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What is the role of Serbian businessmen in Serbia’s negotiations with the European Union? In what way and to what extent can domestic companies become involved in this process? What are the benefits and will there be any difficulties on this road? And how does Brussels see all this? These are just some of the questions to which answers were sought by the participants of "Serbia and the European Union: Challenges and Opportunities" round table which was recently organized in Brussels by the Serbian Embassy in Belgium and the Energy Charter Secretariat, at the initiative and with the support of NIS. Had the participants actually been sitting at a round table, it would have had to be a really big one. No less than nine panelists, among them Aleksandar Antić, Serbian Minister of Energy, Urban Rusnak, Secretary General of the Energy Charter Secretariat, representatives of the European Commission (EC), European Parliament (EP) and Serbian businessmen. The entire gathering was marked by the words of Minister Antić: "Serbia does not need to make Europe wider, but to make it fuller. Serbia is one piece of Europe that Europe is missing. "
NIS CEO Kirill Kravchenko called for a greatest possible participation of businesses in the negotiating process, and the audience in Brussels was intrigued by his statement that Serbia is the best investment destination in the regionUnlike the negotiations with the EU, which will be a protracted and slow administrative process, in business everything happens quickly, and the results must be concrete. The entrepreneurs, however, have also very quickly realized that each and every EU Directive, albeit abstract at first glance, addresses future production and sales in very specific ways. This was confirmed by Milan Petrović from the Serbian Association of Managers, who said at the roundtable that "it is very important for the business community in Serbia to follow the EU standards and know how to be able to adapt their business to the technical requirements of the EU." He also noted that "the biggest problem for Serbia will be the harmonization in the field of environmental protection, because of the huge costs whose structure is still unknown, but also in the field of agriculture, because of the ownership structure and inadequate infrastructure." All businessmen have pointed out that it was necessary to make economic environment predictable so that there is a clear plan of transposition of EU legislation. Michael Karnitschnig from the Directorate for Neighbourhood Policy and EU Enlargement had an identical opinion, stressing that business predictability, the rule of law and the fight against gray economy were crucial factors on the path towards membership. Ivan Miletić from Philip Morris said this was "extremely important because the participants in economic life in Serbia were very sensitive to the risks, wherein small and medium-sized enterprises are more sensitive than the large ones." NIS CEO Kirill Kravchenko advocated a greatest possible participation of businesses in the negotiating process, and the audience in Brussels was intrigued by his statement that Serbia was the best investment destination in the region.
The biggest problem for Serbia will be the harmonization of regulations in the field of environmental protection, due to huge costs, and in agriculture, due to the ownership structure and inadequate infrastructureSuch a large representation of Serbia’s business community has obviously been missing from Brussels for a long time. The proof that there is a thirst for information about Serbian business is the fact that the Square Meeting Center’s hall was filled to the last seat despite the discussion being held at 6 p.m. on Friday – the last working day in a week. Vincent Degert, the Former Chief of the EC Delegation in Serbia was also there as well as Miriam Ferrand, Head of the Unit for Serbia in the EC, as well as many ambassadors, representatives of companies and business associations. Contrary to the opinion that Serbian companies are too small to get anyone to listen to them, in a city packed with representatives of multinational companies, Brussels has once again shown that it is always eager to lend ear to expert opinions. This is a city of policy-makers, who form directions which EU will take in a number of areas, and what is especially important for NIS is the debate between European oil refiners, EC, EP and representatives of EU member states on the unfavorable impact of EU standards on clean energy in the sector of oil refining. Even more so as this leads to a reduction in refinery capacities in the EU, increases the costs of processing and diminishes the competitiveness of EU companies. In addition, currently the main topic in the energy sector is the Energy Union concept, with the ambition for the concept to strategically shape EU’s approach to the climate and energy policy in the future. Although the Energy Community is often referred to as a narrative which brings no new meaning, but merely represents a way to implement previously defined EU objectives, this is a process that also serves as a roadmap for our region. This even more so given the fact that Serbia has already assumed the obligation to adhere to a large portion of EU acquis due to its membership in the Energy Community. In this context, in its presentation at the EU seat, each company should keep in mind the European perspective. After all, no one from Brussels is particularly interested in your production volume or a local problem that affects your business, but how standards or some EU policy impacts your business and in which ways and how much you contribute to employment and economic growth. Despite the fact that Serbia's EU membership is not on the agenda of this session of the EC, EU standards and legislation dominate not only bilateral contacts with the countries in the region, but also the framework of regional multilateral agreements. Given that it operates in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, NIS must also actively monitor the regional development, long-term prospects and European energy trends, which may reflect upon our legislation or affect the regional market only a few years down the road. EU seat is the place where decisions on the destinies of a number of industries are reached and one of the unwritten rules is “if you're not in Brussels, it means that you either do not exist or you have something to hide”. NIS realized this four years ago when it opened its Branch Office, as all its regional competitors already had set up their offices there. Still, it took a while for NIS to understand where its place was in the seat of the European energy sector. And since not all can afford such a structure and mechanism it is NIS’ duty to share knowledge and experience in this field with other Serbian companies, but also to presents the Serbian economy to the Brussels administration. Also, the Office for Cooperation with the EU institutions regularly organizes lectures for NIS employees where it introduces them to all these processes, in order to equip them to make right decisions in the long run when planning business processes. In addition, NIS has designed a mechanism unique in Serbia for the analysis of the negotiation chapters and assessment of risks and opportunities for the strategic development of the company, which is useful not only for the Company but also for the entire state, as NIS provides to the state the necessary expertise in the field of energy and environmental protection as needed. Bratislav Čeperković, Regional Director of Medcomtech Group for South East Europe reiterated several times during the session how important these initiatives are for the Serbian economy, but also for the country as a whole. It is these three perspectives, Serbian, regional and European that have inspired NIS to support the Brussels-based Balkan Trafik festival for three consecutive years, in which Goran Bregović played this time. A large number of guests at a cocktail party organized for this occasion only proved once again that the Serbs in Brussels – are at home. Author: Nadežda Kokotović (Chief of Staff of the CEO and NIS representative in Brussels) The article had been published in NIN magazine 21st of May 2015