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H.E. Silvia Davidoiu, Romanian Ambassador To Serbia

Connecting Balkan Infrastructure And Energy

We are looking forward to the construction of the Trans-Balkan Power Corridor that will connect the electricity transmission systems of the entire region and put Serbia on the map and the main corridor for energy transmission in this part of our continent – Silvia Davidoiu

The new Romanian ambassador arrived in Serbia during the time of the struggle against COVID-19, but the pandemic seem not to have influenced her ambitious plans. In her first interview for CorD, Ambassador Silvia Davidoiu reiterates that Romania will not change its position on non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence. She says that the main purpose of her endeavours in Serbia will be to increase interaction between economic actors in the two countries, specifically by strengthening bilateral contacts and increasing the number of economic events presenting business opportunities in all regions of Romania and all sectors of the economy.

Your Excellency, your ambassadorship in Serbia began in February, during this time when the world is still struggling against the COVID-19 pandemic. How does diplomacy function under the conditions of lockdowns and restrictive measures?

Indeed, I took over my position as Romanian Ambassador to Serbia at a time when we are still confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic and many restrictive measures – intended to limit the spread of the virus – are still in place in many countries.

It is particularly difficult to begin an ambassadorial mandate at a time like this, especially considering that our job is based on social interaction, an active presence in society and also presupposes travelling and meeting many people in Belgrade and around the country.

My colleagues and I have learned over past months to adjust and adapt to this reality and, apart from the virtual meetings that are now a “substitute” for the real gatherings, I was privileged to meet many Serbian officials in person and to participate in some events in the Serbian National Assembly and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Life during this pandemic is not easy, but I’ve somehow managed to find a way to fulfil my duties, albeit not at the pace that I would have liked!

You’ve stated that you arrived in Belgrade with a clearly defined agenda for infrastructure projects. How is implementation progressing on the planned highway from Belgrade to Timisoara, as the key infrastructure project?

Romania and Serbia have good cooperation in the fields of energy and transport, and I hope that our collaboration will continue and develop even further to the benefit of our countries’ mutual interests at the bilateral, regional and EU levels.

The project to construct the Pančevo- Timisoara highway has the political support of both Romania and Serbia, and is a bilateral project of common interest.

I am expecting the proposed changes to the energy and mining sector in Serbia to encourage new investments and I’ve noticed declarations and engagements of Serbia’s high-level politicians related to gas interconnection projects. We are hopeful that, among the many such projects that Serbia has on its agenda, we will also have the one with Romania: the Arad-Mokrin pipeline. We are also looking forward to the construction of the Trans-Balkan Power Corridor, which will connect the electricity transmission systems of the entire region and put Serbia both on the map and on the main corridor for energy transmission in this part of our continent. The 400 kV Resita- Pančevo overhead line – part of the Trans-Balkan Power Corridor – is a project of common interest and one of its main roles is to strengthen the Southeast European (SEE) electricity market and system. The implementation of this overhead line will increase the transfer capacity between the two countries and throughout Southeast Europe.

We are also benefiting from the Joint Commission on the Iron Gates (the 100th session of which will take place in Romania in May 2021), which gives us the opportunity to work together on this longstanding flagship project of hydropower energy between two countries in this part of Europe. The potential is quite high when it comes to increasing transports of goods on waterways by using the Danube, with the end point being the Port of Constanta, as proven by the increased capacity of goods transported in 2020, and that was in a year that was marked by the consequences of the pandemic crisis! Goods transiting between the two countries in 2019 had a total weight of 8,9 billion tons, while total goods traffic registered as transiting Romanian maritime ports in 2020 reached a new record of 9.8 billion tons.

The relevant ministries in Romania and Serbia recently renewed their engagements to cooperate in the areas of energy and infrastructure, in order to bring these specific projects to fruition.

I am expecting the proposed changes to the energy and mining sector in Serbia to encourage new investments and I’ve noticed declarations and engagements of Serbia’s high-level politicians related to gas interconnection projects

Will your idea of establishing a Romanian- Serbian chamber of commerce be realised; and what do you see as its main tasks?

