I want to stress that the green transition in Denmark has been hugely beneficial for the Danish economy. In fact, the green economy has created more than 75,000 new full-time jobs in Denmark and added around EUR 10 billion in exports – Susanne Shine
The new Danish ambassador to Serbia, Susanne Shine, very enthusiastically shares the experience of the so-called green transition in her country, which encompassed everything from building awareness of the need to protect the environment, through changing life habits, to finding a new way to organise the economy. In her first interview for CorD Magazine, Ambassador Shine says that she sees an opportunity for new connections between Danish and Serbia companies in the extraordinary conditions imposed by the struggle against the COVID-19 virus.
Your Excellency, having arrived in Serbia in September, what are your first impressions of our country?
Serbia is a very liveable country with welcoming and generous people, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two months in Belgrade. I have noticed that Serbians love food and that the food here is delicious. It has been fun to experience some of your fantastic restaurants and wineries, and I’m happy that the first selection of Michelin starred restaurants in Belgrade will be announced this December. The quality of your food and restaurants deserves recognition.
It has also been a delight to see how strikingly green Belgrade is, with its many trees, parks and forests. The presence of so much natural beauty is precious for a city and its people. It was a real honour to participate in an event on World Clean-up Day 2020 that was co-organised by the Danish Embassy and Serbian basketball stars Jasmina and Nemanja Aleksandrov in order to help preserve Belgrade’s natural environment.
Together we removed rubbish from Zvezdara Forest. It felt good to join Serbians and thousands of other volunteers around the world in a joint effort to make our planet a cleaner, more enjoyable place to live.
I am now beginning to venture beyond Belgrade. So far I’ve been as far north as the edge of Fruška Gora and as far south as the southern border. It is a beautiful country with amazingly productive farmland and marvellous national parks.
You stated at the beginning of your residency in Serbia that your goal is to bring more Danish companies to the Serbian market, emphasising the possibility of relocating production operations from distant markets to Europe. You assessed that Serbia offers excellent business conditions?
Yes, I am confident that there are opportunities for Danish companies in Serbia. Denmark is a small, open economy that’s dependent on foreign trade, notably in pharmaceuticals, machinery, electrical equipment and agriculture. As a result, Danish companies are global in their outlook and have production sites around the world, including in far away countries. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has shown how vulnerable extended global supply chains can be.
Denmark’s most important trading partners are its neighbouring countries. From that perspective, it makes sense to have production available closer to those markets. This reduces lead times and increases responsiveness to market changes while keeping products competitively priced. This is where I think Serbia, with its competent labour force and competitive costs, could offer excellent business conditions.
Danish companies already present in Serbia prove this point. For example, Grundfos, which is the world’s leading producer of circular pumps, has a production site in Inđija. Another example is Kentaur, which produces professional cloth ing and launched its operations in Vranje last year. Today it employs more than 100 people and expects to expand further over the coming years. These are examples of Danish companies that competitively service European and global markets from Serbia. This is good for Serbia and good for Denmark, so I intend to encourage more Danish companies to follow.
Danish companies have already created thousands of jobs in Serbia, and I expect more to come. It is, however, vital for foreign investors that Serbia offers the right business environment, including transparent tenders and straightforward bureaucratic requirements
In your opinion, which branches of the economy could be of particular interest to Danish companies?
I see many opportunities for Danish companies, especially in environmental protection, climate solutions and wastewater treatment. There is a growing need for more sustainable and green solutions everywhere in the world, including Serbia. For instance, if you want to build green and energy efficient houses, Danish companies that are already in Serbia are world leaders in insulation (Rockwool), windows (Velux), heating applications (Danfoss) and pumps (Grundfos). And there are many more Danish companies with cutting-edge expertise in green solutions.
I also see opportunities in healthcare, digitisation and IT, agriculture and manufacturing.
Danish companies have already created thousands of jobs in Serbia, and I expect more to come. It is, however, vital for foreign investors that Serbia offers the right business environment, including transparent tenders and straightforward bureaucratic requirements.
