Slovenian and Serbian Governments met in Novi Sad
“Slovenia wants to be an active partner in Serbia’s European journey. Serbia is an exceptionally important economic partner for us in the region. By sharing our knowledge and examples of good practice, we also want to help Serbia face its most significant rural development challenges”, said Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.
He and his host, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, agreed that cooperation between the two countries is good, wide-ranging, dynamic and well-established in practically all areas, and they agreed to further cooperation on the political and professional levels.
Several bilateral meetings at ministerial level were also held outside the plenary session, at which two documents were signed: the Protocol between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Serbia on Cooperation in Internal Security within the Police, and the Memorandum of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food of the Republic of Slovenia and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republic of Serbia on Technical Cooperation in the area of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Diverse economic cooperation
Serbia remains Slovenia’s most important trading partner in SE Europe. More than 1,500 Slovenian companies are registered in Serbia, which is by far the highest among all foreign investors in Serbia. Slovenian companies provide around 25,000 jobs in Serbia. Merchandise trade has maintained a long growth trend and in 2018 reached its highest level in the last ten years (EUR 1.53 billion). This figure was up by a full 13.7% on the same period a year earlier. In the period January–August 2019, merchandise trade amounted to EUR 1.07 billion. Investment flows between the two countries were also intensive. In the document International Challenges 2019–2020, which is the implementation plan for activities to promote foreign direct investment and which was approved by the Slovenian government, Serbia is listed as a priority country. It is the second-largest recipient of Slovenian direct investment, which is directed towards all areas of the economy. Slovenian direct investment in Serbia amounted to EUR 963.1 million at the end of 2018, which accounted for 16% of all Slovenian foreign direct investment. Serbian investments in Slovenia are also increasing, and amounted to EUR 172.3 million at the end of 2018.
Prime Minister Šarec and Minister of Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek noted that along with the traditionally good economic relations there are also numerous opportunities to further strengthen those relations, particularly with respect to internationalisation and foreign direct investment in tourism, accreditation and standardisation, and the exchange of good practices in those areas and in the area of consumer protection and market surveillance. There are also business opportunities in environmental protection, digitalisation, transport and energy infrastructure, energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, agriculture, tourism, etc.
This session was particularly dedicated to increasing cooperation in the area of rural development. Later, the Slovenian and Serbian prime ministers will make a joint appearance at a business conference on information technology in agriculture.
Slovenia supports Serbia’s European aspirations
With regard to the expansion of the EU to the countries in the region, the prime minister noted that Slovenia supports the countries of the region on their path to EU membership. Slovenia holds the clear opinion that obstacles on the path to the EU are unproductive and do not contribute to stability and progress in the region. Along with sustained and credible reforms in the candidate countries, a proactive approach is also required from the European Union. The prime minister emphasised that the alternatives to membership in the European Union for the countries of the region are not acceptable.
Slovenia’s preparedness to provide Serbia with continued political and professional assistance on its path to Europe was confirmed at the session.
A large part of the cooperation is tied to the exchange of experiences and the transfer of Slovenian knowledge in the context of Serbia’s adjustment to European standards and assistance in its negotiation process with the EU. On the basis of a request from Serbia for technical assistance, professional assistance from Slovenian experts in the area of regional policy and in the area of accessing EU rural development funds were approved at this session, and will be provided by the Slovenian Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food.
Slovenia supports fast-track resolution of succession issues
At the bilateral session the participants also spoke about issues relating to the implementation of the succession agreement. The comprehensive implementation of the agreement is of great importance to Slovenia, as it relates to respect for the rule of law and the meeting of international obligations. At the session, the participants also reaffirmed that the annex to the succession agreement that governs the protection of the property rights of legal persons shall apply directly, and that reciprocity is in place between Slovenia and Serbia. Support for the digitalisation of joint archives was also expressed at the session.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Miro Cerar and his counterparts, ministers Ivica Dačić and Jadranka Joksimović, spoke about the general situation in the region and future EU expansion processes. Minister Cerar stated that Slovenia supports the expansion of the European Union to the countries of the Western Balkans, and promised continued political support and technical assistance to Serbia in its negotiation process, while emphasising the importance of continuing to implement the needed reforms and strengthening the rule of law in Serbia.
