Good afternoon. Today I warmly welcome Prime Minister Duško Marković to Brussels. Let me use this opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister on his appointment, I can assure you of my full support to Montenegro's Euro-Atlantic ambitions, which are also in the strategic interest of the European Union.
The recent parliamentary elections in Montenegro under the new legislative framework, were competitive and respected fundamental freedoms.
In our meeting today, Prime Minister Marković updated me on the current political and economic situation in the country. I encouraged the Prime Minister to nourish a close dialogue with the opposition for the benefit of the whole country and to clarify some remaining questions surrounding the so-called coup attempt. This could help to restore trust and promote dialogue.
We also discussed bilateral relations: Montenegro remains a frontrunner in accession negotiations. I encouraged him to re-double efforts so that recent reforms on the rule of law the fight against corruption and against organized crime are felt by ordinary people. It is an important benchmark by which our Member States and also Montenegrin citizens, will judge the success of this government. I know that with your personal experience and determination you will succeed.
In foreign policy, Montenegro is already a de-facto EU Member. You are steadfast in protecting our values and interests, your troops serve alongside ours off the coast of the Horn of Africa and soon in Mali and you apply our sanctions against Russia. I thank you for your loyalty and support.
As I said last May in Podgorica, you have built your independence wisely and patiently, without needless victims. And after gaining it, you pursued good relations with your immediate neighbours in a most mature way. I expressed the wish that your neighbours could follow you on this peaceful track and turn towards the future.
Unfortunately, today, nationalistic rhetoric and populism is gaining ground across Europe, including in the Western Balkans. The enemies of liberalism despise our freedoms and free trade, they promote national egoism, speak of violence and disregard the rights of their peers and neighbours. They stand against your Euro-Atlantic future, they speak of alternatives to Europe.
Yet, there is no better alternative for the Western Balkans than the European Union and all that it represents. We know this from experience: the European Union has the potential to unite countries and peoples in the region, to overcome the hatred of the past for the sake of a common future and to bring stability and reconciliation.
Thank you for your efforts, Mr Prime Minister. Not only for me, but in Brussels and in Europe, Montenegro is the best example that a positive scenario is still possible in our continent.