homepage_name! > Editions > Number 131 > Ambassador - Belgium

H.E. Mr. Adam Koenraad, Ambassador of Belgium to Serbia

Belgium

Belgium may be small, but it's packed full of sights of natural beauty and historical interest, and it offers a wide variety of attractions and cultural activities. Belgium has a 60km long stretch of sandy coastline, the Ardennes is the green heart of the country, and amateurs of historical cities will have difficulty in choosing between Brugge, Ghent, Antwerp, Mons, Liege, and Namur; all places that give plenty of opportunities to taste our exquisite gastronomy and beers. Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is known for its squares, monuments and magnificent museums. The impressive main square (Grand-Place) with the town hall and surrounding alleyways and old houses is one of the finest in the world.

1.Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

I have been really enjoying my stay in this beautiful and fascinating country, and I hope that the COVID 19 health crisis will eventually only constitute a sad but brief interruption of this experience. We are quite happy to live in the center of Belgrade, a vibrant city with lots of cultural attractions and warm, hospitable people. As newcomers to this Balkan region, we are impressed by the richness and complexity of its cultural, political, and historical legacy and the opportunities and indeed challenges this offers, also in Serbia. We are learning every day, and that includes a somewhat difficult but rewarding effort to acquire some basic Serbian language skills.

2.How long have you held the position of Ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your career in diplomacy before you came to Serbia?

We arrived in Serbia in August 2018, for a four-year assignment as Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro. Previous postings took me to Ethiopia, Russia, Portugal, and as Ambassador to Uganda, Cuba, and Tanzania.

3.What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order to improve that cooperation?

Our bilateral relations are excellent, something we were able to witness during the high-level diplomatic consultations at the end of last year and also during this corona-crisis. Once this crisis is over, and a new Federal Government in BeIgium sees the light, I hope we can resume the rhythm of bilateral visits we have observed in the recent past. In the meantime, I note with satisfaction that closer contacts are being established with regional authorities, such as between the Brussels Region and the City of Belgrade, who are planning to sign a cooperation agreement as soon as the health conditions allow this. After the Serbian legislative elections, I hope to see a resumption of the dialogue between our two parliamentary friendship groups.

4.When it comes to investments, how do investors from Belgium regard the Serbian market? How many Belgium companies are operating in Serbia at the moment, and which are the most important companies investing in us?

We invest a lot of effort into better representing the Serbian market to Belgian businesspeople. Satisfied investors are the best investment promotors a country can get, and we associate our longstanding investors with our endeavors to inform potential newcomers. Presently, there are around 60 Belgium-related companies in Serbia, active in a range of industrial sectors: metal processing, agriculture, the food industry, ICT, renewable energy, real estate... In 2011, Delhaize invested around € 1 billion and bought the retailing chain, Maxi, providing over 11.000 jobs. Other major investors, many of whom are expanding their activities, are Metech in Smederevo (metal processing), Elicio (wind parks in Alibunar), Blockx (industrial bags), Carmeuse (lime), Talent4blinds (interior window decoration and blinds), Cordeel (construction), Crops & Partners (frozen berries), Puratos (chocolate), Reynaers (aluminum window frames), Uradi Sam, the Kenzai Group and a number of smaller businesses.

5.How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government and business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development?

The Embassy and its Trade Office have always had excellent cooperation with different Serbian institutions – ministries, the Development Agency of Serbia, the Chamber of Commerce (PKS) as well as with associations like FIC, NALED or SAM. We are trying to enhance our bilateral cooperation through the co-organization of business-related events, such as B2Bs, seminars, and presentations. In addition, Serbian and Belgian companies can also count on the Office of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, which is also very active in promoting bilateral cooperation. The Belgian-Serbian Business Association is equally playing an active role in supporting Belgian companies interested in the Serbian market. In the wake of the COVID19 crisis this cooperation will become all the more important, to preserve jobs and hence the livelihood of many Serbian families.

6.What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to, and what does import from Belgium?

The volume of external trade between the two countries is increasing year-on-year. Belgium is a key player in a number of sectors, such as chemical industries, IT, environmental, pharmaceutical, infrastructure, logistics, and food…. Belgium mostly exports to Serbia the following products: various types of machinery, chemical products, plastics, different transport equipment, and vehicles. I believe that opportunities for further cooperation are numerous, especially in areas such as the environment, where Belgium has vast experience and plenty of successful and innovative solutions. The IT sector also provides different opportunities, as well as the circular economy and renewable energy sector. Serbia exports to Belgium mostly food and agricultural products, the most famous are, of course, Serbian raspberries. Although the Belgian market is very demanding and competitive, I believe Serbian companies have a lot to offer.

