Delle prospettive europee della Serbia, del ruolo internazionale dell’Italia, delle relazioni economiche e dei rapporti culturali tra due Paesi ha parlato l’Ambasciatore d’Italia, Carlo Lo Cascio, nell’intervista rilasciata a CorD per l’edizione speciale “Italy and Serbia 2022: Solid Foundations, Promising Future”, realizzata in occasione delle celebrazioni della Festa della Repubblica Italiana.
SERBIA’S EU ACCESSION EFFORTS SHOULD BE BETTER ACKNOWLEDGED.
Italy supports Serbia in fulfilling its EU accession requirements, acknowledging Belgrade’s efforts to implement crucial reforms and looking forward to the new National Assembly and the new Government proceeding steadily along the same track.
In the post COVID 19 world, many European companies are rethinking their value chains and questioning whether they should opt for nearshoring. How the Italian companies are approaching this issue, and to what extent it may influence bilateral cooperation between two countries?
First the pandemic and then the sudden geopolitical challenges due to the Russian aggression against Ukraine have been affecting logistics, supply-chains, energy and commodities markets. Following the general near-shoring trend, several Italian companies (multinationals and SMEs) are considering to relocate their operations in Serbia from the Far East. Belgrade has thus attracted direct investment flows, which have been constantly increasing even during the pandemic and in 2021 reached the record amount of 3.9 billion Euros. Let me just recall the recent deal signed between the Serbian government and the Stellantis group. This latter will start manufacturing a new FIAT electric car in its historic plant in Kragujevac from 2024 onwards. Besides, if we look at the bilateral trade, flows have been raising to pre-Covid levels and in 2021 reached a new record level, with 4.1 billion Euro of total trade (+24%). In this first quarter of 2022, our bilateral trade has been keeping its positive pace (+19% compared to the first quarter 2021). The opportunities for re-shoring offered by the Serbian market were also discussed during the recent successful visit of Confindustria and Confindustria Est Europa in Belgrade on 9-10 May.
When we think about Italy, we usually think about luxury brands and exquisite food. However, you are one of the most advanced countries when it comes to application of top-notch technologies in industry. To what extent is today Italy a knowledge-based economy?
Italy is indeed more than food & fashion and our new Nation branding campaign “Italy is simply extraordinary – be IT” explains it very well. Our Country is leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution the same manner Serbia is doing it in the Balkan region, which is by investing in education and infrastructure. With approximately 5,400 high-tech manufacturing companies according to Eurostat, Italy is one of the top four countries in Europe in this field. When all sectors are considered, Italy remains one of the foremost countries in Europe, with more than 105,000 high-tech companies. Italy is also above the European average in terms of production and use of industrial robots, and in the adoption of 4.0 technologies such as the Cloud or the ‘’Internet of Things’’. The private sector is also doing its part, as according to the European Commission the average annual Research and Development (R&D) expenditure of Italy’s top R&D spending companies, at a 185.4 million Euro level, is above the EU average. Just to mention one of the result achieved by our Country, Italy ranks 7th in industrial robotics worldwide and 2nd in Europe, just after Germany. We have been investing in the IT sector also in Serbia and we are keen to deepen our bilateral cooperation in this field. Innovation is also one of the key themes of the candidature of Rome to host World Expo 2030.
For a while Italy and Serbia have a very dynamic cooperation in “science diplomacy” which connects industrial application and value-added manufacturing to science and research. What are the most important outcomes in terms of this cooperation?
This is very true and the most significant outcome of this dynamic cooperation, on top of the numerous success stories, is its solidity, the richness and breadth of the initiatives, from humanities to particle physics, and the special value this cooperation has for both countries. In recent years, Serbia developed strong competences in many areas: applied IT, agri-food technology and bioengineering, to mention a few. This results in an increased reciprocity in R&I collaboration that also fosters the interest of innovative Italian firms in investing in Serbia. We are closely following this process and we are committed to create conditions for even stronger cooperation in R&I. Concrete opportunities for more structured collaboration will be offered by the ambitious research policies and programmes that Italy and Serbia are developing to mobilise their research systems on the future scientific, technological and societal challenges.
The Serbian national innovation system is young and suffers a lot from the lack of cooperation between the universities and particularly small and medium companies and start-ups. What could we learn from the Italian experience in that respect?
