Palalic: “Expo 2027 will show a new Serbia to the world; Milan and Lombardy our benchmarks”

interview by Biagio Carrano

Jovan Palalic with the President of Lombardy Region Attilio Fontana

“Serbia wants to learn from the most advanced regions of Europe and the world and in this sense Expo 2027 in Belgrade will be a great opportunity for us to demonstrate where we have arrived and where we want to arrive. This is why the relationship with Lombardy is important and I hope it can even become strategic for Serbia”, says Jovan Palalić, deputy for the eighth legislature and president of the Italy-Serbia interparliamentary group.

Yet, Serbia is still today known in Italy as an unstable country, crossed by strong geopolitical tensions, where the main factor for attracting investments is the low-cost workforce. What steps can Serbia take to change this outdated and biased narrative, which is still prevalent in various European countries?

First of all, I must underline that Serbia is not an unstable country, but I agree that such a perception exists, which has its roots in the crisis of the 1990s in the Balkans and in the significant pressures that we still suffer today. National issues, but also the decision to conduct an independent policy, exclusively in our interest, can create such an impression. However, all government structures that have strong electoral legitimacy function regularly and fulfill their constitutional role, and this is certainly a sign of the country’s stability. In previous years, Serbia has tried to significantly change the main directions and priorities of its development and has succeeded, in addition to significant infrastructure development, thanks to our outstanding technical competencies, talented people and government policy. New areas of innovation have been opened up, such as digital transformation, biotechnology, blockchain technology, and the gaming industry, with Belgrade becoming a reference hub for this part of Europe, recognized by many important international institutions.

Of course, there is still a lot to do in this field, especially in the field of regulation and its harmonization, first and foremost with the European Union, but these processes are strengthening day after day. I agree that the perception persists that Serbia attracts investments only thanks to a qualified and low-cost workforce and high subsidies for foreign investments. This part of the policy of attracting foreign investments still exists, but it is no longer the only one. Soon, a strong campaign must be launched to present Serbia as a country with great opportunities, especially in the sectors of innovation and agriculture. I would like to underline that even in Serbia there was no awareness of the strong development of these skills in Italy until recently. It is an opportunity for knowledge, exchange and business.

The specialized exhibition EXPO 2027 with the theme “Play for Humanity – Sport and Music for All” will be held from 15 May to 15 August 2027 in Belgrade, in an area of ​​25 hectares specifically developed south-east of the capital, near the airport and the Sava river.

There will be a total of seven large pavilions hosting the participating countries, and together, in an outdoor area, several national pavilions from various countries, three thematic pavilions and the national pavilion of Serbia.

At the end of the Expo, the structures will be able to continue to function as a traditional exhibition center. As for its configuration, the Belgrade Expo 2027 complex is arranged around a large square, Tesla Square, where a large dome will house the Serbian National Pavilion. Elements are integrated that will serve to optimize the sustainability and energy efficiency of the structures.

The vexed issue of Kosovo repeatedly raises tension in the region. Despite this, Serbia today welcomes Arab and Israeli investments, as well as the ones coming from US, Russia and China, has recently added cordial relations with Turkey to its historic relations with Greece, dialogues with African countries and cultivates special relations with important Asian countries such as India, Japan or South Korea. What opportunities are emerging for Western entrepreneurs and investors from the activism of Serbian diplomacy?

Serbia’s traditional position, and I could say an important part of its national identity, has always been its independence in the construction of its state and its economic policies. This position implies a firm representation of its interests on international political stage. And on this basis relationships with other countries are built. Our approach in such relationships is to see where we can find common interest, with mutual respect and appreciation. Of course, in addition to this type of state policy that does not want to be classified in any military bloc nor follow a policy of sanctions against anyone, our geopolitical position explains why investments come to Serbia from all sides. We are the natural center of the Balkans and Belgrade is the natural regional capital that is developing rapidly and dynamically, also as a logistical crossroads of rivers, roads and railways. Good relations with most countries of the world, favorable investment conditions, a strategic geographical position and the economic dynamism of the last decade increase the attractiveness of Serbia, despite all the problems that the government in Pristina creates for us.

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Expo 2015 relaunched Milan as a city with a global vocation, capable of welcoming talents and allowing them to develop innovation in multiple fields. How can the Milan experience be of interest and usefulness for the specialized expo to be held in Belgrade in 2027?

The exceptional success of the EXPO 2015 World Exhibition in Milan has brought significant competitiveness to Milan and Lombardy and made it a global metropolis that attracts excellent talents, investments and financial resources. I would also like to emphasize the fact that the organizers had a clear vision of how the exhibition space would be used at the end of the event. The structure of the pavilions, the modern architecture of buildings such as “Palazzo Italia”, effective public relations and the territorial development after the completion of the project are valuable inspirations for Serbia in organizing EXPO 2027 in Belgrade.

Expo 2027 will therefore also be the showcase for Serbia of a process of international repositioning and important investments in the field of digitalisation of public administration, ICT, artificial intelligence and biotechnologies, of which the BIO4 Campus, the Data Centar in Kragujevac, the Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution are concrete examples. Why, in your opinion, is still little known abroad about these strategic directions of the country and perhaps even less in Italy?

EXPO 2027, which will be held in Belgrade, will be an event that will change our country. This vision of Serbia’s development, which goes far beyond the event itself, is the vision of the President of the Republic, Aleksandar Vučić. The funds allocated for such a large development project will impact all components of the State and all sectors of the economy. It will be an opportunity to promote Serbia as a hospitable, modern country, oriented towards the future and international cooperation.

