Good afternoon! I am truly glad to be here today, as my visit of Northern Ireland is drawing to a close. These past two days have been informative; inspiring and enriching.
It comes as no surprise that the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland has been the main reason for my being here.
We are facing a number of challenges in its implementation - it was therefore important to me to listen to and engage face-to-face with business, civil society and political representatives, having previously been limited to online platforms.
If there is one main takeaway from all my exchanges, it is the clear call for stability and predictability - so that the people and businesses in Northern Ireland can benefit from opportunities that the Protocol offers.
Let me say in no uncertain terms: the EU has an unwavering commitment to the people of Northern Ireland - and for this reason, to the implementation of the Protocol, which can be a true success story.
I am, of course, acutely aware of how some people in Northern Ireland feel about the Protocol. That is why the EU has spared no effort to find creative, practical solutions - that foster stability, while minimising the inevitable disruption caused by Brexit, and protecting the EU's Single Market.
But we must be honest: the European Union cannot be blamed for the costs of Brexit.
Brexit made it necessary to find an agreement on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. After years of long, complex negotiations, we found a solution with the UK in the form of the Protocol.
Removing the Protocol will not solve any issues. It is the best solution we found with the UK to address the unique situation of the island of Ireland, and the challenges created by the type of Brexit that the current UK government chose.
Failing to apply the Protocol will not make problems disappear, but simply take away the tools to solve them.
We will therefore continue to engage tirelessly with the UK during September. But the spirit of compromise needs to be a mutual one, as our responsibility is also a shared one.
If we were to accept the UK's command paper in full, it would amount to a renegotiation of the Protocol. We will not do that.
Beyond the fact that we would not find a better solution, a renegotiation of the Protocol would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability for people in Northern Ireland - the exact opposite of our approach, favouring stability, certainty and predictability.
Therefore, our focus now should be on issues that matter most to the people of Northern Ireland.
First; limiting the disruption in the supply of goods to Northern Ireland;
This is particularly the case for medicines where we will change our own rules in order to guarantee continuity of the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland. As I said this morning, for my part, I will do whatever it takes.
And second, we should focus, together with the UK, on enhancing the participation of Northern Irish political institutions and stakeholders in the implementation of the Protocol.
On the other hand, removing the role of the Court of Justice would mean Northern Ireland no longer has access to the Single Market. That helps nobody.
The EU has demonstrated its goodwill. Earlier this week, we reacted in a cool and calm manner to the UK's statement regarding the continuation of existing grace periods.
We did this in order to create a constructive atmosphere for our ongoing discussions.
In conclusion, let me stress one important thing: our overarching objective is to establish a positive and stable relationship with the United Kingdom.
After five years in which clarity and stability have often been lacking, we now have a solid basis on which to cooperate - the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
After all, we remain partners with shared values and we will have to tackle a number of global challenges side-by-side.
The context is such that we have no alternative but to cooperate. I am convinced that this should be our starting position when addressing any outstanding issues.