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We have gathered tonight to celebrate who we are and what we believe in, to celebrate our identity and our values, to celebrate this great continent and the Union that is making the world a much better place.
Allow me start with simple facts:
European Union is the Union of 500 million citizens, the largest economy in the world, with annual GDP worth 14 trillion euros.
It is the world's largest trading block, top trading partner for 80 countries, world's biggest donor of development assistance and humanitarian aid.
Citizens of the European Union enjoy the best social security system in the world, and have the best protection of their fundamental rights, their environment, food, health, education.
European Union is a global power, there is no doubt about it.
Still, what makes it truly strong in its essence is not its material wealth but the way it understands, respects and safeguards human dignity.
Our Union was created after the most devastating war in human history, by wise and brave people who understood that our differences should not produce a sum of losses, but the sum of gains. That we have to be able to give our hand to former enemies, for our own sake.
That only peace can help us flourish.
And that peace that can never be taken for granted.
I know it myself only too well. I know the sound of grenades and military aircraft, I know the noise and the smell of war, and I know how it feels when you run for your life. I know it from a country not far from here, and times not very distant from this night. It seemed impossible, but yet it happened. We learned a lesson. Again.
And for me, as a European, that lesson is clear - there is nothing more important than to preserve the Union as our common home that brings peace and prosperity to its own people, but also to all those who want and seek a better world.
Union that can afford to be generous, because it is strong.
Union that is full of humility, exactly because it is powerful.
Union that wants to give, because it is rich in every way.
This requires constant commitment and always more work to be done, in strengthening the Union itself, and in finalizing the European project by including of all nations from the Western Balkans in it.
And that, beyond any doubt, means Albania, an old European nation that felt every single pain of our common history. A nation that was stopped from joining European core for many centuries, but the nation that never stopped fighting for its European identity and its European values, no matter what threat came its way.
Six centuries ago, Gjergj Kastrioti famously said: "I did not bring you freedom, I found it among you"
European Union is not bringing you Europe, it is finding Europe in you.
European Union is just helping you to make up for the lost time and lost opportunities, to modernize, reform and adopt standards that are already shared among 500 million citizens of the Union.
Transition on the way to the European Union is not a travel abroad, it is not a journey outside. It is an internal journey, a journey of facing your own shortcomings and turning them around.
Albania worked hard in the last three decades, and has changed like no other country in Europe. This trajectory has been recognized also by the European Commission that few weeks ago gave an unconditional recommendation for the opening of the accession talks.
This is an important step, however, just one of many steps on your way forward.
What needs to come next will be a very demanding task, and will require even deeper and more comprehensive change. This is not a path for cynical or scared or ignorant; this transformation requires hard work, ambition, patience, focus and dedication.
There has never been any doubt that the citizens of Albania want this change. Since the early days at the fall of Communism, the motto of wanting Albania to be as the rest of Europe made this very square vibrate.
In this transition, no stone will remain unturned.
For me it is all summed up in three words in Albanian the sound of which I love very much.
First is "së bashku", together. Gjergj Kastrioti left a powerful message when he gathered his warriors and asked the strongest of them to break the bunch of twigs tied together. He could not do it. Than Kastrioti untied the bunch and ask a small boy to break the twigs one by one. He did it very easily.
This simple and eternal wisdom is true now as it was centuries ago. Together we stand, alone we fall. All Abanians share a common goal of bringing the country into the membership of the European Union. But this can not be done by words. This needs to be proved by actions. And as a nation, you will be able to achieve this goal only if you let go of old feuds and fights, and join your forces together, for the sake of this country and in full responsibility for its future.
Second word is "zemër", heart… True change for the better can not be done without full heart, both full of love and full of courage. Change is demanding, you need to fight for it. Nothing comes easy, and nothing changes if you don't care.
And the third one is "Ju lutem", please…Please, do not waste any moment of this historic opportunity for your nation, to finally arrive at the place that you have been fighting for centuries, to be together among the rest of European democracies, in a Union that will make you stronger.
Close to the end of my speech, forgive me for being bit personal. I love and respect many things Albanian, but above all I respect the fantastic women of Albania.
You are a true treasure of this nation, the unperishable strength of this country, strength that has remained graceful and courageous under all circumstances, and taught everyone a lesson how you love and care and excel and survive and win and become the best - against all odds.
This programe tonight is just a small gift from European Union to each and every one of you, with deep respect.
At the very end, I want to close with words of a very wise Albanian man and one of the best European writers of our time, an artistic giant, Ismail Kadare:
What is Europe to Albania?
I would answer: itself, or everything.
…Europe is Albania's natural state, and the only one.