France vows firm support to Serbia on path to EU membership
During a rare official visit to Serbia, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed Thursday to provide firm support to the Balkan country on its path towards European Union membership.
"Today Serbia is a candidate to join the European Union.
France offers it a fraternal hand and will continue to accompany it through all necessary phases and to the end of the process," Valls told reporters after meeting his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.
"Serbia's European destiny" should neither be questioned nor doubted, Valls said in Belgrade.
Leaders of the nation of 7.
2 million began talks in January on accession to the 28-member bloc, in which it agreed to gradually bring its policies into line with EU norms.
Valls, however, reminded Serbia of the importance of good relations with Kosovo.
"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 added.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade has fiercly rejected while still considering the territory its southern province.
However, under EU auspices, Belgrade and Pristina concluded in April 2013 a landmark deal on normalisation of their relations.
Valls also discussed opportunities to develop economic ties between the two countries.
He expressed regret over the fact that France is only the 10th largest direct foreign investor in Serbia, indicating it could provide expertise in infrastructure and transport projects.
Valls, who was accompanied by a 35-member delegation of French businessmen, listed agriculture and energy as possible areas for future growth in trade that has been increasing since 2012 and exceeded 700 million euros last year ($865 million).
Vucic told Valls France is a potential partner in major Serbian infrastructure projects such as the plans to expand Belgrade Airport and the city's metro system.
Before leaving Serbia on Friday, Valls was to meet Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and visit Obrenovac, the town most severely hit by floods in May that claimed dozens of lives and caused almost two billion euros in damage, which France has helped repair.
© 2014 AFP