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Regional Cooperation Is A Top Priority

Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister Of Serbia

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There is an intricate link between a resilient, stable nation and a well-connected region, given the potential for shared prosperity and stability when neighbouring countries work together

Accelerating economic growth, advancing towards European Union membership and the struggle to reverse adverse demographic trends are the biggest challenges facing Serbia, says Serbian PM Ana Brnabić in this interview for Connecting the Region, before noting that regional stability and good cooperation at all levels, from politics to tourism, are among the key links in the process.

What do you consider to be today’s biggest challenges in the region?

― One of the primary challenges we face today, as a region, is the need not only for significant economic growth, but economic growth that comes quickly and sustainably. This is a very difficult balance to achieve, but we recognise how important it is if we want to ensure Serbia is not only growing today, but also in the years to come, for the good of everyone. In order to successfully create such rapid growth while ensuring it lasts, we need not only resources and will, but regional cooperation and stability that ensure we have partners to build a future with, and a stable environment in which we can grow together. The more we grow our economies, the more stable we become as a region, and vice versa.

Aside from the economic challenges, there is also the EU accession process, which we don’t consider as being as fast and efficient as we would have hoped, despite our efforts. For example, the European Commission has recommended the opening of Cluster 3 with Serbia three times in a row in its annual report – meaning that Serbia has met all the conditions – yet this still hasn’t happened. In addition to these efforts, Serbia remains committed to rule of law reforms, especially as they relate to human rights and the protection of vulnerable groups, as well as the prohibiting of all forms of discrimination.

Demographic Issues remain one of the biggest challenges, not only for our region, but for Europe as a whole. Serbia has been working hard to overcome this issue, and we have luckily managed to reverse the brain drain and stop the emigration of younger generations. Population analyses and data for last year show our progress: compared to 2021, the number of newborn children in Serbia rose by 520; we additionally saw an increase of 600 in the number of firstborn children in 2022 compared to 2021. This growth in the number of firstborn children is particularly important for us, because there has been a reduction in the number of firstborns in Serbia for decades (since the ‘80s), which reflects the smaller number of women giving birth in each generation. This increase in the number of firstborn children testifies to the success we have had in implementing financial measures as part of our population policy. It also reflects the fact that fewer young people are leaving the country permanently – they are instead opting to stay at home and start families because they see their future here.

How would you evaluate the existing level of regional cooperation, and how could it be advanced?

― Engagement in regional cooperation is one of our top priorities, as it has long been considered a linchpin for success. There is an intricate link between a resilient, stable nation and a well-connected region, given the potential for shared prosperity and stability when neighbouring countries work together. This is part of our motivation for collaborating with our neighbours. Given this, we will remain dedicated and will always pay special attention to developing all types of regional cooperation where there is space and will to leverage our economic potential and contribute to the stability and improvement of relations in the region.

Demographic Issues remain one of the biggest challenges, not only for our region, but for Europe as a whole. Serbia has been working hard to overcome this issue, and we have luckily managed to reverse the brain drain and stop the emigration of younger generations

A clear improvement of regional cooperation can best be achieved through regional connectivity, which is a cornerstone for the fostering of economic, political and social development. Firstly, it significantly boosts trade and economic growth by providing businesses with improved access to regional and global markets. Enhanced connectivity often involves the development of essential infrastructure, such as roads, railways and ports, which not only facilitates the movement of goods, services and people, but also contributes to overall economic efficiency. Moreover, regional connectivity attracts investment by creating an environment more conducive and attractive for businesses. Successful connectivity projects involve close collaboration with neighbours, which builds diplomatic and political ties in the process and contributes to regional stability and conflict prevention. Finally, the creation of new industries and services as a result of improved connectivity leads to job creation, enhancing the livelihoods of the local population.

Connectivity is not just about economic benefits. It also contributes to the creative, innovative and technology sectors and to the building of a cohesive, vibrant and sustainable region. For example, it facilitates the exchange of knowledge, technology and ideas between neighbours within a region. This cross-fertilisation of innovation can drive economic development and technological advancement. Socially, this connectivity fosters cultural exchange, promoting greater understanding of and appreciation for diverse cultures and traditions.

The tourism industry also benefits from improved connectivity, attracting visitors and contributing to local economies. From an environmental perspective, well-planned connectivity can lead to more efficient transport systems, reducing the environmental impact and promoting sustainable development.

As we can see, regional collaboration has wide-ranging and deeply transformative potential for the economic, political and social development of our country and our neighbours, which is why it will remain among our top priorities. We will also continue to highlight the key drivers of successful regional efforts: connectivity, trust and open cooperation.

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