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. 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. However, there are significant positive indications as well. These potentially very risky elements coincide with a set of crises in the wider region linked to economy, energy and food. Crises caused or aggravated by the illegal and unprovoked war in 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.Your Excellencies, Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,The EU and the Western Balkans should do their own share in this respect. Our partners need to fulfill the relevant criteria according to the set conditionality. But, also, the EU needs to get the enlargement in the Western Balkans back on track and very quickly, if I may say so.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.In this context, the region’s European integration remains an unfinished business 19 years after the 2003 “Thessaloniki Agenda”. 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.