During a period when Italy and Serbia are celebrating 140 years of bilateral relations and 10 years since the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the two countries have many reasons to be proud of their friendship and to be both enthusiastic and ambitious in setting goals for the years ahead. One of them is the much-awaited completion of Serbia’s EU integration, which Italy supports wholeheartedly
This year will be remembered as a time for celebrating the excellent bilateral relations between Italy and Serbia, a record in economic exchange and a magnificent selection of Italian cultural events that Serbian citizens will enjoy in 2019.
However, it will first and foremost be remembered as a year in which both countries discuss how to make cooperation between them even better.
Your Excellency, Serbia and Italy have celebrated 140 years of bilateral relations and you’ve said that the two countries are connected by strong links and a historical friendship. Could you elaborate?
– The occasion is indeed a very special one, because this year we are celebrating not only 140 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, but also 10 years since the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which officially marked our commitment to intensify a renewed cooperation under the basis of the common intention to see Serbia moving faster towards the European integration. We are pleased with the “special relationship” between Rome and Belgrade with which we have promoted the relaunching of existing connections in all fields.
What do you see as priorities for the years ahead?
– Italy and Serbia enjoy an excellent level of bilateral relations and we are here to continue strengthening this cooperation. We hope that Serbia will continue to progress rapidly on the reform path as it relates to the economy, but also the rule of law and public administration, primarily in the interests of its citizens, but also in the purpose of further accelerating the pace of EU accession negotiations. I see the focus on scientific and technological research, as a very promising sector that is proving to be an innovative field with great potential.
You recently presented the start of a cultural and economic year of Italy in Serbia. What is the selection criteria for the various events?
– There are so many initiatives! Just scroll through the list of events to get an idea of the incredible work done by Italy in promoting cultural exchanges. “Vivere all’Italiana” – “Living the Italian Way” is the concept behind our programme of initiatives. This refers to the whole cultural heritage that Italy can proudly offer – including concerts, film festivals, art and design exhibitions and culinary events.
There is a great variety within our cultural offer. You have correctly mentioned a “selection”: I would say, a “unique” list of choices, given the potential vastness of the Italian cultural offer to the Serbian public! For this reason, Italy is a “cultural superpower”!
I cannot predict what could happen to the EU in 2019, but Serbia will continue to count on Italy’s encouragement and support until the completion of this EU integration process
What is the common ground tying the different events together?
– It is all held together by the common denominator of the way in which Italians “live life”, which here in Serbia finds a particularly corresponding answer: passion, love for beauty and taste are transmitted not only through art, music and performances but also through historical, scientific and literary events. We have been working in all of this with many Serbian partners and are pleased with their very good cooperation.
For this reason, one can find in our programme the March exhibition of the “Bernini and the Roman Baroque School”, in cooperation with the National Museum, or the October exhibition “Inspired by Italy”, in collaboration with Matica Srpska Gallery or the Cinema Film Festival, organised in cooperation with the Yugoslav Film Archives Cinematheque. But we also shouldn’t forget the arrival in Serbia of great Italian artists like Eros Ramazzotti or Isabella Rossellini.
It’s not only about culture. What else?
– There is much more: the programme also consists of meetings, seminars and events in which we talk about innovation and research. I am very proud of this point, because “Living the Italian Way” is also creativity. This means that Italy and Serbia go together in the same direction, not only in appreciating art but also in scientific progress.
Some of our economic or commercial events are traditionally held on an annual basis, such as the Week of Italian Cuisine around the World.
There are also some peculiarities connected with the “double anniversary”, which certainly go along with the rest: to better explain this point, this year Italy is the “Partner Country” of the Novi Sad Agriculture Fair in May, and this event will, significantly, be accompanied by a concert directed by Maestro Marcianò.
What is the link between this programme and the special anniversaries of 2019?
– In this calendar of events, everything underlies culture as a means of bringing different people together, and such an approach is particularly successful here in Serbia. Reflecting on the programme, specific for this year of special celebrations, we have given particular consideration to our Serbian friends, a public always attentive to the quality of the Italian cultural and artistic offer.
The message is certainly the following: Italy and Serbia, together in culture, innovation and progress, and along the European path. This is the meaning of these special anniversaries.
Trade between Italy and Serbia last year exceeded four billion euros, which is a record figure for our two markets, and a very significant result that was achieved for the first time
Italy is one of Serbia’s top foreign trade partners. Do you see space for the further development of this cooperation and, if so, in which areas?
– The economic partnership is a fundamental pillar of our bilateral relations with Serbia. In this regard, I would like to stress that last year, according to data of the Serbian Statistical Office, trade between Italy and Serbia exceeded a value of four billion euros.
I am very proud to say that this is a record total for our two markets and a very significant result that was achieved for the first time.
This shows that our economic partnership is not only mature but also ready for further development, thanks also to the growing exchange that Serbia is building with the European single market.
I believe that the future of our bilateral cooperation lies in the integration of our value chains – a very important step that is already becoming a reality through the work of many Italian and Serbian SMEs. As for specific economic sectors, I think that energy, new technologies, and, more generally, scientific and technological cooperation, are very promising.
We have to continue to partner up and invest in innovation to stimulate shared growth. The companies interested in this market can count on the full support of the Embassy and the entire “Italian System”, which also includes the Italian Trade Agency, the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia.
