Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Serbia are close, dynamic and wide ranging. They are characterised by close human and cultural relations, a series of bilateral agreements and good cooperation in multilateral organisations. Switzerland and Serbia have been long-standing partners since 1991 and with Swiss financial support totaling 400 million EUR, Switzerland is among the most important of bilateral donors. For the period 2018-2021, it is almost 100 million euros that the Swiss government is going to spend in Serbia for local governance, economic development (including for youth employment) and renewable energy. H.E. Philippe Guex, Ambassador of Switzerland to Serbia, talks about the prospects of cooperation between our two countries.
How would you rate the bilateral relations between our two countries?
The bilateral relations between Switzerland and Serbia are dynamic and multifaceted. They cover the whole spectrum of bilateral relations, supported by many bilateral agreements. From the economy to science, transport, education, art and culture, we are enjoying various partnerships with Serbia, complemented by the fact that Switzerland is amongst the top bilateral donors and ranks amongst top investors. Each segment of our bilateral relations evolve around the connection between the people of our countries, at the center of everything.
Switzerland is one of Serbia’s most important trade partners. What is the current state of the economic and political relations between our two countries? 6 The political relations are excellent and the recent visit of the Serbian Prime Minister Ms. Ana Brnabić to the President of the Swiss Confederation M. Ueli Maurer on the occasion of the Swiss Digital Day illustrated that point. As far as our trade relations are concerned, there is still untapped potential; however, we see positive trends going towards more relations in dynamic sectors such as the ICT and start-up sectors where Serbia is performing well.
Do you expect to see more Swiss investments in Serbia? In which segments can the Swiss and Serbian companies cooperate?
Certainly, we do. Switzerland is among the top 7 investors in Serbia with around 500 companies with Swiss capital doing business and employing over 12.000 persons. Most of the companies are SMEs delivering outsourcing services. Swiss companies like Nestlé, Sika, SGS, Roche, Novartis, Schindler to name just a few of the major ones are expanding and planning to diversify and upgrade their business. More than 1 billion euros of Swiss investments have come to Serbia in the period from 2010-2019. In order to unlock this potential and to attract more Swiss investors, especially from the small and medium enterprises as the motor for innovation, growth and employment, further efforts are required in the fields of rule of law, further economic and administrative reforms, and increased fight against corruption.
To what extent do the job profiles, incorporated in the Serbian education system, fit the workforce needs of Swiss companies in Serbia? Can we already see the positive effects of dual education in Serbia?
We can say that we see the first positive effects of the dual education reform in Serbia and that all involved stakeholders are very committed and engaged. We are supporting the ongoing research, under the lead of the Swiss professor Dr. Ursula Renold of the ETH Zurich, assessing the implementation of the reform and its produced results. The overall picture of stakeholders’ awareness, willingness, and motivation to implement the dual VET law is very promising. Although there are reasons to take this optimism with a caution, it is an accomplishment on the part of this initiative’s leadership and is a major advantage in the upcoming effort of implementation.
Although not an EU member, Switzerland actively supports Serbia on its way to joining the EU. What do you think of the results that Serbia has accomplished so far in that respect?
My assessment is that much has been done in terms of reforms so far, but much remains to be done to anchor once for all fully-fledged democratic institutions and market economy. Rule of law, judiciary independence, freedom of media and fight against corruption need to improve their track records in order to catch up with the EU standards. It is a long process, but the only recipe to prevent the Serbian people to be misused again by autocracy and nationalism.
Could you comment on the Kosovo government refusing to revoke the tax on Serbian goods?
A new government will be formed in Pristina. It is an opportunity to restart the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Let us not prejudge of the result, in one way or another, but keep an open mind. This is the position of Switzerland, whose support to the process of normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is total. Serbia and Switzerland also have strong cultural and historical ties. How much do the two countries cooperate in other segments and how does your Embassy promote Switzerland in Serbia? 6 Switzerland has a good reputation in Serbia. We value very much each time we hear from people living in Serbia compliments about our country, our political system, wealth, competitiveness. We must preserve such positive feeling; there is perhaps not a single more important task for our Embassy. Cooperation in the field of culture and art is a way to reinforce this unique link, the friendship and the trust between our people. It is in this spirit that the Embassy is opening its doors 3 times a year to the public to exhibit art pieces by Swiss and Serbian artists.
What issues should be a priority for the Serbian government in 2020?
2020 will be an election year. We see it has an absolute priority for Serbia to have an inclusive election process for all political parties involved, including fair media coverage. These elections will be a test for Serbian democracy. And, there is not much room for mistake. In the meantime the government should continue to focus on the reforms.