Switzerland remains committed to strengthening democratic institutions and processes, as well as inclusive and sustainable growth in support of Serbia’s path to European integration. What is the main goal of the Swiss Cooperation Strategy Serbia 2018 – 2021 and what are the expected outcomes?
– Most importantly, our support should bring about concrete benefits for Serbian citizens – they are the ones who should ultimately experience changes in their lives. Many citizens have become quite disillusioned with the prolonged transition. As we can build on achieved results and successful experiences, we will be active in the same fields: Governance, Economic development and Employment and Sustainable energy and resilient cities. With sharpened objectives for accountable and transparent public administration, sustainable economic development and increased energy sustainability, the new strategy is even more result-orientated than the previous one.
Has something changed in your focus?
– We have taken up new topics and aligned our support to government priorities: digitisation, stronger support to youth employment and local development, as well as the strengthening of civil society, especially at the local level. I am happy that in this way we contribute strongly to Serbia’s modernisation and overall improved prospects for Serbian citizens.
What are the priorities in your three intervention fields?
– In the field of governance, we focus on accountable local governments providing better services, strengthened institutional representation of citizens and municipalities, as well as improved citizen engagement. Our priorities in economic development and employment are the further strengthening of macroeconomic institutions, an improved business enabling environment, increased competitiveness and employability. Finally, in sustainable energy we are working on increased energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, as well as on the better resilience of cities. Last, but not least, I would like to emphasise the Swiss Serbian Migration Partnership, which supports migration management actors in Serbia.
For you, as Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office, what are the key values of Swiss bilateral support to Serbia?
– Our support is in line with priorities of the Serbian Government and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Surely one of our trademarks in Serbia is the long-term support for local self-governments, especially in poorer areas in south and southwest Serbia. As an honest broker, we promote democratic values, active citizenship and inclusiveness, and are ready to share our expertise in these fields.
Is the Serbian commitment to the 2030 Agenda in line with Switzerland’s essential dedication to this global platform?
– As our own experience in Switzerland shows, this process requires a lot of cross-sectoral exchange at different government levels and strong cooperation with citizens, civil society, the private sector and the scientific community. Although the SDGs are covered in Serbia’s national documents, and the complementarities between the SDGs and the EU accession agenda have been identified, I do hope that the 2030 Agenda serves to encourage a public dialogue on the future of Serbia.
What can you tell us about the situation with inequalities and inclusiveness in Serbia?
– These are the Economic Reform Programme (ERP) and the Employment and Social Reform Programme (ESRP), both of which are required in the EU accession process. The Swiss supported Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of Serbia (SIPRU) has strongly supported the elaboration of these documents. It had a crucial role in establishing, together with civil society, the platform for monitoring the implementation of the EPR. The Social Impact Assessment of national polices is being introduced as a new way to critically assess the quality of structural reforms and their effect on the living conditions of citizens and excluded groups within society. Only an implemented policy or action plan, together with the necessary resources, will change something.
In which ways do you intend to engage further in the development of dual education and youth employment?
– We are primarily engaged to better match supply and demand in terms of the workforce with the profiles and competences required by the market. Our program From Education to Employment – E2E is improving the youth employment status in five larger municipalities of South and Southwest Serbia. This is complementary to the work done through the private sector development project in Užice, in the wood industry, which served as a case study for a “Serbian model” of dual education. Through the Swiss policy support to the Serbian Ministry of Education, a governance mechanism for the new VET law is put in place in a transparent and inclusive manner and, as a result, Serbian institutions will be able to evaluate the VET system.
Which local development policies could serve to halt outward migration from Serbia?
– We see that the OECD reports an alarmingly growing trend for Serbia in the last couple of years. To counteract this phenomenon, activities should be focused on the improvement of youth employment measures and the promotion of youth entrepreneurship. Development in agriculture and infrastructure in rural areas is also essential, alongside overall support to activate the youth in rural areas, especially women. Switzerland is devoted to this topic through almost all programmes and projects: from PFM in local governments to regional and rural development, from local VET initiatives to inclusion policies and support to women’s entrepreneurship and the creation of new jobs.