homepage_name! > Editions > Number 103-104 > Ambassador - Switzerland

H.E. Mr. Philippe Guex, Ambassador of Switzerland to Serbia

The Swiss Confederation

The Swiss Confederation is a rich and well-organized country in the heart of Europe, widely known for watches, cheese and chocolate. With the largest part of its territory extending across the Alps, Switzerland consists of 26 cantons and has four official languages spoken by some seven and a half million people: French, German, Italian and Romansh (a Rhaeto-Romance language used by approximately 35,000 people in the canton of Graubünden). The capital of Switzerland is Bern. ”Switzerland may be a small country but ranks amongst the top touristic destinations in Europe, since the 19th century already! For many people Switzerland is synonymous with mountains: there are more than 200 peaks higher than 3,000m, breathtaking mountains and glaciers, most of them accessible to tourists thanks to a very efficient public transport system. Whilst Switzerland is of course all known for its cheese and chocolate, allow me to emphasize that there is virtually no other country on earth with as many museums per head of inhabitant as Switzerland.On a journey through the Swiss artistic and cultural scene, you will encounter names such as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Le Corbusier, Ferdinand Hodler and Alberto Giacometti – as well as other renowned contemporary artists such as Jean Tinguely, PipilottiRist, Bruno Ganz or Marc Forster. Tourism in Switzerland from Serbia has become very accessible thanks to excellent flight connection. Since 2016, Zurich has actually become the number one route from Belgrade. There are currently 37 flights per week between our two countries with around 400,000 passengers per year in both directions, ” said the ambassador of Switzerland, H.E. Philippe Guex

We had the honor to talk to His Excellency Mr. Philippe Guex, the ambassador of Switzerland in Serbia.

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

Belgrade was number one on the short list of capitals I wished to be appointed to. Not just for the good quality of life of the city, but for the political, economic and social challenges a country like Serbia is facing. Moreover, we have a rather large embassy with over 40 colleagues, half of them working for the Swiss development cooperation. I very much appreciate the vast scope of activities the Embassy is covering here in Belgrade. Not a single day is the same.

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 started my position in Belgrade in August 2016. It may sound contradictory for a Swiss diplomat, but I spent most of my career in EU affairs, from London to Paris, Brussels and Luxemburg. Before being appointed to Serbia, I spent four years in Bern as Assistant Secretary of State for the American continent. Eighteen embassies from Ottawa to Buenos Aires reported to my team in Bern.

4 Your Excellency, in recent years, over 200 Swiss companies operating in Serbia have invested over EUR 800 million in our country, with around 30 companies in Serbia being funded from the SECO Start-up Fund. Is this data accurate and can we expect these figures to grow?

Actually, there are several hundred companies registered in Serbia with Swiss private, or corporate capital. The size, structure and sectors of activities of these companies are very diverse. There are multinational companies with headquarters in Switzerland, like for instance the tobacco industries, and of course genuine Swiss companies like ABB, the food group Nestlé, the media group Ringer or the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Roche, Novartis and Pharma Swiss. However, the majority of Swiss companies present in Serbia are SMEs which are active either as a sole-proprietorships or employ even up to 300 people; this is not surprising considering that SMEs in Switzerland constitute 99% of all companies. In total, Swiss companies in Serbia employ some 11,000 employees. Regarding the SECO Start-up Fund, which provides credit for Swiss start-up investments in partner countries, it supported a dozen of Swiss companies in Serbia with a total value of 5 million euros. Benefiting companies, which all contribute to Serbian exports, are active in various sectors including biomass charcoal production, cosmetics and furniture production, metal and natural stone processing, optical lenses, paper production, software solutions and ultrasonic welding machines.

5 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 Switzerland, and what does it import from Switzerland?

Last year, the Swiss-Serbian trade volume reached ca. 270 million EUR. Whilst there is certainly room for improvement, the fact that Serbia's exports to Switzerland increased by 27% in 2016 is very encouraging. This upward trend has also prevailed this year as well (+17% between January and September). The most important part of Serbian deliveries to Switzerland are motor cars and vehicles for the transport of goods, tires, metals, agricultural products, textiles and furniture. Serbia's biggest market potential lies in the sectors of agriculture, contract manufacturing (including textiles); supply to the automotive industry, the food processing industry; wood and furniture. Regarding Serbia's imports from Switzerland, the main imported Swiss products are from the chemical-pharmaceutical industry, machinery and equipment, measuring instruments, articles of plastic and various food preparations.

Serbia has increased its attractiveness as an economic location for international companies within the last few years. An increasing number of Swiss companies active in export-oriented IT services have chosen Serbia as their new location for outsourcing and expansion. It is a good example how the Serbian government’s efforts are bearing fruit.

