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Honourable members of the European Parliament and the Albanian Parliament, it is my pleasure and honour to address you on behalf of the Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Ms Federica Mogherini.
Last week, 15 years after the common vision of the Thessaloniki Summit, European Commission has published Strategy for the Western Balkans which not only renews our mutual commitment to a shared future in the European Union, but also the EU's determination to walk the path together.
We want to infuse energy and keep momentum in addressing serious systemic challenges and investing in tangible opportunities for all the people of this region.
To quote High Representative Mogherini: " the door is open, …the path is clear, … we will walk together to achieve progress that is irreversible."
In Strasbourg last week, parliamentarians reaffirmed what you have often reflected here in the Albanian Parliament. Joining the EU is much much more than a technical process. It is a societal choice, based on fundamental values. In Albania’s homes, towns and villages there are no doubts about the country's European orientation. This is a very powerful reality, which is reflected, in citizen's strong support for tough reforms at home and Albania’s foreign policy decisions abroad.
Last week, HRVP Mogherini and Commissioner Hahn invited all of you to redouble efforts, address vital reforms, communicate with citizens, and bring all stakeholders on board from across the political spectrum and from civil society.
It is essential that Albania works even harder in securing European standards particularly on the Rule of law, including fight against corruption and organised crime, respect for fundamental rights, good governance and strengthening of democratic institutions. It is essential because it will also secure more investments, stronger economy, better services, smarter education, cleaner environment…
It is essential for the people of Albania, first and foremost, but also for the people of Europe, because we all share same continent and same need for safe, protected and dignified life.
Today, Albania has a real and immediate opportunity of moving forward to opening accession negotiations. The months ahead will be intense and we will be ambitious. We will have the Progress Reports in April, the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in May, and ultimately a European Council meeting in June. Decision will be made by EU Member States, but Albania may make it possible with its achievements.
I am in a position to say this sentence today only because of what people of Albania have managed to achieve in the last 27 years, and what they had to go through to pull the country from one of the worst dictatorships to freedom, from being one of the poorest countries in the world to a medium income country. Albania’s progress on the European path is the success of many governments, different political forces and dozens of thousands of people. But it is first and foremost, and above all the success of hard working women and man of Albania who spared no energy and sacrifice to change the reality of a country which chanted its walk into freedom with the sentence “We want to be like Europe”.
As friends and partners we can do a lot to support and assist, but there is one thing we cannot do for Albania. It is something that only Albanians can do for Albania: to come together and forge a firm alliance of heart and mind on key issues of national interest. EU integration is one of them.
Integration into the European Union demands that the whole country gets together with the unity of purpose and constructive dialogue between all political parties. It is responsibility of the government to ensure that the opposition has the possibility to fully perform its role and it is a responsibility of the opposition to engage constructively in the democratic process. This responsibility is not to the European Union, even not to each others. It is a responsibility to the people of Albania.
Albania must move on in a steady and firm pace. Reforms cannot be only enacted on paper, but through real implementation and real change.
For the precise score card of the progress in the last period, we will have to wait until mid-April and the Annual Report. But what is clear beyond doubt though, is that Albania has done an immense job with the adoption of justice reform. We are starting to see tangible results, the first products of a complete overhaul of the system. We see results of the vetting even before public hearings have started. And we will continue to seek results on all five key priorities.
Last week the Strategy once again highlighted that progress depends on each country's efforts. In that sense Albania was smart and strategic and gained time by frontloading reforms on the Rule of Law, so that once it starts negotiations it has a fair chance of catching up and even becoming a frontrunner.
The opening of accession talks is not a gift; it is an acceleration of efforts. Accession talks bring even more scrutiny and intrusion, with the ambition to anchor the country firmly to the irreversible process of systemic reforms.
Role of the parliament will be even more important once accession talks are launched. To contribute to alignment, oversee the government, and bring together all social actors. The Committee on EU Integration and the National Council on EU integration will be central to that process.
I want to thank the European Parliament and specially the Members of the European Parliament who are here today, for their tireless efforts and deep commitment in support of Albania's development and integration.
Work of the European Parliament with their Albanian colleagues is the best testimony of how different countries and different political families can come together around a plan for Europe that gets stronger through inclusiveness and cooperation.
I want to close again by quoting the High Representative: "It is up to our generation to make Albania and the region part of the European Union. It is first of all up to you, our friends in Albania and the Western Balkans. The European Union is ready to accompany you on this path, with the European Parliament, Member States and the whole European Union."