Nothing gets done by sitting out

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic speaks during a joint press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 18 September 2019. Both leaders discussed the bilateral relations of their countries during their meeting. [EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON]

For years, Serbia lagged behind. We were a step away from bankruptcy, in April 2012, our unemployment rate was 25.5%, with youth unemployment at 51.5%. Our leaders spent money we did not have and watched our infrastructure decay and our population flee the country. Today, the reality is very different, writes Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić.

Ana Brnabić is the prime minister of Serbia.

Reviving this country did not come easy. We had to switch mindsets and focus on long-term prosperity rather than short-term gains. We had to take responsibly, not to lay blame or look backwards, but to understand what went wrong and avoid the mistakes of the past.

And we had to approach the Serbian people differently, choosing to speak to them honestly and candidly, rather than using lies to defend inefficient policies.

That was President Aleksandar Vučić’s approach when he came to power in 2014 and they have been our core values ever since.

Our citizens have experienced this transformation first-hand and now have the confidence to believe in a better tomorrow. In election after election, since 2014, President Vucic and SNS are gaining more votes. Citizens of Serbia understand: we are the only party with the vision, organization and leadership to keep Serbia on a path to prosperity.

Last month’s electoral victory reinforced this statement. With over 60% of the vote, this historic election proved we have gained the trust of the people. We won in places where we failed before and achieved results no other leaders had seen in this country.

Approximately half of the population turned out to vote – similar to other recent European elections, and significant given the so-called boycott and the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.

While some opposition parties chose to skip the election hoping to undermine its legitimacy, the unprecedented results displayed this was just a wrong and unpopular decision.

The absence of certain pro-EU parties from the ballot is regrettable, but the reality is that they have refused to even take part in talks mediated by the European Parliament. Rather than opting to collaborate for Serbian people, they chose to stage an unsuccessful political scene.

Similarly, far-right actors that did not pass the 3% threshold to enter the National Assembly, decided to exhibit commotion once again by fomenting and storming the parliament.

I continue to condemn this type of vandalism and violent intrusion, especially at a time when our country faces a major uptick in Covid-19 cases. Oblivious to the realities, these groups have forged chaos for political points, and are now causing a further surge in the number of positive cases and putting the lives of millions at risk.

Regardless of their behaviour, we will vigilantly stay on our European path. Our commitment to the Serbian people has not faded and our priorities to lead this country are clear.

First, we need to manage Covid-19. This invisible enemy continues to upend the world we live in. It has shaken our foundations to the core and put our country and our citizens to the test.

Though we were able to contain it initially with restrictive measures, we are now seeing the situation worsen throughout the region. Sadly, we are approaching the worst figures we had in April and the reality is, this will be a long fight.

For that reason, we are relying on the cooperation of our citizens in order to avoid the harsh measures imposed in the spring.

Bars and clubs must now close at 11 p.m., gatherings inside and outside of more than 10 people have been banned, and people must wear masks inside closed space and whenever social distancing measures cannot be maintained.

We have also increased the number of PCR tests, ventilators and protective equipment, but nothing will work if we don’t take individual action. It is vital that we all stay on course and do our part to combat this virus.

In addition, we are committed to building on the economic transformation that started six years ago. As soon as we took office, our first priority was to reduce the budget deficit. We had to impose some unpopular consolidation programmes, but they paid off.

We are now one of seven countries in the world that have set aside more than 10% of GDP to support the economy, and international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have expressed confidence in our economy. International investors now have the assurance to bet on our country.

This fiscal discipline made us resilient towards COVID-19, enabling us to pass measures to boost our economy, support workers and companies, and ultimately ease the consequences of the crisis.

It also gave us a strong foundation to continue with large investment plans despite an unforeseen crisis – we are continuing with improving our road and railway infrastructure, clinical centres and general hospitals across our country, building new infrastructure for education, science and research.

We are committed to raising living standards across Serbia and ensuring a vibrant future for our citizens at home.

The list of our priorities for the future is lengthy, and we understand we cannot do it alone. As a result, President Vučić is currently meeting with representatives from all political parties that have entered the parliament to grasp their proposals, demands and needs, and determine ways to work together in the new government.

Today’s challenges are unprecedented, and our hope is to have a dialogue with the other sides in parliament – not hostile arguments on the streets.

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