I want to begin by sincerely thanking, on behalf of all the member states, Janez Janša and the Slovenian presidency for organising these important meetings: the informal dinner yesterday evening and the EU Western Balkans summit which is being held today.
Let me say a few words about the EU-Western Balkans summit. The first important point is that this region is of strategic importance to the EU. In a strong statement, together we all reaffirmed the European perspective of the region and the desire to work towards progress on enlargement. The second point is that our exchanges here have given us an opportunity to clarify, at political level, the topics on which we will have to step up political work throughout the coming months and years.
The first very important topic is fundamental values: rule of law and the fight against corruption. It is the DNA of our European project. It is also an important topic amongst the 27 member states. On a regular basis, we have discussion and political debate on this topic to see how we can make progress and ensure that we all follow and all respect the fundamental principles. This is key because it is the choice we want for member states, but it is also the choice that the governments of the Western Balkan countries want for their citizens.
Second, and this is paramount, is the link between the reforms that are needed — as we would like to anchor the reforms in those countries — and the investments. The Commission took a fundamental decision by providing an unprecedented amount of money to connect the WB to our EU priorities, in order to also facilitate and encourage regional cooperation in this region that is key for the future. And you know our current priorities: the green deal and the digital agenda. We hope that these investments will make the EU’s presence more visible and tangible for the people in those countries, so they can see the concrete benefits of this partnership with the EU.
The third point that I would like to emphasise is that this frank, open and sometimes lively debate has been an opportunity to discuss the subject of conflicts without beating around the bush. These conflicts are linked to history and to the past, as well as to the issue of the treatment of minorities in different countries. We want progress to be made and we stand ready to shoulder our share of responsibility by encouraging and supporting each other, as actors of good will. However, progress will also require political will on the part of the countries concerned.
The fourth point is that there is an ongoing debate between the 27 on the Union’s capacity to integrate new member states. This issue was addressed in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe: what do we want to do together in the future in the EU? How do we want to take decisions together? It is essential to make headway on these issues.
Political interventions have clearly highlighted some of the topics on which we need to move forward. This dense and substantial declaration has been approved, which is a step forward, and we will continue to be engaged on this front.
Yesterday evening, we communicated in writing the oral conclusions of the meeting, which set out a framework reflecting the nature of the discussions. The European Council intends to maintain its commitment to the process in order to further increase our influence in the world and to defend our values and interests with our allies. We want a strong EU in the field of defence, since a strong EU in this field strengthens our partners and alliances. This was a guiding principle in yesterday’s debate. Yesterday evening, we witnessed the dynamics of collective intelligence to build European unity, the strongest unity to defend our interests and values.