In this specific period, which was marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the French national holiday, both in France and in Serbia, will be marked in a different way this year. There will be no traditional reception organized in the residence. That is why I am addressing you with this message today.
As you know, 14 July is for us an absolute symbol of all the values on which modern France rests. Marking the fall of the Bastille in 1789, we mark the beginning of the French Revolution and the birth of new concepts that then spread in Europe and the world: the establishment of the rule of law, freedom, equality and fraternity. This year, the French authorities will pay tribute to all those who participated in the fight against Covid-19 and without whom the consequences of the pandemic would be even more serious. This includes employees in health care institutions in Serbia, to whom citizens gave well-deserved recognition with spontaneous applause, for several weeks, every night at 8 p.m.
Our national day is an opportunity to look back at current events related to our bilateral relations, which are based on a 180-year-long history of diplomatic relations. Since the previous 14 July 2019, our mutual ties have been intense, despite the period of isolation due to the pandemic in both France and Serbia. Exactly one year ago, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, visited Serbia. That first visit of a French president after almost 18 years was marked by a common desire to revive French-Serbian political relations. On that occasion, about twenty agreements on cooperation in all areas were signed, and several bilateral visits of ministers and parliamentarians followed, including the visit of the Minister of the Army, Florence Parly, in December 2019. One year after President Macron’s visit to Serbia, more precisely on 9 July, President Aleksandar Vučić paid a visit to Paris and the President of France. On that occasion, they talked about all aspects of our bilateral relations as well as the perspective of Serbia’s accession to the European Union. I welcome Serbia’s decision to choose a new methodology for the accession process, which was adopted last spring. They also talked about the responses to the crisis caused by Covid-19 and especially about the need to maintain a balance between health measures and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.
France is committed to the sustainable stability of the Western Balkans. That was the meaning of the summit between Belgrade and Pristina, which was held on 10 July in Paris, via video conference, and co-chaired by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. At the summit, in the presence of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borell and the EU Special Representative for Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and for the Western Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak, President Vucic and Prime Minister Hoti agreed to continue the dialogue interrupted in November 2018. Negotiations between the two sides, facilitated by the European Union, began on 12 July, with a video conference, and will continue with the first meeting in Brussels on 16 July.
French economic relations have great potential, they are developing successfully and I am happy that the trade exchange between France and Serbia has exceeded one billion euros
The French business community in Serbia is growing every year so that today there are about 120 French companies operating in the country. These French companies are involved in very important projects, such as the management and development of Belgrade International Airport (Vinci) or the construction of an innovative waste processing centre on the outskirts of Belgrade (Suez). Then, France is very engaged in the project of building a subway in Belgrade. This resulted in the signing of an agreement on a donation from the French government to the Serbian government in the amount of 8.3 million euros, enabling the preparation of a feasibility study for the first phase of the project.
Finally, our friendly relations are based primarily on people. They are encouraged by the mobility of students, researchers and through the linguistic exchange. French is still not the “business language” of the Balkans, but it remains the language chosen by the heart. I am happy that today in Serbia, 110,000 people are still learning the language of Moliere. This year, a new generation of Serbian scholarship students is preparing to come to France to continue their university education. Their visa requirements will be given priority so that they can start their school year in peace. I would also like to thank the excellent team of the French School in Belgrade, which under difficult circumstances managed to provide online classes for its 500 and more French, Serbian and international students.
On 13 and 14 July, from 8:30 pm, the entire building will be additionally highlighted by lighting in the colours of the French flag
They are based on discovering the heritage and knowing the other, and on the arrival of 35,500 French tourists who went to Serbia in 2019 to discover its beauties. This is a very significant increase compared to the previous year. I hope that these visits will be even more numerous when this terrible pandemic ends.
I will end with a few words about the French Institute of Serbia, an institution you know well. He remained active despite the pandemic, in Belgrade, Nis and Novi Sad, in his premises, but also online or in innovative formats. Cultural programs and film screenings continue, as do French language courses via video conferencing, in small groups. Don’t forget to visit their site.
I hope that soon, in calmer times, together with the staff of the embassy and all French institutions that exist in Serbia, I will be able to host you in the residence. In anticipation of that meeting, I will have the pleasure to virtually open the doors of the residence to you on 13 July via our social networks, through a short video about its architecture and the works of art exhibited in it. And in the evening, on 13 and 14 July, from 8:30 pm, the entire building will be additionally highlighted by lighting in the colours of the French flag.
I wish you and your families good health. Be still careful, and I hope to see you soon, in person, in more favourable circumstances.
Ambassador of France to Serbia