homepage_name! > Editions > Number 134-135 > Ambassador - Spain

Spain

Spain is the number one place in the world as a vacation destination, and in second place in the areas of immigration and income. Spain set a new record for the number of foreign tourists in 2019, which was 83.7 million, generating 92 billion, 337 million EUR. A pleasant climate, immeasurable wealth of culture, a gastronomic paradise, beauties of nature with a coast 5,000 km long, with beaches and crystal clear waters, mountain peaks, and top infrastructure - all this makes Spain the most competitive tourist destination according to the World Economic Forum about competition in traveling and tourism for 2019.

Spain is third in the world when it comes to the number of locations that UNESCO has declared a world heritage (right after Italy and China). The Cordoba Mosque, Alhambra in Granada, the Segovia Aqueduct, the Burgos Cathedral, and modernist works of Gaudi in Barcelona are just some of the 48 well-known sights. Apart from that, the Mediterranean cuisine, flamenco, gardens of Cordoba or the carnival in Valencia are just a part of 19 non-material Spanish cultural goods that are protected under UNESCO and which makes us the country with the largest number of these kinds of features.

H. E. Mr. Raul Bartolome Molina, ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain in the Republic of Serbia

1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you give us some of yourimpressions regarding Serbia?

Serbia is a very hospitable and pleasant country. You Serbs and us Spaniards have a very similar mentality. This makes me feel at home, ever since I arrived here for the first time. Although this is not my first time in Serbia (I was here in 2017, escorting the Spanish state secretary for the EU when he made his official visit to Belgrade), I have to admit that I am discovering a country that has gorgeous nature and great cuisine.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to travel the country as much as I wished in the last few months, due to the Corona virus pandemic, however, I am certain that I will continue to discover the hidden natural wonders of Serbia.

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

I was assigned the position of the ambassador in Serbia on April 17th last year, and I arrived in Belgrade at the start of June of the same year.

I joined the diplomatic service in 1991. My first destination, as a consul of Spain, was in Caracas, from 1996 to 1999. Later, I worked as an advisor at the Spanish embassy in Paris, where I stayed from 1999 to 2004, and I was the chief of staff of the Secretary-General for the EU from 2005 to 2008. From that position, I was named deputy to the mission chief in the embassies of Spain in Rome (2008-2013) and Oslo (2013-2016). From December 2016 to my appointment as ambassador of Spain in Belgrade, I performed the duties of the Chief of Staff of the State Secretary for the EU.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic collaboration between Serbia and Spain like? What should be done to improve it?

The diplomatic relationship and collaboration between Spain and Serbia are excellent and they have been improved over the last few years. Not only are there no disputes between our countries, but we are also cooperating and mutually supporting each other in many international forums. Of course, this does not mean we cannot improve our cooperation in certain areas. When it comes to commercial relationships, for example, there has been a clear upward tendency in the last few years, however, I think there is still a lot of room for us to improve our relationship in that area. We are ready to continue working on promoting Spanish companies, raising awareness about the business opportunities and institutional support in connecting the business circles of our two countries. I know that the government of Serbia wishes to deepen those relations and promote Serbia in Spain even more.

4. What have been the economic consequences of the pandemic in Spain?

The hit on the economy will be especially strong this year in Spain, keeping in mind the importance of the tourism sector and the small and medium-sized companies in our country. A country that had 84 million tourists last year and where tourism makes up 12% of the GDP cannot escape economic consequences that come as a result of months of restrictive measures, as well as the constant uncertainty and fear. On the other hand, many smaller companies, even those that do work in tourism directly, have been hit by temporary closures, a lack of demand and logistical difficulties, which will make business difficult for them in the short term.

Additionally, the prognosis of a fall in GDP for this year is between 9 and 12 %, although there is a quick recovery expected in 2021, when the rate of GDP growth might reach 6%. For this recovery to happen, the policies of the Spanish government regarding financial support for companies and employees will be essential, as well as help from the recovery funds of the EU.

5. What can you expect in the coming period regarding the tourism sector?

As in most of the world, Spain is expected to focus on domestic tourism, while the number of foreign tourists will be lower. Tourist facilities cannot make up for the failed spring season, however, tourists from the EU are allowed to enter during the summer, and slowly, those from other countries as well. Spain has been very careful regarding opening tourist facilities and strict when it comes to measures that they had to follow, according to their opening dynamics, so I expect that we will soon regain people’s trust. If there is no particular increase in the number of infected in the EU, we could finish this year without a significant deficit.

