Today is Europe Day. I am here, in the North of Albania to kick off three weeks of activities and meetings that will take place all over the country.
The year we leave behind has been like no other before. The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. We have gone through difficult personal experiences, painful sickness. Many of you have suffered economic hardships and the loss of loved ones.
We have seen at the same time amazing examples of resilience and support. Those moments have revealed the generosity of those stepping up to help. It is always in the most difficult situations that you know who you can count on.
Europe is a story of new beginnings. And this is what Europe, including Albania, needs now. To end the pandemic and to shape a new beginning for all Europeans. This is our collective responsibility. We must all together overcome this crisis and deliver a new beginning for the future of European citizens.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the EU has been side by side with Albania to cope with the health and economic crisis. “No one is safe until everyone is safe” is our shared call to action.
In one year, the EU has donated to Albania more than 4 million euros worth of brand new medical equipment. Albanian hospitals are now in a much better shape than a year ago.
I want here to commend once again the impressive efforts made by the Albanian medical and paramedical staff along this very difficult year. Thanks to all of you for your dedication and sacrifice!
But the EU has also donated more than 50 Million euros to help small businesses and municipalities, and to support vocational training so that the Albanian youth find jobs in their country. And then a month ago, we also disbursed the first 90 million of our macro-financial assistance.
At the EU Delegation to Albania, we have worked tirelessly to make possible an overall donation of more than 230 million euros to help Albania tackle the pandemic.
This altogether has been an incredible effort of solidarity from the EU and all our Member States. As a Team Europe we stood up next to Albania, and to the rest of the world.
Including on vaccines. While others keep their vaccine production for themselves, the Team Europe is the main exporter of vaccines worldwide and one of the largest contributors to COVAX. So far, more than 200 million doses of vaccines produced in Europe have been shipped to the rest of the world. And this week, the first batch of 145.000 EU-paid Pfizer vaccines have arrived in Tirana with the visit of Commissioner Várhelyi.
This is yet another testimony that Europe is Here. As the largest donor in the country, our aim is to improve the everyday life of Albanians, well before Albania joins the EU.
In the past years, I have missed meeting you all in our events. Or just in the streets of your cities and villages. I have missed visiting your beautiful country. It is this desire to meet and exchange with you that boards us into the journey of this year’s Europe Weeks.
We want to reach you where you are. In the cities, in your towns and villages, in the valleys and in the mountains.
We will be on the road for three weeks, stopping each day in a different municipality, most of them where we have never been. You will spot our EU bus touring around!
Join us! In the next three weeks, we want to listen to you and connect with you, in person.
You might have already heard me saying that Europe is already here! Europa Është Këtu! What I meant is that the integration of Albania into the EU is already happening now, every single day, well before accession!
We invest in education and culture because we believe that the future of Albania and the future of Europe will be built on knowledge and enlightenment.
We invest in roads to better connect you with one another and improve business.
We invest in agriculture, food safety and the environment to improve your quality of life.
And as you do with a friend in need, we also stood up by the Albanian people in the reconstruction efforts after the dramatic earthquake of November 2019. We have donated 115 million euros for rebuilding over 60 schools that will benefit 200.000 children, their teachers and families, and for the rehabilitation of cultural heritage sites – an incredible asset for the tourism and the sustainable growth of the country.
Today as the pandemic is receding in Albania and vaccines are becoming more available, we want to look ahead with hope and optimism.
Looking ahead it means we want to see accession negotiations with the European Union starting as soon as possible.
Last year the Member States decided to open negotiations. Soon they will decide on launching the first IGC. The last months have shown real progress on many fronts.
We are convinced that now is the time to make this important step.
Further ahead, today’s Europe Day marks also the start of the Conference on the Future of Europe, a challenging journey to reinvent our better selves.
We have chosen to achieve this by truly listening to the European people, in a unique all-European democratic exercise. Also to the people of Albania, where they live. Because there can be no thinking on the future of Europe without listening to its future Member States in the Balkans.
I am standing now in Tamara, one of the most isolated parts of the country. Yet, even here, we look down at the EU road that made this valley accessible, at the border-crossing that the EU we financed to facilitate exchanges with Montenegro, and at the tourist information points that we invested on to bring more visitors to this magnificent part of Europe.
That is what I mean by Europe is here – to support, to protect, to invest and, today, to celebrate.
Let’s get out of the crisis together, listening to each other, caring about each other.
I care, we care!
I wish you a great and happy Europe Day