Rome, 19 December 2019

Prime Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me thank Prime Minister Conte and the Italian Presidency of the Central European Initiative for the invitation and the privilege to present our plans to key partners. The Central European Initiative is one of the best examples of regional cooperation, addressing themes such as economic development, interconnected transport networks, knowledge based society and civil society - all of which are key to our work.

The timing of this summit, so soon after the new European Commission took office, allows me to stress from the outset that this is a geopolitical Commission where the full engagement with our neighbours is a top priority.

Europe needs to have a strong and united voice in the world and it needs to play its geopolitical role to the full. Especially in our nearest neighbourhood we must engage strongly in pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity.  This is in our own interest, and it is also a question of credibility.

As regards areas of common interest with the CEI, my intention is to sustain and accelerate progress in the Western Balkans, keeping a credible perspective for future accession.

Our commitment to the EU perspective of North Macedonia and Albania remain unchanged. Let me stress that the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries was confirmed at the October European Council. We cannot be a credible geopolitical Commission, if we don’t get relations with our most immediate neighbours right.

Therefore, I will continue to defend our proposal to open accession negotiations with both countries and I cannot stress enough the importance of taking a positive decision on opening negotiations well ahead of the Zagreb summit next year. The Croatian Presidency will have a crucial role to play in this respect.

For this, I will work with all Member States, especially those expressing concerns, and our Western Balkans partners. Looking at the overall picture of Western Balkans, it is incumbent on all Member States, Western Balkan partners and EU institutions to work to ensure the credibility of the accession perspective.

First, we will strongly sustain and accelerate the reform process for each individual country. The reforms must have a real impact on the ground in terms of economic development, increased prosperity and quality of life as well as freedom for people in the region, bringing these countries closer to us in their everyday life.

Second, and in parallel to opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, we will present suggestions early next year to contribute to driving the process forward, to strengthen our cooperation and to render the negotiations process more credible, more dynamic and more predictable, and yet more objective, also acting on the concerns raised by our Member States. At the same time I want to be crystal-clear: we do not intend to change the rules during the game. 

And last but definitely not least, we need to support the economic development of the region, accelerating the creation of strong economies by bringing significantly more funds and investments to the region. This should reduce the unemployment rate and provide tangible and touchable benefits on the ground. Therefore, we have to enhance and extend our physical infrastructure (TEN-E, TEN-T) to the region. At the same time fundamentals like rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration reform will remain priorities for the citizens and also for securing a safe business environment for the companies. 

All these topics should be at the heart of our work. My ambition is to have at least one of our partners ready to join and the others well ahead in the negotiations by the end of my mandate. In this, I need your support.

Apart from the Western Balkan, it is also my intention to strengthen relations with the countries of the EU’s eastern neighbourhood.

I took office as we concluded the structured consultation launched earlier this year to take stock of achievements and challenges and identify new priorities for cooperation with the Eastern Partnership. Let me share three key outcomes of the consultation with you.

First, there is strong consensus that the current Eastern Partnership policy framework is a good basis on which we can continue our work.

Second, we are delivering on:

  • Stronger economy
  • Stronger connectivity and
  • Stronger society

Third, as regards stronger governance, there is more to do, especially on rule of law, fight against corruption and the role of independent media and civil society. Further progress in these areas is crucial as it is the only way to create jobs, growth and opportunities for all.

Based on the consultation and in close cooperation with High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, I intend to propose a framework of ambitious but realistic policy objectives that keeps the Eastern partnership relevant and inclusive for the years to come. I hope that we can endorse this new framework at the Eastern Partnership summit in June next year.

Thank you very much for your attention.