The dynamic of the Romanian-Serbian relation, in general, has picked up the pace
Better transport links, tourism and the economy between the two countries are on the rise, and that’s why we talked to H.E. Silvia Davidoiu, the Romanian ambassador to Serbia.
Romanians and Serbs cherish a great and long-standing friendship that has been confirmed throughout a long history without any disputes or disagreements. How do you see the relations between the two countries and two close nations?
Indeed, the friendship between Romanians and Serbs has passed the test of time. It is a bond whose strength overrides political divides of various regimes in the recent history and whose endurance continues to inspire us today. This is also a mature relationship, that turned outstanding issues into opportunities for developing bilateral ties. A recent example is the resolution of the status of a compound of buildings –“Luceafarul” – that originally belonged to representatives of Romanians in Serbia. This result, which we jointly achieved through political contacts at foreign ministers’ level and through technical dialogue, showcased once again the importance that Serbian authorities pay to their relations with Romania, an engagement and commitment we will also continue to show.
Just looking at this year, we can already conclude that the dynamic of the Romanian-Serbian relation, in general, has picked up the pace. Some of the highlights refer to: strengthened political dialogue, agreements to increase the level of connectivity between the two countries, positive developments in the area of bilateral trade, a new programme for cross-border cooperation recently launched (worth EUR 74,5 million in EU funds accessible in the next five years), amplified cultural cooperation, thanks to Romania’s status as a special guest in the prestigious Book Fair in Belgrade, and intensified people-to-people contacts also in the context of Novi Sad and Timisoara’s nominations as European Capitals of Culture in 2022 and 2023 respective. These are some of the few examples to illustrate my point.
There is still more work ahead of us, for sure, in various areas, but this should not deter us, on the contrary: this is a reflection of the complexity and depth of our bilateral relation and the joint interest in pursuing our common goals. We feel encouraged by the results achieved so far and we look forward to other mutually satisfying accomplishments in the future.
National minorities, Serbs in Romania and Romanians in Serbia, have always been a bond between our two countries. How do you see the position of the Romanian national minority in Serbia today?
Romania pays special attention to the situation of the Romanian minority living in Serbia. This is a natural interest on our part, but also on Serbia’s, in light of the need to fulfil the political criteria for accession to the EU. Essentially, the mantra guiding our actions is that Romanians living all over Serbia should benefit from all the rights provided by the national legislation and international documents that Serbia has assumed. This translates into unhindered access to education, media and religious service in the Romanian language and into an administrative and political representation at all levels, coherently and consistently upheld throughout the territory of Serbia.
The number of Romanian tourists accommodated in Serbia was 28.000 in 2021
2022 is a particularly special year, a landmark concerning the situation of the Romanian minority. There are new developments arising from the population and household census in Serbia, started in October and from the elections for the National Councils for National Minorities on November 13. Likewise, the ongoing talks on the third Protocol of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission Romania-Republic of Serbia for National Minorities weigh in on these implications to provide optimal conditions for the exercise of the special rights by Romanians in Serbia, as for Serbs in Romania. We are encouraged by the engagement and receptiveness of Serbian authorities in these matters.
Why are these two neighbouring countries have such poor traffic connections? How is the highway project between Belgrade and Timisoara progressing? How much did the growth of air traffic contribute to the development of tourist, cultural and economic ties between our two countries?
I would not define the transport interconnections as poor, although there is obviously still room for improvement, taking into consideration our ”common highway”, the Danube and the Port of Constanta – a regional brand. The traffic of goods on the Danube and through the Port of Constanta, originating in or transiting Serbia in 2021 amounted to 8.9 million tons, and for the first 6 months of 2022, it reached 4.1 million tons. As far as we are concerned, Serbia is welcome to make full use of the facilities of the Port of Constanta, thus contributing to strengthening our economic relationship by providing a maritime route for Serbian imports and exports.
Concerning road traffic, there are numerous developments ongoing as we speak. For example, our two Governments signed recently in Timisoara an Agreement to establish the connection of the Timisoara-Moravita motorway with the Belgrade-Vatin high-speed road, which will ensure a very important link between Romania and Serbia, but also with the road network in the Western Balkans and Southern Europe.
