Dear Chairwoman of the Council,
Dear Deputy Chair,
Last year, I delivered my first speech as EU Ambassador to Albania, here at the opening of the School for European Integration. So I am very excited and happy to be back today to welcome the new cohort of participants for the 2019 edition.
I will not hide to you that, considering the events of the past 12 months, it does feel like much more than one year!
Let me start with the elephant in the room: the non-opening of accession negotiations during the last European Council. As students of European integration, you might think that Albania has taken a serious blow.
Let me stress it very clearly: our commitment to the EU perspective of Albania remains unwavering and unchanged.
As Commissioner Hahn stated to the European Parliament, "the enlargement policy is enshrined in the Treaty. It is about our rendezvous with history. It is above all in our geostrategic interests."
You might also have seen that President-Elect Von der Leyen has made numerous statements on the need for the EU to open negotiations in the coming months. In fact, one has to go back many years in time to remember a Commission President being so vocal about enlargement.
Only last week, there has not been a day when the President-Elect did not speak about the Balkans – at the Paris Peace Summit, at the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, or in interviews. In Berlin, she said very truly that "the history of the EU since 1989 has proven how much it pays when our union opens its heart”.
I would say that, ironically, the failure to open negotiation has launched a wide debate and in fact a new impetus around enlargement. Never in the past 10 years has it been discussed so much and at such high-level – with many people having rediscovered the value of the EU enlargement policy and its defenders having become much more vocal.
And if you allow me a little provocation after yesterday's football match, let me read to you what President Macron said last week: "If we reform the enlargement methodology in the next months, I am ready to open negotiations. If the candidate countries also make the additional efforts that remain".
So the door is, of course, not closed and the priority should be on those additional efforts – meaning on delivering reforms. For instance, establishing key new institutions like SPAK and having a fully functional Constitutional Court are high on the EU integration agenda.
On the reforms, I cannot overemphasize the importance of cross-party dialogue. In such critical moment for the future of Albania, we all need to invest in building political consensus and working with commitment towards EU integration. This national goal is above personal and party interests, it is for the benefit of Albanian citizens.
Last week was marked with some important and some worrying developments. We have welcomed new members of the Constitutional Court being elected.
Now we call on Albanian institutions concerned to rapidly solve conflicts of interpretation and bring clarity to the composition of the Constitutional Court. That is essential for Albania to address the EU integration rendezvous of the next months.
Electoral eform is another area where we need results. We expect all parties to engage in an inclusive manner to address the OSCE/OHDIR recommendations. A lot of excellent and constructive work has already taken place. We count on these efforts to be finalised as soon as possible with amendments to the electoral law.
The accession process, and the good governance needed behind it, will require increasingly higher levels of technical capacity and dialogue within society.
To say this simply: people need to understand why reforms are necessary, how they will be conducted, how much they will cost, and what they will benefit from them.
For all of this to succeed two things are crucial:
1. Clear political will. Good politics means competition of ideas, policies, and sound solutions. Albanian citizens have had enough of fights and bickering. They want results and, ultimately, they want to live like the rest of Europe.
2. The second thing is knowledge. Real change cannot come through improvisation and semi-solutions.
That is why you are gathered here: to gain more knowledge about the processes that will be of great importance for your country’s future.
No country has the luxury to waste talent and potential. Elected representatives, public servants, journalists or civil society will all have a role to play. The National Council, with the diversity of its members and the capacity-building it has supported through the years, will have an important role to play.
This is why the European Integration School is a great instrument to strengthen expertise and build EU-related networks. Coming from public administration at central and local level, NGOs, academia, media, or the business community, you are all different but equally crucial parts of the EU integration process.
I am very happy the EU Delegation is supporting the School for a 4th year. I also want to thank the Council for drawing up a programme of the highest quality and turning this week into a long-term institutional investment.
In the next 5 days many technical terms will be thrown at you: "chapters of the acquis", "approximation" and “benchmarks”. But never forget, behind them lies the opportunity to change the life of Albanians for the better.
It is both very complex and very simple at the same time. It is complex because it literally means an overhaul of the entire system, and it is simple because we believe here is only one natural destination for Albania. To work, to learn, and to change.
Albania is worth all your energy and dedication. This is the task of your generation, and we will do everything to help you.
I wish you a great week!