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Generale Toschi, Generale Spina,
In June 2018, the Council of the European Union agreed to set out the path towards the opening of accession negotiations for Albania in June 2019. Member States stressed the critical need to deliver further tangible results in the fight against organised crime, and in particular against the cultivation and trafficking of cannabis.
In that regard, the results presented today are impressive. They confirm and amplify the trend observed last year in the drastic reduction of outdoor cultivation of cannabis in Albania. They also show a significant reduction of cannabis seized by Italy as neighbouring country.
I would like to congratulate the members of the Albanian and Italian police for these very important results. The Ministry of Interior, the Prosecution offices and law enforcement agencies have all shown dedicated work and partnership in this fight.
In 2018, the European Union decided to join Italian and Albanian authorities to provide additional funding to the airborne monitoring campaign. This has led to an unprecedented number of missions, flight hours and territory covered, thanks to the SANCAS project.
But SANCAS is not only about air surveillance. It helps improving data collection and analyses, and setting up Joint Investigation Teams with EU Member States and neighbouring countries. If today's results show one thing it is exactly the importance of this cooperation.
The logic of the best response to organised crime is very clear: trans-national criminal networks need to be attacked together. In this very room last October the EU, its Member States and the Western Balkan Countries committed to do so during the Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs.
Today is the one day of delivery of that promise. Pulling resources together helps law enforcement institutions in becoming more efficient.
In the past few days, we have witnessed an excellent example of the importance of this cooperation. Successful joint police operations have hit four criminal groups in Albania and Italy, arresting up to now 27 people in several cities. This could not have been possible without to the establishment of Joint Investigation Teams.
Transnational organised crime is a threat to our security. It hinders the social, economic, political and cultural development of our societies. It knows no borders and has no scruples.
I am proud that major developments are taking place recently to modify that. Step by step, the institutional culture and the legal framework is being changed to facilitate cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans.
And let me insist that Albania is at the forefront of this shift. I do not doubt that the increased cooperation with EU specialised agencies (EUROPOL, EUROJUST, Frontex and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) will bring more positive results in the coming weeks and months.
Under the "Power of Law", we have witnessed successful police operations targeting organised criminal groups. We see also more determination in seizing and confiscating criminal assets. Follow the money is essential to disrupt organised crime. Seizures need to be followed by final decisions of confiscation of criminal assets
No one is above the law, whatever their name, function or wealth. But the culture of immunity and protection that has prevailed for too long is also changing – mostly thanks to the justice reform and the establishment of independent and professional judiciary and prosecutorial institutions.
The results of today in the fight against cannabis cultivation and trafficking will of course need to be sustained in the coming months and years. Drugs remain a constantly evolving, multi-faced threat for our societies and we know that the networks are often poly-criminal and dynamic. Delocalisation of cultivation and diversification of drugs, including cocaine, smuggled by organised crime are the new challenges.
The EU will continue to assist Albania to fight drugs trafficking and to support socio-economic development in affected communities. A very significant contribution starts this year, with a total of almost 20 Million Euros. The new programme will improve the capacity of the Albanian State Police, the General Prosecutor Office and relevant agencies. We will also target some of the root causes of cannabis cultivation and trafficking by focusing on education, health and alternative livelihoods.
To conclude, let me express again on behalf of the European Union the congratulations to all involved in achieving these results: Albanian State Police, Albanian Prosecutions Offices, Guardia di Finanza, Italian State Police, and the EU funded project SANCAS.
Stepping into the "Piaggio P.166" plane last September was one of the very first things I did after arriving in Albania as EU Ambassador. I can only testify to the professionalism and commitment of the team and would like to thank them personally.
Drugs are one of the most long-standing and continuously evolving threats to our societies and to our young people. In Albania, it destroys lives while enabling organised crime to make huge, immoral, profits and to tarnish the reputation of your country.
It is sometimes rare in that line of work to be able to rejoice. Today is one of those days.