A trip through the Balkans

A trip through the Balkans

I write after the first day of a visit to the “Western Balkans Six”, which have started a path towards entering the European Union. The first stop, yesterday, was in Montenegro – the country that has made more progress in the negotiations with the EU, and is also on the doorstep of NATO. Today I will continue to Sarajevo and Skopje, tomorrow I will be in Belgrade and Tirana, Saturday in Pristina. Here is the op-ed published on a number of regional media ahead of my visit.

In Podgorica I met with President Filip Vujanovic, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic (here is our press conference) and the Speaker of the Parliament Ivan Brajovic, before I addressed the members of the Parliament. My message to all institutions, which I will repeat in all capitals, is that the door of the European Union is open for the Balkan countries. This is not an “enlargement” of our Union but a “reunification” – because the Balkans are part of Europe. In the first sixty years of our history, which we are about to celebrate, we have learnt that working together makes much more sense than fighting against one another. When I say this here in the Balkans, where the last of the European wars of the last century was fought, it has a very special value. And the discussion on the future of Europe also has a special value here: we must keep in mind that, when the UK will leave us, the next phase of our Union will not be at 27. One Member State will leave, others will join in.

In preparation to the anniversary of the Treaties of 1957, last Monday I was in Rome to meet with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and several ministers I work with every they – as friends, not just as colleagues. With Gentiloni and with Angelino Alfano, Roberta Pinotti, Marco Minniti and Dario Franceschini, we discussed how to strengthen the role of our Union internationally, addressing the crises in Libya and Syria, managing migration flows, where Italy is on the frontline, building a common European defence and working on cultural diplomacy – and in this field too, Italy is a key actor with its culture and heritage. I thanked Italy for its determination and its leadership in pushing forward a truly European agenda (here is my press conference with Alfano).

Europe’s present and future, and how to make our Union stronger and more effective in delivering on our citizens’ needs – this is the core of a White Paper prepared by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with contributions from all of us in the Commission. The White Paper identifies five possible scenarios for the European Union of 2025. We can keep on the same path, we can lower the level of our ambition and only focus on selected issues. Or we can turn the page, strengthen cooperation in certain fields – including defence – so we can better address our citizens’ needs and be an even more effective player in the world. The Commission’s contribution to the debate, ahead of the Rome celebration, is open for discussion – not only among governments, but within national parliaments and among the citizens of our Union.

In my daily work, in my international meetings, I see the need for Europe. I see our partners’ interest and their will to work with us, starting with our neighbours and the friends in our region.

Handshake between Serge Sargsyan, on the left, and Federica MogheriniFriends like Armenia: we have just closed negotiations on our new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, which had begun in 2015. It is an important deal, which I discussed yesterday in Brussels with President Serge Sargsyan.

Friends like Montenegro, where I was yesterday: in preparation for the trip, I had met Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic in Brussels.