Reflection of the Cathedral of Saint Savas in Belgrade, Serbia

Serbia Moving closer to European Union membership

Over the past 30 years, the people of Serbia have seen considerable political upheaval: the breakdown of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav wars that followed, Serbia's international isolation by the international community, and finally Montenegro's separation from Serbia in 2006 and the declaration of independence by the Province of Kosovo in 2008. Since 2000, the country in the Western Balkans has been undergoing a transition from a socialist system to a market-oriented democracy.

The Serbian government is facing complex political, social and economic challenges. They include shortcomings with regard to the rule of law, a high level of unemployment and underemployment, widespread poverty, which is even more severe among disadvantaged groups, and brain drain.

Accession to the European Union constitutes the greatest opportunity for national development, and is the strategic goal of the Serbian government. In January 2014, the European Union and Serbia entered into accession negotiations. The precondition for this had been the conclusion of an agreement on the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in 2013. While many countries – among them 23 of the 27 members of the EU, including Germany – have recognised Kosovo's independence, Serbia does not.

A polling station at the regional elections in Serbia

Reform-oriented government, weak opposition Internal link

German and European support for Serbia is guided by the goals pursued by the EU: the rule of law and promotion of human and minority rights, a stable democracy and a market economy, and a willingness to pursue unrestricted regional cooperation.

Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller visiting a Roma settlement in Belgrade, 2015

Poor job prospects for young people Internal link

Poverty remains a pressing social problem in Serbia, with about 25 per cent of the population living below the national poverty line according to World Bank figures.

Syrian refugees at the Serbian-Hungarian border in August 2015

Country of origin and transit country Internal link

Serbia is a transit country for refugees who enter the European continent through Greece and move on to Western Europe. In 2015, more than 760,000 refugees arrived via what is known as the Balkan route.

Belgrade by night

Hoping for foreign investment Internal link

The political upheavals of the last two decades have had a dramatic impact on Serbia's economy. After many years of isolation as a result of UN sanctions, Serbia is still in the process of rebuilding its economy.

The Freedom Bridge across the Danube near Novi Sad, Serbia

Important market in South-Eastern Europe Internal link

Serbia is one of the most important markets in South-Eastern Europe. Thanks to its good transport connections and competitive wages, the country has a chance to become a successful supplier of industrial goods, for instance auto parts.

German development cooperation with Serbia

German Development Minister Gerd Müller in May 2015 at a meeting with students from the vocational school in Pecinci, Serbia

German Development Minister Gerd Müller in May 2015 at a meeting with students from the vocational school in Pecinci, Serbia

German Development Minister Gerd Müller in May 2015 at a meeting with students from the vocational school in Pecinci, Serbia

Serbia plays an important part in ensuring political stability in the Balkans and is the central partner country for German development cooperation in South-Eastern Europe.

At the government negotiations in September 2017, Germany committed a total of 103.5 million euros to Serbia for 2017 and 2018.

The overarching objective of the cooperation programme is to support Serbia on its journey towards EU membership. Germany's activities focus on the German-Serbian initiative for sustainable growth and employment that was launched in 2016, which forms the umbrella for the two countries' development cooperation.

The programme of cooperation focuses on the following three priority areas:

  • Sustainable economic development
  • Democracy, civil society and public administration
  • Environmental policy, protection and sustainable use of natural resources

Since spring 2017, the BMZ's 'Returning to New Opportunities' returnee programme has been helping migrants to make a fresh start after their return from Germany. They are able to take part in training programmes and receive assistance in finding a job. In addition, young people in Serbia who are thinking about leaving the country receive advice on how to establish a livelihood for themselves in their own country. 

Shopping street in Belgrade

Support for growth and employment Internal link

Serbian-German cooperation in this field focuses on private sector development, financial system development and vocational training and the labour market.

Novi Sad City Hall

Building public authorities that are responsive to people's needs Internal link

Good governance is a key aspect in the negotiations on EU accession. The chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights and on justice, freedom and security are currently being negotiated between the EU and Serbia.

Danube hydropower plant Iron Gate on the border between Serbia and Romania

Protecting the environment and human health through wastewater treatment plants and renewable energy Internal link

Serbia urgently needs to catch up in terms of environmental protection, climate action and health protection. Serbia lacks the necessary funding to modernise and expand its environmental and energy infrastructure and to comply with EU standards.