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Kimmo Lähdevirta, Ambassador Of Finland To Serbia

Finland Can Assist Serbia In This Green Transition

Along with other Nordic embassies in Serbia and the Nordic Business Alliance, but also the Nordic Council of Ministers, Finland is sharing its vast expertise in digitalisation and the development of the IT sector and the circular economy, where Serbia is showing some promising results but also faces some tough challenges related to environmental protection.

We’ve seen continuing dynamic political dialogue and a high degree of mutual understanding between Finland and Serbia over the previous few years, particularly in the context of Finnish support to Serbia’s European integration process.

As such, our first question for Finnish Ambassador to Serbia Kimmo Lähdevirta was how much has this process has advanced since the period of your country’s 2019 EU presidency?

“Being aware of all the benefits of EU membership, Finland is a strong supporter of Serbia’s EU accession and we hope it will speed up in the coming period. At the moment, the main reason the process is lagging behind is the lack of results in the field of the rule of law,” says our interlocutor.

“We therefore encourage Serbia to concentrate on rule of law reforms, especially the fight against organised crime and corruption, media freedom and providing a safe environment for the work of journalists and civil society organisations. In addition, the outcome of the ongoing interparty dialogue, facilitated by EU mediators, is of great importance when one considers the dire need to increase trust in the electoral process in Serbia. All these efforts, regardless of how we name them, are essential for advancing the EU integration process.”

The trade exchange between our two countries hasn’t been hit significantly during the pandemic, although it remains at a fairly low level. In your opinion, what’s the key to further progress?

– There has been a positive trend in the trade exchange between Finland and Serbia year on year, even during the pandemic. However, there is still a lot of potential for trade growth. In my opinion, it is of key importance to raise awareness among Finnish companies about business opportunities in Serbia and vice versa. The Embassy of Finland has supported the sharing of knowhow in different fields that are important for improving the business environment in Serbia. We usually operate as part of the Nordic team, by joining forces with other Nordic embassies in Serbia, the Nordic Business Alliance and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Direct, face-to-face contacts usually yield the best results, and thus we should work on creating opportunities where our people and companies can meet and start developing business relations. In this regard, we are happy to announce that the Embassy team has a new member as of this summer: Mr Janne Sykkö, whose task is to promote trade between Finland and Serbia, as well as other Balkan countries.

The Nordic embassies, in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers and local stakeholders, are organising a series of events on the circular economy that are taking place in Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Niš and Belgrade during September and October

How is bilateral cooperation unfolding in the domain of digitalisation and IT sector development?

– Finland is the most digitalised country in Europe and one of the global frontrunners in 5G mobile communications technology. Therefore, cooperation with other countries in the fields of digitalisation and IT are high on our agenda. Our goal in Serbia has been to maintain a continuous public-private dialogue between the Nordic companies and institutions and the most relevant local stakeholders.

In this context, together with other Nordic embassies, we have organised seminars and conferences focused on the digitalisation of public administration in Serbia, digital solutions to make public procurements more efficient and transparent, smart cities and related digital tools and solutions.

During the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic, all countries have undergone a swift transition to working online, including in the field of education. When it comes to the field of digitalising education, which of Finland’s experiences could Serbia utilise?

– When the pandemic forced schools to operate fully online, the expertise and flexibility of Finnish teachers were crucial in handling the crisis.

The principles of Finnish education are equality, high quality and respect for every student’s right to learn and grow to become the person they are – and achieving and maintaining that requires relentless work every day. I believe that all education systems should uphold the same principles, while instruments to do so have to take local contexts into account.

The process of building an institutional framework for the environmental sector has been underway in Serbia since 2018. What kind of progress has been made in this sphere, in your opinion, and what does the very energised activity of Serbian citizens in terms of protecting water sources and forests, and the struggle for clean air, tell you?

– It is very encouraging that Serbian citizens are increasingly active in the field of environmental protection. Globally, citizens are often the first to react to ecological risks in their surroundings, and that’s why it’s important to have a high level of awareness regarding these issues among the population. In addition, when citizens demand green policies, politicians and authorities have to uphold and apply them in practise.

We have to admit that there are still significant challenges when it comes to environmental protection in Serbia. There is a need for the wider use of renewable energy sources, to transition from the linear to the circular economy and a stronger commitment to fighting climate change. Finland, along with other Nordic countries, can assist Serbia in this green transition.

To what extent is the circular economy part of Finland’s day-to-day reality and which experiences from this area could find applicability in Serbia?

– Finland has a history of developing circular solutions, which include new business models and new ways to consider an item’s life cycle. It was the first country in the world to prepare a national circular economy roadmap in 2016.

Our cities are already working on solutions to become carbon neutral and implement circular economy principles in practise. For example, the City of Lahti is the European Green Capital for 2021 and it serves as a great example of how circular economy solutions can be applied. Having this in mind, we can really say that the circular economy is a Finnish day-to-day reality and that we are honest when it comes to promoting it worldwide. From 13th to 15th September, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, together with Canada, organised the World Circular Economy Forum 2021. It was hosted in North America for the first time and focused on the system-level changes, or “game changers,” that are needed to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Here in Serbia, the Nordic embassies, in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers and local stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment, NALED and the Circular Economy Hub of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, are organising a series of events on the circular economy. These events, which are taking place in Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Niš and Belgrade during September and October, aim to share the Nordic experiences in this field, increase the awareness of local stakeholders regarding the circular economy and provide proposals on how to continue the implementation of these principles in Serbia.

EXPECTATIONS

I very much hope that the steps currently being taken by the Government of Serbia will translate into tangible results in the areas of the rule of law, media freedom and interparty dialogue

DIGITALISATION

We cooperate with the Serbian authorities in the fields of digitalisation and IT, as well as on promotion of the use of artificial intelligence

COOPERATION

There has been a positive trend in the trade exchange between Finland and Serbia year on year, even during the pandemic

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