At its 13th annual conference on economic reform, NALED with its members and partners presented its traditional 100 recommendations in the Grey Book, whose goal is to rapidly overcome the effects of the pandemic and improve conditions for doing business and investments.
The first panel ‘Together for Fair Competition’ was addressed by Deputy Prime Minister of the Serbian Government and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlović, German Ambassador H.E. Thomas Schieb, and Swedish Ambassador H.E. Jan Lundin. The conversation was moderated by Ivan Miletić, President of NALED’s Fair Competition Alliance.
Željko Tomić, President of the NALED e-Government Alliance, led the second panel entitled ‘United Towards Digital Economy’. He spoke with the Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Darija Kisić Tepavčević, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom H.E. Sian McLeod, Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Serbia H.E. Sem Fabrizi, and director of the IT and e-Government Office, Mihailo Jovanović.
Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister Of Serbia
The Government And NALED Have A Common Goal – Further Digitalisation
Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić then addressed the participants. She dedicated her speech to future prospects in 2021.
“Last year was quite difficult not only for Serbia, but for the whole world, as we faced unexpected challenges. In the midst of the pandemic, Serbia managed to do two fascinating things: it had the lowest drop in GDP in Europe, only 1%. Furthermore, it had the second highest vaccination rate in Europe, but came second to none in the number of revaccinated people. We couldn’t have imagined such results a year ago.” This was how Prime Minister Ana Brnabić began her address, adding that these successes serve as an incentive for the government to continue reform, and a reminder that this wasn’t pure luck, but a result of dedicated reforms and recent financial consolidation of the country.
She said that 2021 would also pose many challenges, and added that that the government was trying to strike a balance between the population’s health and the healthcare protection system, business activities, the economy and life. Support for people and businesses will be provided again this year: the third package of state aid is worth 250 billion dinars, and more than 6 billion euros have been allocated since the beginning of the crisis.
Speaking about the importance of simplifying administrative procedures, Brnabić emphasized digitalisation and its benefits for companies and the public, which became particularly evident during the pandemic, illustrating this with the fact that state administration and local governments had exchanged 22 million pieces of information since 1 June 2017, meaning that people didn’t need to visit a counter 22 million times.
“I’d like to thank NALED for their longterm support to reform, and their help to identify crucial steps in reforms and to carry them out, so that Serbia can become a country where business will be easier and where our people will have better quality of life”, said the Prime Minister.
The Serbian Government and NALED share a focus on digitalisation, and many of the measures the government adopted in 2020 were the fruit of their cooperation: introducing electronic public procurement and electronic delivery of cadastral and tax decisions for sole traders on flat rates. Otter fruits are common deliberations on removing administrative obstacles through modern digital solutions in both the state administration and in healthcare, agriculture, international business and other areas.
“When I look at the 10 priority recommendations of Grey Book 13, I see the common denominator for most of it is digitalization. I can promise that we will do our very best to resolve most of it”, she concluded
Zorana Mihajlović, Deputy Prime Minister And Minister Of Mining And Energy
We are fighting systemically for easier business in Serbia
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlović, who has closely cooperated with NALED on various reforms that have allowed Serbia to climb the World Bank’s Doing Business List, announced the continuation of reforms that would help Serbia reach the top ten countries for ease of doing business.
Mihajlović announced joint efforts for more efficient electrical grid connection procedures, which could also help Serbia rank better on the Doing Business List. “Serbia is currently 94th on the list for grid connections, but I believe we can make it to No 22 with more efficient procedures”, said Mihajlović adding: “If we could improve the issuing of building permits in such a way that we are now the 9th most efficient country on that criterion, then there is no reason we shouldn’t rank higher on other points”.
She said that businesses know very well what good procedures are, and how cooperation with NALED “has shown that we can improve business conditions every year”. Mihajlović mentioned that not one investor left Serbia in 2020, and pointed out that despite the circumstances the government managed to adopt an action plan for 2021-2023 to further improve business conditions. She also mentioned the importance of support from the German development cooperation and their programs being implemented with NALED, whose goal is to continue the systematic fight against the grey economy and corruption.
H.E. Thomas Schieb, Ambassador Of Germany To Serbia
The Grey Book provides important guidelines for bilateral cooperation
German Ambassador H.E. Thomas Schieb said that many German companies intended to reinvest in Serbia, and especially praised the electronic registration of seasonal workers. NALED and GIZ worked together on this procedure, which allowed 44,000 seasonal workers to be registered, while five million euros were paid in contributions and taxes. He also said that NALED’s Grey Book provided important guidelines for planning bilateral cooperation in the programmes of GIZ and KfW. He announced the continuation of support for measures aimed at improving the business climate in Serbia, but also the transparency of business – with a special focus on non-cash and online payments. He also paid tribute to NALED for its contribution to overcoming economic problems created by the pandemic.
“We still need to fight the grey economy, which is very pronounced in Serbia”, said Schieb, citing the negative aspects of the situation such as slower economic growth, irregularities in the labour market, weakening tax discipline and the development of corruption, which all together, “hampers Serbia’s entry into the EU and is an obstacle to fair competition”. In contrast, transparent business conditions appeal to investors from all over the world, including Germany, which increases the volume of investment. Such a policy creates new jobs, especially for youth.
