Denmark’s decision in October to make it much easier for Serbians to obtain Danish driving licences could be a significant one that demonstrates the Balkan country is making progress in a bid for EU membership that started in 2014.
Its admittance to the ‘Group 2 Scheme of Driver’s Licences’ is recognition of its improved transport safety standards, and a good sign according to Serbian ambassador Dragana Ivanovic.
A positive development
“The admission of Serbia is a positive development that contributes to the establishment of more profound relations and co-operation between our two nations,” she enthused.
“A harmonisation of legislation with the EU will make Serbia a more familiar and accessible market for Danish investors. Positive experiences with Calsberg and Grundfoss, which have established production in Serbia, can be an encouragement for other Danish entrepreneurs.”
According to Natalija Sandic from the EU Innovation Fund. the revenue of the companies chosen for funding has increased by 62 percent, while exports have also risen, and it has helped create 300 high-end jobs and 40 successful startups.
“There is a lot of potential in our country, and the fund, has helped these ideas to surface,” she said. “We have a high survival rate, which is quite unusual in the startup scene.”
One example is Strawberry Energy, which since 2011 has been promoting its ‘smart bench’, a service coming to London next year that offers free phone charging and wifi – a perfect addition to the current smarter city trend spearheaded by Danish architect Jan Gehl.
“Relations between Serbia and Denmark are very good and they have been steadily improving. There is an increased interest on both sides for further advancement in their political segment,” contended Ivanovic.
April elections took place in Serbia in a calm environment, and the new government promised that its main priority will be Serbia’s accession to the EU. However, hurdles remain namely relations with Kosovo, its rule of law and the state of the media.
Kosovo give and take
Its dialogue with Kosovo has achieved limited advances since February. Nevertheless, since August work on the Mitrovica bridge has brought optimism to ethnically-divided relations in northern Kosovo.
“Serbia is an anchor of stability among the state neighbours in the region,” said Oskar Benedikt, the deputy head of the Delegation of the EU to Serbia, but he warned that complete reconciliation must be achieved completely before Serbia can join the EU.
“Country members don’t want to import a problem of this sort to the EU – they want the problem to be solved first”.
Fraught media relations
The recently held South East Europe Media Forum in Belgrade highlighted the fraught relationship between the government and the country’s media – several of whom left the room in protest for media freedom when PM Aleksandar Vucic gave the welcome speech.
“Any journalist who does their job responsibly in this country is under threat,” said Nedim Sejdinovic from the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina. Threats via social media and intrusion into their private lives are the norm, but it is a low priority for the police.
The EU has invested about 20 million euros into Serbian media since 2000 as it is an important requirement for EU integration. “Freedom of press is an objective to achieving a free society,” explained Radomir Licina from the SEEM Organisation in Belgrade.
Future remains bright
Ivanovic is undeterred, however. “We see the path towards our membership of the EU as a historic opportunity for modernisation and change,” she said.
“It is encouraging that the European integration process has demonstrated so far that Serbia has the necessary administrative capacities and that it is capable of adopting and implementing the European acquis within a short period of time which, I am confident, will result in our fully-fledged membership by 2020.”
Benedikt is also confident. “Serbia has done its homework and it is on a good path, but it is up to the country which way it wants to go,” he concluded.