Honourable President of the Republic of Serbia, dear Aleksandar, dear Ministers, dear Siniša (Mali), dear Marko (Čadež),
It is truly a great honour for me and my colleagues to be with you at the inauguration of the Serbian-Greek Business Forum.
Thank you once again, dear President, for inviting me to visit your country, together with many prominent members of our business community. I believe that this invitation offers the opportunity to form new synergies in view also of Specialized Expo 2027. I would like to congratulate the Serbian government for the excellent preparation of this very important business event.
And indeed, our presence here is yet another proof that the friendship between Serbia and Greece is historically well-established.
I truly believe, as we had the opportunity to discuss with the President, that 2024 is an opportunity for us to make a big leap in our economic relations. Our bilateral trade is around 750 million euros, but we can certainly do much more.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask the Greek companies that have accompanied us here – and of course, as we said, we could have brought many more companies, we reserve the right to do so at some point in the future – to look very carefully at the significant economic progress that Serbia has achieved in recent years. Because the figures that Siniša has presented to us cannot be easily questioned in terms of the growth rates, in terms of the ambitious targets for Serbia’s GDP – why not? – to reach 100 billion euros in 2027.
All this growth potential offers very big opportunities for investment and synergies in many different sectors: construction – we have seen how many important projects are underway -, infrastructure, property management, energy, waste management.
And I am sure, dear President, that Greek businesses will seize this opportunity to become part of the success of the Serbian economy.
Our economy, as you know, is also in a phase that does not differ a lot from the course of the Serbian economy, coming out of a prolonged economic crisis. We too have managed to make our own significant economic transcendences. In 2022, our exports of goods and products exceeded 70 billion euros. I have been watching the unemployment figures very closely: we too have managed to bring unemployment down from 18% to below 10%. We broke the 10% barrier after 14 years. And indeed this responsible economic policy of the country was also recognised by the major rating agencies, which returned us to investment grade status.
And I also attach great importance to something that I see happening here in Serbia: the increase of the minimum wage and the average wage. In our country alone in the last four years we have managed to create 310,000 new jobs. It is interesting, I was looking at the economic data, that four years ago 33% of Greeks were paid between 1,000 and 3,000 euros. Today it is 42%. This means that average wages are following the trend of the economy. And that is how we can finally create prosperity for all.
And indeed, I cannot hide – looking at Serbia’s plans – the natural, geopolitical and economic synergies between our two countries. The great importance, for example, that we attach to the road and railway axes that will connect Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, with central Europe.
When I look at Serbia, I see a dynamic export economy. And Serbia will want tomorrow not only to import products but to export its products to the world markets. Where can it do it from? We want a large part of these exports to be able to go through Greece. But for that we need modern trains and modern roads. And our country, dear Aleksandar, is already investing in upgrading the railway network from Thessaloniki to Idomeni so that we can meet these great needs.
When I look at the energy map, I see obvious synergies: short-term, in terms of being able to supply Serbia with gas, but also to use the important gas reserves. And medium- to long-term, when we see how we can help Serbia with its own green transition.
My country is already one of the top ten countries in the world in renewable energy production. We produce almost 50% of our electricity from the sun and wind, and we want to be able to transfer this know-how here in Serbia and develop new investment opportunities.
Finally, and we discussed this with the President, our banks, which were obliged during the difficult years of the crisis, or rather were forced to leave the Balkan market. As they now have much stronger balance sheets, I am sure that they will develop an interest in returning to Serbia in order to be able to co-finance all these important economic development projects.
Therefore I conclude, dear President, in order not to drag on too long, by expressing once again my pleasure to be here, at the head of a great business mission, but also my optimism about the great expectations that are being formed for our economic cooperation. We had the opportunity to discuss politics this morning.
But because, you know, politics is about the economy too, the greater integration of Serbia into the economic fabric of Europe is in itself an important legacy, so that Serbia can claim its place in the European family, where I firmly believe it belongs.
Thank you very much.