Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to Vlora for this virtual press conference.
I am very happy to be here today with Dritan, the Mayor of a city with which the European Union has a special relationship. In the last 10 years only, the EU has invested over 50 MEUR in Vlora with incredible results.
The LungoMare was a hugely important project for the European Union. It reshaped Vlora entirely, opened the seafront to breath-taking views, made the infrastructure environmentally friendly and, all in all, changed the life and business of many inhabitants.
Now we are working together on another flagship project: the Vlora bypass. We are just back from a visit with the contractors and engineers, and I am happy to see work progressing very fast.
The bypass will change the city of Vlora like the LungoMare did. We are proud to invest in a project that is using state-of-the-art technology at the service of Albanian citizens.
We have to be honest, Dritan, I don't know a single person who has not been blocked in summer traffic in Vlora! So this is an exciting development and everybody in the country is talking about it.
But do they all know that the European Union is financing the Vlora bypass?
Most people don't know that and unfortunately this is often the case of our financial support.
Only on roads, the EU has invested more than 110 MEUR in the last 10 years, delivering 700 kms of roads throughout the country.
It is more likely than not that, on a daily basis and without knowing it, you are driving on a road that the EU has financed. This includes major infrastructures like the Rrogozhina bypass, but also kilometres of rural roads that have provided better access to markets, health and educational infrastructures, and reduced travel time and transport cost.
Our programme to upgrade secondary roads has shortened travel time in rural areas by almost 40%!
This is what we mean by "Europe is here", the campaign we are launching today. Of course "Europe is here", because Albania is a European country. But "Europe is here", because the EU is already present everywhere in the country, improving the life of Albanians and bringing standards closer to those of the EU.
"Europe is here" like the 61 EU stars on the Albanian map!
The European Union gives an average of 100 MEUR to Albania every year. That is 1,5 billion – in direct grants – over the last 15 years, covering all possible sectors: fisheries, justice, food-safety, anti-corruption, customs, agriculture, education and so many more.
This makes the European Union the largest donor in Albania.
In the coming 6 months, we will give visibility to the positive changes that this financial assistance helps to achieve. From today and until December, we explore how our support for Transport/Infrastructure, Environment and Agriculture has changed the country.
And we will end the campaign on 15 December 2020, for the 10th Anniversary of the decision to grant Albanians visa-free travel to the EU – a date that remains the most important EU development for most Albanians.
I invite you now to watch a short presentation of our campaign.
"Europe is Here" because on 25 March this year, the European Union decided to open accession negotiations with Albania.
The relationship between Albania and the European Union fundamentally changed on that day. The European Commission has now presented the negotiating framework, which is being discussed with the Member States until its adoption by the Council. The EU integration of the country is not an aspiration anymore. It is concretely happening.
Our financial assistance becomes even more important as it will support the profound changes that result from accession negotiations.
The economy will need to be modernised, sectors of activity will need to be aligned to EU standards, their administration will need to be deeply reformed. Albania will not become an EU country on the day of accession; it is becoming one already now, through every step that brings it closer to the values and standards of the European Union.
Our political dialogue with Albania is one side of this process; the other side is the unparalleled financial support and investment that the EU brings to this country, for one very simple reason: to support a future Member State.
Transparency is at the heart of EU values as well as an important principle of our co-operation with Albania. That is the reason why we have created a database with completed and ongoing projects funded by the EU in this country.
We are launching the website euprojects.al today. It will be a useful tool for the media, academia, civil society and citizens to find detailed information about our projects. For each project listed in the database, we provide information about the implementing partners, beneficiaries, objectives, actions and expected results.
Let's watch together this tutorial which will tell you more about this new website.