Serbia: Driving Economic Force for the Western Balkans: How to integrate in the internal market?

By SME Europe

On 27th June, SME EUROPE in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, Enterprise Europe Network and the EPP conducted a Working Breakfast on: “Serbia: Driving Economic Force for the Western Balkans: How to integrate in the internal market?”. The event included the following speakers: Andor DELI MEP, Co-opted Board Member SME Europe, Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee; H.E. Ana HRUSTANOVIC, Ambassador of Serbia to the European Union; Zdravko ILIC, Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia Representative Office in Belgium; Franc BOGOVIC MEP, Committee on Regional Development, Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee; and Markus STOCK, Head of EU-Office, Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ). The event was moderated by Dr. Horst Heitz, Executive Director of SME EUROPE.


As the event host, Mr. Deli led the welcome and started by presenting Serbia as the largest country and economy among the western Balkan states. He appreciates the great focus placed by the EPP group on the Balkan enlargement process. His main concern was the visibility of EU investment, and he called for initiations for further structural funds to be made indeed by the EU, but also with requests from the Serbian national government for support. With this in mind, the role of SMEs should also be considered as the long term investment in these will not only benefit Serbia as a nation, but in the long term, the EU.


Following this introduction, Her Excellency Mrs. Hrustanovic took the floor and echoed Mr. Deli’s thanks to the EPP group for their attention to the matter, she also praised them for their positive scrutiny regarding EU accession talks. She went on to mention that Serbia has recently undergone many intensive structural reforms which she believes should support the accession procedure. Her Excellency strongly advocated Serbia’s economy as the key to wealth in the West Balkan region; on the other hand she was quick to mention that Serbia cannot achieve on its own, but as a member of the West Balkan region, it can. Work has been conducted on almost every sector to ensure an overall growth of SMEs In the country.


Mr. Ilic then kicked off the first of the Keynote speeches. He called for all EU candidate countries to be treated as future EU member states, and not mere partners. Explaining importance of Serbia in the region, he mentioned it is the second most important export market for other WB economies, after EU. He duly noted importance of EU investments in the region, but called for stepping them up, along with more inclusive approach in EU measures with direct benefits for businesses and citizens. Finally, he pointed out importance of SME support policies, dual training education and structural reforms for keeping this progressive momentum.


Mr. Bogovic then gave a Slovenian perspective on Serbian position by calling on the EU to extend further funds to Serbia as they did with Slovenia at the time of its near accession; this is because there is a need for money to be invested in basic infrastructure. He also spoke from a regional level when he was Mayor of a town in Slovenia and said that his town received over 35 million EUR of EU investment at that time. He therefore called on Serbia not to forget the importance of the numerous municipalities outside of Belgrade, as well as the opportunities to be had through the tourism industry.


Mr. Stock then gave an Austrian position and showed Austria to be a strong supporter of accession in the West Balkan region. He said that Austria clearly sees the positive effects of closer economic cooperation, and that Austria has strongly benefitted from all EU enlargements so far. According to Mr. Stock, Serbia is a much-valued trade and business partner in Austria as 450 million EUR worth of trade comes directly from Serbia to Austria. Furthermore, Austria has already invested around 3 billion EUR in Serbia. Mr. Stock believes the structural reforms have vastly benefited its position as a trade partner, and as a result, it has now made it into the list of the top 50 desired business locations worldwide.