6. How do you see the development of the economy on the global market?

In the short term, predictions for 2020 are very negative, as has been expected, however, if there are no significant increases in the number of infected, 2021 will be an “in-between” year, while in 2020 the situation should be similar to 2019. One of the problems that has been brought about by the pandemic is the justification that some people are finding for the existing, or even some new protection measures to be kept. It is my belief that it is important for countries to keep a certain production capacity and autonomy, without jeopardizing the multilateral order and freedom of trade.

7. How do Spanish investors see the Serbian market? How many Spanish companies do business in Serbia? Which are the most significant ones?

Spanish companies that do business in Serbia are truly very satisfied, having made sure that they can count on a qualified, competitive work force, good communications with the EU, and deals not only with the EU, but also with Russia and Turkey among others. There has also been significant support from the Serbian government which is making some of them consider expanding their current activities here, while some new ones have shown interest in coming here. In total, we have about thirty companies doing business in Serbia. For us, all of them are important, regardless of whether they are larger or smaller, but the sectors in which they are the most important are, undoubtedly, fashion, food, car parts, waste management, and engineering.

8. How would you rate the cooperation between the Serbian government and entrepreneurship?

Our cooperation with the government of Serbia has been great at all levels and whenever we needed help, we received it. However, both sides agree that our exceptional friendship should be reflected more in the entrepreneurial domain. With this in mind, apart from investing in spreading information and giving chances to companies from our two countries, we would also like to improve our institutional relationships, which would allow for these markets to attract a larger number of companies and realize some important projects together.

9. What is the nature of foreign trade between our two countries? What does Serbia import from Spain, and what does it export? Which sector is the most interesting for economic cooperation?

In the last ten years there has been constant growth in foreign trade between our two countries, reaching 500 million EUR in 2018 and 2019. Spain primarily exports meat, electrical appliances and materials, vehicles and car parts, machines and mechanical devices as well as clothing items to Serbia. Serbia exports products made from natural rubber, car seats, wheat, paper and cellulose products, as well as mechanical devices. Trade deals have become more intensive and diverse, so we cannot say that there is only one interesting sector. Sectors in which we see the best possibilities for economic cooperation between Spain and Serbia include consumer goods (fashion and foodstuffs), agricultural machines and technology, as well as environment and engineering and construction services.

10. Can you tell us something about the cooperation between Serbia and Spain in areas of science, culture, and education?

Since we are partners and friends, of course there is cooperation in the areas of science, culture and education.

We have signed an agreement on cultural, educational and scientific cooperation in 2003 and it represents the basis of our cooperation. However, it is true that there is potential to improve cooperation in these areas. In particular, ever since my arrival, this has been one of the subjects I have considered with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. Keeping in mind the huge interest that exists in Serbia for learning our language, which is spoken by more than 500 million people in the world, Spain would like to include bilingual Serbian-Spanish classes in high schools in Serbia - this is a program that exists in other countries already, and it has achieved great success in neighboring Bulgaria, and it was useful for the students as well.

On the other hand, we should not understate the important role of the Cervantes Institute in spreading our language and culture since its opening in 2004, which is another backbone of the aforementioned cooperation.

11. How would you present Spain as a tourist destination? What are its most important characteristics and cultural and historical sights?

Spain does not require much in the way of presenting itself as a tourist destination. Spain is the number one place in the world as a vacation destination, and in second place in the areas of immigration and income. Spain set a new record for the number of foreign tourists in 2019, which was 83.7 million, generating 92 billion, 337 million EUR. A pleasant climate, immeasurable wealth of culture, a gastronomic paradise, beauties of nature with a coast 5,000 km long, with beaches and crystal clear waters, mountain peaks, and top infrastructure - all this makes Spain the most competitive tourist destination according to the World Economic Forum about competition in traveling and tourism for 2019.

Spain is third in the world when it comes to the number of locations that UNESCO has declared a world heritage (right after Italy and China). The Cordoba Mosque, Alhambra in Granada, the Segovia Aqueduct, the Burgos Cathedral, and the modernist works of Gaudi in Barcelona are just some of the 48 well-known sights. Apart from that, the Mediterranean cuisine, flamenco, the gardens of Cordoba or the carnival in Valencia are just a part of 19 non-material Spanish cultural goods that are protected under UNESCO and which makes us the country with the largest number of these kinds of features. And let us not forget that Spain is number one in the world when it comes to nature reserves (there are 19 in total).

Spanish tourism is a strong industry, with a firm position among the international leaders in tourism and with great potential for growth in the future.


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