Italian Ambassador in Belgrade Carlo lo Cascio isn’t a stranger in the Balkans – this Palermitano and a law graduate has a long career in diplomacy and his path has already led him to the Balkan countries. He has served in Sarajevo and in Belgrade. We asked him what were the first things that would have come to his mind when someone would mention Balkans before coming here and if his perception has changed in any way since then.
I have always been very fond of the Balkans for their affinity with Italy, for the sincere love that the people of this region have towards my Country and for the common destiny we share on the two sides of the Adriatic Sea – all elements that make the Balkan Countries literally very close to us. Italy and the Balkans are historically related and it is natural to visit places and make this connection. As for Serbia, when I came back to Belgrade as Ambassador, slightly more than one year ago, I found the Country definitely more developed, especially from the economic point of view, and very much looking forward to a new phase. Serbia is now seriously committed to advance on the path of EU accession: much has been done, and – I am sure – several further steps will be undertaken. As for the rest, when I came back here I was welcomed with an incredible warmth and this is certainly a peculiarity of the place that did not change.
Italy and Serbia are celebrating 140 years of diplomatic relations and 10 years of strategic partnership. How would you describe current situation in the two countries’ relation? Where can it be bettered?
Bilateral relations between Italy and Serbia are excellent. There has been a constant improvement in our partnership, based on a sincere friendship and on a solid economic cooperation. Year after year we are expanding the sectors on which we work together: from science to environment, from infrastructures to IT. To celebrate these two important anniversaries we have promoted a very rich cultural program with numerous events all around Serbia during the entire year.
We have several reasons for being satisfied with what we achieved with our Serbian partners in recent years, but there is still a lot we can do together, especially when it comes to Serbia’s European path. This is a priority both for Belgrade and Rome. When, in March, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Belgrade, he delivered a strong message on our full support to Serbia’s process of accession to the EU. At the same time, we stressed the need to approve and implement strategic reforms, in order to move forward in the negotiations with Brussels. Serbia is aware of the challenges still ahead and we are here to offer our help in making further progress. As I use to say to sum up our relationship with Serbia: “Uvek zajedno!” (Always together)
Trade between Italy and Serbia is getting better by the year. Which Serbian products are the most interesting to Italian market?
In 2018 Italy was Serbia’s second commercial partner, with a bilateral exchange that reached the record figure of 4.03 billion euros, out of which 2.05 billion in Italian exports and 1.98 billion in imports. That makes Italy the first importer of Serbian products and the second exporter to Serbia and therefore we enjoy a very balanced trade between our two countries. Traditionally, Italy imports from Serbia automotive products (FCA is currently the second biggest Serbian exporter), machinery, textiles and shoes. Our value chains are getting more and more integrated, with Italian companies investing in Serbia and exporting back to Italy, but also an increasing number of Serbian companies that buy Italian products. This is possible thanks to our manufacturing tradition and know-how, that is very much appreciated in Serbia and in the rest of the region.
Scope and quantity of Italian investments in Serbia are also rising. How would you evaluate this side of economic cooperation? Is it usually an individual effort or is it a part of Italian foreign policy?
Italy is among the first investors in Serbia, with around 600 Italian companies, a share of invested capital of 3 billion euros, a turnover of over 2.5 billion and between 25,000 and 30,000 people employed. Italy started investing in this country many years ago and contributed to reindustrialization and growth of the economy. We are present from north to south in many sectors: banks (Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit hold 27.7% of the local market and are respectively the first and the country’s second bank), automotive (with FCA, which produces the 500L in the city of Kragujevac), insurance companies (Generali and Unipol-DDOR), textile (Calzedonia, Benetton, Pompea), footwear (Geox) and agriculture (Ferrero). We continue to expand our presence and open new factories, thanks also to a growing number of SMEs and strategic investments in innovative sectors, such as renewables (Fintel) and software (Engineering).
The decision to invest abroad is always a delicate one for all companies, but in Serbia they can count on the presence of a strong “Sistema Italia”, that includes the Embassy, the Foreign Trade Agency, the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia. All together, these Institutions give a strong support to companies and entrepreneurs willing to internationalize their activities.
What do you believe Serbia has to offer to other European countries?
Serbia has a lot to offer to the region and the rest of Europe, in terms of culture, growth and stability. In recent years Belgrade has become a fundamental pillar for the stability of the Western Balkans and I am sure it will continue to be one. Serbia has also experienced a constant economic growth and a strong capacity to consolidate its public finances, attracting an important share of foreign direct investments, among which many are Italian. Moreover, this country has an incredibly rich culture part of a common European heritage. From antiquity and the middle-ages to modern times, emperors, artists and scientists have called Serbia their home and shaped the history of this country, that is also blessed with an incredible natural beauty. All of that combined makes Serbia a special place that in many ways has still to be discovered.
By: Slavko Stefanović