Sitemap

H.E. Pierre Cochard, Ambassador Of The French Republic To The Republic Of Serbia

No Alternative To Normalisation

Municipal elections in the municipalities of North Kosovo that are boycotted by the Serb population do not represent a lasting political solution. They have to be reorganised with the full participation of the Serb population. That’s what we will be working on to make sure that we can return to the original agreement that is still in place and is still binding for both parties – Pierre Cochard

As a member of the Quint and a country with a leadership that’s viewed with respect from the Serbian perspective, France provides its own contribution to the process of normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina. In this interview for CorD Magazine’s special edition on France, Ambassador H.E. Pierre Cochard insists that the only alternative to returning to dialogue is “growing incessant tensions”. He reiterates France’s assessment that the government in Pristina “has an important share of responsibility in the latest events”, adding that the obligation to form the Association of Serb Municipalities must be met.

Your Excellency, what will be your key message when you address guests at the traditional Bastille Day reception on 14th July?

– My key message will be one of fraternity and solidarity. Fraternity is one of the elements of our national motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité” [liberty, equality, fraternity] that’s sometimes forgotten. But this year I want to address the Serbian people with a message of fraternity and solidarity after the Ribnikar school mass shooting. That was a shock for everybody. It was also a shock for us because we have strong ties with the Ribnikar community. So, we share in the sorrow of the children, the parents and the teachers, and we will continue to support the Ribnikar school in the future. But I also want to share a message of solidarity and fraternity with Serbia in order to help the country implement its green agenda and thus accelerate on its path towards the EU and to ensure that the country belongs to the broader European community of shared values.

Speaking on the occasion of the unveiling of the new runway at Belgrade Airport, which is managed by French company VINCI Airports, you described this venture as symbolising a new page in the annals of bilateral cooperation between our two countries, in which you see Serbia as a regional power. Could you elaborate?

– Yes, I think that the VINCI investment in the airport is emblematic of the long-term perspective in which French companies want to invest in Serbia. And if they do so it’s because they believe in the future of this country, its European future, its capacity to utilise its assets of geographical location, good infrastructure and a skilled workforce in order to, let’s say, become even more developed and become a true regional power in the positive sense of that term, i.e., to become a driving force propelling the entire region towards EU standards and EU integration.

Nonetheless, at the political level there is often talk of the danger of Serbia being isolated in the region. How do you view these two parallel realities?

– I don’t think anybody wants to have Serbia isolated in the region and in Europe. That would be a dead end for the country and the region. That’s why we called on Serbia to join the EU sanctions against Russia. That’s not only to tick the box, but rather to show that we have the same assessment of the impact of this war of aggression on our collective security, and on the way of life that we all want to protect together.

Of course, that’s also an illustration of the fact that, as a regional power, Serbia also has challenges and responsibilities. It has to overcome the legacy of the past. It has to promote regional reconciliation and once again represent a driving force for all countries of the region, bringing countries together and not sidelining them in striving to achieve this objective.

The start of this year was marked by optimism over the latest attempt to forge an agreement on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Priština. Given the latest events, do you think this process is once again in crisis?

– We have just witnessed the fact that there is no alternative to normalisation. The only alternative is growing incessant tensions, and that is unfortunately now playing against the interests of the local population, chiefly and primarily. That’s why we invested a lot, as you mentioned, in restoring the dynamism of this normalisation process. We are naturally worried by the unilateral gesture taken notably by Pristina and have made it clear that Pristina has an important share of responsibility in the latest events.

Coming from a country where mass protests are not rare, all I can say is that I think that, provided they don’t descend into violence, mass protests may be considered part of lively democratic life

So, we invite Kosovo to take stock of the situation and exert all possible efforts to enable a productive dialogue and to return to agreements. For example, municipal elections in the municipalities of North Kosovo that are boycotted by the Serb population do not represent a lasting political solution. They have to be reorganised with the full participation of the Serb population. That’s what we will be working on to make sure that we can return to the original agreement that is still in place and is still binding for both parties. We will make sure that it will produce the expected effects.

It has been announced that France, and President Macron in particular, will have increased involvement regarding Kosovo in the future. Will this involvement prioritise the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities or concessions on the Serbian side, in the form of Serbs returning to institutions, which is an insistence of the U.S.?

