A key element of German and European policy towards Serbia is providing support for political and economic reform. The aims are to further the process of democratic change and promote the rule of law in Serbia and to achieve progress in the country’s European Union (EU) accession process.
Germany has been a key partner of Serbia in the EU since the country’s transition to democracy in autumn 2000. It is Serbia’s most important bilateral donor and has provided over 1.8 billion euros for bilateral development cooperation since 2000. Germany also provided humanitarian aid to Serbia to help the country deal with the refugee crisis.
In addition, there are close ties between Germany and Serbia on account of the large number of Serbs and people of Serbian origin residing permanently in Germany, as well as former guest workers who have worked in Germany for many years and often have a good command of German. An estimated total of between 300,000 and 500,000 people of Serbian descent currently live in Germany.
Serbia and Germany have different positions on the issue of an independent Kosovo, which is recognised by Germany but not by Serbia.
Economic relations and development cooperation
Germany has been one of Serbia’s main economic partners for years. With trade worth approximately 4.9 billion euros in 2018, Germany was Serbia’s largest bilateral trading partner. The actual volume of German-Serbian trade is probably even higher because many German companies have subsidiaries in Serbia that supply third markets and these exports are not covered by statistics.
German companies such as STADA, METRO, Fresenius, Bosch, Henkel, Siemens, Messer and Lidl have made major investments in Serbia. The German-Serbian Business Association now has more than 300 members. The position of local representative of the German business promotion agency Germany Trade and Invest has been vacant since 2018.
Since development cooperation with Serbia began in 2000, the German Government has provided over 1.8 billion euros, thus making Germany the largest bilateral donor.
Germany’s objectives in providing this support include:
- supporting Serbia’s efforts towards EU accession
- promoting democratic and ecologically sustainable development in Serbia based on the rule of law and the market economy
- strengthening regional cross-border cooperation
Cooperation focuses on the following priority areas:
- promoting environmental protection
- promoting sustainable economic development
- promoting democracy, civil society and the public administration
Most of the German-funded development cooperation projects in Serbia are implemented by the KfW Entwicklungsbank (KfW development bank) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Cultural life in Serbia is rich and wide-ranging and cultural cooperation with Germany is close.
The Goethe-Institut Belgrade offers an extensive and highly attractive programme, with well-attended events such as exhibitions, lectures, concerts and theatre productions. German artists and performers are frequent guests at Belgrade’s theatre, music and film festivals. Events organised by the German Embassy are very well received. Volunteers working for the Federal Foreign Office’s kulturweit (Bridging Cultures) volunteer programme are also active in Serbia. Belgrade is also home to a German Protestant congregation and several German cultural associations.
Academic and scientific exchange is another important aspect of cooperation. The German Academic Exchange Service has three lecturers working in Serbia and has stepped up its activities since 2008 by launching its Special Programme for Serbia. It also opened an information centre in October 2008. Scholarship and exchange programmes meet with keen interest.
There are 16 partner schools in the Schools: Partners for the Future network in Serbia. Apart from the German School Belgrade, the network’s members comprise five German Language Certificate (DSD) schools overseen by the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA) and ten FIT schools overseen by the Goethe Institute at which German instruction is being established or expanded. Four seconded teachers (including one advisor) look after the DSD schools, while a Goethe Institute Teaching Expert serves the FIT schools.
Over 240 children and teenagers from Serbia, Germany and other countries are taught at the German School Belgrade, which was founded in 1954. The school was officially recognised as a domestic educational institution by the Serbian Ministry of Education in 2005. In summer 2012, students at the German School were able to take the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) for the first time. Germany supports the school by providing both funding and staff (currently seven foreign-service teachers from Germany). The new school building was officially opened on 11 September 2015.
The small remaining German minority (known as Danube Swabians), of which there are 4,064 members registered in the group’s National Council, has 14 cultural associations. With more than 750 members, St. Gerhardt in Sombor is the largest association and the driving force behind efforts to preserve the minority’s identity.