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Urime! Congratulazioni a tutti, sono particolarmente orgogliosa di essere in condizione oggi di portare a Tirana la decisione che la Commissione Europea ha preso ieri di dare raccomandazione positiva per la prima volta nella storia dell'Albania a che il Consiglio Europeo avvii i negoziati per l'adesione dell'Albania all'Unione Europea.
I will continue in English, but it was important for me to say this sentence also in a language that I know most of the Albanian citizens understand perfectly well.
This has been the result of a collective work, if I look back on how this country looked like a few decades ago, how much of change you have made all together. And as this has been a collective result, I believe this day can be a day of collective acknowledgement. This is the result for the institutions of the country, all of them - from the President, to the government, to the Parliament, to the municipalities, and also of the people, to the citizens of Albania, each and every one of you. And it is also a collective responsibility to carry out further work.
The enlargement process is always merit-based and we always repeat it. I remember very well last year we were standing next to each other – I think it was March last year – and I wad saying in front of the media, in front of the citizens of Albania, very clearly, that the European Commission would have given positive recommendation to open negotiations for the EU accession of Albania when the implementation of the justice reform, and in particular the vetting, would have started.
You have delivered, we have delivered. So indeed it is, I believe, quite a historic moment in the history of this country, but also in the history of the European Union. Because this is a collective work we have done also inside the European Union. And I would like to join the Prime Minister in thanking not only all the Albanians that have been working to achieve this result, but also my colleagues and friends in Brussels with whom I have been working very much and closely, President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Juncker and Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn and all the other Commissioners, who have been supporting this process so far and who stand ready to continue now on the path we have in front of us.
The Commission assessment we have adopted yesterday says clearly that Albania has met the conditions that were put in the last report and recommendation that was adopted one year and half ago. And Albania is ready to open negotiations, maintaining and deepening the reforms that you have undertaken. And in this "maintaining and deepening" is the key of the work we have ahead of us.
It is a moment of celebration, but it also a moment to look already at the further work we need to do together. And to me it is 100% clear - even looking at my Twitter account and the number of young Albanians who are writing enthusiastic comments on it - that this is a work that needs to continue not because of Brussels, but because of your people.
This is, if I am not wrong, the second youngest country in the region. This is, if I am not wrong, one of the countries of Europe that has the highest trust in the European Union. It is not only a strong determination of the Albania's people to join the European Union, it is also an interest of the European Union to have Albania coming into our Union when we will be ready for that. And I hope it will be soon.
The five key priorities you know by heart will continue to remain the key elements on which Albanian citizens will, I believe, assess and judge the capacity of the institutions to deliver on their needs and also will continue to be the basis for our common work in the future.
But again, let me stress this: with all the work that has been done together in this country - and I remember the divisions, the fights, I remember the difficult moments - I am sure that this can be the moment for collective acknowledgement of the results achieved all together in Albania and the commitment to work together, government and opposition, different institutions and all the citizens of the country. Let me stress this, because a collective effort is not only the institutions, it is also the people. All together to continue this work that actually would start even more when the negotiations begin.
Because that is a process, as you mentioned very rightly, that allows for even more transformation of the country. And again, this probably the country that has transformed itself the most in Europe over the last decades.
Let me add two last comments. One is about the role of Albania in the region. Let me recognise the positive role that Albania has played and is continuing to play, including work on good cooperation and good relations with your neighbours and with the other countries in the region, which is extremely important. Because as I had the opportunity already to say yesterday in Strasbourg: in the Western Balkans, the enlargement policy of the European Union goes back to the DNA of the European integration project, which is reconciliation and peace. So good neighbourly relations, coordination and cooperation within the region is an essential element of the reasons why we joined together in the Union. And in particular in this region, I believe, it is important. I would like to say "Urime!" – congratulations also on this. You are showing good will and good determination in improving relations with the other partners in the region.
And I would also like to have a special mention on the fact that Albania is a country that is one hundred per cent on our same page when it comes to Foreign and Security Policy. And this is not something irrelevant in these times, being completely aligned, as one would say. And it is a terminology that I do not like too much, because it gives sometimes the impression that there is one position to which you align. No, it is about aligning each other. It is about sharing the same analysis and the same objectives on the world seen. This is something valuable and important. I would like to thank not only you Edi [Rama, Prime Minister of Albania], but also the Foreign Minister [Ditmir Bushati] for this good work that we have always been doing together in this field.
This is a collective result; this is a collective work that needs to be carried out in the future. The European Union has been accompanying Albania, its institutions, its people in these years of deep change. And we will continue to walk this path together with the same determination, with the same optimism, but also with the same realism and "con la stessa stretta attenzione a come i singoli passi vengono fatti". The path is not easy, it is never easy. But you managed. And I am sure that the way ahead will continue to bring good results for this country. Grazie.
Questions & Answers
Q.  There is as tense political context as the last time you were in Albania where the opposition force proclaims disobedience. There is a debate in Albania as to whether this is expected to affect the decision of the Council in June. Will this affect the decision and what are the real odds that the Council would give the green light to the opening of negotiations in June?
FM: I will meet the opposition later during the day. My message to them will be exactly the same as my message to the Prime Minister [of Albania, Edi Rama], the government; the same message I have shared publicly and very openly in full transparency. This is not a result of one party or another, this is not a result for the government or the opposition, or one institution or the other. This is a result of which all those who have been working in the last - can I say even - decades for transforming the country so deeply can celebrate today, and can take not only credit for, but responsibility for, when it comes to the future.
