homepage_name! > Editions > Number 139-140 > Ambassador - ITALY

H.E. Carlo Lo Cascio, Ambasciatore d’Italia in Serbia

Italy, a country to the south of Europe, includes the Apennine Peninsula and three big islands in the Mediterranean Sea: Sicily, Sardinia, and Elba. Its only land border is situated to the North, at the Alps, where it borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The independent countries, San Marino and the Vatican City, lie within the Italian territory. The capital city is Rome. Italy has 60,532,020 citizens, is a founding member of the European Union and in 2021 holds the presidency of the G20. The country formed like a boot represents one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There are various reasons for this: arts, fashion, breathtaking landscapes, passionate people, and exquisite cuisine. Italy offers so much to see and visit that you would need a whole life to explore the most beautiful places in this country.

1. Your Excellency, what do you think about being in Belgrade? Could you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

Serbia is a country that I love very much, and in my opinion, Belgrade has long been "Europe's best kept secret". It is no coincidence that I am here for the second time, together with my wife who, like me, is equally fond of this very special place. The profound sympathy of its people makes Serbia, in some ways, a country very similar to Italy. In this last period, I have been able to experience a familiarity that, perhaps, was not yet fully revealed. Proof of this were the immense manifestations of this country's affection for Italy at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April. Likewise, the generous aid and support from Serbia to the Italian people, was a much-appreciated gesture, which confirmed, once again, that the friendship that bonds Italy and Serbia is deeply sincere.

2. You mentioned above that it is not your first time in Serbia. Can you tell us more? How long have you been in the position of Ambassador to Serbia, and what was the course of your diplomatic career before?

My mandate as Ambassador to Serbia began two and a half years ago, in April 2018. Of course, I'm certainly not a newcomer to the Western Balkans. I consider my role a duty and a privilege, as Serbia and the entire region are objectively very important to Italy. After my first post abroad in Bonn (Germany), which I am fond of, above all because my children were born there, I was assigned to Sarajevo and later moved to Belgrade as Deputy Head of Mission from 2005 to 2008. I had then an extraordinary experience as Ambassador in Maputo (Mozambique), a period of my career I look back on very nostalgically, which was later well-rewarded with my return back to Serbia.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries and what was it like in the past? What should be changed to improve this cooperation?

Since its beginning, my mandate in Belgrade has been a period marked by fruitful and intense cooperation between Italy and Serbia. Our aim is to further improve and carry on our excellent long-lasting friendship, which was evidenced by last year’s celebration commemorating 140 years of bilateral diplomatic relations, as well as by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s visit, the first of an Italian head of government in Serbia in seven years. Moreover, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was here this year – just before the beginning of the epidemiological crisis – and a few days ago, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini was in Belgrade. From an economic point of view, we continue to be among the first investors in Serbia and the second ranked trade partner, with more than 4 billion in exchange in 2018. This year, due to the coronavirus, we will reach around 3 billion euros, a result that, given the circumstances, I still consider significant. We are counting on next year to reach the goals we had initially set for 2020 again.

4. What is the current situation regarding the pandemic in Italy?

In recent weeks, the numbers relating to new cases have progressively slowed down, but we must not let our guard down. For this reason, to avoid a new surge in infections during and after Christmas holidays, the government has developed a special plan to contain the pandemic, which took effect a few days ago and will continue on until January 6. We all strongly hope that the situation will improve next year, both as a result of the restrictions imposed and the eventual vaccine distribution campaign. We very much hope that this will lower the number of pandemic cases in Italy as soon as possible.

5. Today Serbia is a candidate country for EU accession - negotiations started in January 2014. In your opinion, where is Serbia on its way to EU membership and what will be crucial for Serbia to achieve member status?

For us, Serbia remains the "frontrunner" country in the accession process. Much has been done in recent years, especially in the economic field as shown by projections on GDP, despite the pandemic. However, much remains to be done in the area of ​​the rule of law. We believe the first steps taken by the new government are encouraging and are headed in the right direction. As such, we trust that these continued efforts and results will, as hoped for by Italy, soon lead to the opening of more negotiating chapters next year. I believe that it is important, at this stage, that the new government confirms, with concrete facts, its strong determination to move forward in the accession negotiations. Italy will continue to support Serbia's efforts, under the belief that only with enlargement to the Balkans can the unification of the European continent be completed. This would bring stability, development, and prosperity to a region long tormented by conflicts and tensions. It is a long, demanding, and complex process, that of the accession, but it must be done together: the efforts and reforms of candidate countries must be matched by coherent decisions by member states.

Italy is certainly the strongest supporter of Serbia's accession to the European Union and we are here to assist Belgrade on this path. Therefore, I expect that the new Serbian government will continue the reform process, first of all in its own interest, since accession to the European Union would further provide the country with even better living standards and greater prosperity to its population.

