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Thank you very much, dear Aleksandar [Vučić], dear President [of Serbia], it is a pleasure for me to be in Belgrade again, just two weeks after my last visit. I would like to personally thank you for the warm welcome, for the excellent contacts we have, always, also in between the meetings. And, indeed, I do feel at home here in Belgrade, as usual. I attach great importance to the fact of being here in Belgrade and I wanted personally to come to Serbia, as I did earlier today and yesterday as part of a visit to the two countries of the region that are currently negotiating their accession to the European Union, Serbia and Montenegro. But I also paid a visit to Skopje and Tirana, straight from Strasbourg where the EuropeanCommission adopted the Enlargement Package.
Because the message I am bringing is not only bilateral to Serbia today, but it is also a message to the region and the Western Balkans, namely that the perspective towards the European Union, in particular for these four countries, but I would say for the entire region, is credible, real and tangible. In particular for Serbia and Montenegro; and I would like to stress here the work that Serbia has done is proceeding in the right direction. As I said in Strasbourg in the European Parliament presenting the package together with Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy, Johannes] Hahn, it is clear that negotiations with Serbia are advancing well on the European Union integration path of the country, with 12 out of 35 chapters open in negotiations and the good prospect of opening further chapters under the current Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union.
And since I am concluding my regional visit here tonight, let me say that I am impressed by the energy, the commitment, the ambitions and the willingness everywhere, including obviously here in Belgrade, to move forward on the reform path towards European Union membership. And let me recognise, dear President, all the determination and the efforts and the work that your country under your leadership and the work of the government has been doing since we opened negotiations.
I will always remember the moment when we had, I think, our first press conference together - you were at the time Prime Minister - negotiations and chapters were not open yet. And I remember very well I said publicly in front of the media of this country: I believe chapters can be opened by the end of the year. Nobody believed in that. And here we are today with a progress report that clearly identifies that negotiations with Serbia are proceeding well and in the right direction.
Obviously, we are known in the European Commission for being strict, not giving any gifts - even if personally I am convinced that the Enlargement process in the Western Balkans is a gift we do to ourselves in the European Union. But as is very well known, we are very strict. Some said merciless, which to me is a little bit strong - not here in this country I have been told.
So the progress report also indicates areas where further work is needed. It indicates progress and it indicates areas where further work needs to be done. I know that the President [Aleksandar Vučić] and the governments are fully aware of the areas where this work is needed, President [Aleksandar] Vučić mentioned these areas himself. And I am sure of not only his determination and political commitment, but also of the determination and the political commitment of the Prime Minister [of Serbia, Ana Brnabić] and the entire government to make swift progress in the coming period also in these areas.
With the President [Aleksandar Vučić], like last time, we also discussed the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that I am facilitating. We spoke about the new phase of the dialogue towards the objective to achieve a legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations and we have also looked at the implementation of the agreements already reached in the dialogue. And let me underline in particular here something that I underlined several times here, in Pristina, in Brussels, publicly and in meetings: The need for the full implementation of all the agreements achieved five years after the Brussels Agreement was reached. It is high time that it is also fully implemented. I see this as the most credible basis for further work to be done on the new phase of the dialogue. A lot of work is still needed, including on the establishment of the Association/Community of the Serb Majority Municipalities and also the implementation of the Energy Agreement.
As you mentioned Mr President [Aleksandar Vučić], next month the leaders from the European Union institutions and Member States and the leaders from the Western Balkans will meet at the summit in Sofia, an important summit that comes far too long after the Thessaloniki Summit 15 years ago and that I expect would give new impetus to our practical and concrete cooperation in the region and also recommit clearly, all of us, to our common work towards the European Union integration process and building even stronger cooperation and reforms for the region.
I cannot conclude without mentioning some numbers that to me are the essence, the backbone of the path of Serbia towards the European Union, but also - already today - show the way in which the European Union and Serbia are walking hand in hand and working together for the benefit of Serbian citizens.
The European Union is the biggest trading partner. You mentioned 65 percent of Serbian exports go to the European Union. It is the biggest investment partner with almost 80 per cent of foreign direct investment coming from the European Union. And in 2017 alone - last year alone - it was €1.5 billion, generating approximately 200 thousand jobs in Serbia. Last year also over 3000 participants, meaning students, researchers, professors, and academics participated in Erasmus+. And I would like to underline one very positive element for me: it was not only Serbs coming to European Union universities, but also the other way around, meaning that Serbia is becoming more and more attractive for EU students and academics to come and spend some time here and study together. And a strong support from the European Union budget: €4 billion in the period of 2000 – 2020, €4 billion of European investment bank loans since 2009.
I think these numbers speak for themselves, when we see the magnitude, the relevance of the European Union - Serbia cooperation in all different fields. I mentioned mainly economic indicators, but, again, I would not underestimate all the other ones. This is only the beginning. It is only a small element on the path towards European Union membership, because this is what we are talking about today.
I would like to thank you, Aleksandar [Vučić], for the strong leadership and the strong determination that has allowed, I believe, this country to move forward so much. Thank you.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I154269
Questions & Answers
Q: You mentioned the implementation of the Brussels agreement, how exactly do you plan either to put some pressure or supervise Pristina to do it in the months to come having in mind that Serbian officials, including the President do not believe that it could happen? And, a comment on yesterday's episodes with Seselj?
On this last issue I would comment as the President has done very clearly already yesterday and I appreciated this, condemning any gesture that is inappropriate in democratic institutions which are highly respected, like the Serbian Parliament. I had, myself, my personal experiences there. I think I will stop my comment to that. Again, stressing what the President mentioned yesterday, these are episodes that are not rendering a good service to the image of Serbia that deserves to be recognised as a country with solid, democratic institutions and I was myself honoured toaddress the Serbian Parliament last year when I visited. But obviously, I believe that, as Prime Minister [of Croatia, Andrej] Plenković said, dialogue and cooperation in the region and beyond have to be maintained and are of the utmost importance. This is the essence of the European Union project and this is what we are all committed to.
For what concerns the implementation of the Brussels Agreement: I have insisted repeatedly in the last years on the need to fully implement all parts of the Agreement. And I have, as you know very well, repeatedly mentioned, in specific ways, the need to start the work and then to finalise the work on the Association/Community of the Serb Majority Municipalities. I believe that this, as other elements of the Brussels Agreement, that need to be further implemented should have been done before. It is not the only part of the Agreement that has not been implemented yet. I believe that all elements of the Agreement need to be implemented swiftly. I welcomed the beginning of the process of drafting the Statute that has been delayed for some time and that now has started and we will obviously, as always, not only monitor, but also our accompany with our work in Brussels the further steps that will be taken, as we always do.
For us - and for me personally – facilitating a dialogue is not only about inviting the two parties to exchange, or to sit down and agree on something, but it is very complicated, sometimes very technical and a time and energy consuming work that an entire team in Brussels is doing on a daily basis. And I can guarantee you that, on the full implementation of the Agreement, including this one, our team will continue to work, making sure that this can be led to completion as we expect this to happen.
Link to the video: