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Ditmir [Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania], it is a real pleasure to welcome you back here in Brussels.
Together with Foreign Minister Bushati we had the ninth annual Stabilisation and Association Council this morning, a very positive and productive one. We have looked at the overall relations between the European Union and Albania and confirmed our clear and strong commitment to Albania's European Union integration process.
In this context, we agreed on the importance of the Reform Agenda that Albania is with determination putting in place, in particular the judicial reform that Albania is undertaking, let me stress, is one of the most important reforms ongoing in any of the enlargement countries. It plays, I believe, the crucial role in consolidating the rule of law in Albania, but it also constitutes a key element of Albania's EU integration process.
I repeated it so many times: before the decisions on the judicial reform were taken, I think it is important to acknowledge - once these decisions have been taken and the process has started - how important this has been and how big expectations are there for this to be a really transformative process in Albania.
We believe that this would contribute also to positive aspects on other fields, in particular creating a more predictable and transparent environment for business and investors. Let me say that our economic relations are positive, but, I believe, there is still a lot of room for improving and bringing them to their full potential.
And for these reasons we have always attached great importance to this reform of the judicial system and, I believe, this is also why the Albanian citizens support it so much. So, after having worked so much for this, let me congratulate not only the Albanian government but also the Albanian people and all the institutions for having put this in place. And let me assure you that the European Union will continue to support Albania in the implementation of this reform. As I said, there are great expectations from the implementation of the process, especially of the vetting system and we will continue to be there at your side to work in this direction.
We also discussed other very important steps taken by Albania in this recent year on many different reforms and different aspects, especially we discussed other rule of law issues, or rule of law related issues, starting from the fighting against organised crime and corruption. We see that it is crucial that Albania continues with the determination that it has shown so far in this direction.
We also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans. Albania is playing and continuing to play, I would say, a vital, constructive regional role promoting cooperation. And, in the Western Balkans, the alternative to cooperation is better not to mention. So, that is why I say, it is vital the role that Albania is playing in this respect. It is something we appreciate and value enormously, as well as we value and appreciate enormously the full convergence of foreign and security policy between Albania and the European Union. There is a one hundred percent alignment. This is quite unique. And, I think, this reflects our common vision of the world and of our region, and our common determination to work together, not only on the Albanian relation and on the Albanian's EU integration path, but also on what we do together on the international scene.
I have covered in brief some of the aspects – almost all I would say – that we discussed this morning, as I said, with a very positive and productive meeting. But this is no surprise. Building on these achievements that Albania has managed to put in place during this last year, we agreed and we share this view that 2018, next year, will provide a unique opportunity, first of all, for the region as a whole.
It is no mystery that from the beginning of my mandate I took it as my personal priority to strengthen cooperation and partnership and presence of the European Union in the Western Balkans. Today, we can clearly say that the European Union as a whole has reinforced significantly – I would say enormously – its engagement in the Western Balkans, including through the unequivocal commitment, expressed by the European Council in Spring  and with [European Commission] President [Jean-Claude] Juncker State of the Union speech in September  providing the European Union integration perspective for all the six Western Balkan partners.
So, building on this, 2018 will be a unique window of opportunity, not only for the region, but also for Albania to advance concretely on the European Union integration path and make this process irreversible. I have personally discussed this also with Prime Minister [of Bulgaria, Mr Boyko] Borisov, as Bulgaria prepares to take the presidency of the Council. And, as you know, this will be also one of the priorities, if not the top priority of the Bulgarian presidency in the first half of 2018. And I am quite sure that the following presidencies will allow us to continue to work very closely with the region on concrete steps that can really become historic.
So, to conclude, I am convinced, not because I am an optimist, but because I am realistic that Albania can and will use the coming six months and furthermore to make key steps towards the European Union integration of the country. We are ready.
Question on drug issue in the country.
As I said in my remarks not only a few minutes ago, but also last year and the year before here in Brussels and in Tirana consistently, is that drug cultivation and trafficking has to be tackled seriously with all the determination needed, with all the political support for that to happen seriously, and with the judicial authorities and the law enforcement agencies making their work.
As the Minister [Bushati] pointed out and as we are very much aware of, the law enforcement agencies in Albania are cooperating with law enforcement agencies and Member States, in particular with the Guardia di Finanza in Italy, and to my knowledge, cooperation also with the Italian judiciary is ongoing and it is my golden rule to never comment on ongoing investigations and judiciary work. I think it is never correct for any institution to comment on ongoing investigations on the work of the judges, not in my own country, not in countries of the European Union, not in partner or friends' countries. I respect and admire the work of the judiciary too much to put it at the center of a political comment of another institution.
But what I can say is this: drug trafficking and cultivation is a key priority for the European Union. It is a priority we shared with the Albanian authorities and this is one of the key elements also for the way ahead. What I can say is that I see the determination, I see also - considering the mentioned cooperation of the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary - ongoing steps forward and political will. Obviously we need to see clear results coming up. And I say this not because this is a condition of the European Union, this is a condition of the Albanian people clearly putting forward for the government, but for all the institutions and, I would say, for all the society in Albania, because there is a responsibility of the institutions, there is a responsibility of the society. We know very well when there is a major problem in a country it needs to be tackled by the country as a whole. And this is also why, I believe, it is so important to take this approach, determined, [with] full transparency, full trust in the judiciary, full cooperation with other countries, especially Member States' judiciary institutions and law enforcement agencies, and coming to concrete results. I understand that, compared to last year, progress has been made. Obviously this progress has to be consolidated and continued.
Question on the strategy that will be issued in February by the Commission.
Let me reply before because I think we have to clarify communication here. In the region, there are two countries that are running currently and others that are ready to run, hopefully, and the strategy will cover the entire region. Again it is not a case of frontrunners and others that are lagging behind. It is just a matter of facts and the facts have their own right to exist and to be explained. There are two countries that are currently negotiating chapters [Montenegro and Serbia] and others that have to enter that process and begin to run. The strategy will cover the entire region and President Juncker in his speech in the European Parliament referred to the entire region. This makes your life easier I guess [Minister], but it was important to clarify.
Link to the video (remarks): https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I146528
Link to the video (Q&A): https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I146530