Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Greece were established on 18th January 1879, and the first Serbian embassy in Greece was opened in 1882. That is when new diplomatic relations between the two countries began, but since they belong to the same cultural and civilisational arena, the Serbian and Greek peoples have a tradition of close relations that dates back much further
Relations today between our two countries are good and meaningful, with a constructive political dialogue. This was intensified at the end of 2016 with a large number of visits of high-ranking Greek officials, until the establishment of cooperation at the level of a strategic partnership in December 2019. For Serbia, Greece is an important international partner and the EU member with which it traditionally has the closest relations. Special impetus to the further development of relations and cooperation between Serbia and Greece was given by the First Session of the High Cooperation Council, held on 13th July 2017 in Thessaloniki, and by the official visit of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to Belgrade on 2nd and 3rd October 2017.
The second session of the High Council for Cooperation between Serbia and Greece was held in Belgrade on 21st December 2018. During 2019, bilateral relations between Serbia and Greece were raised to the highest level by the official visit of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on 10th December 2019, at the invitation of President Pavlopoulos, and by the Third Session of the High Cooperation Council on 11th December 2019 in Athens, when the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between Serbia and Greece was signed. In this way, Greece became the first country in the region of Southeast Europe with which Serbia has signed a document envisaging a strategic partnership. Our country also has this strategic level of bilateral relations with Russia, China, Italy, France, Azerbaijan and Hungary.
The joint declaration concretises the intention to advance the lasting friendship of the two peoples, based on close historical ties and excellent bilateral relations between the two countries, to the level of strategic partnership, clearly defining areas for cooperation in order to achieve the goals set out in the document.
The document elaborates in detail cooperation areas of interest through six chapters: a) political cooperation and cooperation in international organisations, b) cooperation in the fields of defence, security and civil protection, c) economic cooperation, d) cooperation in culture, education, civil society, youth and sports, e) scientific and technological cooperation and f) cooperation in the field of environmental protection.
The joint declaration concretises the intention to advance the lasting friendship of the two peoples, based on close historical ties and excellent bilateral relations between the two countries, to the level of strategic partnership, clearly defining areas for cooperation in order to achieve the goals set out in the document
Despite the difficult circumstances after the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the adoption of a comprehensive and substantial Joint Declaration has contributed to even more intensive cooperation between the two countries in virtually all areas of mutual interest, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively.
After the stalemate caused by the pandemic, it was planned that the dynamics of the meetings would be newly intensified by holding the Fourth Session of the High Cooperation Council on 28th January 2022 in Belgrade, but the meeting, which had been fully prepared with eight bilateral agreements ready for signing, had to be postponed due to bad weather in Greece.
Exceptional mutual interest in maintaining political dialogue at the highest level was confirmed by the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Belgrade on 16th February 2022. In a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, the extremely high level of bilateral relations based on common history, culture, religion and a European future was emphasised, and the intensification of cooperation in the fields of tourism, trade, infrastructure, transport and energy was announced.
Excellent bilateral relations and readiness for their further intensification were confirmed during the visit of Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković to Athens on 2nd November 2021, in meetings with Greek President Katerina Sakaleropoulou and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. We are also expecting the visit of the President of Greece to Belgrade at the beginning of March 2022, at the invitation of President Vučić.
It is particularly important for Serbia that Greece, as one of the five EU states and four NATO members that have not recognised the unilaterally declared independence of “Kosovo”, remains in principle in that position. At the same time, Greece supports the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština and the efforts of EU special envoy Miroslav Lajčak, and wants to normalise relations and reach a legally binding agreement in the interest of both parties.
Exceptional mutual interest in maintaining political dialogue at the highest level was confirmed by the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Belgrade on 16 February 2022
In addition to further improving bilateral relations, Serbia and Greece are also committed to the stability and progress of the entire Balkan region, which is also being realised through a trilateral forum of cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus. The first trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Serbia, Greece and Cyprus was held on 5th April 2021 in Belgrade, and the next meeting should be held in Thessaloniki. The trilateral format aims to contribute to a stable and prosperous region, through political, economic, infrastructure and energy cooperation, as well as mutual support in matters of vital national and state interest. A trilateral meeting of Greece, Serbia and North Macedonia on Corfu is also expected.
