The war in Ukraine highlighted the strategic importance of the European Union-Western Balkans relationship. The EU remains the biggest trade and investment partner of the Western Balkans. Cooperation on foreign policy with Western Balkans partners has stepped up, also in relation to Ukraine. Within this equation, it is impossible to imagine Europe without its Southeastern region. Southeast Europe in general and the Western Balkans in particular have always belonged to Europe. Like other parts of the Continent, the Western Balkans have experienced armed conflicts, that is known. But, geographically, historically, culturally they belong to Europe. Their bitter legacy has left behind, even today, an amount of mistrust, nationalism and lack of reconciliation.In this context, the region’s European integration remains an unfinished business 19 years after the 2003 “Thessaloniki Agenda”. Thank you so much.As our region tries to endure the impact of war, it is crucial that the EU contributes to this effort. Τhe Economic & Investment Plan is expected to bring tangible benefits to citizens and businesses. It is also expected to reinforce the region’s sustainable growth, including inter-connectivity. We should all work very closely together, so we can turn the region into a truly European neighborhood. Put this region into the European family where it actually belongs.I would like to conclude with a word of caution regarding the presence of third actors in the region. Actors which promote adversarial political and economic agendas. Such agendas, different to the European agenda, run counter to our collective interests, and they attempt to undermine the EU-Western Balkans relationship.Can I talk now a little bit about our big home, our big family, the European Union. The European Union was created as a visionary project of peace. A project that would promote economic and political integration. And today’s European Union is the outcome of that initial choice. A choice that we, Europeans, need to defend. We should continue to strive tirelessly for cementing peace, stability and sustainable development.