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H.E. Anders Christian Hougård, Ambassador of Denmark to Serbia


Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a country in northern Europe and the smallest one of the Scandinavian countries. It is a member of the European Union, and its capital is Copenhagen. Denmark includes the Jutland peninsula and 405 islands, 323 of which are inhabited, the largest ones being Zealand and Funen. Denmark is mostly flat. The highest natural point is Møllehøj standing at the altitude of 170.86 meters. Its winters are mild and its summers are brisk. The most important cities are the capital, Copenhagen (on Zealand), Aarhus, Aalborg (on Jutland), and Odense (on Funen). Arable land, pastures and grasslands make up approximately ¾ of Denmark’s surface and they are primarily sowed with fodder. More than half of the exported value originates from livestock farming. Exported produce includes livestock, meat, butter, eggs, cheese, honey, and milk. The fishing industry is also quite developed. The industry is very unionized; more than 75% of workforce is made up of union members. The rules regarding work and pay are usually agreed upon between unions and employers, without state interference. Most of its population is of Scandinavian origin, with small groups of Inuit peoples (from Greenland), Faroe Islanders, and migrants. Before being populated by the Scandinavians, Denmark was a home to the Celts — which is confirmed by discoveries of ritualistic sacrifices and burials in marshlands. The oldest Danish script originated in the 7th century, when the new runic alphabet also developed. The oldest city is Ribe dating back to 810 AD. The standard of living is quite high, the Danish krone is a stable currency pegged to the euro which was rejected at a referendum held in 2000. The official language is Danish, although a small population near the German border speaks German as well. Denmark was crowned the world’s happiest country, and the famous LEGO bricks are made in a town called Billund in Denmark.

We had the honor to talk to His Excellency Mr. Anders Christian Hougård, Ambassador of Denmark to Serbia.

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

Thank you for this interview – Belgrade is a great city! I love its vibe and atmosphere, the people are friendly and welcoming. The food is really very tasty and the weather is much better than in Denmark, to be honest.

I have travelled a bit in Serbia, mainly on business. What really impresses me is how different it is, from north to south, from east to west. From the vast plains of Vojvodina, to the fantastic mountain ranges in the south. But the people are always equally happy to receive a guest, that is really special and rare.

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 arrived here in September, so I have been here 7-8 months. I am a lawyer by profession, so I feel very passionate about it, having acquired two master’s degrees, one from Aarhus University, and the other from Harvard. I entered the foreign service back in 1992, almost 30 years ago!

I have always had an interest in more ‘exotic’ destinations, and have been stationed at the Danish embassies in Riyadh, Moscow, Islamabad, and the Consulate General in St. Petersburg. I was Ambassador to Islamabad, Teheran, Zagreb and now finally, Belgrade. I loved being in all those locations, I have very fond memories of all of them.

3. In 2017, it has been 100 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belgrade and Copenhagen. 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 Serbia in order to improve that cooperation?

I felt really honored to partake in some of the events the Embassy organized last year, and to see the response from the Serbian side. Let me remind you – we had a sold-out movie festival in Belgrade and very well attended movie festivals elsewhere, exhibitions in Serbia, cooperation between Yugoslav and Danish archives, a visit by professor Per Jacobsen, the founder of the Serbo-Croatian Language Department at Copenhagen University. A lot of activities, that intended to show the strong links we have between our two countries.

I was most impressed with two examples of our relations. The first is Doctor Wilhelm Melgaard who moved to Serbia in WWI as a member of the Danish medical mission. He eventually got married and settled permanently in Nis, helping to treat the local population and working on a voluntary basis in a local orphanage. You see – from formal country-to-country cooperation, to a personal decision to become a full-fledged member of the local community. Danish big pharmaceutical Novo Nordisk is nowadays very active in Serbia, and Denmark has supported the development of southern Serbia, so we maintain good relations.

Another example is the building of New Belgrade, which started already in the 1930s. A couple of big Danish companies were involved and they even brought engineers and a bulldozer to help set the foundations of Belgrade’s expansion. This is an excellent example of economic cooperation, now sustained by the likes of NIRAS, COWI, Grundfos and Danfoss.

4. 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 Denmark, and what does it import from Denmark?

According to our data for 2016, Denmark’s export of goods to Serbia was worth around 122 million EUR, while we imported Serbian goods in the value of around 52 million EUR. The commodity group with the highest export and import value was general industrial machinery and equipment, as well as machine parts.

When it comes to industries, Serbia has a very well educated and skillful labor force, so I believe there is an array of industries you could specialize in. From the automotive and electronics industry, to food and agriculture, and hospitality. As I mentioned already, Serbia is very diverse, so there is no one-solution-fits-all approach. What works in Vojvodina, might not work in southern Serbia, or the other way around. It is the same in Denmark – all big producers have moved to Jutland. Copenhagen now has mostly services and ICT companies.

I would like to draw your attention to one fact – our countries are both small, so we have to be clever and smart in how we take care of ourselves and do business. In Denmark, we have realized we cannot compete with major industries and players, although we have some, like Carlsberg and Novo Nordisk. So, we invest a lot of effort in developing SMEs – and today they employ 2/3 of the working population! Those companies have found their niches in order to build and maintain their competitiveness, and I believe this experience is something Serbia can learn from.

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

Approximately 40 Danish companies do business in Serbia, and they vary in size. They seem to be very happy here – some are expanding production facilities, like Ergomade or Grundfos. Some are expanding the teams they are hiring, like NIRAS and COWI.

