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UK AMBASSADOR SIAN MACLEOD: 'Progress in Kosovo dialogue depends on Serbia and Kosovo, not external mediators!'
Foto: Marina Lopičić

INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK

UK AMBASSADOR SIAN MACLEOD: 'Progress in Kosovo dialogue depends on Serbia and Kosovo, not external mediators!'

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"Climate change is the biggest threat that we are all faced with. As regards the coronavirus pandemic, I'm optimistic that life will soon return to normal," Sian Macleod, the UK Ambassador to Serbia, said in in her interview with Kurir.

In addition to the global climate change conference, to be held in Glasgow next week and attended by the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, Ambassador Macleod also touched on the economic collaboration between the United Kingdom and Serbia, the Kosovo problem, the recent incidents that took place in the north of Kosovo, the challenges that the United Kingdom is facing after leaving the EU, as well as learning more about our country.

A collaboration between Serbia and the UK's export credit agency UKEF has recently been agreed, allowing the world's oldest export credit agency to provide a €430 million loan for the construction of the Morava Corridor, currently of the most important infrastructural projects in our country. Is a similar collaboration in the pipeline?

"The United Kingdom is committed to supporting the future prosperity of this region. The UKEF, as the leading export credit agency and the oldest credit agency in the world, has earmarked up to £ 4 bn for supporting the development of infrastructure in Serbia. Our country has a wealth of experience and know-how in areas like rail transport, green energy, and managing projects that can help in modernizing and developing your infrastructure, as well as improving the connections with your neighbours. For example, we have a strong tradition of innovation in the rail transport sector – I recently met British engineers who have developed a 'modified', hydrogen-powered train, which could be perfect for railway routes which are too expensive or remote for electrified lines to be used. This could be interesting for Serbia. We are also very interested in joining the Belgrade Metro construction project – our UKEF credit line is very suitable for such big projects."

San Makleod, britanska ambasadorka
foto: Marina Lopičić

COP26, the global conference on climate change, will be held next week in Glasgow, with the Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić in attendance too. But is the world too late taking concrete measures in this regard? How realistic is a new agreement on stopping the rise in temperature around the world, which is the key topic of the conference?

"Climate change is the biggest threat that we are all faced with. It already affects the temperature of the planet and, as we saw this summer all across Europe, it causes unparalleled fires and dangerous flood levels. Our environment, our way of life, our agriculture, all these things are impacted by climate change. We must slow down and reverse global warming, we must adapt our environment and economy, we must support the countries which are hit hardest, and we must have society-wide cooperation within and between countries. This is precisely what the COP26 conference, which will be held next week in Glasgow, Scotland, aims to achieve. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will call on countries to be more ambitious and encourage them to set 'net zero emissions' goals – in other words, efforts not to emit more carbon that is absorbed. I am very happy that President Vučić will be among 130 heads of state and government in Scotland next week, particularly as I am half-Scottish, and Glasgow is a city that I've been familiar with since childhood."

Even the UK's Queen Elizabeth said recently: "It's really irritating when [world leaders] talk [about climate change], but they don't do."

"We have a saying in English: 'Actions speak louder than words.' We need more ambition, but also more action."

San Makleod, britanska ambasadorka
foto: Marina Lopičić

The United Kingdom has been mentioned as a country that openly supported the recent raid of armed Albanian special police units in the north of Kosovo. How do you comment on such radical actions by Priština?

"I was sorry to see disinformation and completely baseless accusations levelled at the United Kingdom in some newspapers last week, regarding the police operation against smuggling and organized crime, conducted at several locations across Kosovo, during which multiple arrests were made. Unfortunately, some citizens and members of the police force were injured in the clashes during the police action. Organized crime is unfortunately a serious problem throughout the region. Crime groups are involved in smuggling different things, including drugs and arms. Not only is this illegal and a danger to the society at large, but every year it also costs the governments in the region and beyond huge sums of money, which could be spent on sectors such as education, health protection, and infrastructure. With our partners throughout the region – including Serbia and Kosovo – we are working on fighting organized crime, and we support the efforts made by law enforcement agencies to deal with it in a responsible manner."

How do you see the current state of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue?

"The United Kingdom remains committed to the normalization of relations through an EU-facilitated dialogue. It is clear that it is in the interest of all the communities to live in a safe and stable environment, not solely because sustainable stability offers the best chances of economic development and prosperity. Building trust and connections between communities within and across borders is as important as the political process. This means resolving some painful issues, such as the cases of missing persons, where the United Kingdom works to support both the authorities and the affected families. However, this also means looking towards the future and focusing on opening up possibilities for young people today, as well as creating the best possible environment for future generations."

