and intensifying bilateral relations with the Netherlands
By H.E. Ms. Ksenija Milenkovic, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Looking back at 2020, it was a year of challenges, fears and losses for the whole world. We learned how to live away from but still close to each other. We managed to transfer to the virtual sphere and function “normally” at work, in schools and at our homes. We protected our elderly and vulnerable and continued to love them and care for them remotely. However, 2020 was also a year of resilience and determination. It was also a year in which the principle of solidarity, although tested, became an ultimate value in itself.
My country Serbia faced similar difficulties and challenges like any other country in the world. Still, Serbia succeeded in preserving its economic stability and continued to grow in spite of unfavourable objective circumstances. Serbian economic growth in 2020 was above 5 per cent GDP, which is a remarkable result especially considering the overall economic climate. Our public depth remained low, even compared to more developed economies. In the year of corona, Serbia attracted 2,9 billion Euro worth foreign direct investments, which further demonstrates the high quality of the country as a desired investment destination.
While we still cannot say we emerged victorious against the virus, the first steps of vaccination in Serbia show more than promising results. Serbia commenced with vaccination of priority categories of citizens on 24 December 2020, while on 19 January 2021 en masse vaccination began. The system of registering for vaccination is fully digitalized and our citizens can choose between three different vaccines – Pfizer Biontech, Sputnik V and Sinopharm. Serbia is currently ranked second in Europe by the number of vaccines administered per 100 citizens and in total more than 500.000 citizens of Serbia to date received the first dose of the vaccine. The strategy of our president and our government to negotiate directly with the producers thus providing vaccines quickly proved to be a highly successful one. Moreover, we are part of the Covax system and Serbia in 2020 donated more than 2 million Euro to the global coalition for vaccination.
Throughout 2020 Serbia remained committed to the European integration which remains the strategic priority goal for our government. The government elected in the end of October 2020 following parliamentary elections in Serbia set the reforms in the area of rule of law as one of its six top priorities, which already resulted in a number of concrete steps and activities. Serbia accepted the new European Union methodology for accession negotiations with candidate countries and we look forward to its implementation for the overall benefit and higher quality of the accession process. While 2020 was a difficult year for the enlargement overall, we are hopeful that in 2021 we will see steps forward for all candidate countries in the region of the Western Balkans.
Serbia continued to invest in regional cooperation, with the main goal of achieving better connectivity and less obstacles for citizens and economy in the Western Balkans. An initiative by Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia known as the so-called Mini Schengen continued to contribute to creating the area of free movement of people and workers between the three countries. In a region where in the past more borders were created than lifted, the governments of three countries decided to enable movement without passports and with IDs only. Serbia is hopeful that the initiative will be accepted and joined by all in the region because it is aimed at benefiting all our citizens without exception. Serbia continued to actively participate in the Berlin process and all other initiatives created to foster regional cooperation.
Serbia is fully committed to the continuation of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina based on the understanding that the only viable solution is a compromise and readiness of both sides not to be fully satisfied with the end result. Unfortunately, almost eight years after the achieving of the so-called Brussels Agreement its part on the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities has not been fulfilled by Pristina. Still, Serbia will continue to play a constructive part in the dialogue and maintain its role in securing regional stability. We are ready to explore different and creative solutions and hopefully move forward with the political dialogue under the EU facilitation.
As diplomats who are used to personal contacts and informal networking, adjusting to the new reality was not easy. However, in 2020 and early 2021 we succeeded in further developing and intensifying our bilateral relations with the Netherlands. With help and support from our colleagues from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs we continued the bilateral dialogue and jointly explored ways to continuously improve political, economic and cultural relations between Serbia and the Netherlands. In January 2021, the first bilateral political consultations were held between our two ministries, when Serbian and Dutch colleagues exchanged views on bilateral relations, European integration of Serbia, economic cooperation and other issues of mutual interest. On the Serbian side we are confident that this is the first step in building close relations and a substantial political dialogue with the Netherlands in all relevant areas.
Serbia is approaching its National Day celebrated on 15 February, the date which bears a special historical symbolism – it is the day when Serbia got its first modern constitution in 1835, the so-called Sretenje Constitution named after an orthodox christian holiday celebrated on the same day. More importantly, the Sretenje Constitution marked an important step in regaining Serbian statehood and its full independence.
We may not be able to celebrate our National Day this year the way we are used to in the diplomatic circles. And although we will miss dearly all our colleagues from the broad diplomatic community in the Hague, the entire staff of the Embassy in Serbia wishes you to be well and safe and we hope to see you all in the “Serbia house” in the Hague next year.