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Ursula Läubli, Director Of Swiss Cooperation, Embassy Of Switzerland

Partnership And Mutual Trust

The Swiss Cooperation Office in Serbia manages a broad portfolio, with around 30 projects in three areas: Governance, Economic Development and Employment and Sustainable Energy and Resilient Cities. This is complemented with a Migration Partnership to strengthen Serbia’s capacities to deal with the challenges of migration

In all our interventions, we aim to achieve results that lead to tangible benefits for the people of Serbia and strengthened institutional capacities. Switzerland is in a good position to do so: we can build on our long-term presence in Serbia, credibility and earlier accomplishments. On this basis we cooperate with Serbia in a spirit of partnership and mutual trust, – says Ursula Läubli.

Switzerland is one of the most important donors when it comes to transition support. How would you assess the results achieved in recent years in these domains?

– We have contributed to Serbia’s transition towards strong democratic systems, inclusion and enhanced competitiveness of its economy on the path to European integration.

The achievements that we are particularly satisfied with include:

  • Our contribution to strengthened macroeconomic conditions in Serbia, notably to the development of the public finance management reform strategy, the fiscal strategy 2017-19 and revisions to the public debt strategy and their implementation in critical areas.
  • Increased income and employment opportunities, especially for young women, in the furniture, horticulture and tourism sector, and also the development of new curricula for private sector responsive dual education in Serbia. Furthermore, thousands of new jobs and additional income were generated in collaboration with the Science and Technology Park in Belgrade, leading to “brain gain” and a nine per cent rise in IT exports.
  • Our support to the Government of Serbia’s Social and Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit SIRPU in mainstreaming social inclusion in national strategies, in accordance with EU requirements.

The new “Swiss Cooperation Strategy for Serbia 2018/2021” has been prepared. What are the main changes compared to the previous one, as well as the finances foreseen?

– We held a participatory workshop with our partners to elaborate the basis for the new strategy. It will be very much in line with government priorities regarding the fostering of a knowledge-based economy, promotion of employability, financial stability, e-governance and closer relations of the society with the government for inclusive development.

Our areas of intervention remain relevant and are closely linked to national needs and priorities towards European integration, as well as required social reform policies. We will increase support in the area of Employment and Economic Development, based on a request from the government and the potential to scale up successful interventions for more impact.

Given that fostering local-level processes proved to be a good approach, we will promote this further, together with our national and subnational partners, who are key for this. As a sign of our commitment, 90 million euros has been envisaged for the new Swiss Cooperation Strategy Serbia 2018-21, which is an increase of 10 per cent.

We will increase support in the area of Employment and Economic Development, based on a request from the government and the potential to scale up successful interventions for more impact

Switzerland has supported VET reforms in many countries for more than 60 years. Why do you think that dual education is an important topic for Serbia?

– Very bluntly, the creation of sorely needed jobs and decent incomes is a key condition for social peace and poverty reduction. We welcome that the government has declared this a priority and requested Swiss support. A step by step VET reform has huge potential to better prepare young people for decent jobs, thanks to work-based learning. However, it is clear that Serbia needs to find its own model for dual education, based on its needs and in accordance with everything.

How do you assess the effects of projects for economic empowerment of rural areas, and why is that important for Serbia?

– Our main contribution is support for the implementation of reforms at the municipal level. 

We have a long and good track record of supporting such processes in Serbia. Our added value lies in our experiences, with more than 200 years’ experience as a decentralized state.

Among our many interventions for a better enabling business environment, we have supported models for territorial partnerships that serve now as showcases for future regional development policies. They are important to promoting a more balanced socio-economic and more conducive environment for inclusive regional development, and for absorbing future IPA and cohesion funds.

We believe that strong regions are important for Serbia’s inclusive growth. Our focus is on supporting poorer regions in becoming more competitive. This is crucial in an increasingly globalised world, and to provide better opportunities to young women and men.

Do you think that small and medium-sized enterprises can be “an important link in the development of Serbia”? How is it in Switzerland?

– Yes, of course, they are an important link and should play a stronger role. The Swiss economy is more than 90 per cent comprised of SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy.

Our main contribution is support for the implementation of reforms at the municipal level. We have a long and good track record of supporting such processes in Serbia. Our added value lies in our experiences, with more than 200 years’ experience as a decentralized state

During my visits to South and Southwest Serbia, I have spoken to many SME owners with whom we cooperate in our private sector development and vocational education projects. I was impressed by the way they operate their business and adapt it to changing needs in order to remain successful. They have, however, made it clear how difficult it is for them to cope with a large number of regulations. This is something which needs to be tackled at all levels.

Which areas need the most donor support?

– The effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the devastating floods of 2014 did not allow for a substantial improvement in living conditions. However, donor support contributed to easing the recovery.

It is impressive how the Government of Serbia has pursued fiscal, structural and regulatory reforms. What are also needed are good prioritisation and coordination to ensure the good quality of implementation and the good absorption of IPA funds. In that field, well-coordinated donor support is crucial. Donors can contribute to test policies and support the adaptions of the legal frameworks on the basis of what has proved successful.

What kind of cooperation does the Office have with state bodies in Serbia?

– We have very good collaboration with Serbian partners and work together on joint endeavours. Representing the Swiss Cooperation Office in Serbia, together with my capable and motivated team, we have the pleasure to work with a broad range of partners from different public institutions. We join forces for better perspectives for Serbia.

As a bilateral donor, we can only facilitate change; the Serbian people are the drivers. What I see in our most successful interventions is that for good and sustainable results, the behaviour of people and shared values are key. It needs to be ensured that no one is left behind in Serbia’s transition.

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