Mutual recognition (between Serbia and Kosovo) has not been set as a condition for joining EU, neither in the Chapter 35, nor elsewhere in the negotiation framework. As far as Slovakia is concerned, any arrangement conducive to lasting peace and stability that the two parties reach is acceptable – Fedor Rosocha
Improving economic cooperation remains the top priority of Slovakian Ambassador Fedor Rosocha, as he says in this CorD Magazine interview, noting that Serbia is Slovakia’s most important economic partner in the region and that he sees great potential for cooperation in the energy sector, with a focus on improving energy efficiency. The two countries nurture friendly relations, which benefit from the contribution of the large ethnically Slovak community in Serbia, but our interlocutor says that the two countries have yet to fully discover each other as tourism destinations, though an example that things can change is provided by the city of Niš, which he says is “gaining popularity among Slovak tourists because of the direct flight connection with Bratislava”.
Your Excellency, you are among the participants in the ‘EU in Serbia’ campaign, which has the slogan “Together we are stronger”. How do you view Serbia’s current relations and its EU membership prospects?
The campaign that I and my fellow EU Ambassadors participate in underpins what I see as the main pillars of EU–Serbia relations: partnership, solidarity and commitment. It is common knowledge that the EU is Serbia’s biggest donor, convincingly largest trading partner and foreign investor. On the other side, Serbia, together with other countries in the Western Balkan region, are essential partners of the EU in our joint efforts to maintain a stable and prosperous Europe based on shared values.
The need for a strong partnership came into focus with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has fundamentally changed the security architecture of Europe and beyond. The EU membership candidate countries in the Western Balkans now have a chance to move forward and they should take advantage of this opportunity. However, the criteria for EU membership still need to be met. There is a clear path and process for accession, based on reforms, strict and fair conditions, and the principle of earning membership through one’s own merits. Serbia’s progress towards EU membership will depend on three key factors: implementing rule of law reforms and promoting democratic changes; making progress on the Belgrade-Priština Dialogue; and aligning with EU foreign and security policies. By making progress in these areas, Serbia can move closer to its goal of joining the EU. I trust that Serbia’s political leaders will keep the country on the strategic path to the EU and build a consensus on the crucial steps that are vital for Serbia’s progress towards accession.
Certain EU member states insist that, in the case that Serbia fulfils all other conditions, it will have to recognise Kosovo’s independence if it wants to become a full EU member. What is Slovakia’s stance on this issue?
Principally, the pace and progress of the negotiations facilitated by the EU rely entirely on the level of constructiveness of the two parties involved. The ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine has amplified the urgency for progress and, ultimately, the reaching of a comprehensive final agreement. Europe needs more peace and many eyes are fixed on Belgrade and Priština to see if they can deliver. As you may well know, mutual recognition has not been set as a condition for joining the EU, neither in Chapter 35, nor elsewhere in the negotiation framework. As far as Slovakia is concerned, any arrangement conducive to lasting peace and stability that the two parties reach is acceptable.
Slovakia is among the group of EU member states that have opted not to recognise the independence of Kosovo. Speaking in one interview late last year, you said that your country’s stance remains unchanged, but there is an existing decision of your parliament that “allows reconsideration, or rather creates the possibility to reconsider the country’s non-recognition position once a comprehensive agreement has been reached between Belgrade and Priština”. Could you explain what this actually means?
The position of the Slovak Republic is pretty consistent and straightforward. We are bound by the declaration of National Assembly of the Slovak Republic, which stipulates that a common solution of the two parties needs to be found. To continue negotiations in good faith and constructively is the only way ahead for both sides of this EU-facilitated Dialogue. Mr Lajčák and Mr Borrell have our full support. The question of the Slovak position comes as a secondary matter. At this moment, it is crucial that neither side hamper the promising dynamics of negotiations on the implementation plan of the EU Proposal on Normalisation by taking any provocative unilateral steps. Both Belgrade and Priština should focus on preparing the population for a compromise and, more importantly, for building a common regional and European future together.