As a result of the growing interest in the Swiss business community in Serbia, the Swiss Serbian Chamber of Commerce (SSCC) was founded in 2014 with a view to foster economic relations between Serbia and Switzerland and to contribute to the strengthening of our bilateral business relations. The SSCC currently has some 70 member companies.

6 When it comes to investments, how do investors from Switzerland see the Serbian market? Which are the most influential companies that have made investments here?

Swiss direct investments in Serbia amount to some 800 million euros. Over the last decade, Switzerland has always ranked among the 10 largest foreign investors in Serbia.

In 2016, Swiss investment amounted to € 216 million which represents an increase of 183% on the previous year. Major Swiss investors in Serbia currently include Nestlé, Sika, Ringier Axel Springer, SR Technics and Holiday Inn Express but also many SMEs, especially in the IT and furniture sector. Mitan Oil has also just announced a new investment of 20 million euros.

In addition to Swiss direct investments, remittances from the Serbian diaspora in Switzerland – which continues to reach 360 million EUR each year – constitute yet another source of revenue for the Serbian economy.

7 Today, Serbia is a candidate country – 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?

As the representative of a non-EU country, I am not eligible to comment on the steps Serbia is taking on its path to the EU. Having said that, it is recognized throughout the world that the EU is the main guarantor of stability and prosperity in Europe. Therefore, EU accession will bring Serbia additional stability and prosperity. But the journey to EU membership is a rocky one. Reforms which have to be implemented are not there to please Brussels, but they are in Serbia's own interest.

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

Cultural exchanges between Switzerland and Serbia are diversified and vibrant, which are essential in encouraging new forms of expression as well as contributing to a mutual understanding between societies and peoples. Therefore, every year Switzerland supports a dozen festivals and cultural events in the fields of theatre, film and documentary production, contemporary dance, jazz and classical music as well as literature. On the occasion of the recently held Belgrade International Book Fair, five authors from Switzerland actually came to Belgrade. Considering the huge potential to further develop exchanges between Swiss and Serbian artists, the Swiss Embassy in Belgrade decided to establish, back in 2015, a Cultural Fund with the support of sponsors from the private sector. Since then, several artistic projects and exhibitions have been organized at the Swiss Residence in Belgrade. A performance by renounced contemporary artists Katja Schenker (CH) and Ivan Grubanov (SRB) will actually be organized at the Swiss Residence in December this year.

In the educational sector, Switzerland is supporting the Serbian Government in its ambition to introduce a dual educational system in Serbia based on the respective Swiss, German and Austrian models. The good practice from our countries in the educational system shall primarily provide an opportunity for Serbia and the private business sector in particular to match young workers' skills with the needs of the labor market.

In the field of science, Switzerland and Serbia jointly participate in different programs and projects. Within the ongoing Framework Horizon 2020, Serbian and Swiss research teams are cooperating in 22 projects.

Until recently, the Swiss SCOPES Program enabled Serbian scientists to participate in a dozen projects amounting to over € 15 mil., half of it in the field of mathematics, medicine and biology. The third pillar of our scientific co-operation are Swiss scholarships of excellency granted for doctoral, post-doctoral and research studies in Switzerland. Over the last 10 years, Serbian research has been awarded with 47 scholarships, which perhaps is not a huge number, but worth mentioning, as Serbia ranks number one among the non-EU European countries.

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

Switzerland may be a small country but ranks amongst the top touristic destinations in Europe, already since the 19th century! For many people, Switzerland is synonymous with mountains: there are more than 200 peaks higher than 3,000m, breathtaking mountains and glaciers, most of them accessible to tourists, thanks to a very efficient public transport system. Whilst Switzerland is of course all known for its cheese and chocolate, allow me to emphasize that there is virtually no other country on earth with as many museums per capita as Switzerland. On a journey through the Swiss artistic and cultural scene, you will encounter names such as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Le Corbusier, Ferdinand Hodler and Alberto Giacometti – as well as other renowned contemporary artists such as Jean Tinguely, Pipilotti Rist, Bruno Ganz or Marc Forster. Tourism in Switzerland from Serbia has become very accessible thanks to an excellent flight connection. Since 2016, Zurich has actually become the number one route from Belgrade. There are currently 37 flights per week between our two countries with around 400,000 passengers per year in both directions.

10 What are the things you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

What I like most during my free time is to discover the country I am accredited to. Since I arrived in Belgrade, I have spent most of my holidays touring Serbia from the north (Subotica, Sombor, Becej, Novi Sad, Fruska Gora Forest), along the Danube down to Kladovo and Negotin to Central Serbia (Valjevo, Arandjelovac, Topola), the South (Nis, Leskovacs, Vranje) and south-western Serbia (from Novi Pazar to Mokra Gora and the Tara National Park). Serbia is a country with a great diversity of landscapes. I enjoy it.


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