Dear Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Yesterday, the European Commission adopted its 2021 enlargement package, including the annual report on Albania.
This morning, it is my pleasure to hand over the report to the Prime Minister.
Right after this press conference, I will present the key findings of the annual report to the National Council of European Integration.
I have had the opportunity to hand over the report to Speaker Nikolla, and I will do the same with President Meta.
The latest weeks have once again demonstrated that the Western Balkans remain a high priority for the EU. Three weeks ago, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the region, starting with Tirana where she firmly reiterated the Commission’s commitment to Albania's future in the European Union. She confirmed the Commission’s determination to move forward on the accession negotiations by having the first Intergovernmental Conferences with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible under the Slovenian Presidency before the end of the year.
On 6 October, at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Brdo, leaders reconfirmed their commitment to the enlargement process and their joint engagement to take forward the region’s transformation, and to support its economic recovery after the COVID crisis, in particular through the Economic and Investment Plan.
Based on the new methodology, the annual report adopted yesterday provides a fair assessment of where the country stands on its EU integration track since last 2020. It gives credit when credit is due, and underlines areas where progress has been insufficient and which require more attention.
Overall, the report acknowledges that despite continuous challenges, in a context marked by the pandemic, Albania has continued to make progress on the EU-oriented reforms and to deliver tangible results.
The report confirms that Albania has delivered on the conditions set by the Council. The Commission therefore reiterates its view that the first Intergovernmental Conference should be held as soon as possible and before the end of this year. Intensive work is ongoing by all EU Leaders to work with the Member States to overcome the pending bilateral issues to make this happening. The delays in the official launch of accession negotiations decided by the Council in March 2020 are having a negative impact on the credibility of the EU.
Let me now say few words on the most relevant issues addressed in the Annual Report.
In the area of rule of law, the report acknowledges that concrete results have continued, with progress on the judicial reform and on the vetting of judges.
Albania has also made progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime. It has put in place new specialised law enforcement bodies. It has actively participated in a number of international law enforcement operations against organised crime, leading to high profile arrests.
The reform momentum on rule of law topics must continue. In particular, we expect continued progress in developing a track record of law enforcement.
The report clearly acknowledges that Albania is once again 100% aligned with the EU Common and Foreign Security Policy. We are fully aware that this involves sometimes difficult decisions by the Albanian authorities. Reason why we commend Albania for this continued achievement.
Let me highlight one area where the report raises concerns, freedom of expression.. The atmosphere of verbal attacks, smear campaigns and acts of intimidation against journalists has not improved. . More needs to be done to ensure the independence and legitimacy of the media regulator, as well as to strengthen the public service broadcaster’s independence, professional standards and financial sustainability.. Self-regulation in online media needs to be ensured. The parliament and government resulting from the 25 April elections must uphold the commitment to ensure that any possible changes to the media law would be in line with the Venice Commission Opinion and submitted to proper consultations.
We will continue to follow very closely developments in this important area.
It is also key to see more progress on minority-related issues. The remaining by-laws on the rights of people belonging to minorities need to be adopted, while the process for property registration, expropriation and compensation needs to advance.
As regards the economic criteria, the report considers that the Government and the Central Bank took swift and appropriate actions to support business, households and the health sector, in the wake of the COVID crisis. This cushioned the impact on the labour market and preserved macroeconomic and financial sector stability.
Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the enlargement package adopted yesterday, the Commission reiterated its clear recommendation that the IGC should take place as soon as possible and before the end of the year.
While we are all eagerly waiting for this to happen, it is crucial that Albania continues to fulfils all related conditions, and continues to deliver on EU-related reforms in all areas.
Key areas where continued progress is expected are the judicial vetting and its extension, a track record against organised crime and corruption, as well as media freedom.
EU-related reforms are first of all in the strategic interest of Albaniaand provide concrete benefits for citizens.
EU integration works already on the ground, it is already happening every day improving the lives of so many Albanian people.
I therefore hope that the Government, the Parliament as a whole as well as other actors of the society will all be ready to go the extra mile, aware that only by doing so they can ensure that the national and cross-party priority of the EU integration of Albania can be achieved.