The Foreign Investors Council-FIC advocates for Serbia’s economic integration into the EU, as that brings predictability and transparency to the business surroundings, as well as increasing the competitiveness of the Serbian market. Continuous communication between FIC and the European Commission with regard to the Serbian accession process shows the clear commitment of FIC to help Serbia in the reform process and on its EU path, says Yana Mikhailova, President of the Foreign Investors Council (FIC).
A delegation of the Foreign Investors Council of Serbia recently paid its third official annual visit to the European Commission, with a view to the Serbian EU accession process. What were the major goals of your visit this time?
The main goal of this third visit was the same as on previous occasions – to continue the process of active support to accession negotiations, being a reliable partner both to the Serbian Government and the European Union. On behalf of foreign investors doing business in Serbia, we encouraged the European Commission to provide strong support to Serbia, both through accession negotiations and through assistance instruments.
We were satisfied to witness that the European Commission expressed high interest in Serbia and that they are closely monitoring the situation on the Serbian market. We think it is important to note that the accession process through which Serbia will endorse European values and principles will bring benefits to all parties – Serbia’s citizens and their economy since it will also foster new employment and economic development. And that is our key goal in the process.
Our key message for our interlocutors in the EC was very clear: FIC is always ready to provide expert support to all parties in the process and hopefully thus make the Serbian EU path easier and with fewer obstacles.
With whom did the delegation meet and which topics were in the focus of these discussions?
Our delegation comprised seven members, including myself and FIC Executive Director Ana Firtel, had very successful meetings with representatives of five directorate generals (NEAR, ECFIN, EMPLOY, CNECT and SANTE) and the European External Action Service (EEAS), including a meeting with Director for the Western Balkans, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, in DG NEAR.
At the meeting with the Director for the Western Balkans, we expressed satisfaction for the strong willingness of both parties, the European Commission and the Serbian Government, to continue working together with FIC to integrate Serbia’s economy into the EU and thus make it more attractive to investors. We also highlighted how important it is to collaborate in order to bring the Serbian market closer to EU rules and practices. The topics discussed in more details corresponded to FIC committees’ agendas and I am very satisfied that our delegation gathered FIC committees’ experts: Anti-Illicit Trade Committee President Goran Pekez, Food & Agriculture Committee President Milica Stefanović, Tax Committee President Biljana Bujić, and Telecommunications & IT Committee President Jasmina Vignjević and Vice President Marko Jović. Thus we made the discussion more thorough and fruitful for all sides.
This is one of the FIC’s key values, to contribute with expert views and suggestions on how to make doing business in Serbia easier and thus more attractive for existing investors and newcomers.
What were the FIC’s main messages for interlocutors?
Apart from the messages I already mentioned, our key message was very clear: FIC is always ready to provide expert support to all parties in the process and hopefully thereby make the Serbian EU path easier and with fewer obstacles. Let me remind you that EU accession negotiations are a perfect mechanism for improving Serbia’s competitiveness and FIC can help in this process, as 75 per cent of its members hails from the EU.
We have rich experience from both EU countries and from the markets of “old” and “new” EU members, and thus we come to the added value that FIC can provide. The final outcome should be that Serbia’s citizens can enjoy benefits from this path faster, such as new employment opportunities and a better economic situation in the country.
Going forward, we expect further progress in structural reforms, EU harmonisation, and decreasing bureaucracy, with a special focus on Tax Administration and inspections.
How would you assess the current business climate in Serbia and how can the accession process spur the further improvement of conditions for doing business?
There is a clear commitment of the Serbian Government to pursue reforms, which have already demonstrated clear results with more flexible labour regulations, simplified construction permitting and a better inspection system. FIC advocates for Serbia’s economic integration into the EU and brings predictability and transparency to the business surroundings, as well as increasing the competitiveness of the Serbian market. In negotiations, a candidate country needs to conduct comprehensive reforms, as well as raising the administrative capacity to implement new regulations, which is one of the key problems in Serbia today. Going forward, we expect further progress in structural reforms, EU harmonisation and decreasing bureaucracy, with a special focus on Tax Administration and inspections.
The EU integration process is a great mechanism to evaluate the local legislative framework and its impact on the economy, citizens and society at large. For sustainable growth, we should have both laws harmonised well with the EU Acquis and their smooth implementation
In your opinion, in which areas should the EC help Serbia the most, in order to ensure sustained growth and the current pace of reforms?
The EU integration process is a great mechanism to evaluate the local legislative framework and its impact on the economy, citizens and society at large. For sustainable growth, we should have both laws harmonised well with the EU Acquis and their smooth implementation.
The scope of economic negotiations is vast, as it includes the evaluation of EU economic criteria, where the country needs to demonstrate that it has a functioning market economy and is competitive. The expected actions targeted at making the country more competitive include ensuring the same business conditions for all market participants. This could be achieved by conducting structural reforms and securing the enforcement of the law (i.e. addressing the shadow economy in a consistent way through enforcement of the Law on Inspections).
How can business associations like the FIC act as catalysts of the Serbian accession process?
By continuously providing expert and valuable input that should help all parties in the process.
What motivates the FIC to engage in such processes?
The FIC mission is “to actively promote a sustainable business environment through an open dialogue with the authorities and other relevant stakeholders”. The main goal of the association is to influence the improvement of the business climate in Serbia by making concrete reform proposals and building a business portal for communication with the authorities in Serbia.
Taking into consideration our mission, as well as the fact that FIC members are the driving force of the Serbian market, motivation comes as a natural subsequence. We believe in long-term cooperation, as we all need to work together to build a better environment with a functional state, more competitive businesses and a higher standard of living for citizens. FIC offers its knowledge and experience on navigating a route through economic transition and we are willing to put it to use for the greater benefit of all interested parties.