As friends of Serbia, we want to cooperate with and support Serbia in meeting the conditions for its EU integration. I believe in particular that there is great room for progress on environmental issues, and we are working with the Serbian government on many projects aimed at improving the quality of life of the Serbian people.
Sweden has provided strategic, predictable and long-term support to Serbia’s EU integration process for over two decades. This assistance has a number of strands that come together to support processes that are indeed building blocks to full membership: rule of law, public sector governance and accountability, economic performance and employment generation, the protection of natural resources and fundamental rights.
With a total value of eight per cent of Serbia’s GDP (approximately €3.8 billion in 2019), public procurement is a very powerful tool to direct public spending towards better services where the citizens need them.
“For citizens, it matters how the economy fares and how resources are distributed and spent,” says H.E. Annika Ben David, Ambassador Designate of Sweden to Serbia.
“Citizens want value for their tax money, but this value does not literally translate into how little you spend. It also includes a measure of effectiveness and efficiency in the use of public resources. We exert additional effort to harness this purchasing power to buy more sustainable goods and services, and both the environment and society will benefit.”
The project “Effective public procurement for economic growth”, which is being financed by Sweden and implemented by NALED (National Association for Local Economic Development), aims to help Serbia strengthen its knowledge base and streamline its public procurement procedures through further digitalisation and an inclusive public-private dialogue.
As our interlocutor explains: “a dialogue between the public and private sectors was launched this summer, with July being dubbed “the month of public procurement”. However, we want this dialogue to continue every day until we reach an average of 3.5 bids per tender, instead of the current 2.5. The momentum for an open dialogue about moving environmental considerations higher up the list of criteria is here and we should use it”.
Early October will see the staging of Nordic conferences dedicated to promoting the circular economy in Serbia. Which conference topics would you single out for the special attention of our readers?
– I believe that would be the issue of waste management. We are aware of the problems that many Serbian cities are having with landfill sites and waste treatment.
The Nordic countries had similar problems and have learned to view waste as a resource; a resource that can be used to create energy, fuel, heating and many other components that can make our cities function in an environmentally-friendly way. This marked the start of an important change in our societies.
Instead of discarding waste, it has become a resource that creates jobs and innovative industries. Together with the Serbian Government and more than 17 local municipalities, and through financing from the EU (the IPA project Source Separation in Four regions), we are now preparing for large scale source separation reform to be launched in Serbia. This investment covers more than 800,000 citizens! And it will boost the circular economy in the years to come.
The Nordic countries responded to the need to control the spread of infection in quite different ways during the pandemic. Which of your positive experiences would you share with our readers?
– I am aware of the widespread international attention the Swedish response to the COVID-19 pandemic has generated, including in the Serbian media.
The Swedish national strategy was set up by the Swedish Public Health Agency. The strategy was designed to consider public health from a broader perspective than just the pandemic. Considerations such as mental health, obesity and the socioeconomic impact of regulations were considered. The model was not perfect, and like many countries we failed to protect groups among the elderly and most vulnerable. I think evaluations on best practices should be conducted primarily by experts. Thanks to a successful vaccination campaign and low levels of hospitalisations, we are this month lifting most of the remaining restrictions.
Currently, 75% of the Swedish population aged over 16 has been vaccinated with two doses. Looking back, we can see that the pandemic created a situation with no ready answers. I’m glad that we decided to keep our primary schools open. This proved not to lead to any increasing contamination, but to kids not having their education interrupted. For their health and wellbeing, going to school meant psychological normalcy, a hot meal and psychosocial problems not going unnoticed. Moreover, their parents were able to continue working, including in sectors that have been under great stress: hospitals and elderly care, for example.
All in all, I believe that even though our model wasn’t without problems, it still seems to have worked very much thanks to the general public’s strong trust in our institutions, experts and science. It has allowed us to keep our society open.
Together with the Serbian Government and more than 17 local municipalities, and through financing from the EU, we are now preparing to launch large scale source separation reform in Serbia
Sweden has established good cooperation with the Serbian Ministry of the Environment and the City of Niš regarding wastewater treatment, and your country’s greater engagement in this area has also been announced. Do you agree with your predecessor, Ambassador Lundin, that this is among the crucial topics for Serbia’s European integration?
– It is often said that pollution knows no borders – and clearly combatting air and water pollution is a shared purpose for all EU countries. The focus of Sweden’s development cooperation in Serbia – strengthening EU integration – is right on target. We have strong cooperation on the environment and climate.
Serbia has high ambitions to increase wastewater treatment over the coming years. Together with the Government, municipalities and the EU, Sweden is preparing for large scale investments in waste treatment, for example in the City of Niš, but also in the City of Čačak. We also have inter-municipality cooperation between Swedish and Serbian municipalities on water and waste-water management, for example preserving the quality of water in Lake Ćelije!
In order to create successful projects and investments, we work actively with our Serbian partners to: achieve EU environmental standards, strengthen intermunicipal cooperation and build projects in close cooperation with the local administration and citizens. This is important for us to gain sustainable projects that improve the quality of life in Serbia.
Which other areas provide great room for progress within the scope of Serbia’s EU integration?
– Quality of life can’t be improved without strong institutions and a vibrant democracy. That’s why a third of our development assistance goes towards strengthening institutions and their accountability, the rule of law, anti-corruption and media freedom. These are all essential elements of any democracy.
Quality of life can’t be improved without strong institutions and a vibrant democracy. Strong institutions and their accountability are essential elements of any democracy
Sweden is a strong supporter of Serbia’s EU integration. Our countries have strong ties, not least because of the large Serbian diaspora resident in our country
By keeping products and materials in use and recycling energy and waste, we will create new jobs and hatch new businesses in a resilient and inclusive way