We believe that we can together turn problems into opportunities and achieve results for a cleaner and brighter future. Those of us in the North started earlier, so we have learned some lessons the hard way. And we want to share those lessons with Serbia, so that this society can avoid our mistakes and reproduce our success stories.
Norway is a consistent supporter of the socioeconomic development of the Western Balkans, and it cooperates closely with local and national governments, international organisations and civil society to achieve the best possible results.
“I would particularly highlight our model for support to local businesses, especially in the less developed municipalities in Serbia,” says Jørn Eugen Gjelstad, Ambassador of Norway to Serbia.
The applied Norwegian model is actually quite simple: public calls for support are announced and the best proposals are awarded grants for implementation, with substantial technical assistance and guidance provided over the course of the project.
“One of the most successful calls was targeting business support entities, enabling them to support local businesses in a coordinated manner,” says our interlocutor.
“We see time and time again that small businesses, through relatively minor financial support from our side, are able to increase their production capacity and productivity, employ more people, identify new markets or production technologies, and obtain certificates that open the door to exports to the European market.”
Norway’s assistance to Serbia is directed towards SMEs in relation to energy efficiency. How many of these kinds of projects were instigated in 2020?
– Norway is focused primarily on increasing the compliance of SMEs with the industrial emissions directive of the European Union, which relates to the improvement of their competitiveness, performance and resilience.
However, we have implemented a number of energy efficiency projects in the public sector in Serbia, including the Centre for Social Work in Bela Palanka, a nursery school in Babušnica and a library in Golubac. Norway also supported the reconstruction of the Dositej Obradović Primary School in Bela Crkva and the Veljko Dugošević Culture Centre in Kučevo. All these projects improved the energy efficiency of the public institutions in question.
From the perspective of Serbian enterprises, energy efficiency and the circular economy are mostly viewed as being primarily connected to expensive investments. What does Norway’s experience in this area tell us in that regard?
– Industrial transformations are always costly, but virtually all experts agree that we need to cut emissions drastically. The alternative is catastrophic for the globe, both for the environment and for societies. Green energy, energy efficiency and the circular economy represent the backbone of the path forward.
And I believe you are right in pointing out that it should be seen as an investment, rather than a cost. Investments in technology tend to yield excellent results in the long run, and the future is green. Businesses and societies that don’t invest in the future will fall behind. In today’s global markets, going green is a matter of competitiveness. I believe that Norwegian businesses are not willing to accept the risk associated with not investing in the green future. The proposed European carbon border adjustment mechanism is a clear signal that the EU is serious about the green transformation, and that its trading partners need to follow suit. This is an additional reminder and incentive, both for Norwegian and Serbian businesses, to speed up the green transformation in both countries.
Norway sees regional initiatives like “Open Balkans” as being complimentary to the ongoing EU accession processes, and stands ready to support tangible initiatives that can facilitate cooperation across the region
We will have an opportunity to hear more about this topic in early October, at the conference that you’re preparing. What will be the main messages of this event?
– The main message is that we are enthusiastic about the future of Serbia! We believe that we can together turn problems into opportunities and achieve results for a cleaner and brighter future. And this is exactly what the green shift and the circular economy are about! We take the waste and turn it into a resource, into “gold”, so to say. Climate change has forced us all to realise that what we have been doing over the last century or so is not sustainable. We must limit pollution too. We cannot endanger the lives of our children and jeopardise their future. We must preserve nature while creating jobs and prosperity. Those things do not need to be mutually exclusive! There are a lot of opportunities there. We just need to do things differently. Let’s work together. Those of us in the North started earlier, so we have learned some lessons the hard way. And we want to share those lessons with Serbia, so that this society can avoid our mistakes and reproduce our success stories. Free of charge!
Norway has been providing assistance to Serbia’s healthcare system for many years, as well as the healthcare systems of other Western Balkan countries. To what extent has this support helped Western Balkan countries navigate the pandemic with relatively high success?
– Norway has a highly developed capacity to respond quickly to crises and disasters by allocating targeted resources for dire needs. I was both proud and happy to see that we managed, during the first phase of this outbreak, to act accordingly and make significant funds available for Serbia to mitigate the effect of this crisis, including the procurement of respirators, PCR tests and protective equipment. This was an immediate act of solidarity, deeply rooted in the long-term friendship between our two countries. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to stress that no country was fully prepared or equipped to handle, or even predict, the immediate consequences of the pandemic. Furthermore, the procurement of sophisticated equipment was complicated by the extremely high demand and limited capacity on the side of suppliers.
Your country has repeatedly supported the “mini-Schengen” concept, which has now been renamed the “Open Balkans”. How much progress has been made on this cooperation and are there elements that are beginning to resemble cooperation between Nordic countries?
The “Open Balkans” initiative was launched just recently with strong political support by the leaders of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia. Like its predecessor, the “mini- Schengen” initiative, Open Balkans aims to further strengthen regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, through increased economic cooperation, the free movement of people, dissemination of technology and access to higher education, services and culture. The concept of regional cooperation has long traditions in all Nordic countries.
Nordic cooperation is based on a set of shared norms, values and a common history, and stands out as one of the oldest, most comprehensive and successful partnerships we have today. It is therefore encouraging that a similar cooperation model is being developed for the Western Balkans, and I believe it has strong potential to improve quality of life for ordinary citizens. Some progress has been made, but a lot remains to be achieved.
It is time to focus on implementation.
Making a big impact in local communities is precisely the aim of the “Norway for You” project, which in itself has become a recognised development brand both in Serbia and around the region
Norway will continue its close engagement with the health authorities in Serbia and the Western Balkan region in order to enhance the overall efficiency and capacity of the healthcare systems
The concept of regional cooperation has long traditions in all Nordic countries. It is therefore encouraging that a similar cooperation model is being developed for the Western Balkans