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Statement by President von der Leyen on the occasion of her official visit to Montenegro

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 29 september 2021.

Thank you Mr President, and good afternoon,

It is very good to be here among friends and partners. And indeed, Montenegro is the most advanced country what the accession process is concerned. And I am here to encourage you and to commend you for your achievements, but also to encourage you to stay on course, to stay on track. It is worth it.

And as I said, we are friends and partners. And being friends and partners often also results in very concrete measures. And Mr President, you mentioned the two topics where we work intensively together. The first one is overcoming the pandemic. And the second one is, of course, strengthening the recovery after the pandemic and kick-starting again our economy.

So I am very pleased to visit you today. I am very much looking forward to visit the Public Health Institute today, closely related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are improving the capacity to fight the virus with brand new PCR mass testing machines. And this is a tangible sign for the excellent cooperation we have had during the pandemic, and that we will keep ongoing.

Indeed, we have stood by your side throughout this pandemic. And I must say, I was impressed to see how intensive the work was to get through these difficult times. We provided vital medical supplies. We provided 260,000 doses of vaccines. This is important and more vaccines will come. But we all know, if we want to overcome this pandemic, it is about vaccination, people with full vaccination, with two shots. That is important to protect, not only yourself, but also your beloved ones. And therefore, I think it is a joint undertaking to convince those who are still hesitating that it is important to get vaccinated. Because we do not want the virus to create a pandemic of the non-vaccinated, and to mutate and turn into variants of concerns. So there is a huge responsibility towards ourselves, but also towards our community to have the vaccination, now that it is available.

And we also want to work together very practically on the economic recovery. The European Union has invested significantly to address the negative economic impact of the virus throughout the crisis. We mobilised EUR 3.3 billion of support for the region. Montenegro has received EUR 130 million in grants and in financing. And this, indeed, went into the vital medical supply, it went into a wider regional economic recovery package, and of course also into the healthcare system to be more resilient.

Now, what we have to do now is to look forward and to have strategic investment in the core sectors that are so important to create a positive future for the next generation, a lasting recovery in Montenegro. Because, like in the European Union where we are discussing the same topics, people in Montenegro, and especially young people in Montenegro, deserve a greener, more sustainable, more digital, more resilient future. They deserve plenty of opportunities to succeed. They deserve to have quality, well-paid jobs. And this is exactly what our economic and investment plan is all about.

As you know, we put EUR 9 billion on the table. It is constructed in a way that we expect from Montenegro to present us mature, quality projects. So you design the projects the investment goes into. And with this combined effort, we will be able to leverage an additional EUR 20 billion for the region. So we have an overall package of EUR 30 billion that goes into the future projects of the Green Deal, of digitalisation and of resilience.

If we look at this year, we have already invested EUR 500 million. And I am pleased to announce that, as the programme progresses so successfully, we are able to invest another EUR 600 million still this year. So that shows that the plan is a success. And it is a joint success because it is designed by the region and invested by our common commitment.

Let me give you a few examples. For example, we are ready to support other sections of the motorway that links Bar and Podgorica and Belgrade with each other. This includes, in particular, the Podgorica bypass. And we are also ready to support the railway line linking Podgorica with Tirana. So very concrete, practical projects that will increase and improve the connectivity of the region, and are so much needed.

Of course, the goal is that this economic and investment plan creates jobs and it creates growth in the region. But it is also crucial that the support is done through integration within the region. So I am calling on all six partners in the Western Balkans to move forward quickly on the common regional market. Because increasing the potential of the common regional market will unleash an enormous economic strength. So not having all these hurdles and the obstacles, but taking in the way and having a good fluid trade within the common regional market will unleash a lot of potential that is here in the region. And this is in your hands. It is the key for the success of the economic and investment plan, and thus also key for progress in the EU accession process.

And indeed, as I said, Mr President, Montenegro is the most advanced country in the EU accession negotiations. And we want that to continue. You owe it to your people, we owe it together to our people. We, especially, owe it to those young people here in Montenegro, who dream of a European future. And they are right if they have that dream, we want that really to come true.

And here let me say: The political dialogue is now necessary for Montenegro to make progress. To make progress on the rule of law, interim benchmarks and to move forward on the EU path. This also means making sure that there is no backtracking on earlier achievements. You have come a long way. You have done a great job. There was hard work behind it. It is the Montenegrin people who achieved that. So we have to be very careful that there is no backsliding on the early achievements, but that we trust the political forces and society to find the necessary consensus to overcome divisions and to preserve Montenegro as the multi-ethnic and tolerant country you are well-known for.

The majority of the citizens in Montenegro expect that Montenegro will swiftly progress in EU accession negotiations. And for this, we need to see outreach in the spirit of compromise. I always think that compromise is the crown jewel of democracy because we know that democracy is not one party or one person that decides it all. It is the opposite. It is the people who decide overtime how to move forward. And for that, if we want to create majorities, it needs compromise, it needs the protection of minorities. And therefore, the compromise is important to agree and implement then the measures that will bring Montenegro closer to the European Union.

One last word, just to show how much progress you have made, not only on the infrastructure, that is important; on the economy, that is also important. But I want to commend Montenegro for becoming the first country in the Western Balkans to legalise same-sex marriages. This is an example for the region and beyond because it shows the tolerance, it shows the acknowledgment of the dignity of the individual person, irrespective of whom you are in love with, how old you are, what ethnicity is behind as your background. So being really committed to respecting diversity, and to be able to unite in diversity. That is a big step forward that you did.

Now let me say that I look forward to seeing you indeed at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Ljubljana in a week from now. There, we will certainly discuss the way we will forge our common future. It will be an interesting Summit. It is necessary that we meet.

And I want you, this is my last point, to fully take part in the Conference on the Future of Europe. Because when we chart a vision for the common future of Europe, it is important that the people of Montenegro are also being heard, that the youth of Montenegro is also being heard, what they have to say about the future of the European Union.

And I thank you for the attention.


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