I would like to thank Minister Spasovski for hosting us in Skopje today, and Minister Ohisalo for chairing our discussions.
The last few years have brought the European Union and the Western Balkans closer together, deepening longstanding ties and relationships across our European continent.
The challenges we face when it comes to: migration, fighting migrant smuggling, border management, counter terrorism and tackling organised crime are common and so is our response.
On migration, we have been working closely with Member States and partners along the Western Balkans route over the last months and years, regularly exchanging information and coordinating actions.
This is my sixth Western Balkans meeting and I can tell you, it was one of the most fruitful ones. All countries in the region are fully aligned to only one perspective to become members of the European family.
The fruitful exchanges we had today are another proof of our engagement towards a concerted approach.
We are fully committed to continue supporting our Western Balkan partners, with the overall financial support to the Western Balkans on migration now topping 390 million euros.
The needs of refugees and migrants are at the centre of our efforts to provide protection, food, clean water, health care, a roof over their heads.
We need to make sure that all migrants and refugees are accommodated in facilities that are fit for purpose.
This is a top priority, and this is why we are working with partners in the region to strengthen their reception capacities as well as their asylum systems.
This is particularly important for Bosnia and Herzegovina and I discussed this with the minister of interior today, because the situation in his country is a concern for all of us. And I welcome his commitments to immediately address the situation with EU support.
We also need to continue working together to break down migrant smuggling networks and to protect those who are prey to these criminal activities. Better managing our borders, together, is key in this respect.
Since May this year, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency is deploying teams in Albania to assist Albanian border guards.
Recently, we also signed a European Border and Coast Guard status agreement with Montenegro, and the one with Serbia will be signed today. I hope we will be able to sign the remaining ones soon.
This will help us reduce irregular border crossings and will further enhance security, together, in the spirit of close cooperation with trust and solidarity.
When it comes to security, the EU will continue to support the Western Balkans in strengthening their capacity to fight terrorism and to prevent and counter radicalisation and violent extremism. Guaranteeing security means dealing with threats that transcend borders.
This is why will continue to step up information exchange among all competent security services, with the support of EU Agencies. Our joint work is bearing fruit: today we are signing three more arrangements for the implementation of the EU-Western Balkans Joint Action Plan on Counter Terrorism with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro and Serbia. So with all six Western Balkan Partners.
This is a big step forward for our common security, and for the protection of our citizens. Our cooperation is also crucial when it comes to dismantling organised crime groups and fighting against firearms trafficking.
In all these areas, we will continue to stay vigilant, build our capacities and step up our cooperation.
I am confident that our joint work will continue to deliver results that will benefit us all.
As this is my last EU-Western Balkans Home Affairs Ministerial, I wish to take the opportunity to pass a clear political message.
I am standing here on European soil, in a region that belongs to Europe – historically, politically and culturally.
The only real and sensible future for this entire region is a European one – because they are part of Europe.
To colleagues in the EU who are hesitant or afraid about this process, I warn them that they should be more afraid of the opposite and of pushing away our closest partners.
It is for the interest of the whole of Europe that this historically sensitive region becomes in the near future a paradigm of cooperation, peace, stability and development. And this should remain a strategic political priority of the EU.
I hope that EU leaders will reconsider their decision in order to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
But above all, I hope and I wish that the day when this entire region is part of the European Union comes sooner rather than later.