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Remarks of the Head of EU Delegation to Albania Ambassador Romana Vlahutin following the adoption by the European Commission of the new strategy for the Western Balkans
I do not have much to add to what you have heard from the High Representative Mogherini and Commissioner Hahn, I am ready to answer to more Albania specific questions, but before that let me recapitulate the main messages:
The last time Commission had issued a strategy for the region was in Thessaloniki in 2003. After 15 years it was time to renew the mutual commitment, provide additional energy and impetus to the process and use the momentum to really speed up the reform process in the entire region.
This is a regional strategy: it looks at all WB partners across the board both scrutinising the deficiencies but also identifying opportunities. It very clearly identifies priorities for all countries in the region, regardless of the technical stage in their contractual relations with the EU.
Those priorities are also shared by the citizens in the region who demand EU standards when it comes to: the rule of law, respect for fundamental rights and good governance, including fight against corruption and organised crime and strengthening the functioning of democratic institutions.
Here, there are some very important messages for a need to ensure the constructive dialogue across the political spectrum, with governments ensuring that the opposition has the possibility to fully perform its role and for the opposition to engage constructively in the democratic process.
Other priorities are strengthening of the economy and good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation.
There is a clear message that, in this process, countries have incentives to support each other, because it will not be possible for one to run fast if the others are not even walking.
Therefore, the groupings are just a reflection of the current factual reality: there are countries that have already opened negotiations, those who are working hard to do so and those who still have work to do before they are granted a candidate status. The existent timelines are only indicative, and the speed will depend solely on the real progress in each of the countries.
But it is one and the same process, based on choices of values, and commitment to implement them through policies fully in line with EU standards.
European Union is also taking on further commitments itself that are expressed in the upgrade of instruments available to partners in the Western Balkans. I know that today the focus will be on political messages, but in the coming days we need to carefully explain the whole new package that is being offered as reinforced partnership with the region, from a new investment guarantee scheme to new mobility in education and inclusion in transport and energy EU decision making process, to name just the few.
Country specific reports will be published in April, but I still want to extract some additional important messages for Albania.
The Strategy makes clear that Albania has a real and immediate prospect of moving forward to opening accession negotiations, to repeat the words of High Representative.
Also, the process does not put any artificial speed limits on countries progress: more reforms you implement, sooner you will reach the goal. In that sense Albania did a very smart thing: it frontloaded major parts of Chapters 23 and 24 through a very comprehensive Justice Reform.
It means, in simple words, that Albania has already done a lot of advance work and has gained time for the future, so if it keeps the same focus and speed will be able to quickly catch up the other negotiating countries once the negotiations start.
So, my concluding message would be let us go back to work even harder, this is a very important spring for Albania, let us look at the new instruments and opportunities they provide and make best use of it, and finally let's work all together to make the everyday life of every Albanian citizen safer, better and more prosperous. All this is doable; it requires always more commitment, more dedication and allow me to say, even more love.