It is often said that the strongest friendships are forged during tough times. And sometimes, as in the case of Italy and Serbia, they are the result of mutual, long-standing devotion to cooperation at the bilateral level and within the European framework
Serbia sent seven aircraft to Italy this April, carrying tons of medical donations to help the country confront the worst moments of the coronavirus crisis. In August, when Serbia suddenly fell into an unexpected second wave of the pandemic, Italian medical experts paid a visit to Serbia to share their invaluable knowledge on how to combat the virus. This is how, in just two sentences, the strength of the Serbian- Italian friendship can be summarised. As Italian Ambassador to Serbia Carlo Lo Cascio spelled out nicely: “the history of our relationship is really a meeting of close neighbours who help each other, in both good times and bad”.
Undeniably, this demonstration of profound connectedness does not come as a surprise. The history of excellent bilateral relationships between the two countries just commemorated almost a century and a half.
The strength of these ties was recently demonstrated with the visits of Italian Minister for European Integration Vincenzo Amendola, at the end of 2019, and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, in early 2020. Both of these high-level visits were focused of Italian support for Serbia’s EU accession process.
Italy is among the most active promoters of Serbia’s accession to the European Union. Italian support to the country’s EU accession process thus remains one of the key aspects of bilateral relations
In that respect, there are great expectations that the new Serbian government will elevate the negotiation process a step up, by advancing – albeit at a faster pace – along the lines of outgoing government, which demonstrated a considerable capacity for reform. Now the same adherence as shown on the financial side of the reforms is needed on the fronts of judicial reform, media freedom and other structural issues.
In terms of economics, Italy is one of Serbia’s most important trade partner, with a strong commitment to the Serbian market. After the sudden collapse of the trade exchange, due to the global upheaval caused by the pandemic, business leaders from the two countries, supported by their associations, restored their relations. Although circumstances are still challenging, many Italian companies are fully back in business to Serbia.
Indeed, one of the largest business events that was awaited by both sides– the Novi Sad International Agriculture Fair 2020 – had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Italy was the Partner Country of this fair in 2019, and the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) organised an official collective Italian exhibit in which 28 companies from the agrarian sector, as well as the two centres for promotion from Italy, presented their products and services.
Finally, the strength of the partnership between the two countries could also be evaluated through the lens of previous developments. For example, it was the Italian side that shifted the discussion on digital transformation in Serbia, and generously shared its own experience, long before digital forms of working became a must during the COVID-19 pandemic.