Speaking of good practice and the German experience, Schieb said that the grey economy there amounts to some 10%, and that combating it still proves challenging for the government. He pointed to 2019 data showing around 16,000 criminal proceedings against those who did not follow the law and operated in the grey zone.
H.E. Jan Lundin, Ambassador Of The Kingdom Of Sweden To Serbia
Public Procurement Requires Greater Competition
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden H.E. Jan Lundin said he was satisfied with cooperation with NALED and mentioned areas where they have begun to cooperate, especially improving electronic public procurement and wastewater treatment, where Swedish Development Agency SIDA is investing considerable funds.
Ambassador Lundin observed that the value of public procurement in Serbia constituted 8% of GDP, around four billion euros, a reasonably good result, but the EU average was 12%. “In contrast, Sweden allocates 15% of GDP for procurement, and our experience could help Serbia improve competitiveness in that field so that businesses would trust the process more and be more willing to participate”, said Lundin. This is especially important for us, since in half of public procurements in Serbia there is only one bidder.
He also stressed the importance of improving the criteria for awarding public contracts so that contracting authorities take into consideration not just the price, but also the quality of products, services and works. The Swedish Ambassador specially mentioned how far Serbia had come since the beginning of his mandate, that improved infrastructure and business climate were visible. He underlined the importance of reforming cadastre registration, which allowed foreign investors to better understand investment opportunities in Serbia make easier decisions.
H.E. Sem Fabrizi, Head Of The EU Delegation To The Republic Of Serbia
Digitalisation Helps EU Accession
Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Serbia H.E. Sem Fabrizi talked about digitalisation as an important aspect of reform. “Digitalisation is what links reforms”, said Fabrizi, referring to the importance of this topic in the European Union. Digitalisation and the green agenda are EU priorities and the digitalisation process can help Serbia join the EU and improve working conditions.
Fabrizi noted the EU’s continued support towards European integration and mentioned strong economic ties: “About 60 to 70 percent of Serbian trade and investment come from the EU. The more Serbia invests in its green and digitalization policy, the more it fits into European plans for economic reform.” He also pointed out the importance of the Economic Reform Programme, a detailed plan on how to improve the management of reform in Serbia, and noted that the EU provided a range of financial instruments for 2021-2027, for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, with the aim to help all countries including Serbia continue their growth with the EU. The plan is to mobilise between 25 and 28 billion euros for the region over the next seven years to invest in reforms and all major drivers of economic development.
There is also a focus on developing the regional market, and Fabrizi assessed that Serbia was doing a lot to help make the Western Balkans more appealing for investment. He pointed out that the goal was to prepare an agenda that will cover all areas of development in detail, from tax policy to environmental protection. “A good business environment is something we support for Serbia to continue its road towards the EU, while NALED is one of our best partners on this road”, concluded Fabrizi. “Many NALED recommendations are also our recommendations, and we find them very useful”, he added.
H.E. Sian McLeod, Ambassador Of The United Kingdom To Serbia
Cadastre Reform Has Improved Business Conditions And The Rule Of Law
The Ambassador of the United Kingdom, Sian McLeod, praised the digitalisation of the registration process as a way to help the construction sector and the real estate market, while contributing to improving business conditions and the rule of law. It is a reform supported by the UK’s Good Governance Fund in cooperation with NALED, and implemented together with the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Justice, the Republic Geodetic Authority and other ministerial institutions.
She observed that the Good Governance Fund especially supported projects focused on digitalization and development of e-Government services, as those two areas are crucial to a modern in the service of its people and companies. Since 2015 the fund had financed over 65 projects to a total of 20 million pounds.
McLeod said that the Good Governance Fund supported another important reform initiated by NALED – expanding the electronic registration of seasonal workers in agriculture to new areas of work. She added that this would be an important achievement, guaranteeing the rights of workers who have mostly been working illegally. In that context, the ambassador especially referred to the importance of regulating the status of ‘freelancers’, as she was familiar with their position from personal experience I her own youth.
The Ambassador expressed the hope that digitalisation in Serbia would reach the field of environmental protection to reduce the impact of climate change.
Darija Kisić Tepavčević, Minister Of Labour, Employment, Veteran And Social Affairs
Together We Can Regulate Non-standard Forms Of Employment
Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs Darija Kisić Tepavčević, thanked NALED for systematically recognizing the need to regulate the status and rights of workers in seasonal and occasional jobs and for proposals to resolve the issue. She said that “due to good results with the registration system in agriculture, the Ministry has recognised the need to expand the registration of seasonal workers to construction, tourism and hospitality, and domestic work”.
She also pointed out that cooperation with NALED was important to regulate the rights of those engaged by foreign employers, through online platforms and all other non-standard forms of engagement.
She said that new forms of employment are present all over the world due to technological development: “Various types of non-standard employment have increased by 53% in our country as well. Part-time engagement has also increased significantly. Although part-time work makes up about 10% of total employment, still only half the EU average, it reminds us that we must be ready for the future and need to adjust certain regulations and that a whole list of regulations are being prepared.
“We have recognized all the recommendations that NALED has systematic ally presented in the Grey Book. These are the guidelines we will work on in the coming period”, said Kisić Tepavčević.