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Europe

Valls vows to back Serbia’s EU membership on historic Belgrade trip

media French Prime Minister Manuel Vallls (L) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandr Vucic agreed on a project to build a metro in Belgrade AFP

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has ended a two-day official visit to Serbia during which he vowed to provide firm support to the Balkan country on its path towards joining the European Union.

Following a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, Valls said France would offer a fraternal hand and continue to accompany Serbia through all necessary phases to the end of the process.

"I don't doubt that the younger generations will continue the friendly relations that exist between our two countries,” Valls at a ceremony at a 100-year-old monument to Franco-Serb relations. “The Ode to joy, the European hymn that we will hear shortly, it is something I wanted to share with the Serbian people, to tell you that France will welcome our sister nation Serbia with open arms at the heart of Europe."

Serbia's European destiny should neither be questioned nor doubted he said, although he reminded Serbia of the importance of good relations with Kosovo which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

"Serbia could and should continue to make progress," in its dialogue with Kosovo because, "it will help convince those EU member states who should be" on Belgrade's commitment to joining the EU, he said.

Under EU auspices, Belgrade and Pristina concluded a landmark deal on normalisation of their relations in April 2013.

Vucic claimed history has created a special relationship between the two countries.

"The peak of friendship between our two nations and our people took place during the tragic period of World War I,” he said. “Serbia had been attacked by two empires, Austro-Hungarian and German, but also by neighbouring Bulgaria. The political and military help that France provided, they treated sick and injured soldiers and civilians that means that France has a special place in the hearts of the Serbian people."

Valls also discussed opportunities to develop economic ties between the two countries.

Trade has been increasing since 2012 and exceeded 700 million euros last year.

But France is only the 10th largest direct foreign investor in Serbia and hopes to provide expertise in infrastructure and transport projects such as plans to expand Belgrade Airport and the city's metro system.

Valls also visited Obrenovac, the town most severely hit by floods that claimed dozens of lives and caused almost two billion euros in damage in May.

France has helped repair the town.

“I will never forget this moment with you,” he told a crowd of several hundred people, including children dressed in traditional costume.
 

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