Dear Ambassador of Croatia (Dear Zlatko),
Over the next 6 months, the first Croatian Presidency of the Council will be steering the European Union in its ever-forward journey. Your Presidency will literally shape how the European Union will look like in the coming years.
As your Prime Minister, Mr Andrej Plenković, announced to the European Parliament, you will be looking at finalising the new Multiannual Financial Framework, ensuring the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, preparing the Conference on the Future of Europe and of course reforming and advancing the enlargement policy. A very impressive programme!
Less than seven years after Croatia joined the European Union, the EU can count on a Presidency that will push the enlargement agenda further. In that respect, after the Romanian and Finnish Presidencies, I strongly welcome the continuity of maintaining the Western Balkans amongst our key priorities this semester.
The Zagreb summit will be a milestone in this process. For that, we still have a lot of work to do. The Commission will be working on the methodology and will put forward a proposal for the enlargement process early this year. This will reflect how we can improve the accession policy.
But working on the methodology does not freeze the rest of the process. President von der Leyen said it clearly when meeting Prime Minister Plenković. She said: "I am deeply convinced that this should not keep us from taking on the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. We asked them to do a lot, they fulfilled the criteria so now we do have to deliver and to keep our promises."
So for Albania, your Presidency will be crucial. After the Zagreb Summit, the Commission will adopt its Annual Report. The priority should be on the additional efforts that remain to be achieved to convince all Member States – meaning focusing on delivering reforms.
High on the EU integration agenda are: continue the establishment of key new judicial institutions, having a fully functional Constitutional Court, adopting the remaining bylaws on the protection of minorities and finally adopt an electoral reform that fully addresses the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. We are glad that progress has been achieved on that last file and Commissioner Várhelyi, who was with us last Thursday, encouraged all parties to reach an agreement before mid-March.
For this, a constructive dialogue among all political parties is needed. Their readiness to come together for the benefit and interest of all Albanians is essential for Albania's European future. There is not much time left before the different milestones of the spring. It would be a mistake for Albania to not focus on doing all that the country possibly can over the next months to present itself fully prepared.
Finally, following the horrible earthquake of November, the European Commission will be hosting a donors conference on 17 February in Brussels. The European Union is working with the World Bank and the United Nations on the elaboration of a joint Post Disaster Needs Assessment. This is being developed with the best European and international experts. This Needs Assessment will give the credibility and confidence needed by donors to help Albania in its reconstruction.
With all this in mind, it is a chance to be able to rely on the commitment of Croatia as a partner to steer this work efficiently and successfully together.
The 2013 enlargement of the European Union to Croatia proved to all in the region that through hard work, persistence, political courage and determination, EU membership is within reach. Croatia was a pioneer, demonstrating in a tangible way that the future of the Western Balkans as a whole lies in the European Union. The Union remains, more than ever, committed to this perspective.
At a time when, sadly, we will lose one member, the achievements of Croatia in the past ten years prove that membership to the EU brings further economic development, social protection and political influence over decisions that affect our countries, Europe and the world.
In addition, we should never forget that the European idea was born more than sixty years ago with the objective to make wars and conflicts impossible to happen again in Europe. The last cruel war on the European continent took place here, in the Western Balkans.
Membership to the European Union is a guarantee that it should also belong to the past. Membership to the European Union is still today the anchor for peace on our continent.
Dear friends, I would like to wish Croatia the best of luck and success for this historical first Presidency of the country.
After a short movie on the Croatian Presidency, I will have the honour of inviting His Excellency Zlatko Kramaric, Ambassador of Croatia to the Republic of Albania, to present the priorities of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.