The need for a strong partnership came into focus with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has fundamentally changed the security architecture of Europe and beyond. The EU membership candidate countries in the Western Balkans now have a chance to move forward and they should take advantage of this opportunity
You arrived in Serbia three years ago. How would you evaluate the state of bilateral relations today? The beginning of my mission was strongly impacted by the outbreak of pandemic. Despite this, we managed to maintain an intensive political dialogue at all levels, strengthen economic ties and even develop new areas of cooperation. I would like to highlight the humanitarian assistance provided by Slovakia for the fight against COVID-19, as a gesture of our great friendship and solidarity. Alongside strong political relations, economic cooperation is improving, as illustrated by the continuous increase in the volume of the trade exchange, which has surpassed a billion euros for the first time ever.
You often discuss possibilities to improve economic cooperation between Slovakia and Serbia. Are there any more tangible projects for cooperation in the energy sector, which seems to be attracting the attention of Slovakian companies?
Improving economic cooperation remains my top priority. We are closely monitoring economic development in Serbia and business trends. In the past, many Slovak companies were well represented in the Serbian energy sector. For example, Slovak companies offer long-term experience in the reconstruction of coal-fired power plants and their transformation into more environmentally friendly facilities. In addition, there are Slovak companies that invested in the construction of biogas and small hydroelectric power plants. Last year, in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Energy, we organised a joint meeting at which Slovak and Serbian companies intensified their talks on the development of new technologies and presented potentials and opportunities for cooperation in the field of improving energy efficiency.
There was plenty of discussion last year regarding Slovakian company Rokosan’s interest in establishing a factory for organic fertilisers in Serbia. Does that interest still exist?
The interest of this company should be viewed in the broader context. It offers technology for processing animal waste materials – feathers, horns and hooves, skin, hair and bones – that are not being processed now and can ultimately cause environmental problems as soil and water pollution or through the spreading of diseases. Poultry feathers are currently utilised as animal feed or disposed of as dangerous waste.
This technology could be used in slaughterhouses and rendering plants, where the raw material would be collected. This project could contribute to self-sufficiency in the production of liquid fertilisers and protect both nature and the health of the population. Hence, the interest still exists and if the project were to be implemented successfully, we would have a win-win situation in all fields involved.
How satisfied are you with the work of the Mixed Commission for Economic Cooperation between Serbia and Slovakia; what are its current priorities?
Serbia is the most important trading partner of Slovakia in the Western Balkans. The joint commission for economic cooperation between Slovakia and Serbia, co-chaired by the ministers responsible for trade, is a significant platform for intergovernmental cooperation in various fields of mutual interest. I’m delighted that the business forum that’s attracting ever more companies has become an integral part of the meetings. The importance of the Joint commission is obvious, especially if we consider the fact that many significant cooperation agreements, partnerships and potential projects were initiated at previous events of this type. I am convinced that many topics will be discussed during the next session, which should be held at the end of this year in Serbia.
How much do friendly relations between Slovakia and Serbia encourage tourism between the two countries? Which Serbian locations are the most interesting to Slovakian tourists?
When it comes to tourism, I think it is one of the most underdeveloped fields of cooperation. Despite its great potential and possible positive impact, mostly on the local economy. Many Slovaks may know Serbia through their relatives or friends from the beautiful Slovak villages in Bač, Banat and Srem. However, they don´t know much about the magnificent natural landscapes, medieval fortresses, historic towns or unique monasteries.
Serbia’s progress towards EU membership will depend on three key factors: implementing rule of law reforms and promoting democratic changes; making progress on the Belgrade- Priština Dialogue; and aligning with EU foreign and security policies. By making progress in these areas, Serbia can move closer to its goal of joining the EU
Although Belgrade is probably the most popular destination, some time ago the city of Niš enjoyed great popularity among Slovak tourists because of the direct flight connection with Bratislava. On the other hand, in order to promote Slovakia as an attractive tourist destination, last year our Embassy participated in the International Tourism Fair in Belgrade for the second time with a Slovak stand that attracted the attention of visitors. I wish the citizens of both countries knew a little more about each other.
Are you satisfied with the treatment of the ethnic Slovak minority in Serbia, which you’ve previously said represents a strong bond between our two countries?
