Ambassador Anders Christian Hougård arrived in Belgrade in early September and finds the Serbian capital to be a vibrant and impressive city. In this interview for CorD Magazine, he says that his priority is to help strengthen economic ties.
– My main priority as Ambassador of Denmark will be to support Danish exporters and investors coming to Serbia. An increase in trade and investments is to the benefit of all in our two countries. Danish export to Serbia is modest – at approximately €150 million – and I will be more than satisfied if it is possible to attract more Danish commercial interest during my time in Belgrade. Another ambition is to follow up on this year’s 100-year celebrations with even more activities in culture and public diplomacy.
Your Excellency, is the centenary of relations still being celebrated?
– Our common celebrations of a century of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Denmark have highlighted and renewed our strong ties. The Embassy experiences growing interest in Danish culture – exhibitions and films – as well as the Danish way of life. Right now, you can find an outdoor exhibition on Kalemegdan, “The Kingdom of Denmark – From Copenhagen to the Arctic” and our celebrations culminate in December with an exhibition arranged in cooperation with the Yugoslav Archives.
Regional stability and a positive trend in the economy will create a strong foundation for Serbia, but joining the EU is also about having viable institutions and “checks and balances”
Do you believe in a consolidation of the EU and is there a place in the Union for Serbia?
– Although the EU is facing numerous challenges and is occupied with the regrettable Brexit, it should not be written off. The EU will come out stronger, still with enlargement as one of our main political priorities. All countries in this region can join the EU, provided they fulfil the criteria, and the road to membership goes through a merit-based process. It will take the necessary time, but Serbia has always been an obvious candidate and real membership prospects are already there.
Regional stability and a positive trend in the economy will create a strong foundation for Serbia, but joining the EU is also about having viable institutions and “checks and balances”. The latter may sound old-fashioned and tends to be forgotten from time to time. An independent judiciary, a trust-based administration free of corruption and, last but not least, the value of having free media are indispensable pillars for a country that wants to build a stable democracy. All of these are real challenges for all countries in transition, so we expect Serbia to make progress in those areas – not just for the sake of EU membership, but for the sake of its citizens.
Why has Denmark taken such a hard line on accepting migrants and do you believe the migrant crisis will continue?
– I do not think that Denmark has taken a particularly tough line when it comes to dealing with the migrant issue. Considering the situation in Europe generally, I think our policy is quite sensible. Like other countries, Denmark wants to exercise control over its own borders and the inflow of people. It is also important to distinguish between refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, which many seem to forget. The integration of foreigners –a majority of whom come from non-European countries – poses an increasingly tough challenge for Denmark, and we try to be honest and open about this situation. One should not hide from reality! Having said that, Danes welcome all foreigners if they contribute to our society in a positive way.
Millions and millions of refugees and displaced persons is a global scale problem that calls for global solutions. In that sense, our planet is facing a continuing and even worsening crisis. I am happy to say that Denmark is at the forefront as a donor and one of the world’s leading contributors to the United Nations and its agencies, as well as to the many NGOs helping refugees. However, tackling the global refugee crisis should not be mistaken for individual countries doing what’s necessary to regulate the inflow of people.