Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Montenegrin President Milatović

Thank you very much Mr President, dear Jakov,

It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for the excellent talks we had. Enlargement is at the top of the agenda of this Commission. This is one more reason why I am very happy to be here today. Especially because I know how committed the people of Montenegro are to join the European Union – it is a very pro-European country.

We are both here to make it happen. All negotiation chapters are opened, three are already provisionally closed. Montenegro has been for a long time the most advanced Western Balkan country on the EU accession path. And I am happy to see that you are determined to keep the pole position. Congratulations also on your 100% alignment with the CFSP, so the foreign and security policies of the European Union. You are a valued member of NATO, without any question. So we discussed many positive topics.

Therefore, my first message is that I welcome that you now should be fully focused on the accession objective. Together, we should now go the last mile and bring it over the finish line. And I am very much looking forward to meeting the new Prime Minister after this press conference. It is important – and that is what you outlined – that the whole country is speaking with one voice and going in one direction together. The way to do it is for the whole country to come together – without any question – and build consensus and deliver on the EU reforms. Montenegro is blessed with a very diverse society. This is an asset. And working for justice and prosperity for all will bring Montenegro closer to the European Union. Our motto in the European Union is: ‘United in diversity’. And you know exactly what that means.

My second message is on the economy. We have discussed together that we should bring our economies closer. We have worked on that already in the past with our EUR 30 billion Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It is delivering fast. For example, with the Montenegro-Serbia Rail Interconnection. And the key transformer station of the Trans-Balkan Electricity Corridor that I will visit later today. It is a real success story made in Montenegro and powered by the European Union.

With that, Montenegro has the potential to become a major energy provider in this region. Last year, we also went through the energy crisis together. It was a severe energy crisis. We supported you also financially to cushion the impact of the high prices on households and businesses. And today, we can see that, together, we overcame all these difficulties. So this is another proof of the close cooperation we do have.

Now let us look at today’s economy and the way forward. Currently, the size of your economy stands at about 50% of the EU average. So, there is a lot of untapped potential. We discussed that we want to make a strong effort to increase the value of the economy. This is why we presented, on the European level, the new Growth Plan. This Growth Plan has four different pillars.

The first one is that the European Union opens the door of the European Single Market, in seven very crucial sectors of the economy, to the Western Balkans.

The second element is: The Western Balkans open their borders to their neighbours and complete the Common Regional Market so that we have a much larger market for all of us. The Common Regional Market has an enormous potential. If completed, it could increase the GDP of the region by 10%. We should use that.

The third element is: If we open the Single Market and complete the Common Regional Market of the Western Balkans, we need reforms to have a level playing field. You will have to deliver reforms.

But then comes the fourth pillar that says that we are investing to accompany these reforms. For Montenegro, this is, for example, to improve the business environment, to embrace the digital transition, or to modernise the energy sector.

And with that, if we do it right and open our economies, we are able to double your economy in a decade. So the untapped potential is there, and we should really use and seize the opportunity. We have used this principle of investment and reforms in the European Union with NextGenerationEU, after COVID-19. And it worked excellently. Therefore, we want to apply the same principle for our Western Balkan countries: investment comes with reforms. I believe this is the right offer at the right time.

So, Mr President, I hope we can continue to make good progress. Thank you again for hosting me and for the excellent talks we had.