The projects mentioned above will have an important role in this overall project of transformation of our country, which will be an integral part of the themes of the EXPO and elements for which Serbia wants to be recognized in Europe. Their growing impact on the Serbian Gross Domestic Product, also in relation to exports, will mean that they will be much more valued than today in the government’s promotional strategies to attract investments, develop international cooperation projects and improve the overall image of the country.

The President of the Lombardy Region Attilio Fontana visited Belgrade and Serbia in October 2023 on the occasion of the Italy-Serbia Innovation Forum last October. What impressions did you gain and express during your conversations?

Attilio Fontana, whose friend I can easily call myself, is a politician who has demonstrated that concrete work is always rewarded by citizens. He was elected for a new mandate convincingly because the citizens of Lombardy recognized his achievements, his dedication and his love for the Lombardy region. Attilio is very satisfied with his visit to Belgrade, where he had the opportunity to meet all the most important representatives of the State and to participate in the Italy-Serbia Innovation Forum organized by the Italian Embassy. The entire visit was brilliantly organized and fruitful, thanks first and foremost to the Italian ambassador in Belgrade, Luca Gori, who correctly identified the topics of mutual interest.

In the last meeting in Milan, President Fontana confirmed to me his desire to strengthen cooperation between Serbia and Lombardy through concrete projects and will give his full support to this collaboration, which he believes will be fruitful.

Lombardy is one of the richest regions in Europe and among the most dynamic in the world. What areas of innovative collaboration and investment do you see between this region and Serbia? Have you been able to see the interest of Lombard entrepreneurs and investors in Serbian sectors or companies?

I believe that the start of cooperation between Serbia and Lombardy is extremely important for the overall development of my country’s relations with Italy, relations which have acquired greater dynamism and a positive orientation after the formation of the centre-right government in Rome. The relationship with one of the most developed regions in Europe is of particular importance in light of the new development priorities I have already spoken about. Lombardy is one of the leaders of technological development in Europe, a leadership that manifests itself in all sectors of the economy. Innovations, research centers, connections between universities and businesses, the search for quality in every activity and continuous learning are the competitive advantages that have positioned Lombardy so high on the world map. In my most recent meeting, topics such as infrastructure, traffic and waste management were discussed, where Lombardy’s expertise is of a high level. Personally I believe that Lombard companies that deal with waste management can really find space and interest in Serbia, because it is an area that requires serious changes in our country. Furthermore, traffic and mobility technologies, primarily in the field of road safety, as well as electric and hydrogen traction, are just some of the topics that will be discussed in more detail.

In addition to all the sectors that I have mentioned, where Lombardy is at the top of Europe and where Serbia can acquire very high-quality know-how, I would like to underline some aspects of the character of Lombardy, which can inspire us to make our country more developed. More than ten years ago, when I started to get to know this region and build now sincere friendships, I saw a noble characteristic of people’s attachment to the territory in which they live. The dedication to the territory and its progress, seeing all its potential and fighting in every place of public action to promote it has shown me a completely new perspective of the country’s development, which is not abstract, but begins and depends on every small part of it . Diligence, discipline, beauty and the search for the best do not distinguish this region only in Italy, but also in Europe. Here the balance between work and play has been achieved in such a way that it is a lesson for us and other countries.

You were recently invited to visit “MIND – Milano Innovation District”, the innovation district built in the spac

Palalic-De Blasio

Mr Palalic together with the general director of Arexpo, Mr Ugo De Blasio

es created to host Expo 2015. What inspirations did you draw and what areas of collaboration between Lombardy and Serbia do you see as most achievable?

I am grateful to the management of “MIND-Milano Innovation District”, for allowing me to familiarize myself with this exceptional project during my recent visit to Milan. This is the result of an innovative vision of the EXPO space after the end of the event. The creation of an integrated modern district that unites universities, science, research, innovation, startup ecosystem and consolidated businesses, where each component contributes to the conceived development is the basis of the vision of a healthy life, high ecological standards, and learning and exchange of constant knowledge. Well connected to other parts of the city, this space designed for the life of 60 thousand inhabitants and a large university campus and with all the services required for a modern and healthy life, was also a source of inspiration for the concepts developed in Dubai after the their World Exhibition.

The entire MIND area is still under development and the management, which has the strong support of the central government and Lombardy, is expanding the development potential of this part of Milan with the modern Galeazzi hospital, which was built at The interior of the neighborhood, an example of the highest technologies in medicine.

I am convinced that MIND can be one of the models for the future development of the EXPO 2027 space, because it is an example of how a modern, healthy and advanced “city of the future” should appear in the first months and we have agreed to organize a visit from the managers of MIND in Serbia soon, in the first weeks after the vote of confidence in the new government of Prime Minister Milos Vucevic.

Jovan Palalić, born in Backa Palanka in 1971, is in his eighth term as a Member of the Serbian Parliament and president of the interparliamentary friendship group of Serbia and Italy. General secretary of the Serbian People’s Party (Srpska Narodna Partija), he was president of the Justice and Administration Committee of the Serbian Parliament.

In Serbia he writes for Politika, Novi Standard, Nova Srpska Politicka Misao (Serbian New Political Thought). His interventions have appeared in many Italian newspapers such as: Il Giornale, Libero, La Verità, Tempi, Agenzia Stampa Italia, Notizie Geopolitiche, Faro di Roma.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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