Podgorica, 7 February 2020

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Thank you very much for hosting me, Prime Minister [Duško Markovic]!

It is an honour to be here and give me an opportunity to say in person here in Podgorica that our new Commission is very much committed to the Western Balkans region. This Commission is a geopolitical one, this Commission will put back on among the priorities the enlargement to the Western Balkans. This is a message I want to bring to you and this is the message I would like you to hear really well.

It has been only two days since we came forward with the first element of our new enlargement strategy, the so-called methodology. Although it is a paper about processes and procedures, I would still highlight the four principles around which it is formulated: credibility, stronger political steer, predictability and dynamism. These are the four principles around which I am shaping my work. And these are the four principles that should work not only for our Member States, but also for the region. And I think this is a very strong commitment on our side to bring the process forward.

But I do not hide the fact that all of my work is based on your achievements. I cannot be successful if you are not successful.

We discussed with the Prime Minister that - as Montenegro is the frontrunner in the accession process - the promise I made to the European Parliament, which is to have at least one country ready to join the European Union by the end of my mandate, is not achievable unless you help me to achieve it. So with the Prime Minister we agreed to work for that goal together. But it means that work needs to accelerate. Reforms have to accelerate, especially in the area of rule of law, media freedom, where we have outstanding issues to address.

I also understand that this is a sensitive year for Montenegro because you have elections coming up. I hope to help also with the new economic investment plan for the entire region, to be presented ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb. This is also for Montenegro with which we can speed up the work, the catching up in terms of the economic difference between the EU and this region. Zagreb would be crucial to back up the new impetus that we tried to create in enlargement. So I hope that this will be also another element through which you can speed up your work.

When I look at Montenegro, what I see is that the EU has rendered already significant support for this country. But still, more needs to be done. So reforms will have to continue and be speeded up in the new Parliament. Today, I am meeting not only the Prime Minister, but I am meeting also other political leaders, including the President [Milo Đukanović]. I'm also reaching out to the opposition, because the other main message I am coming with is that Montenegro cannot be successful unless everybody works for that.

So we need the opposition to work for the success of Montenegro. And I would like to ask the opposition to cooperate and create together with the governing parties  - who are governing parties now, maybe there will be other governing parties after the elections. We never know. Elections and government majorities are coming and going. But the country always faces the same challenge, which is the reform that is necessary to become an EU Member State. I would reach out to the opposition to participate in the elections and also to establish a common national minimum for these reforms so that we can be assured that no matter what the majority, we will always have these reforms delivered.

We touched very briefly on the issue of the law on religious freedoms. The Commission has no say on this, it is for the countries to design their own religious systems. But the only advice I am giving, and I am also meeting the Metropolitan Amfilohije, is that the world is looking at you. This is an important issue for everybody and we are interested in dialogue. And I would encourage everybody for dialogue and also for a solution that is acceptable for everybody. Therefore, if we can be of any help in that, I do not think we can. But if we can be, of course, we would be happy to help. But I think it would be important and it would be a priority to come to a solution.

Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister [Duško Markovic].

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