Economic relations between Finland and the Western Balkan countries are currently at a relatively low level. However, there are many opportunities for improvement, as the interest of Finnish companies in the region is growing.
Alongside other current challenges that are confronting Europe, migration needs to play a central role in the EU’s external relations, especially in the dialogue with the countries of origin and transit.
How do you see prospects of further EU integration after Brexit and the possibility of new members being accepted?
– It would be too early to estimate the full impact of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU, as many key questions – including the timetable – are still open.
Understandably, the situation may have raised some questions or caused some concern, but the enlargement of the EU will continue and Finland encourages all applicant countries to continue with the reforms needed for accession. The better a country fulfils the criteria for joining the EU, the stronger a member state it will be.
What do you see as a sustainable solution for the migrant crisis and the restoration of security in the EU?
– Since 2015, Europe has been experiencing unprecedented migratory flows that are expected to continue and possibly intensify over the coming years. The current situation is not only a European challenge but a global one – as this irregular migration is driven by historical, political and economic problems in the countries of origin.
In finding solutions to the current challenge, a broader perspective, cooperation with key partners and longterm commitment are essential. Migration needs to play a central role in the EU’s external relations, especially in the dialogue with the countries of origin and transit.
The EU needs to intensify the use of all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade. The Partnership Framework from June 2016 offers a comprehensive and strategic approach for the work moving forward.
How does Finland support Serbia’s EU accession process?
– Serbia has put a lot of effort into reforming its society during recent years and the results can be seen. One indication of the remarkable progress Serbia has made is the negotiation chapters that have been opened so far. Of course, more work is still needed in order for Serbia to fulfil the criteria of EU membership.
Finland is committed to supporting Serbia on its road towards the EU, as we know that the negotiation process is a huge effort for any country. So far, we have had many Finnish experts, for example in the transport and education sectors, to assist Serbs in their EU integration, and we are ready to share our expertise in the future as well.
Looking at Serbia, increasing confidence in the stability of the Serbian market is based on ongoing reforms and the EU integration process
Where do you see the best opportunities for Finnish companies to improve current trade figures in Western Balkan markets, and what are the major hurdles?
– Economic relations between Finland and the Western Balkan countries are currently at a relatively low level. However, there are many opportunities for improvement, as the interest of Finnish companies in the region is growing.
Traditionally, industries with the most potential in the Western Balkans are the automotive, textile, metal and food processing sectors, as well as the fast-growing ICT sector. More recently, sectors such as energy and environment have become increasingly interesting for Finnish companies. Furthermore, large investments are needed in these sectors.
Looking at Serbia, increasing confidence in the stability of the Serbian market is based on ongoing reforms and the EU integration process. Here, the focus should be on trade cooperation between small and medium-sized companies in Serbia and Finland. When we manage to improve and activate contacts between these companies, both imports and exports will grow.
Obviously, there are also challenges in the Western Balkan markets, but they are similar to anywhere else. The opportunities for growth in the Western Balkan countries clearly outweigh the challenges and we can learn a lot from each other.