Serbia's economic woes have kept the country dedicated to the task of cultivating co-operation with its European neighbours. Despite being ruled since mid-2012 by president Tomislav Nikolic, who has been known for his anti-EU and nationalist stance, Serbia has started dialogue with Kosovo in order to clear the obstacles to its EU membership.
“What is the better opportunity for Serbia: Russia? Serbia has good economic relations with Russia, but 60% of the country's trade is done with the EU, not Russia. Its reserve currency is the euro, not the rouble,” Suzana Grubjesic, Serbia's deputy prime minister for European integration, told fDi Magazine.
Ms Grubjesic, who talked to fDi during a visit London to lobby for UK support for Serbian membership of the EU, admitted that the Serbian economy is losing out by not being the part of the EU. “Investors are more careful when the country is not in the EU. Even now, after Serbia received candidate status [in March 2012], investors are more interested,” she said.
Attracting investment to Serbia is no small matter, given that the unemployment rate in the country currently stands at 22.4% and the economy stalled in 2012. “There was no growth in the Serbian economy in 2012. The forecasts for 2013 show that the economy will grow by 2% in 2013. But it is still not good; Serbia needs to move forward faster,” said Ms Grubjesic.
A historic first meeting between the heads of state from Serbia and Kosovo, held in Brussels at the beginning of February, demonstrated the seriousness of Serbia’s EU ambition. But the ongoing eurozone crisis means that the country is not likely to enter the EU any time soon. Serbia has, however, gained an unlikely ally in the form of the UK. According to Ms Grubjesic, the UK's prime minister David Cameron supports Serbia’s case. “London is one of the few places where I do not hear about ‘enlargement fatigue’ or ‘absorption capacity'. Serbia values UK support for its membership,” she said.
Serbia might still have some distance to cover on its journey to Brussels, but it is on the brink of another sought-after membership. Eight years after formally starting negotiations, Serbia expects to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the end of 2013, providing it can reach a trade accord with Ukraine. “We are at the very end of negotiations with Ukraine. I hope we will join WTO soon, otherwise we will be left out,” said Ms Grubjesic.