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H.E. Mr. Axel Dittmann, Ambassador of Germany to Serbia


Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland), is situated in the center of Europe and it is one of the world’s leaders in the field of industry. Germany is a federal parliamentary republic made up of 16 constituent states. The capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021km2. With over 82 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous member state of the European Union. It is the second largest European country, and the third most popular immigration destination in the world. It is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The term “ecology” was coined by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866. The Christmas tree tradition also originates from Germany. In Germany, there are 5,752 museums and galleries, as well as around 450 theatres and opera houses where some 2,500 different shows are performed each year. There are also around 400 zoos, which is the largest number of zoos per country in the world. Germany is a home to more than 150 castles, the most well-known being the ones in Bavaria. This country produces over 300 different kinds of bread, and there is even a bread museum in Germany. The German motorway network is over 12,000km long. This was the first country in the world to start building a motorway network back in 1932. Today, there is no speed limit on 65% of motorways. When it comes to the number of patents and copyright protection, Germany ranks number one in the world. The Nobel Prize has been awarded to 107 German laureates. The oldest savings bank in the world was founded in Oldenburg in 1786.

We had the honor to talk to His Excellency Mr. Axel Dittmann,Ambassador of Germany to Serbia.

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

My family and I are truly enjoying our time in Belgrade. Serbian people are really friendly. The tourist offer is large and varied, both in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia. We especially enjoy field trips to Fruška Gora. I also appreciate the fact that Serbian people have a good sense of humor and love sports, just like me.

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?

I was appointed ambassador to Belgrade in July 2015. Prior to that, I was working at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, dealing with principal EU affairs for more than 8 years. Before that, I served in the region, as well as the USA.

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

Relations between Germany and Serbia are excellent and versatile. This is confirmed by numerous high-level official visits and a broad range of collaborative projects. Germany, an honest and reliable partner, supports Serbia on its path to becoming a member of the European Union. As the largest bilateral donor of financial assets, Germany has been supporting the reform process in Serbia since 2000 by donating over EUR 1.8 billion. The bilateral collaboration is becoming more and more prominent in the economic sector as well. An important driving force is the German-Serbian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which has over 300 members. However, we do not intend to stop there. Instead, we are working with our partners from Serbia to expand these close relations at all levels in the future.

4 Your Excellency, since 2000, over 350 German companies operating in Serbia have invested more than EUR 1.8 billion in our country and created around 35,000 new workplaces. Is this data accurate and can we expect these figures to grow?

I am glad to say that this basic data points to a growing engagement of the German industry in Serbia. According to our data, some 400 German companies are currently operating in Serbia. The range of companies is quite wide – from small commercial offices to large production plants with over 1,000 employees. This upward trend also applies to the number of workplaces. According to our data, companies traditionally associated with Germany have invested over EUR 1.9 billion in Serbia since 2000. I am convinced that this upward trend could be even more enhanced. Therefore, it is crucial that Serbia keeps improving the overall business conditions in the private sector. With regard to that, legal security is of utmost importance to investors. Making actual progress regarding the rule of law would attract even more potential investors to Serbia.

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

Encouraging small businesses and midsize companies is the central element of the German-Serbian developmental cooperation. We closely collaborate with, for example, the Ministry of Economy, in order to improve the overall conditions for small businesses and midsize companies. We organize seminars in the field of entrepreneurship together with the Development Agency of Serbia (RAS) and we support the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (PKS) in developing new services for small businesses and midsize companies. We also support business associations, such as the Association of Business Women in Serbia. Some events are intended directly for the citizens, for example, IT seminars and professional development seminars for the unemployed. We are planning on making further developments in this field by introducing a startup initiative offering educational programs and financial support to young and pre-incorporated companies.

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 Germany, and what does it import from Germany?

Germany rated number one on the list of Serbia’s trade partners, with trade volume of around EUR 4 billion in 2016. The final results for 2017 have not yet been published, but the continuation of positive tendencies is obvious. In November 2017, trade volume already surpassed that of the previous year. In terms of value, the focus of our trade is in electronics, machinery, motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts. In addition, Serbia exports food, animal feed and metals to Germany, while it imports chemical products, as well as products made of rubber and plastic. Last year we organized the so-called “Initiative for finding suppliers” for some of these branches with the goal of connecting producers from the region with interested German companies. This further strengthens the trade cooperation between our countries, especially when it comes to exports from Serbia to Germany.

