Speech on the occasion of the Jubilee 20 years of Basel tramways and 30 years of Swiss Serbian Cooperation


Mr. Deputy Mayor, dear Goran,

Dear guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Basel trams circulating in the city of Belgrade. This jubilee coincides with the 30st anniversary of Swiss-Serbian cooperation. We will be celebrating this milestone of bilateral cooperation with a number of events in the upcoming months, but today’s event marks the official start of the commemoration and I warmly thank the authorities of the City of Belgrade, and especially Deputy Mayor Goran Vesic for this warm welcome reception to kick-off today’s different activities.

Swiss Ambassador Urs Schmid giving speech at the official reception at the Hilton hotel
Swiss Ambassador Urs Schmid giving speech at the official reception at the Hilton hotel ©Swiss Embassy

Putting the Basel Trams center stage today is certainly appropriate. They might not reflect the whole picture of our bilateral relations but they rank probably among the most visible elements of Swiss presence in Serbia and they are emblematic for some of the key values of our bilateral cooperation such as reliability, demand-orientation and sustainability.

So let me start with a glance at this bilateral cooperation. Indeed, in the past 30 years, we have been cooperating with Serbia on a wide range of subjects, including support to local governance, economic development and employment as well as sustainable energy.

Humanitarian assistance and support in migration management marked the outset of Switzerland’s commitment with Serbia, back in 1991. Over time, the cooperation was gradually geared towards fostering democratic and economic transition processes.

Today, Switzerland remains committed to support Serbia in achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, fostering democratic processes and supporting the implementation of reforms towards European integration.

Switzerland is known to have strongly decentralized foundations. Consequently, the promotion of good governance, with a strong focus on the local level, has been one of the priorities, along with the promotion of social inclusion and gender equality.

Supporting public finance policy reforms has contributed to macro-economic stability and significant efforts have also been devoted to improving the business environment and the competitiveness of small and medium sized enterprises.

Reforming the vocational education system is another topic of common interest in which Switzerland has been advising Serbia in strengthening the involvement of the private sector.

Last but not least, Switzerland has been engaged in the development and modernization of the energy sector, contributing to significant reductions of energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Basel Trams are a good showcase of the steadily increasing role of cities as actors of change. International cooperation is not an exclusive sphere of states. As the Basel trams example shows, remarkable results can be achieved when cities and local public transport companies are teaming up across borders. This was the case back in 2001 when both Basel transportation companies - the “Basler Verkehrsbetriebe” (green trams) and the Baselland Transport (yellow trams) - agreed with the Belgrade Public Transport Company (GSP) on the donation of trams, involving the cities of Basel and Belgrade. The Swiss government through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) provided funding for transportation, coordination and facilitation in an amount of CHF 4.5 Mio. Today a total of 113 donated trams and trailers, representing about one third of Belgrade’s tram fleet cover an average distance of more than 900’000 km per year.

The Basel Trams also invite us to look into the future. Cities worldwide are today at the forefront of international efforts to reduce pollution and to safeguard the environment. In this context trams are reasserting their importance as an effective, comfortable and clean means of transportation. And in this context Belgrade and the government of Serbia are currently setting an example in their efforts to upgrade, expand and modernize public transport with a special focus on rail bound transportation and the aim of reducing the use of carbon fuels. Switzerland is certainly interested to remain a partner of public transport in the city of Belgrade and I personally hope that in the near future the veteran Basel trams may be complemented by modern, Swiss made, “state-of-the-art” trams.

This brings me to a quick glance at our bilateral economic relations:

Despite the challenging context due to COVID-19 we have been able to expand our trade relations and it is interesting to note specifically the dynamic growth of Serbian export of services to Switzerland. This reflects the growing expansion of Swiss firms to Serbia and indeed, in the first quarter of this year, Switzerland was ranked as the top bilateral foreign investor, with more than 260 million EUR of Swiss investments in Serbia. This is impressive. All in all we guess that Swiss companies in Serbia are currently employing about 12’000 persons, with a strong tendency upwards.

In this positive climate we are looking forward to the next meeting of the Joint Economic Commission that will be hosted by the government of Serbia in exactly 10 days from today. It will provide for a unique opportunity to review our economic relations and to promote further investments. Taking advantage of this bilateral meeting the Embassy is organizing an exhibition and economic forum on clean technologies in close cooperation with the Science and Technology Park Belgrade. This Techno park being another example of the successful bilateral cooperation between Switzerland and Serbia during the last 30 years.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s celebrations open up perspectives for a renewed Swiss engagement. The new Swiss Cooperation Program 2022-2025, currently under elaboration, will be the opportunity to continue the long-lasting cooperation, shared success and mutual friendship.

I wish you an excellent day and thank you for your attention.