A Frenchman’s Angle

October 2, 2012

Loup J. Brefort

Looking at Serbia’s current economic situation, as a Frenchman I am somewhat reminded of what history books say about France in 1917, the low point of The Great War: the situation of the country was dramatic, it seemed nothing the elites did improved things, and the population did not see light at the end of the tunnel. How did France get out of its predicament?

To simplify things a bit, faced with dire challenges, a “Sacred Union” (L'union sacrée) emerged – a consensus of all segments of society on key goals and agreement that everybody will have to make compromises and sacrifices, and where small (and sometimes large) political differences will have to be set aside for a while.

The new government led by Georges Clemenceau brought in three key ingredients to ultimately bring success: (i) clear goals, (ii) consistency in policies, and (iii) a greater sense of equity in the sharing of effort.

Now, Serbia is certainly not facing a war today, but the economic situation is indeed very dismal.

To get out of the current problems will not be easy. Sacrifices and compromises will have to be made.

The first thing Serbia needs is a clear sense of inclusion & equity. Government needs to bring together a “coalition of the willing”: businesses, unions, partners from East and West to agree and support a set of policies and actions which may initially hurt some respective interests but ultimately are best for the country as a whole.

Then Serbia needs clear and actionable goals. For example: “We will attract half a billion Euro of investment from medium-sized businesses in agribusiness, or in the renewable energy sectors, leading to the creation of so many jobs”.  This would require adoption of a “task force” approach to cut across institutional silos; something similar to what was done so successfully to attract “Fiat” investment?

Finally, consistency and stability till results are achieved is needed. It is clear that agriculture has suffered from frequent swings in policies under no less than 8 change in the leadership of the ministry since 2000.  Predictability is important for investors even when the policy is not perfect.

Can history not provide some interesting lessons on overcoming a crisis?

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