Prime Minister, excellences, colleagues, it is an honour to address this distinguished audience.
What you have asked me to do today is a challenge for an ambassador: You have asked me to talk about the policies of another country. This is normally a tricky thing to do. Luckily, the country we are talking about – the United States – is a key partner and a friend of the European Union. And while even best friends can have their differences, here in the Western Balkans, the European Union and the United States very much see eye to eye.
The United States is a key strategic partner of the European Union. In fact, the single most important partner for the EU and its Member States across a broad range of issues. We base our partnership on shared values, common interests, and the willingness to play a responsible role in world affairs.
The Western Balkans are a key area for transatlantic cooperation, and I will come to that. But our engagement with the United States is of course much broader. Our cooperation ranges from Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea to Venezuela.
The European Union and the United States are also close partners in countering security challenges, such as terrorism, cyber threats and hybrid threats. And, of course, Europe and North America are longstanding and staunch allies, with NATO forming the backbone of our collective defence.
The fact that the European Union and the United States work together matters. Our combined economic weight is unrivalled by any other partnership in the world, accounting for almost half the world’s GDP and the largest share of global trade. Together, we also provide three quarters of official development assistance worldwide.
There are of course differences. There are issues on which we do not always see eye to eye, such as climate change, trade and multilateralism. However, the European Union and the United States have weathered difficult times before. And a Europe that is becoming strategically more autonomous and geopolitically more capable will make the transatlantic partnership only stronger and more balanced.
To zoom in on the topic of our discussion today, while there might be certain differences elsewhere, in the Western Balkans the European Union and the United States work fully hand in hand.
This close transatlantic cooperation in the Western Balkans is based on a fundamental convergence of views. A convergence of views both as regards the region’s future, but also on what it takes to get there.
And I believe that it has been this convergence of views – and our common sense of purpose – that has made EU-US cooperation in the Western Balkans so effective, and has enabled us together to contribute to the significant progress the region has made over the past years.
This convergence of views, this common purpose, is based on our shared belief in – and commitment to – a Western Balkan region that is based on democracy, good governance, the rule of law, respect for minority rights, and open market economies. And on both sides of the Atlantic, we believe that the best way to support the region in this transformation is through its integration in the European Union and, for those countries that wish so, NATO.
This belief and commitment is unwavering. There has been great disappointment in Albania and North Macedonia because the recent European Council could not agree to open EU accession talks with the two countries. I also know that our American friends had hoped for another decision. So did I.
But the people in Albania and North Macedonia, and in fact the wider region, must know that the European Union’s commitment to the EU integration of Albania and its neighbours has not changed. The EU will continue to stand with Albania and the region in supporting their EU integration path. The issue remains high on the EU agenda and the overwhelming majority of EU leaders are determined to make progress on this path.
In this commitment to the Western Balkans’ European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the European Union and United States therefore continue to stand together. We continue to work every day to support the governments and people in the region to make further progress on their reform paths.
Here in Albania, the justice reform exemplifies the strength of EU-US cooperation more than anything. We have been working together from Day 1 to support the Albanian institutions in designing and agreeing this historic reform. A reform that an overwhelming majority of Albanian citizens has been calling for and that will be a fundamental pillar for the rule of law and economic prosperity in the country.
Both the European Union and the United States have mobilised their political, technical and financial support to make justice reform a success, and our experts continue to jointly accompany the process, including through the International Monitoring Operation.
But the European Union and United States have taken joint leadership in supporting Albania in its reform efforts and in other areas, such as electoral reform, fight against corruption and organised crime
Let me briefly also look elsewhere in the region. We worked together already 15 years ago in Bosnia and Herzegovina on justice reform. More broadly on the rule of law, in Kosovo, the United States for the first time ever anywhere in the world participated in a civilian EU operation, seconding experts to EULEX.
North Macedonia is another case in point. The European Union and the United States have worked together to support the country’s political leaders in steering their country out of a deep political crisis and on to one of the region’s most significant achievements in decades – the Prespa agreement to resolve the name issue with Greece.
As far as the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is concerned, more work will be needed to achieve a similar historic breakthrough. But as in the past, also in the future, the European Union and the United States will work together to support the two sides to come to an agreement.
On this issue as on so many others, much will depend on the commitment and political will of the leaders of the region. But there is no doubt that the European Union and the United States will be there to support those who want to make progress and fulfil their people’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Today and in the years to come.
Thank you for your attention.