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Sida's work in Serbia

Serbia, the largest of the Socialist Republics of Yugoslavia, still bears the scars of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Sida supports Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union, contributes to reinforcing respect for human rights and limiting the country’s climate impact.

Sida’s support in Serbia 2021

Total development assistance 121400000 SEK, Reform cooperation 121400000 SEK.

Progress has been made

Easier to operate businessess

Serbia’s government has introduced measures to make it easier to establish and operate businesses in the private sector.1

Approaching the EU

Serbia has applied for EU membership and committed to undertaking the necessary major reforms to improve the living standards of the country’s population.

Environmental legislation

An important step towards stricter environmental legislation was taken in 2017 with the establishment of a separate Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Challenges remain

High youth unemployment

The overall unemployment is almost 13 percent.2 A large percentage of young people find themselves excluded from the labour market.3

Limited media independence

While freedom of expression and a free press are enshrined in the country’s constitution, media independence is limited by political interference and self-censorship. The country is falling in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index and is currently ranked 93rd out of 180 countries – below the European average but in line with comparable states in the region.4  


Women and minorities such as Roma and the LGBTQI community are discriminated.

Reform cooperation in Serbia

The Serbian population, which currently stands at just over 7 million, is declining, both due to a death rate that exceeds the birth rate and the fact that many, largely well-educated people choose to leave the country – a lack of faith in the future often being cited as a cause. Previously a part of Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia has yet to recognise Kosovo and this relationship may yet play a role in any rapprochement with the EU, which will demand good relations between the countries.

Political development in the country, which long appeared to be moving towards greater openness and democratisation, has recently reversed. The rights of citizens are in danger of being eroded, while the state’s attitude to opposition and civil society is hardening. Serbia is ranked 64th of 189 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.5

EU membership and economic development

Serbia has applied for EU membership and committed to the necessary major reforms to improve the living standards of the country’s population, an undertaking focused on strengthening the judiciary and respect for human rights and reducing the country’s climate impact.

Municipal cooperation to promote gender equality

As a future EU Member State, Serbia will need to implement EU regulations at both local and regional levels. Through initiatives in the areas of gender equality, the environment and entrepreneurship, Sida supports cooperation between the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and its Serbian counterpart, with the aim of preparing Serbian municipalities for integration into the European Union.

SALAR International website

Reducing the risk of corruption

Corruption and flaws in the rule of law make life difficult for many small and medium-sized enterprises. Sida supports the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM), an association of Serbian towns and municipalities, as well as the Serbian Government’s Public Investment Management Office in the interests of increasing competition and reducing the risk of corruption.

Democracy and the principles of the rule of law

In the wake of the war years, criminal networks have emerged specialising in human trafficking, corruption and the smuggling of drugs and weapons. Over recent years, developments in democracy and the rule of law in Serbia have been retrograde, according to World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.

Improved control of public expenditure

Serbia has fallen on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and is now ranked 94th out of 180 countries.6 With Sida’s support, the Serbian State Audit Institution has developed its methods for auditing public expenditure and procurement processes.

The Serbian State Audit Institution web page

A more transparent judicial system

Serbia’s judicial system is in desperate need of reform. Sida supports a project led by the World Bank intended to build capacity and increase the transparency and independence of the Serbian judicial system.

World Bank web page

Combating violence against women

In Serbia, women are a vulnerable group. Half of the women have been subject to violence and 300 were killed during the last ten years as a result of gender based violence.7 The Serbian government’s strategy for preventing and reacting to violence against women has been evaluated with support from Sida. This was the first national report prepared in Serbia on the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

Climate change and environmental impact

Air and water pollution, a lack of clean drinking water and inadequate waste management contribute to making people sick. Despite the introduction of new environmental legislation, the country is still wrestling with major environmental problems, largely because the legislation is not always complied with. By establishing a separate Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2017, Serbia did however take an important step towards a green transition.

Reform cooperation improves environmental legislation

The industrial sector in Serbia is in desperate need of greening, both in order to achieve concrete environmental benefits and to facilitate future EU membership. In early 2020, as a result of the project Environmental Negotiations for Serbia – a collaboration with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency – the Serbian government began work on reforms aimed at achieving compliance with EU environmental legislation.

About the project on the Serbian government web page 

Efficient chemicals management

Chemical emissions from industry are a significant environmental problem. In order to contribute to efficient chemicals management, the Swedish Chemicals Agency has helped to develop a new digital tool for chemicals registration in collaboration with the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection.

About the work in Serbia on the Swedish Chemicals Agency web page

Improved municipal recycling

Sewage in Serbia usually flows into lakes and rivers, which spread the pollution to neighbouring countries.8 Through the Priority Environmental Infrastructure for Development Project (PEID) project, investments are prepared in sewage treatment plants in two major cities, Nis and Cacak. The financing of the actual construction of sewage treatment plants is planned by the EU and Serbia.

The PEID webpage

Updated: November 29, 2021