6. When it comes to investments, how do Italian investors view the Serbian market? How many Italian companies currently operate in Serbia and what kinds of companies are those that invest in us?

The database of the Development Agency of Serbia shows that, between 2007 and 2019, Italy was the main investor in Serbia, both in terms of number of projects implemented and in absolute value. Italian companies have so far invested over three billion euros in Serbia and, according to a recent study published by the Embassy of Italy with the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, our companies offer jobs in Serbia to over 30,000 workers (rising to 50,000 calculating the related activities), with about 600 companies with at least 20% Italian participation. They contribute to generate 5.4% of the Serbian GDP. Many Italian companies have invested in Serbia long before other international partners, developing a special relationship and mutual trust with their local counterparts, which has allowed them to obtain excellent economic results in terms of production and employment.

I believe that Serbia still has a lot to offerto Italian companies: firstly, the country's geographical proximity and connection with the entire Balkan region; secondly, the links with other markets, both in the west and in the east, and finally the experience of local workers, which has helped Italian companies develop strong local management structures. At the same time, the Italian entrepreneurial spirit is highly valued in Serbia thanks to the ability of Italian companies to bring positive change in cultural and social terms across the country.

7. How would y ou describe y our cooperation with the Serbian g overnment and business associations for the development of entrepreneurship?

At an institutional level, Italy is present in Serbia with a very strong network, within the framework of the so-called "Italian system" (group of associations that work together to support the Italian economy in the country). Coordinated by the embassy, ​​the "Italian system" includes the ICE-Institute for Foreign Trade Agency (ITA), the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (ISCC) and Confindustria. Serbia works tirelessly to promote Italian companies and their investments. The "Italian system" and the Italian companies in Serbia are also focused on promoting collaborations with schools and universities, through dual education programs. To date, many Italian companies in different Serbian cities and towns are already training students. Altogether, Italian institutions have established and nurtured a tradition in its excellent relations with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce.

8. What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the greatest potential? What does Serbia export to, and what does it import from Italy? What are the most important sectors in which Italian companies invest here? 
In 2019, Italy was in fact confirmed as the second largest trading partner, with a total trade exchange of 3.84 billion euros (2.07 billion Italian exports from Serbia and 1.77 billion Italian imports from Serbia). Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, this year trade has remained at a more than satisfactory level (it should exceed 3 billion by the end of 2020). The main sectors of activity of Italian companies in Serbia include the "automotive" sector, the banking and insurance sectors, textiles, footwear, manufacturing, agriculture, and more recently, also the energy sector. Several Italian companies in the construction sector are also involved. As regards imports from Italy, Serbia records cars, textiles and machinery among its top items, while it mainly exports cars, clothing, and footwear.
9. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Italy in the fields of science, culture and education? 
It would be reductive to summarize this relationship in these few lines! Culture is in fact the "flagship" of relations between Italy and Serbia. The fields of art, music and literature are much studied and admired by our Serbian friends. As for our activity here in Serbia, the very active Italian Institute of Culture offers language courses (around 40,000 people in Serbia study Italian), exhibitions and promotes wide-ranging artistic and cultural events with the participation of Italian personalities. Moreover, scholarships and exchanges are also organized annually for Serbian students in Italy. 

Bilateral scientific cooperation is a sector that I care a lot about, which complements economic cooperation and is in particular evolution.[1] [P2] In 2018, the new executive protocol for bilateral scientific and technological cooperation was signed for a three-year period, from 2019-2021, with 12 bilateral projects for the exchange of researchers and 7 projects of "great relevance" that are financed in six agreed priority areas: science, agriculture, health, energy and the environment, IT and technologies for industrial production. Among the numerous other collaborations to mention, I would like to point out the very important one between the Institute for Nuclear Sciences "Vinča" and the Italian academic scientific reality.

10. How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? What features and places would you highlight? 
Obviously, I would immediately tell you to go to my beautiful Sicily, my homeland! That said, Italy is a treasure chest that you will never stop discovering. Unfortunately, the current epidemiological crisis does not allow tourism to be carried out as one would like, even during these Christmas and winter holidays. However, once things slowly return back to how they were (hopefully soon!), you will be able to fully enjoy what Italy has to offer in every season: from skiing in the Alps and the Apennines, to the delicious food and wine specialties alongside jaw-dropping beautiful landscapes. Naturally, there’s also the summertime where one can relax along the Italian coast from north to south, with its numerous beaches and breathtaking sights. 
Let's not forget that tourism can also be done in culturally rich and artistic towns, not only in large centers. Much like Serbia, Italy is also made up of many small villages with unblemished beauty and enchanting traditions. It's a pity to have to stop right now, at the end of the interview...

This sentence is rather awkward and is not so easy to understand what it aims to highlight. If this is a translation, I would recommend going back to the original. If not, I recommend the following: “….economic cooperation and is in somewhat of a revolution.”