Switzerland is one of the top three bilateral donors to Serbia, and the only donor that has been continuously present in Serbia without interruption since 1991. During the times of COVID-19, Swiss support quickly found its way to those most in need
In times when health and wellness count more than ever, Switzerland provided 600,000 euros to Serbia to help those most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. This amount was channelled through local partners, which resonates will with the method of providing Swiss bilateral support to Serbia. It pays equal attention to Serbia’s national goals related to Agenda 2030 and the EU integration process, as well as to the needs of municipalities and their vulnerable groups – the elderly, as well as men and women who lost their sources of income.
The Swiss Cooperation Strategy Serbia 2018–2021, the document that lays the ground for Swiss support, demonstrates this approach clearly. For example, Swiss support was instrumental in improving the capacities and resilience of key national public finance institutions, which is an important feature in times when national fiscal policies are tremendously challenged by the impacts of pandemics. At the same time, Switzerland provides continuous support to various measures related to the improvement of the business climate in Serbia at the national and sub-national levels, thus promoting local economic development. Swiss support also contributes to making Serbian entrepreneurs more innovative and competitive, thus increasing their ability to become members of global trade and value chains, and creating more and better jobs.
Even though Serbia progressed in the EU integration process, there is a room for strong improvement in terms of the rule of law, freedom of press and the overall process of democratisation
Swiss support is focused increasingly on the employability of young people and dual education programmes, as well as on young entrepreneurs who benefit from the development of inclusive and improved market-orientated skills, which results in employment. Furthermore, Serbia benefits strongly from the Swiss backing of the opening of Science & Technology Park Belgrade, as well as similar new facilities in Niš and Čačak. Such opportunities create space for young IT experts to develop their innovative projects into start-ups and contribute to the prevention of the brain drain.
The full list of supported areas is, of course, much longer and contains interventions related to the enhanced capacities of local municipalities, CSOs and citizens for inclusive decision-making, as well as energy efficiency and the development of smart cities.
Over the past four years, the Swiss government has increased its support to Serbia to up to 24 million euros annually, making Switzerland one of the top three bilateral donors, and the only donor to maintain a continuous presence without interruption since 1991.
Yet not all of these initiatives proved to be equally successful. Building efficient and effective democratic institutions represents one of the key area of Swiss support to Serbia, but as the current state of affairs shows, much greater efforts are needed in that respect. As Swiss Ambassador Philippe Guex put it “no one has failed to see that the freedom of media is imperfectly fulfilled, as the ruling party could rely on disproportionate coverage among most major media outlets, including the TV channels with a national frequency.” Indeed, Serbia would benefit strongly from improved rule of law and increased freedom of press, both of which are key prerequisites for a society thar aims to secure unfettered democratic and economic development.
In that respect, Serbia clearly has to learn from Switzerland.