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Welcome everyone to the new Europe House!
I cannot hide my happiness to open Europe Week 2019 here today, in our brand new premises.
Since I arrived in Albania last September, I wanted to give Europe House a more open, welcoming and modern location. A place that is in direct link with the life of the city and that gives credit to the importance of the European Union for Albanians.
My teams, Communication and Operations, and the great team of Europe House, have worked very hard in the last couple of months, under almost impossible deadlines, to make sure that we could all be here today.
Thanks to their great work, we now have this fantastic space to help us support EU integration in the heart of Tirana.
My team and I want this "house" to be a proper "home": full of life, passion and debate.
A "home" where we can fully enjoy the values of the European Union – solidarity, democracy and fundamental rights.
Communicating about the EU is not one-way process, from the EU to Albanians. It is a dialogue of equals and we are here to listen.
Europe House is the space of the EU Delegation, of our Member States, but first of all, I would like it to become the house of all Albanian citizens.
A place where civil society organisations, young and children's groups, other vulnerable groups that do not find a place where to gather can really feel at ease to come to Europe House to discuss their hopes and concerns, to exchange ideas, to drink a coffee and talk about Europe or anything.
My team and I want this house to become a real cultural centre – a reference point for Tirana's cultural life with concerts, exhibitions like the one we will enjoy today, book clubs and discussions in all formats. We will promote cultural cooperation between Albania and the EU – countering stereotypes through open-mindedness, dignity and mutual respect.
I look forward to many meaningful exchanges taking place in this conference room and in the rest of the House.
As our High Representative and Vice-President, Federica Mogherini, who will be visiting this House in two days, said when the EU adopted its strategy for international cultural relations: "Cultural diplomacy must be at the core of our relationship with today's world. Culture is a powerful tool to reinforce mutual understanding and build bridges between people, notably the young."
"Notably the young". I insist on this part of the quote. It hasn't escaped your notice that Europe Week 2019 is dedicated to the Power of Youth.
With its new Youth Strategy 2019, the European Union has launched a massive exercise of reaching out to young people all over Europe.
There is a clear acknowledgment that the EU needs to include youth in its actions, policies and projects. Brussels is increasingly creating space for young people to come together and build long-term relationships with the EU.
With Europe Week 2019, our intention is to start implementing this agenda fully here in Albania and empower young people to become our partners.
Of course we are not doing this only because it's a Brussels agenda. We are doing this because 40% of the Albanian population is younger than 30 years old. They are the future of this country and they are future citizens of the European Union.
To prepare Europe Week 2019, the EU Delegation has engaged with schools, universities, and youth and children organisations to create spaces of dialogue.
We have involved 18 academic institutions, from the "Sabah Sinani" high school in the mountains of Puka, to universities all over the country, to Zeri 16 + Group supported by Save the Children.
Every single meeting with them has already been rich of discovery and exchange. I was so impressed by the commitment, knowledge and brightness young and children showed in these meetings.
I look forward to the actual events taking place now, where ideas about the European Union, hopes and concerns can be discussed.
Young people are often said to be un-interested. This is not what I have seen since I arrived in Albania. Every day, I meet young Albanians who are active, very committed and full of initiatives. Europe Week 2019 will give credits to young people who volunteer and are dedicated to help their community. That altruism is invaluable and Albanian authorities should do much more to facilitate volunteering and participation.
We have more than 25 events in the programme so I will not go through each of them now, but let me give you some of the highlights.
Tomorrow, the EU Goes Back to School, with panel discussions in different high schools bringing together the EU Delegation, Member States Embassies and local youth organisations. We especially want to discuss the inclusion of young people in EU integration process at the local level and in more isolated and rural areas.
Tomorrow we will also celebrate the anniversary of the Jean Monnet Programme which has supported EU studies and professor mobility for 30 years. Every year more than 500,000 students are involved in educational activities supported by the programme, teaching young people about Europe, having them research our institutions and think critically about how we could improve.
We will also have a very important event on educational opportunities for deaf children – because every child has a right to proper education. The current situation of deaf children today in Albania is quite simply not acceptable.
Earlier I was telling you about our High Representative/Vice President giving a strong focus to cultural activities. Well, I am very happy to announce that Federica Mogherini will be part of our Europe Week programme on Wednesday evening when she will open a new production of "Il Trovatore" by Giuseede Verdi at the Palace of Congresses.
Thursday is Europe Day. At the artistic lyceum, we will have what I expect to be a great exchange between 150 young Albanians and EU and Member States Ambassadors. There is a critical need to involve young people in a meaningful way into decisions that will affect them. For us, it means involving them more in the transformational process that is EU integration. This meeting will precisely aim at agreeing on a concrete format for a structured dialogue with young Albanians.
Finally on Friday, we will take over the Toptani Street in Tirana with the EU Village. That will be a full day of debates, presentations, music and cultural activities of all sorts. The Village will have 30 stands of Member States and of EU-funded project.
Of course Europe Week is here to celebrate the European Union, its values and achievements, and the role that it can play for the Youth. But Europe Week is here most importantly to allow us tackling some very essential issues for young people here in Albania: migration, education, LGBTI rights, addressing criminal behaviour, doing more for children with disabilities. As I said earlier, our aim is to create safe space where young people can bring up their real concerns and aspirations, in their own words, without mediation.
Thank you all for having been here today and share with us the happiness to inaugurate the new Europe House!
Now it is time to launch officially Europe Week 2019!
Let's unleash the Power of Youth!