There are direct flights between Belgrade and Bucharest five days a week. Flights are operated by the Serbian airline Air Serbia and the Romanian national airline TAROM. In 2021, nearly 6.500 Serbian tourists were accommodated in Romania, while the number of Romanian tourists accommodated in Serbia was 28.000 persons.
How much have economic relations advanced in the past few years? Are there Romanian investments in Serbia? In which branches of industry and in which fields can Romania and Serbia base their future cooperation?
Our countries’ bilateral trade flows show the complementarity of our national economies since the exchange of goods across various economic sectors is balanced. Serbia is Romania’s 7th extra-Community trade partner, ranked 5th in the top of markets for Romanian exports and 8th for imports. Between 2015 and 2021, the bilateral trade doubled to nearly EUR 2 billion, in spite of some of the temporary setbacks caused by the pandemic.
The IPA cross-border cooperation is one of the most important areas where we contribute
One of the biggest Romanian investments in Serbia is the thermal insulation panel factory of TeraSteel in Leskovac. The Romanian company offers complete solutions for industrial construction in accordance with the highest standards. Moreover, the Romanian do-it-yourself (DIY) retail chain Dedeman is exploring the option of entering the Serbian market.
At the same time, we are interested in sharing our experience with the modernisation of energy systems and the transition from coal-dependent systems to green energy.
Laura Kovesi became widely known for her merciless fight against corruption. Her work could be a model for us. What can Serbia learn from the Romanian example of the fight against corruption?
In 2006, Laura Kövesi became the youngest Romanian prosecutor general and the first woman to serve in this capacity in Romania. Later she was appointed as the head of the Anticorruption Directorate. She is currently the first European Public Prosecutor, a newly established EU body. Her accolades are impressive, given Mrs Kovesi’s role in the reform of the judiciary as a person originating from inside the system. These contributions have had multiple positive effects on the fight against corruption, on Romanians’ trust in public institutions and on Romania’s democratic outlook and its credibility abroad.
However, the most important takeaway from our actions in this area refers to the understanding that combatting corruption cannot be only the responsibility of a few, such as the prosecutor general. Anticorruption continues to have a mobilising effect in Romania, so the activity to prevent and penalise illegal acts has been assumed across the board as a societal duty of prime concern. As such, Romanians have become more aware and active in exposing and sanctioning corrupt practices.
While anticorruption is a work in progress – in Romania, as everywhere else – it has already equipped us with stronger democratic reflexes and a societal consciousness with regard to the importance of the rule of law. These are key areas to be honestly and openly considered in any democratic country, particularly candidates for EU membership, such as Serbia, where these issues do not yet cover much of the public space. Romania’s experience and track record in fighting corruption is remarkable, both in terms of institutional building, and concrete results. My country is ready to share its experience with Serbian authorities on the basis of their formal request and specific needs.
Does Romania support the European integration of Serbia and the countries of the Western Balkans? Are there open issues with Serbia that could stand in the way of our path to the EU?
Romania has been a constant advocate of EU’s Enlargement process on the basis of candidates’ own merits in internalising the bloc’s values and principles. European integration implies that a candidate state is strategically aligned with the EU and fully complies with the standards set in the acquis, including the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and harmonisation with the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This is an essential aspect ensuring the sustainability of this political and economic partnership with candidates and potential candidates and the conditions for a strengthened and coherent EU in its internal and external action. Thus, I encourage Serbia to continue its efforts on its reform path to advance the EU accession negotiations.
Aside from the political support for Serbia’s European path, Romania also implements projects meant to stimulate the absorption of EU funds and the adoption of EU standards. The IPA cross-border cooperation is one of the most important areas where we contribute in this regard. Serbia’s current 7-year IPA programme with Romania receives the largest amount of any of the similar programmes between any two countries devised by the EU (EUR 74,5 million) and was the first one to be approved by the European Commission.
Advancing Serbia’s EU path is closely linked to achieving concrete results in fulfilling the accession criteria, according to the EU acquis, including in terms of aligning with EU’s foreign policy.
Interview with H.E. Silvia Davidoiu
Ambassador of Romania to Serbia
by Dragan Nikolić
Originally published in the NEW OCTOBER 2022 EDITION of Diplomacy&Commerce magazine