There is no way, and it has never happened in any case in the history of the European Union, that the path towards membership of the European Union has been used by one party against the other. This is a national effort and if I see, if I read the Albanian society right, I see a lot of unity among the people of the country on this aspiration to join the European Union. I believe this is in the interest both of the majority and the opposition, both of the government and the opposition, to join forces and to make steps towards this maintaining and deepening of reforms, in all different sectors that are key for the process to come.
I have to say that if Albania delivered on starting the vetting, on the justice reform, it is because political forces managed to finally come together. Indeed when I say you delivered, I mean you all delivered. It took some time but - I come from a country where we understand very well the complexity of political forces relationships
- the aspirations of your citizens come first, and especially when it is about a generational dream that can come true.
I believe that - again it is not a matter of political parties, neither on the opposition nor on the government side – it is a national effort.
On the perspectives for the June European Council, it is very clear. Yesterday, the European Commission clearly said: the assessment we make - and this is for the Commission to make - is that the conditions have been met and that Albania is ready to start negotiations, and with a clearly positive recommendation to the Council to take the decision, again assuming that reforms will continue and the current reform momentum will be maintained and deepened.
But it is an unconditional recommendation in technical terms, again assuming that things continue to be going this way as we have seen them going in the last year and a half, on the pace and on the depth of reforms, especially with a focus on delivering concrete results. Then it will be for the European Council to take its decision, but again enlargement policy is based on assessment, merit-based, somehow technical assessment – this technical assessment is for the Commission to make and it has been made and the results are positive.
I think that today we have a very good news, not only for Albania but also for the region.
Obviously it is not necessarily a gift because work can be very hard and will be very hard. But again, I think Albania is very much aware of what reforming and changing deeply a country means, because you have been doing so and it is about continuing doing more.
L'immagine che ho è quella di una griglia di partenza della formula 1, ora i semafori sono verdi, then the race starts.
I know that there were a lot of talks here about frontrunners, non-frontrunners. We had in the last couple of years two countries of the region negotiating. Now the lights are green also for two other countries of the region to start running.
Q on the next steps.
FM: First of all, let me say that I never heard the word "merciless" related to my work. That is also a learning exercise and you are right. I do not take it personally. Just to say, to stress the fact that yes, you can call it "merit-based," you can call it "strict": this is the exercise that has been done and indeed it has been strict, merciless - you can call it however you want - but based on clear criteria and based on very strict technical assessment. An indeed, the decision we took yesterday, to give a positive recommendation, is an extremely important step in a process, a process that has not started yesterday, because otherwise you would not have got here, and it is not finishing tomorrow. I think it is clear to all the countries that have joined the European Union that this is not about ticking boxes. This is about transforming dynamics in society, which is much more difficult to do than answering a questionnaire. It is a real transformation process. On the regional dynamics and on bilateral relations, it is indeed a very important element in not only the assessment that the [European] Commission produces, but also in the political decisions that the Council takes, because you know the Council decides at unanimity.
Let me say that it is extremely important, in particular in the Western Balkans, because of geographical reasons, not only for historical reasons. For me this is not even an issue of enlargement. This is an issue of the re-unification of a continent. The region is bordering the European Union, it is surrounded by European Union Member States. So it is about re-uniting a continent. And this is why it is so important to put a lot of effort and good will and compromise attitude as well on solving bilateral issues that are open. And let me here commend the work that has been done and is currently under way in particular with Greece, that I think is extremely important, extremely positive, and that I encourage completely. And I hope that this can be finalised as soon as possible. But regardless of the enlargement process, obviously this has its relevance also for that, I really believe that having the courage and the wisdom and the pragmatism of solving issues of the past in a constructive manner is the best way to pave a brighter future for our respective countries and our common Europe. And in particular for a country like this that is so young, let me stress how relevant this is.
Let me also say a word on the debate on the future of Europe. I said it already yesterday in Strasbourg. I was in the hemicycle listening to the speech of President [of France, Emmanuel] Macron, an excellent speech on why we need our Union, and how we risk to forget it from time to time. Let me say that seen from outside, seen from here, you perfectly well remember why we need our European Union. And this is also and added–value of this process we have in common that seeing ourselves from your eyes we realise much better what we have and what is the value of what we have and what we risk to lose.
But I think it is good that the debate about the future of the European Union in institutional terms – how to function better at 28, or 27 tomorrow – can go together in parallel, step by step, with the process of the reunification of the continent. I have always said, it is no mystery: my personal view is that the future of the European Union will not be at 27, it will be at more than 27, because we are negotiating with some countries and are ready to negotiate with some others. So it is a serious issue – the one that President [of France, Emmanuel] Macron has put on the table: how the European Union can reform itself to function better already now at 28, or tomorrow at 27, or tomorrow at 30 or more…
And I have also said something a bit unconventional yesterday in Strasbourg, I have no problem with repeating it here: even considering a two-speed Europe, no-one can guarantee that those that are currently members of the European Union would automatically be in the "first circle of speed" and the new Member States of the future would be automatically in the "second circle of speed". It might well be that some Member States – if we ever get to an option like that – that are today Member States would have a different role and some future Member States might decide to do more and faster – going back to the Formula 1 comparison. Probably, three or four years ago nobody would have imagined that the United Kingdom, a well-established Member State of the European Union, would have been out.
So the important thing is that we keep focused on the will of our people, the will of your people in this case, the future of the country, the future of the region and – I go back to this – the "maintaining and deepening" the reforms you have started and delivering on the results of that. And I think it is like a bicycle, you do not stand still. If you stand still, you fall. You need to go. And going and keep on going is where we got, which is quite a good place.
Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I154164