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Tirana, 8 May 2019
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Thank you very much, Edi [Rama, Prime Minister of Albania]. It is for me really a pleasure to be back in Tirana once again and to meet you again a week after our last meeting in Berlin.
Almost exactly one year ago, I was here for my last visit. I remember very well also the emotion of flying here straight from Strasbourg, bringing the good news of a positive recommendation that the Commission had just adopted. One year ago – probably in this very same room – I praised you, you Edi [Rama] as the Prime Minister, but also all the institutions and all the citizens of Albania for your achievements and for getting a positive recommendation to open accession negotiations. That was, I think, a very important moment for both of us, not only for Albania, but also for the European Union. I believe that this message of encouragement and recognition of the work done was fully deserved.
In one year since then, you have managed to consolidate this progress and to continue to show results of your engagement on reform. I will not list all the areas on which you had achievements, but I want to commend your work for three major developments that I will mention as examples that show, I believe, that you are going through a genuine reform process, a genuine transformation process of the country, of the institutions, of the society. A you said, “not to please the European Union institutions”, but to respond to the expectations of the Albanian people that, in fact, show a lot of support for these reforms to continue and take place.
First of all, what has been achieved with the justice reform remains unprecedented not only in the region. You often say this and I fully subscribe to it: you managed to put in place a justice system reform that would be an example also for some of the European Union Member States in a process that has never been easy, but that has started to deliver results. The vetting of judges and prosecutors is bringing tangible results and the dedication of members of the vetting institution is clear. We can see how proud the Albanian citizens are - and food good reason – of this reform. The results of the last survey that was published by the European Union delegation just a few days ago show that almost 80% of Albanians support this reform and the majority of them believe that it brings positive results to their own lives, to their own country. This is key to building trust in the new judicial institutions.
The second example I would like to mention is the drastic reduction in cannabis cultivation. The aerial surveys conducted by Italy with the support of the European Union and the full commitment of the Albanian authorities to eradicate this phenomenon are bringing impressive results already.
Last but not least, I want to mention a number of large scale operations that took place in the past year, which helped dismantle criminal groups. Actions of this kind must be acknowledged and I think that it is not only your responsibility and your job, but also ours to acknowledge and mention the achievements and the steps forward that you managed to build and to achieve.
Because you have continued to show commitment to reforms and continued to deliver, I believe we need to continue to be fully supportive of Albania’s goal to open accession negotiations with the European Union. I know that the work we are doing in the Commission in view of adopting the next package at the end of May will recognise this further progress and this consolidation of the work you have done. You know that not only personally, but also in my institutional capacity, I have always delivered this message and I do this also on this visit. On your side there is the responsibility to deliver – first and foremost for the Albanian citizens, but also for responding to the European Union institutions – and we have on our side the responsibility to acknowledge the progress achieved and to respond to that with positive decisions. This will be reflected in the package that the European Commission will adopt later this month. As you said, then the ball passes to the Member States and the Council.
I want to say this clearly: opening negotiations in June is, I believe, an attainable goal. But this is not an easy one and it cannot be taken for granted today, because as you mentioned, each of our Member States needs to be fully convinced. Public opinions need to fully be on board and each Member State has its own decision-making process on the matter. This is now, I believe, our common objective to use these coming weeks to make sure that the orientations both in the public opinions and in the decision-making processes in the Member States acknowledge the results achieved as well as the Commission is doing.
So we encourage all in Albania, not only the Prime Minister, who seems to need no encouragement, and not only the government, but also other institutions and also the citizens of the country to contribute by reaching out to all your friends in the European Union in all the Member States to build trust in your country, the image of your country and in our common future. This collective work means also, I believe, that all parties must be united behind the objective of the European Union integration of Albania and put aside their divisions when it comes to this. I believe it is what the Albanian citizens and in particular the youth of Albania put as a priority for their present and their future – the European integration of the country.
You know that the European Union has constantly repeated this position and I will also reiterate it here and now: We believe that political parties should not walk away from their role in democratic processes and their responsibilities towards the citizens, who voted for them. Citizens should not be deprived of political options during the upcoming local elections. This is a position that we have expressed several times and you can trust this to be a strong and united position in all the European Union institutions, starting from the European Parliament and all the political groups there.
I believe this is what Albanian citizens expect. I think they want all parties to support their legitimate and possible aspirations and I would again refer to our survey’s results: 88% of Albanians have a positive feeling about the European Union. Albanian remains one of the countries in Europe that has the highest trust in the European Union. 92% share the goal of joining the European Union and that puts, obviously, a great responsibility on all leaders in the country, no matter the political colour. But let me come to our side, this is also a message for political leaders and political parties and public opinions inside the European Union. I believe we should listen to this message. It is for me in a way the best possible way of celebrating Europe Day tomorrow, doing it probably in the European country that has the highest support for the European Union. I am proud to celebrate Europe Day here in Tirana these days.
You know that you can count on me personally in all my capacities in the institutions to do all I can to achieve our common goal. It is your goal and it is also our goal. It is also the European Union’s interest to start this process of formal negotiations for accession.
