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Sida's work in Serbia

Sida's reform cooperation with Serbia supports the country's aspirations to join the EU. It also contributes to strengthening respect for human rights and limiting climate impact. Serbia was the largest constituent republic of Yugoslavia and remains affected by the wars of the 1990s.

Progress has been made

Combating gender-based violence

The Serbian government has adopted a new action plan to combat sexual and gender-based violence, but implementation of the law against domestic violence needs to be improved.

Moving closer to the EU

Serbia has applied for EU membership and has committed itself to implementing the reforms necessary for membership, including improving living conditions and the environment.

Increased involvement in environmental issues

The government has met several of the EU’s requirements for environmental reform, and is providing support for green transition. The population’s involvement in environmental and climate issues is increasing, for example through demonstrations against poor air quality.

Challenges remain

Little trust in authorities

The public’s lack of trust in authorities has led, among other things, to widespread distrust of vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

A shrinking and ageing population

Today, Serbia is home to around 7 million people. More people die than are born, and many leave the country to work and grow in other European countries.1

Democratic space shrinking

Possibilities for transparency and oversight of political decisions have deteriorated since 2015. Citizens’ rights are at risk of being eroded, and pressure on the opposition, media and civil society is increasing. In the Freedom in the World index, the country has lost points.2

Reform cooperation in Serbia

The country’s political development seemed for a long time to be more open and democratic, but the tide has turned. Citizens’ rights are at risk of being eroded, and pressure on the opposition and civil society is mounting.

The poverty rate was just under 19 % in 2019 (more recent figures are not available).3 SMEs were hit hard by the pandemic and received support packages from the government.

In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, but Serbia has not recognised Kosovo. Relations between the countries can affect EU rapprochement because the EU requires friendly relations between member countries.

The aim of Swedish reform cooperation in Serbia is primarily to help the country move closer to the EU.

Integration with the EU and inclusive economic development

For Serbia to be accepted as an EU country, it must continue to implement the EU acquis nationally, but also locally and regionally. These are mainly reforms to reduce poverty, reduce corruption, increase gender equality, strengthen entrepreneurship and improve climate and environmental policies.


Municipal cooperation to promote gender equality

Sida contributes to increased gender equality, environment and entrepreneurship through cooperation between the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR) and its Serbian counterpart. The cooperation aims to prepare Serbian municipalities for EU accession.

SCTM website

Reducing the risk of corruption

Corruption and lack of law and order make life difficult for individuals, but also for many SMEs. Public procurement by governments and municipalities must be improved to increase competition and allow SMEs to participate. Through the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED), Sida is helping to make procurement more efficient, for example through increased digitalisation. Environmental criteria are also being introduced.

NALED website


Democracy, human rights, rule of law and gender equality

The development of democracy and the rule of law is not going in the right direction. Corruption is high, and few people are prosecuted or convicted. Although protection of freedom of expression and of the press is enshrined in the Serbian Constitution, the independence of the media is often limited by political interference and self-censorship.4


Administration training for officials

Sida supports the Serbian school for civil servants, the National Academy for Public Administration. Training there focuses on issues that improve administration. For example, how to implement gender budgeting that evaluates the impact of the budget on gender equality. This is now compulsory in Serbia.

National Academy for Public Administration website

More effective police

Sida supports cooperation between the Swedish Police Authority and the Serbian Ministry of the Interior and the police force. This has led to improved crime-scene investigations, a new network for female police officers, and better care for victims of gender-based violence as well as better investigation of their crimes.

Combating violence against women

Sida is supporting a project to combat violence against women and children in intimate relationships, which is being implemented in cooperation among several UN agencies and Serbian institutions. The project engages young people, improves media reporting and works with men to change violent behaviour. It helps victims to be able and to dare to report violence they have suffered, to stop child marriage and to make perpetrators understand that it is unacceptable to use violence. The project also provides support to survivors of violence.

About the project on UNDP website


Greater transparency in the judicial system

Sida is supporting a project led by the World Bank where judges and prosecutors receive training to strengthen their independence from political influence and municipal-level activities raise citizen awareness of rights.

About the project in Serbia on World Bank website

Developing the media and journalists

Today, there are too few independent media outlets in Serbia. Through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Sida contributes to the development of digital media, as well as strengthening the independence and finances of the information and communications sector. Targeted support allows several independent media companies to develop their activities.

Sida also supports the Olof Palme International Centre (OPIC), and the Serbian organisations Belgrade Open School (BOS) and Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), to provide continuing education for journalists. For example, BOS has strengthened investigative reporting on organised crime, public funds and public procurement.

Sustainable development and use of natural resources

Air and water pollution, lack of potable water and inadequate waste management make people sick. Despite new environmental legislation, environmental problems remain grave because laws are not always enforced. Responsible authorities do not take sufficient responsibility, and transparency is lacking.5 There is increasing pressure from the EU for the country to reduce its fossil-fuel dependency and increase its environmental investments, which the Serbian government supports.


Reform cooperation improves environmental legislation

Sida supports the cooperation between the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Serbian Ministry of Environment to adapt Serbia’s environmental legislation to EU requirements. It has helped the Ministry of Environment and local authorities to coordinate legislation in areas such as air, waste and water legislation. The support was crucial for Serbia to move forward with negotiating EU membership in the field of environment and climate.

About the cooperation with Serbia on Swedish Environmental Protection Agency website

Investing in clean technologies

Serbia’s industrial sector is in dire need of environmental adaptation to bring about concrete environmental and climate benefits as well as enable future EU membership. Sida supports a project to implement the EU Industrial Emissions Directive. The project is implemented by the University of Belgrade and leads to improved inspections of environmentally hazardous industries and investments in cleaner technologies.

About the project on IED Serbia website

More effective chemicals handling

Hazardous chemicals can cause serious problems for human health and the environment. In order to contribute to more effective chemical checks, the Swedish Chemicals Agency has, among other things, helped to develop a new digital tool for registering chemicals available on the Serbian market. Legislation has also been reviewed to facilitate integration with the EU.

Article on the cooperation (in Swedish)

Improved recycling and sewage treatment in several municipalities

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

Waste in Serbia is rarely recycled, and often ends up in open dumps. Sida, together with the EU and the Serbian government, has launched a project, ODVAJAMO, which is expected to increase waste recycling in 17 municipalities with a total of more than 800,000 inhabitants.

Engagement and education

Sida contributes to increased environmental engagement and education through support to environmental organisations. Through Young Researchers of Serbia, Sida supports many smaller organisations working on climate, energy and biodiversity issues, for example.

About the project on Eco System website

Peaceful Societies

Regional cooperation and good relations with neighbouring countries are central to Serbia’s rapprochement with the EU. Relations with Kosovo are still strained after the war in the 1990s. Peaceful and inclusive societies is a new working area for Sida. Information regarding work in this area will be presented at a later date.

Updated: December 19, 2022