Dear colleagues and friends,
Allow me to start by congratulating our co-hosts, and by greeting our Western Balkan partners involved in the Berlin Process.
The Western Balkans are at the heart of Europe, and their future is in the European Union. That is why our engagement has been, and remains, so strong.
We have a shared interest in integrating the Western Balkans and to enhance their prosperity, justice and security.
We face shared challenges and work on solutions together, as we do during this COVID-19 pandemic.
From the very start of the pandemic, the European Union supported the Western Balkans as the closest of partners. Providing financial support to secure medical assistance and including the region in a joint European Union procurement mechanism.
Now, we also focus on recovery, dedicating long-term and sustainable support to the region through the European Union Economic and Investment Plan recently approved by the European Commission.
You all know how much the European Union values its common market. It is one of our most important assets and in the run-up to this summit, I have been impressed by the sense of purpose you have shown in working to create a common market for the Western Balkans, to unlock the region's economic potential and to make the region economically fit to join the European Union.
In all of this, we must not forget that the recovery needs to be sustainable and socially just. And this means aiming for green economic recovery and digital transformation of the economy and society. That is why the Economic and Investment Plan and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans is focused on modern, green, people-focused investment.
This also means that the investments need to be underpinned by the fundamental reforms required on the European path. Each partner in the region knows what needs to be done. Now – also with the welcome decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and with North Macedonia – is the time to keep the positive momentum and keep working.
Working together, as we do in the European Union, is the best way to overcome the legacy of the past and to build a better future. It is a clear signal to our youth that we take their aspirations for green, peaceful, just and prosperous societies seriously.
Today is a good occasion to jointly discuss how we can contribute practically and concretely so that their aspirations become reality.