STA, 28 January 2019 - President Borut Pahor and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić confirmed the friendly relations between their countries as they met in Belgrade on Monday, highlighting the good business cooperation. Pahor expressed Slovenia's support for Serbia's efforts to join the EU.
Addressing the press after their meeting, the pair stressed that Slovenia and Serbia had friendly relations which were developing well, in particular in business. Annual trade went up from EUR 500m to EUR 1.3bn in the last ten years, they noted.
Pahor asserted Slovenia supported Serbia's efforts to join the EU, for which Vučić expressed gratitude. Vučić noted that the relations between Belgrade and Prishtina would be crucial in this context, while Pahor urged leaders to further "reconciliation, trust and respect" irrespective of how difficult relations were.
Vučić was asked by the press to comment on last week's statement by Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar that the latest events in Serbia - a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin and weeks of anti-government protests in Belgrade - raised questions in the EU about whether Belgrade was still persisting on a European path.
"I couldn't believe that he said that. Who knows what got into him that morning, perhaps he got up on the wrong side of the bed," Vučić said about the statement made at a session of the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee.
He stressed that Serbia stayed on a European path while it simultaneously maintained good relations with Russia, which it would continue to do.
"As you can see, I answer to you, who come from the EU, the same way I answer to Putin, to the Americans and all the rest. Serbia doesn't have two policies, only one, and this is the policy of Serbian interests ... which are being on the European path and speeding up our development, our economy," Vučić said.
The presidents also discussed the summit of the Brdo-Brijuni Process which is to be held in Albania's Tirana on 7 and 8 May. According to Vučić, this will be an important meeting for the entire region.
Moreover, the pair touched on the status of the Serbian community in Slovenia, with Pahor saying that "Slovenia will do all it can to allow these citizens of Slovenia to preserve their identity".
He said Slovenia was big enough to be a homeland to everybody but added that "changing the constitution because of this is neither necessary nor possible".
While suggesting this was not an issue in bilateral relations, Vučić said Serbia would of course wish for Serbs in Slovenia to have more rights, pointing out that - contrary to Serbs in Slovenia - the 4,033 Slovenians living in Serbia are recognised as a national minority, with Serbia "striving to help them feel well".
V izjavi sta predsednika poudarila, da so odnosi med državama prijateljski in da verjameta, da bo obisk dodal nov zagon poglabljanju odnosov na vseh področjih. Posebno pozornost sta sogovornika namenila srečanju voditeljev držav procesa Brdo-Brijuni, ki bo maja v Albaniji. pic.twitter.com/Fg8b5SL8SF— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) January 28, 2019
Meanwhile, Pahor is accompanied by a business delegation featuring around 100 representatives of companies interested in digitalisation of business and administration.
They met Serbian executives at a business forum, which featured around 600 participants and was opened by Pahor and Vučić after their meeting.
Boštjan Gorjup, the president of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the STA that the forum, focusing on SMEs and the fields of digitalisation, the circular economy and tourism, had been a success.
Elaborating on cooperation in the circular economy, Gorjup pointed in particular to Slovenian waste processing companies, which see an opportunity in the additional EU funds headed to Serbia to improve this field.
"Our companies can be good partners in the exchange of best practice, in joint investment and sale of technologies," Gorjup told the STA.
The tourism debates revolved a lot around positive experiences with glamping, another field where Slovenian and Serbian businesses could join forces.
Meanwhile, Pahor also met National Assembly Speaker Maja Gojković as well as representatives of all parliamentary parties and addressed Serbian MPs at a session held especially in his honour.
In his address, he urged cooperation and trust among all the countries in the Western Balkans and those on its edge, saying in the context of the region's EU ambitions that "no other power or even super power can do this in our place".
Pahor understands Serbia's right to independently choose its security policy and thus also respects its cooperation with Russia.
However, he added that such circumstances meant that the pace and success of Serbia's negotiations with the EU would also depend on the settling of relations between the EU and Russia.
As to the Belgrade-Prishtina situation, Pahor said negotiations needed to be conducted peacefully, without threats or use of force and bring a result that will allow peaceful implementation without collateral security consequences in the region.
The Serbian press agency Tanjug reported that several opposition MPs boycotted the session, protesting not Pahor but the manner in which the session was convened as well as some of the statements made by Vučić after the meeting with the Slovenian counterpart.
Pahor will wrap up the official visit on Tuesday by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Mt Avala.