EU-Western Balkans Summit Speech
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I would like to thank Prime Minister Borisov for organising this Summit.
The countries of the Western Balkans are closely linked to the EU by geography, history and economy. They are already within our borders and the Union is not complete without them.
Firmly anchoring the future of the Western Balkans to that of the Union brings benefits to all.
On the one hand, the peace, stability and prosperity of these countries will have a positive long-term effect on the security and stability of the entire European continent. On the other hand, access to the Union will drive the social and economic development of the Western Balkans and give impetus to the reforms already underway.
Irreversibility of the accession process
In my missions to the Balkans, I have already stressed the importance of giving these countries a definite European perspective, in the interests of the stability of the whole area.
For example, the accession of Montenegro and Serbia should take place by 2025.
We must make it clear once and for all that the process of the Western Balkans accession to the European Union is irreversible. This is also in order to give a definitive message to these countries about their future.
We cannot continue to ask them to implement reforms that demand a very high political price, without at the same time giving them the certainty that the introduction of these reforms will lead to EU membership.
The countries of the Western Balkans are committed to recognising the primacy of democracy and the rule of law, and to respecting human rights. It is particularly important to ensure that the media can participate independently in the democratic process.
They have made progress in ensuring the independence of the judiciary and in implementing socio-economic reforms. This is crucial for improving the fight against corruption and organised crime.
The EU, for its part, must support their aspiration to join the Union, bearing in mind the principle of conditionality. Every country that has accession as its objective must be judged solely on its own merits and its ability to meet the same criteria for all.
Common challenges to be addressed together
The Western Balkans and the EU share common challenges that we can only address by improving mutual cooperation and making it more effective.
Firstly, we must act together to manage migratory flows.
Experience shows that the joint efforts have brought concrete results on the Balkan route, also thanks to the support of the countries of the region.
But the emergency is not over, and the challenges ahead must not be unprepared.
Greater efforts are also needed to combat terrorism and its financing.
The phenomenon of the return of foreign fighters requires, in particular, greater cooperation.
The fight against trafficking in human beings, drugs and arms needs to be strengthened in order to achieve concrete results.
Combating misinformation and the dissemination of false information is a common challenge of great importance for the future, and must be tackled with comprehensive strategies.
Connect to merge
The summit that opens today is dedicated to the theme of connectivity, which is crucial to strengthen ties between the EU and its Balkan partners, as well as between the countries of the region.
I welcome the progress already made in this area thanks to the work of the Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn.
Improving connections is essential for the future of the Balkans, because it does not just mean developing more modern and effective infrastructures. It means at the same time bringing our citizens and our economies closer together, improving economic stability, prosperity and social and cultural development.
New technologies offer highly effective tools for overcoming barriers and borders and for connecting people.
Faster and more effective digital networks will support industrial and commercial development. Faster transport networks will improve mobility in the region and with the EU. More modern energy transport networks will promote energy supply and energy security.
The Sofia Declaration, signed today, is an important step in this direction. The introduction of a digital agenda for the Western Balkans will improve the climate for digital investment in the region and develop the telecommunications market.
In this perspective, the reduction of roaming costs in the Western Balkans, in the wake of what has been done in the European Union, is particularly important.
I hope that the objective of eliminating these costs by 1 August is realistic. I am confident that the EU Commission and Digital Economy Commissioner Mariya Gabriel will do what is necessary to achieve this ambitious goal.
The EU needs to demonstrate its interest in the future of the region in concrete terms, and it needs to do so by supporting, more substantially, interconnection and trade between these countries and with the EU.
In the next EU budget we need a real investment plan for the Western Balkans of at least EURÂ 10Â billion.
This plan, in the wake of what is being done in the EU, must offer support and guarantees for private investment in infrastructure, to facilitate the creation of digital broadband networks, road and rail transport, inter-modality and port logistics, as well as energy interconnection.
This plan is essential to have a real integration between the markets of the region and the EU market and to counterbalance the influence of other international players such as Turkey, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, which are making huge investments in the Balkan area.
The aim is to act as a driving force for the national economies, triggering a virtuous circle that will enable the region to speed up the pace towards accession to the European Union.
Nuclear agreement with Iran.
Today's summit also provides an opportunity to discuss recent developments in the nuclear agreement with Iran.
This is a crucial issue for the security of all of us, and the withdrawal of the United States is a mistake.
The European Union will be consistent with its international commitments, as long as the parties respect their commitments.
Likewise, Iran must continue to honour its commitments and ensure that its nuclear programme remains peaceful and civilised.
It is not acceptable for our companies to suffer serious de facto damage as a result of the sanctions introduced by the United States simply because they comply with the international commitments they have entered into.
The integration of the Western Balkans is an appointment with history that the Union must not miss. The time has come to give clear signals of our common will to complete the accession process, which is first and foremost political. Only full integration into the European project can guarantee this region a future of peace, stability and prosperity.