Let me also stress, as you rightly did, the regional dimension of our joint work. Good neighbourly relations, coordination and cooperation within the region remain an essential element of our work and also of the enlargement process. I think that the Prespa Agreement can be a role model for a peaceful resolution of disputes in the region and beyond. This is not only a success for Greece and North Macedonia, this is, I believe, as success for the entire region and Europe as a whole. Albania has expressed its full support to its neighbours and we and I personally count on Albania to take a continued constructive role in the region. There are other reconciliation processes, which must be supported by all of us in the interest of not only of the parties, but also in the interest of the stability and the economic prosperity of the entire region. We have an ambitious shared agenda for regional cooperation, for which the positive role of Albania is essential. I count on this to continue in the comings months.
We also share the goal of further consolidating the security cooperation between Albania and the European Union. Over the past months – and I want to mention this as further results of our cooperation in this recent year – Albania has demonstrated that it remains a credible partner in this field also. A Cooperation Agreement was signed with Eurojust and the agreement with our European Boarder and Coast Guard Agency has become operational. The first such agreement with a non-European Union country. Albania has also been a frontrunner in defining priorities for a bilateral action plan to strengthen the fight that we share against terrorism and violent extremism. And let me once again reiterate our appreciation for Albania’s alignment with the European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which is showing how much we share analysis and interests in both regional and global politics.
When it comes to fundamental interests and I believe also our fundamental values, I believe that we share views and destiny. Albania is part of Europe, not only geographically. Again, I want to stress how proud and happy I am to spend my Europe Day and start my Europe Day tomorrow here in Tirana with you. I would like to conclude by reassuring you that you will continue to have my full support, as always, to move further towards our shared goal of European Union accession for Albania.
Q: Would it be disappointing for the Western Balkan countries if accession talks were not opened and elections were not held in Albania? Do you think this would be disappointing for EU Member States as well?
I think I have been very clear not only today, but also over all these years: it is not only in the interest of Albania, but it is also in the interest of the European Union to start negotiations for the accession of Albania to the European Union. This is based on a clear assessment of facts. Already last year, the positive recommendation of the Commission was saying this and recommending Member States to open negotiations. Last year, Member States decided to take this decision after one year of further work and assessment. And as I mentioned here very clearly today, Albania has used this year to consolidate and make further progress in relevant fields. Obviously, more can always be done. But it is clear, as Edi [Rama] said, that you have done your part. Now it is for the Commission first and then for the Member States to do their part. And for me personally, it would be a big disappointment if that decision was not to be taken now, in a few months. But my usual habit is not to consider how disappointed I could be if the result of my work is negative, but it is rather to focus all the energy on trying to get to a positive outcome. We still have a few months to work together to make that happen. As I said, it is not easy, it should not be taken for granted, but it is not impossible to achieve that, I think.
Q: Why is there no initiative from the European Union side to resolve the Albanian parliament’s conflict? Are you convinced that political parties in Albania can find a solution by themselves as was the case in 2017? Or are you just disappointed by the political parties in the country, because they produce crises all the time?
I never enter, or never promote, negotiations or mediations among political parties in a country – neither inside the European Union, nor outside the European Union. This is for domestic politics to handle. The European Union’s role is to relate to the institutions of the country – all of them, the government, the President, the Parliament and the society – and this is the role to which I strictly keep. So I have not done any negotiation or mediation in 2017 in domestic dynamics of politics in Albania, and I have never done that in other countries either. This is not our approach to institutional relations and political relations with our partner countries.
Q: At the Berlin Summit, there seems to have been regress in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. Some claim that you and other leaders of the region are part of a plan for the division of Kosovo. What do you say to that?
The dialogue has been, first of all, producing results that have been important over the years, both for Belgrade and Pristina and for the region. The last months have been difficult and they have been difficult right at the moment when we could have entered into a phase of more intense negotiations. Our objective has been and still is and remains that of reaching a mutually agreed, legally binding agreement that would cover all aspects of normalisation, to reach a full normalisation of relations between Pristina and Belgrade.
In the recent months, the decision of the government of Kosovo to introduce 100% tariffs on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina has created an environment that is clearly not conducive for a constructive talks in the dialogue and by the way is in breach of agreements that Kosovo is part of. So we have asked, not only from the European Union side, but also from other international partners and directly with Member States, to revoke or suspend these tariffs. This would create immediately the conditions for the dialogue to resume. I am convinced that if the tariffs were revoked tonight, tomorrow I would call for a new session of the dialogue ad that would be difficult, as usual, painful, as usual, but maybe productive. In the absence of a conducive environment, obviously, I do not see perspectives for that to resume.
Now the responsibility lies in the hands of the decision-makers in Kosovo. Obviously, as I said previously, a conducive environment for negotiations would also mean a sort of freeze or suspension of the recognition or de-recognition campaigns that have taken place recently. After Berlin, my impression is also that we are not there. But that does not mean that we are giving up on facilitating a dialogue. To my knowledge, we are not part of any plot. The role of a facilitator is that of creating the conditions, the atmosphere, the possibility, the space for the two sides to come together. The dialogue belongs to them; it does not belong to us. Not only are we respectful of the positions of the two sides, but also we take very seriously our role, my personal role, of not determining the content of a future agreement, but allowing discussions on what this legally binding agreement on full normalisation of relations could entail. Obviously, we need to create that space – re-create that space. I hope that wisdom will prevail, because nobody would gain from a continuous stalemate in the dialogue. For sure not Kosovo, for sure not Serbia, but also not the rest of the region, because reconciliation and normalisation is, as the European Union experience teaches us, the basis also for economic prosperity and integration. And I know how important it is for the citizens of the entire Balkan region. I think that nobody can underestimate the interest that we all have in that process to resume and to resume fruitfully and respectfully.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-172017