The establishment a Romanian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce isn’t actually a purpose in itself, but rather the result of increasing interaction between economic stakeholders in the two countries. That is going to be the main purpose of my endeavours and those of my colleagues in the Embassy, namely to strengthen bilateral contacts and increase the number of economic events presenting business opportunities in all regions of Romania and all sectors of the economy.

A bilateral Chamber of Commerce – when the times comes – would be best positioned to promote its members’ business priorities, best practices, increase trade and investment ties between Romania and Serbia, facilitate an open dialogue between the business communities and the central authorities, and promote transparent solutions and priorities.

Our economies are complementary, and being neighbouring countries should be an advantage in terms of the transport of goods and services over the borders. We also share similar cultural and social traditions, so almost all the ingredients are there for even more successful cooperation!

How do you view the potential of regional cooperation within the Quadrilateral comprising Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece?

Romania is willing to continue the development of cross-border and wider regional cooperation in this format, with the objective of strengthening the territorial cohesion of crossborder regions, their competitiveness and their sustainability through projects of mutual benefit.

Romania reaffirms its support for regional projects of common interest, especially in the fields of transport, energy and ITC, as well as sports and youth, in order to promote the development and overall connectivity of the region.

All four countries emphasise the importance of a macro-regional approach to stimulating economic growth and job creation, including in the framework of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, the Three Seas Initiative and the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region.

How hard has the Romanian economy and bilateral trade with Serbia been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Romanian economy contracted by 3.9% of GDP (estimated NSI data) in 2020. The COVID- 19 crisis had a serious impact on activities in the Romanian business environment, both for companies and their employees. Many companies have reduced, suspended or shutdown their activities, laying off employees or sending them into technical redundancy. The state has pledged to support the economy and pay technical unemployment benefits, and has devised and implemented special fiscal and financial support schemes, among others, with priority given to European funds.

Starting from 15th May 2020, economic activity gradually resumed in several sectors, at the initiative of private decision makers, but in compliance with the public authorities’ recommendations for the protection of employees and customers.

According to the European Commission’s 2021 winter forecast, the Romanian economy will increase in GDP by 3.8% in 2021 and 4.0% in 2022, respectively, while inflation will remain at relatively low levels (2.6% and 2.4%, respectively).

In the 2021-2027 period, Romania will benefit from European funds totalling almost 80 billion euros, 33 billion euros of which come from the EU Recovery Plan, while over 46 billion euros relates to the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework.

With regard to bilateral trade, the Republic of Serbia is the 7th extra-Community trade partner of Romania (after Turkey, China, the Russian Federation, the U.S., the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) and occupies 5th place as a market for Romanian export products (after Turkey, the U.S., the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova) and is ranked as the 9th largest import partner (after China, Turkey,the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, the U.S. and the Republic of Moldova).

Our bilateral trade had an exceptional year in 2019, amounting to a total of 1.7 billion euros. After a promising start to 2020, it turned out to be a year of uncertainty, especially with respect to the business environment. Although the COVID-19 pandemic hit the economies of both our countries, as the latest official data reveal, our bilateral trade fell by only 13% in Despite the restrictions imposed and the lockdowns of our economies, trade has kept flowing between Romania and its southwest neighbour. I am therefore convinced that we can overcome the current difficulties and hopefully set a new bilateral trade record in 2021.

Along with the trade exchange, mutual investments should also be stimulated. We hope that Serbian companies will seize the opportunities created in Romania through the recent legislative measures and programmes intended to improve the business climate, support investments and stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit.

The potential is quite high when it comes to increasing transports of goods on waterways by using the Danube, with the end point being the Port of Constanta, as proven by the increased capacity of goods transported in 2020, and that was in a year that was marked by the consequences of the pandemic crisis!

Romania is progressing with the vaccination process. Is your country relying exclusively on the procurement of vaccines within the EU or are you considering vaccines from other manufacturers? To what extent is this also a political issue?

As of 13th April 2021, 3,762,214 doses of vaccine had been administered in Romania (2,771,056 were produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, 253,187 by Moderna and 389,712 by AstraZeneca). The Prime Minister of Romania recently declared that we will have 8.3 million doses of vaccine that will arrive in Romania in April and this time is critical for us to aim to have almost five million people vaccinated by the end of May 2021, in the most pessimistic scenario. This is an important figure for us, because it represents almost 35% of the adult population that needs to be vaccinated.