Exactly, the Slovak national minority is a special bridge of cooperation and an essential part of our bilateral ties. It occupies a unique position among other national minorities living in Vojvodina and enriches its multiethnic environment. For centuries, they have been preserving their identity, language, folklore, culture, habits and customs. Slovaks are loyal to the country in which they are living, while at the same time proudly maintaining deep relations with their ancestral homeland.
I appreciate that they can rely on support from the Serbian government in their everyday activities and the issues they face. Furthermore, I am glad that in March, after many years of persistent effort from our compatriots from Kovačica, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia officially submitted the nomination for the world famous Slovak naïve art to be inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. I am hopeful that this procedure will be completed successfully next year.
Slovakia is approaching the culmination of its one-year presidency over the Visegrád Group, which media reports suggest has been hampered by disagreement over the issue of the region’s response to the war in Ukraine. How much have events in your neighbourhood actually impacted on relations within the V4; and to what extent did it change the priorities of the presidency?
The current slowdown in the intensity of coordination on foreign policy issues is nothing new. In its more than 32 years of existence, the Visegrad Cooperation has gone through better and less successful periods, but it has never ceased to exist. Despite differences of opinion, and there have been differences of views and opinions between us in the past, we consider the Visegrad Group to be a useful regional format for cooperation, with many positive results in its practical dimension.
Slovakia took over its sixth Presidency of the Visegrad Group in July 2022 in the unprecedented context of Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. The Programme of the V4 Presidency, including the priorities, were drafted already under these extraordinary circumstances and reflected that Russia’s war of aggression has also affected the V4 dynamics and has considerably narrowed the scope for cooperation on foreign policy issues within this grouping. But it has not stopped at all.
The Slovak national minority is a special bridge of cooperation and an essential part of our bilateral ties. It occupies a unique position among other national minorities living in Vojvodina and enriches its multiethnic environment
As the V4 Presidency, we have managed to organise meetings at the ministerial level. In addition, in October 2022, the V4 Heads of State Summit was held in Bratislava, while in November 2022 we organised a meeting of the V4 Heads of Government and later also a meeting of the Speakers of the V4 Parliaments.
During our presidency, we are continuing our ongoing projects, while discussing with partners our future mission and the principles of our cooperation. Given the current developments and circumstances, we focus more on practical and human-centred cooperation, with concrete benefits for the citizens of the V4 countries.
Slovakia and the other members of the V4 have always supported EU expansion to encompass the Western Balkans. Now that your eastern neighbours, Ukraine and Moldova, have also received EU membership candidate status, what would you say when it comes to the direction in which EU expansion will head moving forward?
As you rightly pointed out, Slovakia has been a long-time and steadfast supporter of the enlargement policy and the process of European integration. Together with our V4 neighbours, we are convinced that the European future of the entire Western Balkans is in the interest of both the region and the EU.
The European path is today more important than ever and represents a guarantor of peace, stability and progress. The new geopolitical context has returned the enlargement to the top of the EU agenda. In 2022, we have seen membership applications submitted by Ukraine – rightly arguing that the country is now on the frontline in the defence of European values against Russia’s invasion, but also by Moldova and Georgia. The positive assessment of these application has in no way replaced or undermined the EU accession outlook for the Western Balkans. On the contrary, the EU has demonstrated renewed commitment to the region by opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, as well as by granting candidate status to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Brussels has also taken more immediate steps to enhance integration, such as investments in regional infrastructure and support to energy diversity and security, lowering roaming tariffs with the EU for customers from the region, the Western Balkan states in EU educational initiatives and, most recently, lifting the visa requirement for citizens of Kosovo. All these key decisions clearly point to a new opportunity for a revived enlargement, a window of opportunity that should not be missed by candidate countries.
Serbia, together with other countries in the Western Balkan region, are essential partners of the EU in our joint efforts to maintain a stable and prosperous Europe based on shared values
Given the current developments and circumstances, we focus more on practical and human-centred cooperation, with concrete benefits for the citizens of the V4 countries
The European path is today more important than ever and represents a guarantor of peace, stability and progress. The new geopolitical context has returned the enlargement to the top of the EU agenda