The longstanding positive bilateral ties between Norway and Serbia provide a strong foundation for further growth, and my aim is to build upon the exemplary efforts of my predecessors to further enhance and deepen our relationship
Having previously served as the Director for Southeast Europe at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Her Excellency Kristin Melsom, the newly appointed ambassador of Norway to Serbia, brings a wealth of knowledge about our region. We utilised this interview to discuss her aspirations and objectives in her new ambassadorial role.
How do you perceive the chances of Western Balkan countries accelerating their EU accession process?
I am so happy to be Norway’s new ambassador to Serbia and delighted to finally be here and to embark on this very important journey. As I am already familiar with the region, after four years as director for Southeast Europe at my MFA, I now look forward to further exploring Serbia and the rest of this beautiful and very interesting region.
Norway, as you know, is not a member of the European Union. However, as a member of the EEA (European Economic Area), we are part of the European internal market. As we like to say, we are fully integrated into the EU, we just aren’t members. Even though we are not a member of the EU, Norway has been deeply engaged in the Western Balkans for decades and we have supported all the countries in their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Developments in each of the Western Balkan countries are important for European security and stability, and we remain committed to continuing our support for the countries’ accession processes. Serbia is at a particularly important juncture in this process, which is why we have exerted a lot of energy in supporting institutional development, internal reforms and the preparation of Serbia for EU membership.
Since the Thessaloniki summit of 2003, it has been clear that the WB6 countries have an open door to join the EU. Although this process is now taking a rather long time, I notice that continuous discussions about the enlargement process are underway within the EU. I believe that the latest change in the negotiation methodology is proof that the EU is committed to maintaining a strong opportunity for WB6 to speed up this process. As my EU colleagues often like to say, it is not a question of whether the WB6 will be part of the EU, but a question of when and how to achieve that goal most effectively.
However, we must remember that these countries are at different stages of the process and that progress is based on consistent and measurable efforts by each country. As you know, EU accession is a two-way street, and it is up to each country to fulfil the accession criteria.
When it comes to political, economic and defence issues, what would be your order of priorities in nurturing bilateral relations between our two countries?
All these issues are important and are very much interlinked nowadays. I would therefore like to see them in connection with each other and not to rank them in terms of priority. My plan is to combine these issues in addition to focusing on issues that are important for both our countries, including the promotion of Norwegian interests, assisting in cultural exchanges and strengthening business relations.
Bilateral relations between Norway and Serbia are good and have been for decades. That is an excellent foundation to build on. I want to build on the excellent work of my predecessors and continue exploring ways to strengthen our relations even more.
Serbia is the most important country in the region and is key to regional prosperity and stability. Developments in Serbia and across the whole region will have an impact on Europe, including the situation in Norway, and we will monitor the political situation with great interest. We might be far away in terms of distance, but the war in Ukraine has demonstrated for us how closely interlinked we all are.
Serbian cooperation with Norway, as well as other Nordic countries, appears to be a success story. What major recent breakthroughs would you highlight?
Cooperation in the area of energy transformation is one of the success stories of our bilateral contact and cooperation. Norway has expertise in these fields, and we are happy to share our experiences in transforming state-owned companies to public-private companies. Green transition is another area where all the Nordic countries have expertise and would be happy to explore ways of cooperating more closely.
I believe that Norwegian private investors are looking with great interest at renewable energy projects in Serbia and the region. Alignment with EU standards and policy, as well as a stable market and adequate regulatory frameworks, are key prerequisites.
Our commitment is to support and play a role in the transformation of the energy sector, recognising that our contributions can have far-reaching societal impact
Another area where we have been assisting recently is on mental health in the wake of the terrible mass shooting that hit Serbia in May. We quickly identified experts who could come to Serbia and share their expertise on the basis of Norway’s national trauma of 2011, when so many young people were shot at the Labour Party youth camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.
Norway has provided development aid to the Westen Balkan countries over the course of decades. We are among others in supporting civil society and financing advisors assisting in Serbia’s EU accession process. Norway is also the largest bilateral donor to the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).
The economy, energy and education appear to have been in the focus of your recent conversations with your Serbian colleagues. What are your priorities in these sectors?
We will continue assisting and contributing to the transformation of the energy sector. If we can contribute to important changes, this will have an impact on the society as a whole. The goal must be to contribute to closer regional cooperation – this would really be the key to regional stability.
Regional security and stability will be crucial growth components. The implementation of EU regulations and closing negotiation chapters as part of the accession process will be important for reducing corruption and improving the rule of law. I would also like to support independent media and continue the close cooperation with the Serbian authorities, the OSCE and civil society regarding the reform of media laws.
In my conversations with my Serbian counterparts, I emphasise the need for predictability, transparency and accountability in order to increase economic prosperity.
My plan is to focus on issues that are important for both our countries, including the promotion of Norwegian interests, assisting in cultural exchanges and strengthening business relations
I believe that Norwegian private investors are looking with great interest at renewable energy projects in Serbia and around the region
I aim to support independent media while maintaining a strong partnership with the Serbian authorities, the OSCE and civil society in efforts to reform media laws