Some have been here for more than 20 years, like Velux, Danfoss, Novo Nordisk. Many present top companies in their field, like Carlsberg or DSV Logistics and Shipment. We really have an array of companies present here, and they are all here to stay! And according to our trade colleagues, more are interested in joining their Danish colleagues here, so the signs are encouraging.

In order to support them better and offer a relevant networking platform, the Embassy established a Danish Business Club two years ago, and we are happy to see more companies deciding to become members.

When it comes to attracting Danish companies to Serbia, some of the advantages we mention are a hard-working and educated workforce, a central government and local authorities supporting investors, the proximity to Denmark and the same time zone, a similar mentality and business acumen, and various free trade agreements. Of course, there is the much-discussed labor force ‘price-quality’ ratio, but I would not say this plays a crucial role for an investor. They are all here for the long run, so they have to take all the elements into consideration.

On the other side, we also mention a lot of bureaucracy and tiresome procedures, but I am pleased to hear that the government is actively working on reducing those and digitizing its services. Once this is done, administration will become easier, smoother and more transparent.

6. In November 2017, representatives of the DFA (Danish Farmers Abroad) visited Serbia and announced their interest in expanding their business to our country. Tell us more about that.

This was not their first visit and I certainly hope it is not their last one! It was definitely the biggest delegation we have hosted so far, and they visited both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The delegation was a mix of private individuals and companies, some of whom already do business with the Ukraine and Russia, so they are familiar with Eastern Europe.

Serbia has great potential in agriculture and this is yet another similarity with Denmark. People in Denmark live well from agriculture and not just as a primary industry. There are numerous companies specialized in pig-farm design, energy efficiency solutions made specifically for farms, feed producers, organic production consultants… It is like a snowball effect, once it gets rolling, it just expands! So many people in Denmark have found employment in agriculture and related industries, so I encourage Serbs to think in that direction. There is a lot of fertile land here, waiting to be utilized. We will always need food, so I believe it is the industry of future.

Here I would like to praise the creation of the first digital farm in Serbia. I hope the initiative will be well accepted among farmers and other potential users, so that we can see more of that in the years to come.

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

The Embassy's cooperation with the Serbian government has always been very good.

When it comes to economic and enterpreneurship development in Serbia, Denmark has been very active.

Denmark and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) worked intensively from 2010 to 2016 with the Ministry of Agriculture on a south Serbia development project called 'Fruits and Berries'. The project has contributed to economic growth and employment in the private sector in southern Serbia, creating more than 800 jobs, most of those for women. It is still mentioned as the best practice example of a program which provided both technical and advisory expertise, resulting in sustainability of the beneficiaries.

We are also very proud of the Local Economic Development in the Balkans (LEDIB) project - a large-scale programme under the Danish Neighbourhood programme initiated to support the promotion of growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in Southern Serbia.

Based in the city of Niš, LEDIB became a well-known brand during 2007-2012 due to its massive provision of technical assistance and support to small and medium-sized companies as well as to public institutions.

One of the main results was the “Cluster House”, an umbrella organization for clusters located in the vicinity of Nis. Cluster House still provides advice on e.g. management, education, communication and cooperates with clusters in the rest of Serbia and in the Balkans.

8. 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?

Another link between our two countries - Serbia became an EU candidate country under the Danish presidency in 2012, and Denmark supports Serbia on its path towards the EU.

There is still a long way to go and that road never actually ends. Once the institutions and procedures are strong and well established, then you have to maintain them – it should not be taken for granted. Denmark is especially interested in chapters 23 and 24 (related to the Rule of Law and Judiciary), chapter 27 (Environment), chapter 15 (Energy) – but all of those are horizontal, so itmeans you cannot make progress in one and lag behind in another one.

If I am to mention one specific area, it would be the rule of law. I think it is absolutely crucial for any country aspiring to be EU member state. An efficient and transparent judiciary, free from corruption and nepotism. That is the basis for all other chapters and areas.

I would like to mention two additional things. One is media freedom, a topic very dear to us as we have supported the Slavko Curuvija foundation. Another pillar for a successful and democratic society is a free and responsible media.

The second is the dialogue between the state, the private sector, universities, NGOs and the media. We really insist on that in Denmark. We have a lot of examples of private-public partnerships, like the State of Green or Healthcare Denmark, which gather companies, ministries, universities, and jointly work on improving the overall environment for their area of expertise.

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

There is increasing interest in Danish culture here in Serbia and I am happy about it. We try to bring it closer to the Serbian citizens by organizing film festivals, bringing jazz bands, ballet performers, and exhibitions. Here we also work closely with our Nordic colleagues, as we share a lot values and attitudes in life.

I was happy to learn there are Danish language students at the University in Belgrade! Some of them are very proficient and feel Denmark as their second home. They also contribute to the positive relations between our two countries.

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

When people think of Denmark, they often think of Copenhagen – and rightly so. Copenhagen has been ranked among the quickest-growing tourism destinations in Europe by the Global Destination Cities Index, published annually by Mastercard. Denmark in total saw a staggering 51.5 million overnights in 2016, +5% more than the year before.

If you are up for some history, you can visit Ribe and Roskilde, especially if you like the Vikings. For culture, head to Copenhagen or Aarhus which was European Culture Capital for 2017. Odense is a home town of H.C. Andersen, and of course, the Little Mermaid statute is to be found in Copenhagen. Nature is really beautiful everywhere – from Møns Klint cliffs to vast plains of Jutland. We love our nature and take good care of it.