San Makleod, britanska ambasadorka
foto: Marina Lopičić

The fact is that the EU is increasingly losing credibility as a mediator in the Belgrade-Priština dialogue on Kosovo, and that the administration of US President Joseph Biden is becoming more and more involved in resolving this issue.

"The United Kingdom is no longer a member of the EU, so I cannot speak on its behalf, but I cannot be expected to criticise its role in this important process, where it has our full support and, as my US colleagues have made it clear, the full support of Washington. Progress in the dialogue will ultimately depend on Serbia and Kosovo, and not on external mediators. We have seen how in Northern Ireland progress in resolving long-standing and painful conflicts came as a result of decisive, brave steps taken by political leaders, who, incidentally, were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. I hope that we will see a similar political will in Belgrade and Priština."

After its withdrawal from the EU, the United Kingdom has been facing shortages. There is a supply crisis going on, primarily regarding fuel, and a labour shortage is evident. Was Brexit perhaps a mistake in the long term?

"The United Kingdom left the European Union after a national referendum. The government committed to respecting the outcome of the referendum, and we left the EU. Our country's trade and legal frameworks were inevitably tightly linked to our membership for over 40 years, so it is no surprise that the withdrawal process was quite complicated. But not everything that is going on in the United Kingdom can be attibuted to Brexit. For example, as is the case with many other countries, we have experienced disruptions and economic challenges related to the Covid pandemic. The recent fuel supply problem was quite localized and short-lived in the UK. In fact, it appears that we have come out of the worst economic effects of the pandemic stronger than some had expected. What is more, according to independent assessments, in 2021 our economic growth will reach 6.5 percent, which is the fastest growth rate recorded since 1973."

San Makleod, britanska ambasadorka
foto: Marina Lopičić

As a citizen of a country that was part of the EU until recently, how do you view the Union now?

"The United Kingdom has left the EU, but it has not left Europe. Many of our closest allies and most important trade partners are members of the EU. We work together in NATO, the Council of Europe, and the OECD. We share the commitment to democratic values that these organizations represent. Here, in the Western Balkans, three of our partners from the Quint are member-states of the EU, and we remain a strong and active support to the reform processes that will improve the everyday lives of people around the country and bring you closer to the European Union. Of course, we will also continue to closely cooperate with the EU wherever we have common priorities and where we face common challenges."

Are you an optimist regarding the end of the global coronavirus pandemic or at least bringing it under better control? Do you get the impression that the "new normal", brought to us by the pandemic, has become a permanent reality?

"As is the case with most people, this is the first time that I am experiencing a pandemic. Having lived in a rural part of the UK, I saw the destructive effects of outbreaks of other serious diseases among animals, but also that life more or less returned to normal after a few months. This pandemic has been with us in Europe for nearly two years, perhaps even longer in China. I am not an epidemiologist, and it would be wrong of me to make predictions. This is a truly terrible disease, and its effects have been disastrous for individuals, families, and states. However, the development of effective coronavirus vaccines, including the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, has resulted in a significant change for the better. In the efforts to ensure that the pandemic ends as soon as possible, the United Kingdom has pledged to donate 100 million vaccines to countries around the world by June 2022. Here in Belgrade, we can see how the majority of those vaccinated who contract the disease have much milder symptoms than those who have not taken the vaccine. So, although the strains and mutations are an ongoing challenge, and the situation is still very serious in many countries, including Serbia and the United Kingdom, I am optimistic that life will return to normal. I hope that this happens during my term in office, so that I could see Serbia and the region without a face mask!"

Travelled around most of Serbia

'Kikinda is like a fairy tale'

San Makleod, britanska ambasadorka
foto: Marina Lopičić

I know that you travel around Serbia a lot. Which part of our country do you find the most beautiful?

"That's not a fair question! I've visited many cities, places, and villages, national parks, and nature reserves. People around the country have given me a very warm welcome, and I don't want to risk not getting invited somewhere again! Perhaps I can give you an example of a place that I find unique, and that is Kikinda, with a winter population of cat owls – long-eared owls – which stay in the city square. I like how the city centre is closed for traffic, and trees are allowed to grow, it's almost as if a forest had moved into the city. It looks a bit like fairy tales in winter nights. I wonder what the effect on wildlife and biodiversity would be if more of our city centres looked like that."

Boban Karović

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