Serbian officials have emphasised the importance of Denmark’s support for our country’s EU integration process. What is the Danish stance regarding EU enlargement?
Denmark has long played a significant role in the enlargement of the EU. The accession criteria, or Copenhagen criteria, as they are also called, were established during the Danish EU-Presidency of 1993. They are the essential conditions that all candidate countries must satisfy in order to become member states. Additionally, the largest expansion of the EU, with 10 new member states — the so-called ‘big bang’ – was negotiated and agreed during the Danish EU-presidency of 2002. This is something I remember well, as I was part of the Danish delegation during the critical final meetings in Copenhagen. And it was under another Danish EU-presidency that the European Council granted Serbia candidate status in 2012.
Denmark considers the Western Balkan countries to be a natural part of the EU and has consistently supported giving them a European, merit-based perspective.
Serbia has been negotiating on its EU membership for the past six years, with just half of accession negotiation chapters opened to date. In your opinion, what is the most important thing a candidate country must do to speed up the accession process?
The speed of accession is largely in the hands of a candidate country. It is, of course, essential that accession countries satisfy the Copenhagen criteria, which are crucial cornerstones in building and ensuring institutional stability. The more a candidate country accelerates reforms – for example, by increasing the rule of law, including in the fight against organised crime and corruption, and expanding media freedoms — the faster it will progress through the accession process. Many countries have successfully entered the EU. Along the way they took challenging steps, but I’m confident that accession has made them more successful countries for their own citizens.
The European Commission’s recent ‘2020 Report on Serbia’ offers a detailed roadmap of what is expected in the different negotiation chapters, along with clear policy recommendations. Denmark is trying to assist. For instance, Denmark is running a twinning project in Serbia, financed by the EU, to improve the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights and to align Serbia’s approach with European standards. Denmark looks forward to seeing Serbia meet the accession requirements and enter the EU as a valued and close partner.
Because the municipality chose to move polluting industry out of the area and to clean wastewater before it reached the sea, today Copenhagen is one of the few cities where the harbour water is clean enough for swimming
During your meeting with Belgrade Mayor Zoran Radojičić, you spoke about the importance Denmark attaches to ecology and the environment. How is awareness of the COVimportance of preserving the environment built up or changed with the public?
You are raising a very important question. Building awareness of the importance of protecting the environment and of the many environmental, economic and social benefits that come from doing so is not ahcieved overnight. It takes political will, serious planning and consistent effort. It was an honour to meet Mayor Radojičić and discuss this critical issue with him.
Denmark’s green transition started in the 1970s. Denmark was then entirely dependent on imported oil and other fossil fuels. With oil prices spiking dramatically in 1973, a strong public mandate for change emerged. As a result, the Danish Government began to pursue a new strategy to meet the country’s growing energy needs, including introducing incentives for environmentally sustainable solutions. This gradually transformed Danish society. For instance, children were taught to preserve water and electricity. Houses were insulated and double glazed windows were installed. Glass bottles were recycled and wind turbines began appearing all over the country. Bicycle lanes were added in larger cities and public transport was expanded. More and more people started leaving their cars in the garage, and we even experienced traffic jams in cycle lanes. People became aware of the cause and effect of individual behaviour on the environment. And support grew as awareness increased.
Because of this transformation, Denmark is now an environmentally conscious society, and the greening of the country can be seen everywhere. One example is Copenhagen harbour. When I was young its water was polluted and unsafe. No one would dare swim there. However, because the municipality chose to move polluting industry out of the area and to clean wastewater before it reached the sea, today Copenhagen is one of the few cities where the harbour water is clean enough for swimming. In fact, in summer I thoroughly enjoy jumping in the water with other Danes at one of the many public harbour baths.
Another example of Denmark’s green transition is the use of bicycles. More than 60 per cent of commuters in Copenhagen today go to work or school on a bicycle and there are five times as many bicycles as cars in the city. Many of our government ministers, like others in the public and private sector, ride bicycles to work.
