I am glad to come to Serbia, a country with which we have been sharing excellent political, economic and cultural relations for many years. Political exchange has been very intensive since the new government in Germany assumed office: Chancellor Olaf Scholz came to Belgrade this year, as well as our foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, and our defence minister, Christine Lambrecht. Moreover, our recently established Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarrazin, regularly visits Serbia and the region
Our bilateral economic ties are exceptionally strong. Since the year 2000, more than 600 German companies have invested over 3.7 billion euros in Serbia and created almost 78,000 jobs. The results of this year’s survey conducted by the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce clearly shows that we are on the right track together: 95% of participating companies have confirmed that they would invest in Serbia again. Germany continues to be Serbia’s number one trading partner, with a bilateral trade volume of around €6.5 billion in 2021. Germany is also the largest bilateral donor in Serbia: with more than €2.3 billion having been made available for various development projects over the past 22 years, the priority areas being the environment, rule of law and sustainable economic development.
Cultural relations between our countries are also extensive and diverse. German is the second most popular foreign language in Serbian schools, which is also reflected in the high demand for language courses at our Goethe Institute in Belgrade. Moreover, German scholarships remain very popular among Serbian students: the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers scholarships for Serbian students who aspire to study in Germany. In addition, Serbian graduates may spend three months doing an internship at the German Bundestag on an IPS scholarship. Young Serbs also have the opportunity to receive vocational training internships at German companies through the Zoran Đinđić Foundation. Just a few days ago, a renowned play performed by the German theatre “Schaubühne” from Berlin opened Belgrade’s legendary BITEF festival. I am convinced that cultural exchange is crucial, as it brings our two countries closer together due to the fact that it extends beyond political issues and addresses citizens directly.
For Germany, it is clear that the future of Serbia and the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. However, the path towards the EU involves challenging political, economic and social transformation processes. There is still a lot of work to be done. For instance, the EU accession process includes finding solutions to bilateral disputes in the region and dedicating additional efforts to reconciliation between neighbours. An important instrument in this regard is the Berlin Process, which involves a series of yearly conferences of Western Balkan countries at which joint projects are launched in the areas of infrastructure, connectivity, security, economic and youth cooperation. Chancellor Scholz will host the next summit in November.
One of the success stories of the Berlin Process is the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). Young people from the Western Balkans meet regularly, organise study-trips and joint projects and discuss issues that impact all of them. Those young people are the future leaders of the region and I believe that having them work together now is indeed a fantastic investment in a stable and prosperous region.
For Serbia to become a member of the European Union, it is necessary to continue structural reforms, strengthen the rule of law, human rights and media freedom. Concerning the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajčak enjoys our full support and I hope that both sides will progress in clarifying unresolved issues in a constructive manner. Finally, we expect Serbia to side with the core values of the European Union and align its foreign policy to a higher degree. This includes imposing sanctions on Russia, which has been waging a devastating war against Ukraine since 24th February, in full breach of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.
In the years to come, I look forward to continuing the positive trend of our bilateral relations. Germany stands ready and prepared to support Serbia on its path towards European Union membership. I am convinced that we will master the challenges that lie ahead of us and reap the fruits of our joint efforts.