Thank you, Mr. President. It is a great pleasure for me, on this occasion, to be here today in your country. It is a pleasure to meet you again.
This is indeed an important moment for the future of the European continent. You have mentioned it. Russia has decided to launch a brutal war, a brutal aggression against the people of Ukraine. Right from the start, the European Union has acted with unity. To support Ukraine. And to sanction Russia. With the sixth package of sanctions that we have agreed on a few days ago, we are continuing to pile pressure on the Russian economy. To cut the oxygen from the Russian war machine. I would like to thank you, dear President, you and your government, and your country – for your full alignment with EU sanctions on Russia.
We had the occasion to discuss the impact of Russia’s war on Montenegro. On the rising price of energy, food, raw materials. Montenegro has also shown great hospitality — hosting a large number of Ukrainian refugees. The EU is determined to maintain and to increase our support to you, to your government, to your people when you are addressing those extremely difficult challenges.
We had the occasion to discuss the EU-Montenegro relationship. And this is right, you mentioned it: the Western Balkans are a strategic priority for the EU more than ever. And more than ever we must be fully committed to the European perspective of the partners. Montenegro has been a consistent partner for the EU over many years. In fact, for more than a decade, Montenegro has a 100% record of aligning with our common foreign and security policy. This shows your strong commitment to becoming a member of the EU.
And with your new government – we discussed a few months ago, when we were together in Brussels – with your new government which is in place, now is the time to speed up your integration with the EU. By moving ahead with reforms. And by working constructively with all political actors and institutions in Montenegro to advance the EU accession process. The next step is to fulfil the interim benchmarks on rule of law. This will re-energise the accession process and allow Montenegro to move forward for the benefit of all the people of Montenegro.
Next week, I will have the pleasure to organise a meeting of the 27 EU leaders with the Western Balkan leaders in Brussels. This meeting, I hope, will be an opportunity to show our unity of purpose and to boost our cooperation. We stand by your country and the region. Providing both short- and long-term support. A good example is our Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, up to 30 billion euros. It provides and it will provide funding to help and to support the region, close the development gap with the EU. And to deal with today’s geo-strategic challenges.
We also had the occasion to discuss the proposal of a European political community. We had the occasion to make very clear that the goal is not replace the EU accession process. On the contrary, I am personally convinced that an immediate political integration with this possibility to have meetings on a regular basis at the level of the leaders will help us collectively to improve the mutual political understanding, and probably will help us to make progress in the field of the EU integration and EU accession. It will boost the enlargement process. This is my personal opinion and conviction.
Finally, I would like to thank you again. We had today a very valuable exchange of views. It is always useful to listen to each other, to understand better what are the different priorities, concerns. We are determined to cooperate, to grow, to coordinate, to work closely together in order to make sure that we can prepare our common EU future.