I want to stress that the green transition in Denmark has been hugely beneficial for the Danish economy. In fact, the green economy has created more than 75,000 new full-time jobs in Denmark and added around 10 billion euros in exports.
I’m not saying it is easy to make a green transition, but – as Denmark is demonstrating – it can be done successfully, with tremendous environmental, economic and social benefits for the entire country.
Denmark recorded an increase in the number of people infected with the COVID-19 Coronavirus during September. How has the pandemic impacted the Danish economy?
Even though Denmark responded promptly and effectively to COVID-19 in mid-March, the virus outbreak, the containment measures and the associated changes in behaviour reduced economic activity. Consequently, the Danish economy was hit by a historically large setback during the first half of 2020.
To mitigate the economic impact, the Danish government introduced relief packages to help prevent people from losing their jobs and companies from going bankrupt. For example, the government offered to pay 75 per cent of the wages for eligible companies’ workers if those companies would pay the remaining 25 per cent and keep the workers employed. At the same time, the government deferred those companies’ payments of VAT and tax to increase their liquidity and help them meet their fixed costs.
After Denmark ended its lockdown, the economy gained momentum. However, the pandemic is still with us, and the Danish economy will continue to have to confront and overcome COVID-related challenges.
The largest expansion of the EU, with 10 new member states – the socalled ‘big bang’ – was negotiated and agreed during the Danish EUpresidency of 2002. This is something I remember well, as I was part of the Danish delegation during the critical final meetings in Copenhagen
It seems that people across Europe and worldwide are today finding it more difficult to accept the introduction of restrictive measures as a method of preventing the potential spread of infection. How are Danes coping with that?
It took time to adjust to the new reality and rules, but Danes are doing their best to respect COVID-related measures that benefit society as a whole.
Denmark is a society built on trust. We believe that there are immense social and economic advantages when people can trust each other and their government. Our trust also extends to our institutions, like our health service, police and foreign ministry, which have all done an excellent job of providing guidance and the regulations needed to keep Danes safe and our economy functional in the face of COVID-19.
In fact, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Centre, 95 per cent of Danes believe the government has done a good job in handling the COVID crisis. This is the highest rating among the countries covered in the survey. Due to the existing trust between people and institutions, Denmark has fought the pandemic comparatively effectively. Now, however, Denmark and many other countries are experiencing a new surge of infections. We will all need to redouble our cooperation and work to confront this continuing crisis.
You have served your country as a diplomat in Egypt, the USA, Australia, Ireland and Canada, and have now arrived in the Western Balkans for the first time. How do you see this region today and what do you think it will look like by the end of your term?
It really is a privilege to represent Denmark in the Western Balkans. I have only been on the ground for two months and am just beginning to see, understand and appreciate the region. To my mind, it is human potential that contributes most to a region’s future. Historically – through creativity, resourcefulness, resilience, and determination – the people and the culture here have emerged intact and undiminished from some of the most trying circumstances imaginable. Given an opportunity and a fair chance, people here will certainly excel individually and collectively.
There are stunning examples of such success already, both here and in the diaspora. Recognition in the arts includes a Nobel Prize, Academy Awards, a Palme d’Or, a Venetian Golden Lion, a Pulitzer Prize and Poet Laureate of the United States. In the sciences, people from this region have helped found NASA and had craters named after them on the moon and Mars as recognition of their achievements. And, of course, every time we turn on a light or otherwise use electricity, we should think of the potential here. On that note, it seems natural to say that, with the right opportunities, I see a very bright future.
I see many opportunities for Danish companies, especially in environmental protection, climate solutions and wastewater treatment
Denmark considers the Western Balkan countries to be a natural part of the EU and has consistently supported giving them a European, merit-based perspective
Given an opportunity and a fair chance, people here will certainly excel individually and collectively. There are stunning examples of such success already, both here and in the diaspora