7 How is Germany helping Serbia to implement and improve the dual education system?

Within the framework of the German-Serbian Developmental Cooperation, the German government collaborates with the Serbian Ministry of Education, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, the German-Serbian Chamber of Industry and Commerce and other partners in order to reform vocational education practices in Serbia. We should be proud of the results of our collaboration regarding the introduction of three-year vocational education programs for vocational-technical professions. We have improved the vocational curriculum by adding five new professions, which in turn has improved the quality of the classes and increased the number of practical classes. This program is currently implemented in 43 secondary vocational schools with about 2,000 students. Starting from the second year, students get apprenticeships at one of 75 companies. Many of those companies voluntarily compensate students for the work they do during their apprenticeship. Out of 95 first-generation students who graduated in mid-2017, 73 have already found jobs, 44 of whom were employed by the companies they did their apprenticeships at. The new Law on Dual Education passed by the National Assembly in November 2017, which shall enter into force in the 2019/2020 academic year, is also an important factor to be taken into account when discussing the strengthening of the orientation towards practical skills as part of vocational training in Serbia. What we now need is for this law to be properly applied in practice. We shall work on that with our partners.

8 When it comes to investments, how do investors from Germany see the Serbian market? What are the most influential companies that have made investments here?

Serbia is an interesting location for investors. The latest survey, conducted by the German-Serbian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, an organization whose members include various well-known German companies, proves this. According to the survey, 84% of companies that participated stated they would invest in Serbia again. The reasons for this were primarily the quality and availability of local suppliers, as well as the qualified workforce. Employees’ productivity, willingness to be successful at work, their qualifications, academic education and labor costs are greatly appreciated. However, the survey also indicated that some expectations have hardly been met. Businessmen are complaining about shortcomings in the fight against corruption, as well as weak legal security. They are also dissatisfied with the taxation system and tax authorities, as well as a lack of transparency regarding public tenders and the state administration. From an investor’s point of view, the attractiveness of the investment location is thus closely connected with the strengthening of the rule of law.

9 Today, Serbia is a candidate country – the 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 is on the path towards the European Union and Germany fully supports that. The number of topics discussed is ever-growing, that is – in the language of the EU – more and more chapters are being opened. In my opinion, an important moment for Serbia’s entry negotiations was the opening of the chapter about the rule of law in mid-2016. This is essential for the transformation of Serbia. Significant progress must be made in this area before Serbia joins the EU. It is necessary to ensure that politics has no influence over court proceedings and the independence of the justice system must be strengthened. Another important topic is media freedom. The fight against corruption must bring about severe prison sentences for the culprits. Court proceedings must not go on and on. These are the expectations of the citizens of Serbia, as well as important preconditions for entering the EU. I hope we will soon be able to see progress in this area – and we offer our support.

10 Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Germany in the fields of science, culture and education?

Germany and Serbia are closely linked in terms of culture. The fact that the Chief Conductor of the exceptional Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra is Gabriel Feltz from Germany is only one of many examples of the lively cultural exchange between our two countries. Serbia and Germany are also closely connected in the fields of science and education. That is why, among other things, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has an office in Belgrade. Last year, 57 students from Serbia were granted scholarships to study, or participate in some other research or educational program in Germany.

11 How would you present your country as a tourist destination? Which characteristics and landmarks would you highlight?

Germany is a versatile country. Of course, you should see the most famous landmarks, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Cologne Cathedral or the Neuschwanstein Castle. The capital – Berlin – is a really popular tourist destination. But that’s not all. Germany has so much more to offer. If you visit the Rhineland, which is where I’m from, I would recommend a boat ride along the Rhine River. You will be greeted with a spectacular view of the vineyards and picturesque wine towns scattered across the slopes above the Rhine, and you will also come across quite a few fortresses and castles. Germany is so diverse! You can travel to the Baltic Coast or the Allgäu Alps in Bavaria, see one-of-a-kind stone formations in the Saxon Switzerland National Park, or visit any of the numerous small towns characterized by the unique and traditional architecture. I hope that with these examples I have managed to inspire you to visit Germany!

12 What do you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

The Serbian cultural scene is excellent. I like the BITEF (Belgrade International Theatre Festival) and Serbian music. In my free time I like to play sports, especially tennis. I also love going to the theatre and concerts at “Kolarac”. My family and I like to walk along the Ada, as well as visit places outside of Belgrade. We have already been to Fruška Gora, Stara Planina and Tara. Serbia has a lot to offer, and my family and I will continue to explore its beautiful landmarks.