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Dear Deputy Ministers,
When I took up my duties as Ambassador here in Tirana, the region and the European Union had just completed major milestones in the enlargement process. The European Commission set out its new and ambitious strategy for the region in February, leaders of the European Union and the Western Balkans met in Sofia in May and in London in July. And last June the EU Council took stock of the progress made and laid out the way forward.
For Albania, what the Member States expect was very clearly spelt out: to consolidate progress on key priorities. There is not much time left before the different milestones of the spring: the annual report, discussion in Council, and ultimately the decision on opening of negotiations. It would be a historical mistake for all parties in Albania not to do their utmost over the next months to be fully prepared.
There have been very encouraging law enforcement operations over the last months, which should not only be continued, but followed by a solid track record of prosecution and final convictions.
Similarly, we have recently seen very important progress regarding justice reform, with the landmark setting-up of new institutions. This paves the way to the appointment of judges to the High Court and to the establishment of SPAK and NBI. But what it means fundamentally is that the justice reform, based on the vetting, is working and is irreversible. It is an achievement that cannot be overstated.
The EU has very much welcomed these recent developments, but more must be done. Time is of the essence and the June decision should not be taken for granted.
For all those reasons, we can only strongly regret the decision of the opposition MPs to relinquish their mandates. As the High Representative/Vice President Mogherini and Commissioner Hahn have stated, it seriously hinders the functioning of democracy in Albania. Parliament is the place where reforms should be discussed and taken forward, not boycotted.
In addition to going against the democratic choice of Albanian citizens, this decision seriously undermines the progress the country has made on its European Union path. Our message, and that of the MEPs visiting Tirana yesterday and today, is a call to the Government and the opposition to engage in constructive discussions. Parties on all side need to show their readiness to come together for the benefit and interest of all Albanians and of Albania's European future.
I am an optimistic person and we will certainly continue pushing for a positive agenda. There are important areas where Albania can and should show its capacity to deliver before June. I am thinking especially of:
Expressing optimism after the events of the past days is not being naïve. The reforms are being implemented despite the political tumult and the EU integration agenda is not stalled.
I believe that the political actors will rise to this challenge. We will be side by side with those who want to make sure that the Council's decision in June is positive – politicians, but also civil society as gathered here today. We count on you and I would like to thank CDI and the Dutch Embassy for organising this event.
Someone on whom Albania can also count is, of course, Knut, who has done so much for this country. I am happy to give the floor to you now. Thank you for another important visit and for the clear messaging of today. And thank you for having remained such a committed and steady advocate of Albania in the EU throughout the years.