We have already started the third phase of the vaccination, in terms of categories of people that were prioritised to receive immunisation: first medical personnel and other personnel from the social system, then, in the second phase, those with severe health risks and people from the essential sectors of the country, with the rest of the citizens in the third phase.

Romania benefits in many aspects from being part of the European Union and to date we’ve managed a quite successful vaccination campaign by relying only on vaccines procured through the European mechanisms and authorised by the European authorities. There has been no discussion and no need to look to procurement from other sources.

Nevertheless, Romania has tried its best to show solidarity and assisting the Republic of Moldova, our closest neighbours and friend, with a donation of vaccine doses for medical staff in this country that has been hit heavily by the pandemic. As you are well aware, through Romanian efforts, necessary medical equipment from the RescEU is continuing to be distributed to Serbia and other Western Balkan countries, with the latest such shipment to Belgrade arriving on 9th April 2021, when I was present at the handover of a donation of surgical masks that arrived from EU stockpiles located in Romania and Belgium: 310,000 FFP2 masks, 730,000 surgical masks and 730,000 pairs of gloves. This shipment has a value of 857,000 euros.

Are you experiencing problems convincing citizens about the importance and safety of vaccination?

The pandemic has generated complex consequences, accentuating pre-existing trends and creating new ones. Disinformation regarding vaccines through fake news on the internet and, sometimes, the media also adds to these difficulties.

Nevertheless, the number of people in Romania that have already registered on open platforms to receive vaccination is quite high and that is a sign that many citizens have realised the importance of being safe for their own sake and that of their families. Moreover, the government has pursued an active campaign of disseminating information on the benefits of vaccination, underlining the fact that the return to normality and the ease of the restriction depends on the immunising of a large number of people and reaching what is generally called ”group immunity”. The authorities are promoting the right messages about vaccination, through the voices of renowned personalities from the medical field and also public figures. They have done a good job so far, given that Romania currently ranks 19th worldwide in terms of the prevalence of immunisation to SARS-CoV-2 per capita, with almost four million doses already administered, equating to double the global average.

Calls for EU member states that have not recognised Kosovo to do so can occasionally be heard within the EU. What is the position of the government in Bucharest on this issue?

The position of Bucharest is well known and nothing has changed. Our government is closely following the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, mediated by Brussels.

This dialogue is a process that’s relevant to the stability of the region and its European prospects.

It has to continue in order to reach a meaningful conclusion and the main actors have to show political will, wisdom and maturity in implementing the agreements reached at all stages of negotiations.

Romania is among the countries that support Serbia’s path to EU accession. Could the so-called “Vlach issue”, related to resolving the status of these citizens of Eastern Serbia, be a precondition of Romania’s continued support for Serbia’s integration?

Firstly, allow me to clarify the question, as you put it. Our position is firmly rooted in the provisions of international law and refers to the ensuring of protection of the rights of persons belonging to the Romanian minority, in accordance with international standards, in particular with respect to preserving the linguistic identity of these persons, regardless of how they name themselves (Romanians or Vlachs) and irrespective of where in Serbia they reside (Vojvodina or the Timok Valley). These are rights enjoyed by Serbs in Romania and, as such, it is only natural to expect Romanians to receive the same treatment in Serbia.

As regards the EU integration process, we do indeed firmly believe Serbia’s place is in the European family. This is a very clear-cut position that Romania had advocated consistently even before our own accession.

Developments on Serbia’s European path are very much in the hands of Belgrade, in the overall commitment to the strategic goal of accession and in the pace and quality of efforts to harmonise with EU standards. Accession also remains a meritbased process under the revised methodology for Enlargement, which offers a positive and wider framework for advancement, with fundamental areas (such as chapters 23 and 24) as shining sine qua non priorities.

INFRASRUCTURE

The project to construct the Pančevo- Timisoara highway has the political support of both Romania and Serbia, and is a bilateral project of common interest

COOPERATION

Our economies are complementary, and being neighbouring countries should be an advantage in terms of the transport of goods and services over the borders

EU INTEGRATION

We do indeed firmly believe Serbia’s place is in the European family. This is a very clearcut position that Romania had advocated consistently even before our own accession

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