– Of course, in this approach concessions are expected from both sides, but what was already decided and agreed upon in 2013 and 2015, in terms of the Association of Serb Municipalities, is clearly a priority. It must be implemented forthwith.

That’s not only the message of France and Germany, but rather is the message of the whole of the EU and the United States. So, yes, it’s a step to be taken immediately. The return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions – be that the police, the judiciary and municipalities – is also important and we have all witnessed the negative impact of their withdrawal. There is a vacuum that allows unilateral steps to be taken and that’s partly the explanation for the current situation. So, both are important, but discussion of the Association of Serb Municipality must start immediately and implementation must come soon.

Given that you often emphasise that there will be no overlooking of Serbia’s obligation to strengthen its democracy and institutions on its path to EU membership, how do you see the current political situation in the country, marked by mass protests among citizens?

– Rule of law is a key milestone on Serbia’s journey towards the EU. We want to give impetus to new momentum in this process of Serbia achieving full membership, but that doesn’t mean the rule of law, functioning institutions, the separation of powers and so on being neglected or downgraded in terms of importance. In order for that to remain a key element, we are looking very carefully at positive reforms already implemented and other reforms that are planned for the coming months.

That will, of course, be an important part of all these equations. I would not like to comment on internal political developments: that’s up to the Serbs to decide. Coming from a country where mass protests are not rare, all I can say is that I think that, provided they don’t descend into violence, mass protests may be considered part of lively democratic life at the same level as a functioning parliament, functioning institutions, pluralist media landscape etc. All that is part of democratic life, again provided violence is clearly excluded.

When it comes to economic cooperation, you stated recently that the full potential for further economic cooperation between the two countries has not been utilised. France is present in Serbia in the sectors of environmental protection, wastewater treatment, and major infrastructure projects, with more than 100 French companies operating in Serbia. Which new areas do you see as having the potential to further develop bilateral cooperation?

– There’s great potential. We’ve done well over previous years. Our bilateral exchanges have tripled since 2010 and now total around 1.6 billion euros, which is a more than 30% increase compared to last year. We have more than 100 French companies here and they are employing a lot of Serbian people, so all that is positive. Our main sectors of activity are wastewater treatment, waste treatment, the environment, infrastructure and so on. There’s also a strong French presence in the area of automobiles and vehicle equipment. Just to mention the fact that Hutchinson, for example, will increase its presence, while Michelin has now extended its capacities in Pirot. We have a lot of mechanical industry players, like Mecafor and so on.

We have more than 100 French companies here and they are employing a lot of Serbian people…Our main sectors of activity are wastewater treatment, waste treatment, the environment, infrastructure and so on

There’s also another important sector in the form of the agri-food industry, where we have major companies like Savencia, Lactalis and Axereal that are mainly present in Vojvodina. Renewables also represent a sector that’s of great interest to us and one in which we’re sure French companies will be increasingly present. We already have a large, modern project in the field of the solar power industry. And another sector is IT. Just to mention the fact that I recently inaugurated, together with the Prime Minister, the new Novi Sad hub for Schneider Electric worldwide, which is a very well-known company. And here in Novi Sad they will be producing software that will be exported all over the world and will help make the electrical network much more effective. They will also be present in Serbia.

In your capacity as ambassador, you are heavily engaged beyond Belgrade. You signed the Convention on Cooperation in Kragujevac and provide support to the City of Niš in organising its public transport system based on the model of Nice, while you also led ambassadors of francophone countries in their visit to the City of Cacak, which is this year’s Serbian capital of culture. How do you see Serbia from that perspective?

– Everywhere, but especially in Serbia, local authorities have a key role to play in addressing important challenges like the environment, mobility, and so on. That’s why we are trying to increase our ties with local authorities here. They also have an important role in allowing for an active civil society at the local level to also promote culture through popular culture for everyone. That’s why we also try to forge links between French and Serbian local authorities. This is even more important, for example, through the seminar of municipalities at which they can exchange their environmental protection solutions, promote energy efficiency etc.

