Giorgia Meloni’s Serbian layover. On Sunday, the Italian Prime Minister stopped in Belgrade on her way back from the COP28 Conference in Dubai. It was her first official state visit to President Alexander Vucic, which she had promised as part of her government’s efforts to expand cooperation with the Balkans and move towards their full European integration.
- Rome has been seeking closer engagement with the Western Balkans, acting as a stabilising force during violent flare-ups between Serbia and Kosovo.
- Most recently, it moved with other EU capitals to gradually integrate Balkanic countries into the EU’s common foreign and security policy…
- … and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani spoke of drawing up a cooperation and investment plan along the lines of Italy’s “Mattei Plan” for Africa.
EU enlargement as an existential matter. “The European Union must not be a club where we decide who is European and who is not,” said PM Meloni, reiterating her line that EU integration is actually a “reunification” of the European family, noting that bringing the Western Balkans into the fold is “fundamental” and promising President Vucic that he can “count on Italy.”
- Expressing “gratitude” for “all her efforts towards solving the crises in the Western Balkans,” President Vucic extolled Italy’s “very objective approach to solving problems in our region” and willingness to “listen to Serbia’s positions.”
- The Meloni government has been pitching Rome as a convergence point for further cooperation, pursuing this through initiatives like the “Growth and Integration” conference in Trieste back in January, a Western Balkans ministerial meeting in April and the Italian-Serbian Forum in May (to be repeated in 2024).
A degree of alignment. Knowing that EU integration efforts are also conducive to attracting Belgrade away from Moscow’s orbit, PM Meloni also spoke of Italy and Serbia’s common approach to Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine.” She also highlighted the convergence of views on solidarity with the Gazan population and the will to combat irregular migration flows – noting that Rome and Belgrade’s energies “must focus on the external dimension of the problem in order to tackle it before it reaches Europe.”
- She also cited the energy transition and innovation as two other areas of cooperation – drawing a clear parallel with the “Mattei Plan” pragmatist approach, which also encompasses everything from energy to migration in its efforts to bolster cooperation and work towards shared goals.
Economic links. “There is already a lot of Italy in Serbia, but more can be done,” said PM Meloni, while President Vucic pointed out that Italy is on track to become Serbia’s first economic and trade partner again. The interchange currently amounts to €4.6 billion and is set to increase, as indicated by State-connected companies Sace, Simest and CDP opening offices in Belgrade.
- Automaker Stellantis will soon begin producing the new electric Fiat Panda in 2024 in the Kragujevac plant (where the Fiat 500L has been produced until now).