, I observe a growing awareness of its need at all levels, which should translate into reforms that are more substantial. I am convinced that the further development of this sector is not only beneficial for the environment but will also contribute to the diversification of the economy, create additional jobs and help Serbia to achieve its sustainable development goals.
Very encouraging are also efforts undertaken in improving local governance thanks to the joined efforts of the Government and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities. The citizen – authorities’ relation stands at the core of Swiss engagement in the area of Governance, especially at the local level, and we will continue focusing our attention on it.
Switzerland also funds a project that has established a new model of workplace-based learning at the local level for young people joining the labor market
Switzerland supports in Serbia the development of education in the SME sector and culture-related projects in many areas and with substantial funds. Do you know what are the effects of this assistance?
The Government of Serbia has decided to introduce dual vocational education in 2018. Like in Switzerland, young people in Serbia nowadays can opt for a dual-track apprenticeship, combining on-the-job training in companies with lessons at a vocational school. Swiss experts in dual education share targeted advice and experience in this field with their Serbian counterparts. By now, 4% of all students enrolled in VET are already in a dual-track apprenticeship in Serbia, but I am convinced that this number will increase significantly in the coming years. Switzerland also funds a project that has established a new model of workplace-based learning at the local level for young people joining the labor market. This project has resulted in 662 young people finding permanent employment in local SMEs in Sumadija, but also in Eastern and Western Serbia. The project has proven so effective that two municipalities, Čačak and Kragujevac, have spontaneously come forward to financially contribute to the trainings provided under this project.
With regard to the promotion of cultural activities, the Embassy is currently preparing a longer term and larger scale cultural program with a special focus on providing support to initiatives that further social cohesion and development.
The major bilateral donors in Serbia
Your country is one of the three largest bilateral donors in Serbia, and supports economic, social and democratic reforms in our country. What should be the priorities of the new Serbian Government?
Switzerland is indeed among the major bilateral donors in Serbia. The year 2021 marks 30 years of continuous presence of our cooperation in the country, focusing on providing support and knowhow to key economic and political reforms. Swiss investments through this program amount to more than 400 Mio Swiss Francs. We count on the Serbian government to keep up its commitment to work on key reforms, from the rule of law to macroeconomic stability and social inclusion.