The topics of discussion also included development cooperation. In 2018, Slovenia allocated approximately EUR 3,915,000 for Serbia, and a total of around EUR 14 million in official development aid in the period from 2010 to 2018. Slovenia’s international development cooperation with Serbia is oriented towards environmental protection, strengthening the role of women, children’s wellbeing and strengthening state institutions for accession to the EU. This year, construction will be completed on a water treatment plant in Zlatibor, in which Slovenia invested EUR 1.5 million, and on a public lighting project in Kraljevo, to which Slovenia contributed EUR 0.8 million.
The Slovenian foreign minister expressed his belief that processes of distribution or joint sales of real estate that was once the property of diplomatic and consular representative offices of the former SFRY must be completed. To that end, he undertook to implement the already-reached agreements and expressed his preparedness to search for real solutions for the distribution or joint sale of the remaining real estate. Minister Cerar particularly noted that it is extremely important for Slovenia that the concluded agreements be implemented without unnecessary delays, and that a regular dialogue be maintained between the senior representatives of the successor states within the framework of the Permanent Joint Committee established on the basis of the Agreement on Succession Issues.
Economic cooperation between the two countries is intensive and diverse. Slovenian Minister of Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek stated: “Serbia is a priority market for the Slovenian economy, as it is our largest trade partner in SE Europe. The countries are also marking a growth trend in investment flows and tourism. Nevertheless, there are numerous other business opportunities to further strengthen the economic ties between the two countries, in environmental protection, start-ups and scale-ups, digitalisation, transport and energy infrastructure, tourism, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.”
Slovenian Minister of the Interior Boštjan Poklukar and his Serbian counterpart Nebojša Stefanović agreed that cooperation between the Slovenian and Serbian ministries of internal affairs and police is very good. Regular contacts are in place at the political and operational levels. Minister Poklukar stated that the Slovenian Ministry of Internal Affairs and police will continue to support Serbia in the reforms necessary for accession to the EU. The two countries also cooperate well in the area of migration. To date, Slovenia has assigned 26 police units to the Serbian-Bulgarian border. The Slovenian Minister confirmed Slovenia’s preparedness to continue the deployments and thanked his Serbian colleague for the efforts that Serbia has made in preventing illegal immigration.
The ministers also spoke about the fight against organised crime and terrorism and other forms of police cooperation, and cooperation on various projects. Slovenia is participating in various twinning projects in Serbia, and on the occasion Minister Poklukar thanked Minister Stefanović for the trust he showed a few days ago in selecting Slovenia together with Austria as the leaders of the twinning project Support for Preparation for the Establishing of the SIRENA Office in Serbia, which will be started in March of the coming year.
Outside the plenary session, the interior ministers signed the Protocol between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Serbia on Cooperation in Internal Security within the Police. This will regulate in greater depth the cooperation of both police internal control offices on the basis of an agreement on police cooperation between the two countries, and will increase our cooperation in this area.
Slovenian State Secretary Damjan Stanonik and Serbian Minister of Agriculture Branimir Nedimović have added new activities and agreements to the cooperation to date, which has been traditionally characterised by good and friendly relations in the areas of agriculture, forestry and food. They emphasised the importance of the action plan on further cooperation between the ministries of both countries, and another significant topic of discussion was digitalisation in agriculture, which they agreed was crucial for modern and competitive agriculture. The state secretary presented the Pomurje Fair initiative to the Serbian minister, so that Serbia can assume the role of partner country at the AGRA Fair in 2020, which the Serbian minister received positively.
The Memorandum on Technical Cooperation in the area of Agriculture and Rural Development was also signed outside the plenary session, and will provide additional incentive and encouragement for cooperation and mutual assistance between Slovenian and Serbian institutions and professionals in the area of agriculture and rural development, as well as knowledge sharing, education and training, and examples of good practice in agricultural production.
Outside the plenary session, Slovenian Minister of Public Administration Rudi Medved met in Novi Sad with Serbian Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government Branko Ružić. They talked about the joint challenges regarding the civil service system and the wage system in the public sector, and about the training of civil servants. The also exchanged experiences about local self-government.
The ministers responsible for environmental protection reached a bilateral agreement on strengthening cooperation in the areas of adaptation to climate change, water management and the circular economy.
The two countries engage in intensive cooperation in practically all fields of culture, with regular exchanges in music, performance arts and cinema. Slovenian Minister of Culture Zoran Poznič met with his Serbian counterpart Vladan Vukosavljević. They spoke about strengthening bilateral cooperation in the area of culture, drafting a joint memorandum for the renovation of Pavilion 17 and a joint exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.