7.Today, Serbia is a candidate country – negotiations started in January 2014. In your opinion, how far along is Serbia on the path towards the EU, and what will be crucial for Serbia to become a member state?

Serbia has made significant progress on its path towards EU membership. 18 opened chapters (out of 35) illustrate that progress. Belgium remains a firm supporter of Serbia’s EU accession, in a merit-based process, within the framework of strict and fair conditionality. The macro-economic and growth achievements are to be commended, but it is obvious – and this is also mentioned in the EU reports – that more needs to be done in other areas. The most crucial reforms deal with all aspects relating to the Rule of Law, i.e., the proper functioning of democratic institutions, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the media, the fight against organized crime and corruption, and the way this country deals with the war crimes heritage and regional reconciliation challenges. Some progress has been achieved, also in the legislative field, but we believe there is room for improvement with regard to the implementation of these laws. It is up to Serbia to define the pace of the reforms, to live up to its self-declared strategic goal of EU membership, and thus determine the speed of its own accession process.

8.The status of Kosovo and Metohija is one of the most important issues, besides arresting the Hague suspects. In your opinion, is the status of Kosovo and Metohija a pre-condition for joining the EU, and what do you think will be crucial for Serbia to become an EU member country?

Apart from the earlier mentioned internal reforms, a legally binding agreement on the comprehensive normalization between Serbia and Kosovo would bring a lasting solution to all outstanding issues that will indeed be necessary before Serbia and Kosovo can join the EU. This makes sense as the EU is, at its core, a peace project in which territorial conflicts have no place. We hope that the recently appointed EU Special Envoy Lajcak will be able to count on a constructive attitude from both sides, to bridge the outstanding differences. The pragmatic cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina in the fight against the corona-virus shows that political will is still available, to engage jointly for the people’s wellbeing.

9.Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Belgium in the fields of science, culture, and education?

The Belgian academic and scientific world observes with a lot of interest in the activities of Serbian research centers such as the BioSense Institute. When it comes to culture, the bilateral cooperation is very intense, with many Belgian artists coming to Serbia to participate in some of the most prestigious festivals, such as BITEF, the Belgrade Dance Festival, and Fest film. Novi Sad, the European Capital of Culture in 2021, will, of course, enhance this cultural cooperation. I also want to point out that the Brussels-based Balkan Trafik festival this year focusses on Serbia. As for educational cooperation, this is mainly driven by the presence of ‘Wallonie-Bruxelles International’ (WBI) at Belgrade University. The Belgian lecturer organizes symposiums on Belgian literature, and WBI offers scholarships to Serbian students throughout the country. Dutch, the language spoken in Flanders, is also being taught at Belgrade University, bringing Serbian students closer to the rich Flemish cultural heritage.

10.How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight?

Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until after the crisis to enjoy Belgium’s highlights. Belgium may be small, but it's packed full of sights of natural beauty and historical interest, and it offers a wide variety of attractions and cultural activities. Belgium has a 60km long stretch of sandy coastline, the Ardennes is the green heart of the country, and amateurs of historical cities will have difficulty in choosing between Brugge, Ghent, Antwerp, Mons, Liege, and Namur; all places that give plenty of opportunities to taste our exquisite gastronomy and beers. Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is known for its squares, monuments and magnificent museums. The impressive main square (Grand-Place) with the town hall and surrounding alleyways and old houses is one of the finest in the world.

11.What are the things you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

There has always been an abundance of cultural life in the capital, , that is now abruptly interrupted. We hope to be able soon to experience again this quality of life, and continue our discovery trips to the countryside. Serbia’s biggest asset, however, remains its friendly people, with whom we hope to engage deeper, an objective that motivates us to improve our Serbian language skills!

12.What do you think the world will look like after the pandemic?

It is extremely difficult to predict what form this will take, we are only certain that the pandemic will have a tremendous impact on the way we work (a.o. increase in number of people ‘teleworking’), the way we socialize, our travelling habits etc... My sincere hope is that we turn the crisis into an opportunity to do better, to live healthier, to increase cooperation and solidarity, and more generally to improve our capacity to put our priorities right, in our private life, in society and the economy, in international relations.


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