Are there further instruments of cooperation in the economic or administrative fields?
– Italy has traditionally granted administrative support to Serbian Authorities, especially through “twinning projects”, an EU-financed instrument intended to assist candidate countries, like Serbia, in their reform path towards EU accession.
We recently concluded a twinning project on anti-corruption, and another important initiative for the “further development of the protection of competition in Serbia” has now been launched thanks to the collaboration between the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) and its Serbian counterpart, with the aim of increasing the level of competitiveness on the Serbian market and strengthening the impact of the private sector on the national economy.
Italian experts also work closely with the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture, which has, over the years, developed a solid relationship with its counterparts in Italy, and we are now promoting forward-looking cooperation with the recently established Serbian Ministry of the Environment.
You recently stated that Pristina should abolish excise duties on goods from Serbia. How would you assess that move?
– Not only is a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the normalisation of relations a prerequisite for the ultimate goal of EU accession; it would also represent a “game changer” for the stability and development of the entire region. Certainly, the imposition of excise duties on the Pristina side does not help at all efforts in this direction. We have consistently urged Pristina to revoke such measures, allowing the EU-facilitated dialogue to be resumed.
Do you believe in the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue under the mediation of the EU?
– The EU-facilitated Dialogue has been conceived to promote cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina, to help them achieve progress on their paths to the EU and to improve people’s lives. So, it can be effective if both parties involved are seriously committed to achieving a viable, sustainable and lasting solution. We are aware that Serbia’s leadership does not see any alternative to this process and we value its engagement, as proof of Belgrade’s readiness to take further steps.
We are aware that Serbia’s leadership does not seeany alternative to the EUfacilitateddialogue betweenBelgrade and Pristina, andwe value its engagement, asproof of Belgrade’s readinessto take further steps
European and world economists warn of the possibility of a new economic crisis emerging. Many analyses mention the problems of the Italian economy as a new and major risk for the eurozone. Do you share that concern?
– During my first year as Ambassador of Italy to Serbia, I met – I believe – more than a hundred Italian companies, many of which have been working in this country for years, while many others are still interested in coming.
Entrepreneurs are very often less concerned about growth prospects than economists. It is their job to create profit, and they don’t just stop doing that because of some negative forecast in the newspapers. Of course, global recovery has been quite unstable since the last financial crisis. Unfortunately, many factors, like aggregated demand from major economies or the cost of energy, are beyond the reach of single governments. That is why we have to retain proactive policies and facilitate economic cooperation between Italian and Serbian companies.
The bilateral exchange between our two countries grew constantly over the last three years and I’m sure that it will also continue to grow next year. Italy has a solid background in terms of economic and financial stability, while Serbia grew by more than four per cent in 2018. I’m therefore cautiously optimistic about the future.
What awaits the EU after the May elections?
– I see a global trend, and certainly also a European one, which sees electorates asking for more attention in politics to be channelled towards the people and “real life”. I recognise that as a legitimate aspiration for every citizen to ask for a less “distant” system, more tangible answers to needs, and the most effective solutions to problems. I cannot predict what the results of the next EU elections will be, but I assume we should all be ready to consider the growing dimension of this request of responsibility and responsiveness in the next EU context.
Italy and Serbia enjoy an excellent level of bilateral relations and we are here to continue to strengthen this cooperation
We hope that Serbia will continue rapidly on the path of reforms, in the economy, but also in the rule of law and public administration, because that is the primary interest of its citizens
Italy and Serbia, together in culture, innovation and progress, and along the European path – this is the meaning of the special anniversaries that Italy and Serbia are celebrating in 2019
Italy & Serbia – 10 Years Of Strategic Partnership: Achievements And Next Steps
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Italy and Serbia. How would you evaluate the effects of this agreement and what do you see as priorities in the perspective to continue along this path?
Our strategic partnership is aimed at reinforcing bilateral relations between Rome and Belgrade, towards Serbia’s EU accession. Within the last decade, a lot of goals have been accomplished. As for recent improvements, let me mention some agreements that were concluded in order to establish and deepen exchanges in many sectors: from the fight against corruption and organised crime to cooperation in science and technology, to mention just a couple of examples.
With respect to the economic sector, this strengthening of relations has been achieved in Serbia primarily through the greater integration of the economies of our two countries.
A historical record of four billion euros worth of commercial exchanges between Italy and Serbia was achieved in 2018.
Furthermore, one of the most modern main tools, through which our country assists Serbia in the process of reforms aimed at easing EU accession, is that of administrative twinning projects, funded by the EU itself.
On the occasion of the signing ceremony for the Strategic Partnership Agreement ten years ago, then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Serbia should enter the EU by 2012 or 2014 at the latest. What is the fate of Serbia’s EU integration in 2019? Will internal happenings within the EU lead to a further slowing of this process?
The pace of Serbia’s EU accession path depends on many factors. The negotiation process probably represents the most compelling commitment, but here it is once again important to highlight that, from our perspective, Serbia already took some important steps.
The number of chapters opened is not the only evaluation criteria to look at. Some further developments are needed, like reforms in the area of the rule of law, the agreement with Pristina, and consolidation of positive changes in the economic sector. I cannot predict what could happen to the EU in 2019, but Serbia will continue to count on Italy’s encouragement and support in the concluding of this process.