The public–private research collaboration between Italian universities and domestic industry is indeed increasing. We also have suffered from a separation of the two worlds but university–industry interactions have grown rapidly in Italy over the past years. The presence of different sources of innovation increases the likelihood of collaboration; proximity is more important for SMEs, while larger enterprises collaborate with universities better and are able to sell the results of their research. This is truly the reason behind the success story of industrial districts in Italy, where the craftsmanship inherited from the past is combined with innovations coming from universities and research labs, leading to continuous improvement and generating a constant flow of new patents, machines, materials and designs. This is a positive example that we would like to disseminate and replicate in Serbia, and the reason why we are investing a lot in strengthening the ‘’dual system’’ between the Serbian educational system and the Italian companies.
Italian Presidency of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which has ended in May 2022 aimed at reminding us on the basic values related to democracy and human rights, through the lenses of social rights, culture and ethical use of artificial intelligence. What were the major messages the Presidency conveyed?
Since the very first moment of our Chairmanship, we have identified these as our priority areas. The international environment was much different, but Italy still considered the selected ones to be the primary concerns of the modern world. Tragic events lately occurred, with the brutal and unjustified Russian aggression to Ukraine and the consequent worst humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since the Second World War. This sadly showed how the identified priority areas were not only a set of standards permanently reached by the Member States of the Council of Europe, but principles we must continue to reaffirm and apply. I believe the key message of the Italian Chairmanship is acknowledging that basic values such as democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms are not secured forever. There are and there will be old and new tough challenges to overcome. We still need to enhance the efforts for a common recommitment to the values of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As you have recently said there is a need for a serious and credible revitalization of the EU enlargement process. What does it mean in practical terms?
When in 2003 the Council of Salonika clearly set out a European perspective for the Western Balkans, membership seemed a goal achievable in the near future. Today, after 20 years, many things have changed and unfortunately that same goal looks further away. We are running the risk of a disaffection of the citizens of the Region for the European prospective. Regardless of the long procedures that the Enlargement process entails, EU Member States should still demonstrate how much they support and advocate for the Serbian accession path. On its side, Italy supports Serbia in fulfilling accession requirements, acknowledging the efforts of Belgrade in implementing crucial reforms and looking forward to the new National Assembly and the new Government proceeding steadily on the same track. The current conflict in Ukraine requires further efforts on the Serbian side, especially on the alignment to CSFP, in order to keep progressing along the European path.
In times of COVID 19, we were often left only to virtual communication. Now when the pandemic is easing, people are more and more interested to reunite and delve into cultural contents. How is this reflected in the work of the Italian Cultural Institute of Belgrade?
The pandemic outbreak required a quick shift to new methodologies in communication strategies as well as access to cultural events. This process of reshaping all programmes and initiatives affected both the content providers and the users alike. There are no doubts the comeback of events in person gave the opportunity to bring to Belgrade some unique new cultural initiatives, such as the recent concerts of the brilliant Italian singer Alice and the Oscar-awarded composer Nicola Piovani. The public was craving to participate in live events and the huge attendance we had proved it. Nevertheless, we did learn that broadcasting events online could give access to a broader audience that would like to experience Italian culture even in distance. We will continue to share a high number of initiatives online and reach out to those who might not be able to be physically present in the events organized by the Italian Cultural Institute of Belgrade.
We are at the beginning of the tourism season which could be more like before COVID 19. To what extent the business and tourist trips between our two countries rebounded?
In the last months, Italy has already experienced a strong tourism rebound, with more and more people spending their holidays there than before the pandemic. In March 2022, we had nearly 10 million passengers, equal to 70% of the pre-Covid levels, and this is just at the beginning of the new summer season. Not only Italy’s major cities are benefiting from this trend (such as Venice with the ongoing Biennale international event or Turin that recently hosted the Eurovision Song Contest), but also niche tourist destinations are positively affected (smaller islands, environmentally sustainable and rural tourism, Southern Italy). Italy remains one of the world’s most popular destinations and tourism represents nearly 10% of the country’s economy. We are sure that the decision of Air Serbia, a very reliable partner for us, to increase connections with our country and the recent drop of travel restrictions in Italy will spur more touristic flows between our two Countries.