Greece continuously supports the integration of Serbia into Europe, at the same time seeing this process as being in its own interest. It is one of the EU members who unreservedly supported the start of accession negotiations, and was engaged, together with other friends of Serbia in the EU, in formulating as favourable a text as possible of the Negotiating Framework for Serbia.
Extremely good political relations, geographical proximity, the fact that Greece is an EU member with which the Republic of Serbia realises two-thirds of its trade and a duty-free trade regime (the Stabilisation and Association Agreement) provide an excellent basis for economic cooperation which, although good, is still not proportionate to its potential. Aggregate Greek investment in Serbia is estimated at around 2.2 billion euros. In the period from 2000 to 2010, Greece was the second largest foreign investor in Serbia, with 1.4 billion euros invested, only to drop to 22nd place due to the economic crisis in 2011. Most investment in the period until 2008 was realised through greenfield investment in the banking sector, but Greek banks sold their bank branches in the Balkans due to the package of financial assistance for the purpose of financial consolidation.
According to data from the Business Registers Agency, there are 347 active business entities in Serbia whose majority owners are natural or legal persons from Greece (mostly in wholesale and retail trade, science, innovation and communications, the processing sector, construction, hotels, agriculture and the food industry, consulting and legal services). According to the data of the Hellenic Business Association of Serbia, there are about 150 larger Greek companies operating on the Serbian market, employing close to 10,000 workers. Despite the trend of decreasing inflows of Greek investments due to the long-term crisis, interest in investing in Serbia is still present, and the structure of investors is changing in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises.
In 2021, trade amounted to 636 million euros, an increase of 13.3% compared to 2020, of which our exports amounted to 234 million euros (an increase of 29.8% compared to the previous year), and imports 402 million euros (a growth of 34.2% compared to 2020). We hope that, after the normalisation of the situation caused by the pandemic, the volume of exchange will return to the previous level and grow in future, so that it will soon reach one billion euros.
The structure of imports and exports is very diverse. As in the case of other large investors, trade is firmly linked to investment and is therefore sensitive to changes in the status of investments, to the departure or arrival of individual investors on our market.
Aggregate Greek investment in Serbia is estimated at around 2.2 billion euros. In the period from 2000 to 2010, Greece was the second largest foreign investor in Serbia, with 1.4 billion euros invested, only to drop to 22nd place due to the economic crisis in 2011
The field of tourism is also very important for Serbia, because more than 50% of tourists from Serbia spend their summer holidays in Greece, which in the years before the pandemic amounted to about a million tourists per year. For its part, Serbia is interested in increasing the number of Greek tourists, because the period of the Covid-19 pandemic had a particularly negative impact on the number of Greek tourists in Serbia. In 2019, with 74,794 visitors, Greece ranked 10th in the number of tourists who visited Serbia. During 2020, 13,395 Greek tourists visited Serbia, which is 82.1% fewer than in 2019. In 2021, 15,131 Greek tourists visited Serbia, an increase of 13% compared to 2020, realising 30,916 overnight stays.
The Memorandum of Understanding on the development of railway infrastructure of common interest, signed by the two ministries at the first session of the High Council for Cooperation between Serbia and Greece, enables significant improvement of cooperation in this type of transport. The process of modernising the railway connections between the two countries is underway. The two sides see a particular potential in the possible growth of the Belgrade-Budapest highspeed railway project into a modernised Budapest-Belgrade-Thessaloniki-Athens railway project, with a reduction in the total travel time from Central Europe to Piraeus from 96 to 72 hours.
The Declaration of Strategic Partnership envisages strengthening and establishing cooperation in activities in the energy and mining sectors, such as diversification of natural gas supply routes and the connection of gas pipeline systems in Southeast Europe, the use of renewable energy sources and the connection of electricity transmission systems.
Both states are also committed to cooperation in the field of culture. We soon expect to see the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of culture, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Greece on cooperation in the field of film and a Memorandum on combating illicit trade in cultural goods.