Dear Mayor Gjici,
Dear Director Dedej,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Two weeks ago, the European Commission adopted the Annual Report on Albania and the Economic and Investment Plan for the region.
However, you might have missed that, on the same day, the Commission also proposed a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans.
The Green Agenda will implement regionally the EU Green Deal, one of the flagship ambitions of the Von Der Leyen Commission.
The European Green Deal is our ambitious and comprehensive plan to turn the European Union into a resource-efficient economy, with no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use. It also aims to protect, conserve and enhance the EU's natural capital.
In the Balkans, the policy and financial challenges to implement the Green Deal are considerable. This is where the Green Agenda comes in, to support reforms and investments in 5 thematic areas:
1. climate action and energy
2. circular economy and waste
5. sustainable food systems and rural areas.
The Green Agenda for the Western Balkans will provide further assistance, for instance in developing a circular economy and air quality strategies. It will include the countries of the region in the European Climate Pact and in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. We will also strengthen our investments in waste management and on the implementation of a Western Balkans Biodiversity Action Plan 2030.
Those are only some of the many actions of the Green Agenda. But all of them are based on European legislation and standards, which will soon become obligations for Albania.
Environmental legislation is famously one of the most difficult to implement, as it requires massive capital investments, policy transformation, strengthened enforcement and cultural change in the population.
To support the country in increasing its environmental standards, the European Union has donated 210 million EUR over the last 10 years for projects with a focus on Environment and the climate. And we are planning for another 30 million starting from next year.
One example is the Rangers’ Building where we are gathered today. Investments in protected areas were inadequate before the launch of the EU project to strengthen national capacity in nature protection. The project invested 4 million EUR in 10 Protected Areas in Albania, covering 66% of the national territory under protection.
This building serves not only to the Protected Areas administration but also to scientists and nature lovers, acting as a bridge between the park and the local community.
The EU is a strong supporter of Albania in waste management. We have just finalised the waste management feasibility studies for the Kukës Waste Zones – an environmentally significant area, where nature generates important revenue from tourism.
We will soon move to the next step and invest in Integrated Waste Management Infrastructures with our new programme: “EU for Circular Economy and Green Growth”. This program will help 15 municipalities, Kukës included, to reach EU standards in integrated municipal waste management and will accelerate the circular economy through grants to the private sector and civil society.
Indeed, the circular economy will support growth and recovery after COVID, by providing opportunities to recycle, remanufacture, and reuse. Integrated waste management is a business sector in itself, which generate jobs and revenues.
From Brussels to Kukes, from the EU Green Deal to our assistance in Albania, the European Union is working on the same priorities.
This is what we mean by "Europe is Here", the campaign we launched last July. The European Union is already present everywhere in the country, improving the daily life of Albanians.
After having focused on connectivity in the last months, I am happy to launch today the second phase of the campaign, dedicated to the environment, climate and our Green Agenda.
The opening of accession negotiations has made our financial assistance even more important, as it supports the profound changes that lay ahead: reform of the administration, alignment on EU standards, modernisation and greening of the economy.
In the coming weeks, we will explore how the EU is already changing Albania through its engagement on air pollution, use of pesticides, waste treatment, river quality and biodiversity.
The "Europe is here" campaign is also now on TV and radio, with a video that focuses on sustainable investments. Let's watch it together.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The commitment of the EU to protect our environment is based on a simple fact: the benefits of protecting ecosystems by far outweigh the costs of their degradation.
The decline of ecosystems impacts disproportionally poorer people in remote areas like Kukes. There is no trade-off. Preserving natural resources and socio-economic development are fully intertwined.
I am happy that we are working together on the cultural and policy shift that is needed to deliver a greener and more prosperous Albania.
But the EU cannot do this alone. Here, I would like to end with a word of sincere gratitude to our hosts of today: the park rangers working in this building.
There can be no protection and no sustainable development without proper law enforcement of environmental rules. You play an essential role in ensuring that tourism develops in a respectful way, preserving the natural wealth of this unique region of Europe.