This seminar has been a huge success, with a lot of Serbian and French local authorities coming to hear – initially in Niš, Novi Sad and Belgrade – exchanges and also bilateral visits. In the important field of culture, I very much enjoyed the visit to Čačak together with my francophone colleagues. We also brought French artists to this city, and having an annual capital of culture for Serbia is a very good initiative. I would also like to mention the fact that, as you perhaps know, France will be the guest of honour country at the upcoming International Belgrade Book Fair in October. We are happy to see that a lot of French local authorities are interested in coming and bringing their own… let’s say ‘assets’. We will certainly have Ille De France and Rhones Alpes (City of Lyon) presenting at our stands and also showing the local dimension of France dynamism.

KEY MESSAGE

Fraternity is one of the elements of our national motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité” [liberty, equality, fraternity] that’s sometimes forgotten

INVESTMENTS

I think that the VINCI investment in the airport is emblematic of the long-term perspective in which French companies want to invest in Serbia

KOSOVO

We invite Kosovo to take stock of the situation and exert all possible efforts to enable a productive dialogue and to return to agreements

Related Articles

Cecilia Bartoli, World-renowned Opera Singer, President of Europa Nostra

Culture Must Be Placed at the Heart of Europe

We cannot talk about our common heritage without exerting greater effort to make sure future generations are aware of it, with a particular focus...

Jelena Stijačić, International Committee of the Red Cross

Gaza An Unbearable Human Tragedy

The ICRC is gravely concerned by the precarious and unsafe conditions under which civilians are evacuating Gaza. Irrespective of the modalities of evacuations, safe...

H.E. Yahel Vilan, Ambassador Of Israel To Serbia

Completely New Reality

When it comes to horrific events like the shocking attack of 7th October, there can be no room for anything other than a very...

H. E. Mohamed Namoura, Ambassador Of The State Of Palestine To Serbia

UN To Convene International Peace Conference

After occupying Gaza for almost 40 years, Israel turned it into a open-air prison by imposing a comprehensive siege on the territory for a...

H.E. Edward Ferguson,  UK Ambassador to Serbia

No Evidence Against the Serbian Orthodox Church

The position of the British Government aligns with that of KFOR, which has confirmed that they have no evidence that the Serbian Orthodox Church...

Academic Zoran Knežević, President of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU)

Radical Change to the Dominant Model of Culture Required

It could probably be stated that SANU’s raison d’etre, at least to a certain extent, is identified with its permanent active participation in the...

H.E. Silvia Davidoiu, Ambassador of Romania

Support For Result-Oriented Dialogue

Romania has a consistent and principled position on the non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. We maintain a constructive approach on the issue,...

H.E. Anke Konrad, Ambassador Of Germany To Serbia

Berlin and Belgrade Remain Close

With the reform of the German citizenship law, the country’s federal government intends to create a modern immigration law that reflects the diversity of...

More...

Ghana to Open Embassy in Belgrade

Ghana is set to open an embassy in Belgrade, as announced by Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić following a meeting with Ghana’s Foreign Minister...

Serbia-France Innovation Forum Begins: Innovate for the Planet! Play Green!

At the Serbia-France Innovation Forum titled 'Innovate for the Planet, Play Green', which commenced at the Palace Serbia, French Ambassador to Serbia Pierre Cochard...

Imperial Instagram Debut as Japanese Monarchy Embraces Social Media

In a digital rite of passage, the Japanese Imperial Family has gracefully navigated its way into the realm of social media, unveiling an Instagram...

Jakov Milatović, President of Montenegro

Restoring Our Traditional Partnership

I consider that we achieved a turnaround in economic and political relations between Montenegro and Serbia in the first year of my mandate, but...

Albania to Utilize Drones in Anti-Cannabis Campaign

Albania is set to enhance its anti-cannabis efforts by deploying advanced drone technology, announced Interior Minister Taulant Bala. Starting...

Serbian Red Cross Launches Pioneering Migration Platform

Responding to a significant increase in migrant numbers, the Serbian Red Cross has unveiled a cutting-edge digital platform, earning...

Ghana to Open Embassy in Belgrade

Ghana is set to open an embassy in Belgrade, as announced by Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić following a...

Maserati’s Balkan Expansion: New Showroom Opens in Belgrade

Delta Auto Group has unveiled an exclusive Maserati showroom in Belgrade, setting new luxury benchmarks in line with the...

Serbia Charts the Course to Smart Cities with Kragujevac Leading the Way

In a significant development for urban planning and technology in Serbia, a roadmap for smart cities was unveiled today...