Brussels, 14 November 2018
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Thank you. It was a pleasure for me to welcome back Ditmir, Minister [of Europe and Foreign Affairs] Bushati, in Brussels today for the 10th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council between the European Union and Albania.
We have had another very positive and productive meeting looking at the overall relations between the European Union and Albania and we re-affirmed our mutual clear and strong commitment to Albania's European Union integration process.
We commended the Albanian authorities - and the society more broadly - for the achievements in the past year, particularly all the determined work that the country is undertaking on its unprecedented and very much appreciated judicial reform.
This work is already bringing results and it is consolidating the rule of law in Albania. There are great expectations from this process, especially of the vetting, and we will continue, as the European Union, to accompany you in completing this work as we have done from the very beginning of this impressive process.
We have also seen some good and very concrete results. For instance, the substantial prison sentences for the members of an important criminal organisation by the Serious Crimes Court yesterday are a vital sign of determination to ensure a solid track record on organised crime.
We also discussed over very important steps taken by Albania recently, and what additional efforts are needed to complete the reform process.
Our meeting takes place just a few months after the EU Member States set out a very clear path towards opening accession negotiations with Albania in June 2019, setting out a clear vision and a roadmap for all of us collectively in the year ahead.
There are no new conditions, as you know. What is crucial is that Albania continues to deepen the current reform momentum and maintain the same level of determination it has shown so far. Tangible results achieved in the crucial area of rule of law - I already mentioned the ambitious justice reform and the fight against organised crime. These tangible results are bound to give the Albanian authorities additional momentum to continue their hard work in addressing these challenges.
We agreed that sustained and constructive political dialogue continues to remain essential for Albania to fully address this reform agenda that is relevant for the European Union, but also for the citizens of the country and we expect all political parties to work in this regard. The reform agenda needs to be pursued relentlessly in a spirit of compromise and inclusiveness, in line with the June Council Conclusions, as I said, not only for the opening of accession negotiations, but most of all because Albanian citizens expect it and ask for it.
We also discussed the situation in the region, and I would like to repeat this once again that Albania is continuing to play what I would call a vital, constructive regional role, promoting active cooperation in the Western Balkans. This is very much appreciated and acknowledged and something we value really enormously.
At the risk of being repetitive, but repeating positive things I guess is good, I will add how much we value the full convergence between the European Union and Albania on all foreign and security policy issues, as we are, both of us, 100% aligned on this field.
From the beginning of our mandate we have been determined - and personally I have been determined - to give priority to strengthening cooperation and partnership between the European Union and all the Western Balkans. I firmly believe that the increased engagement in 2018 between the Western Balkans and the European Union – done for example through the Western Balkans Strategy as well as the Sofia Summit - is in our shared interest; it is in the interest of the Balkans; it is in the interest of the European Union; which means that it is in the interest of all of us Europeans.
Now, 2019 presents the opportunity for the region and especially for Albania to have clear progress on its European Union integration. And this is what we agreed to working very closely together on in the year ahead. The Minister [Ditmir Bushati] assured us that the commitment and determination we have witnessed so far from all levels of the Albanian society will continue. We on the European Union side remain determined to accompany Albania for a very successful 2019.
The Albanian government has put forward a proposal for a new name of the Minister of the Interior, which has been refused by the President of the Republic. We have seen the appeal of the EU Head of Delegation in Tirana, Mr [Luigi] Soreca, saying that the EU is expecting this confirmation as it is closely linked to the fight against corruption and organised crime. Have you renewed this appeal today to the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
[Addressed to Commissioner Hahn] In a late interview given to German media you said that for a long time Serbia and Montenegro have been considered frontrunners in the European integration process and now it might be Albania and Macedonia. What makes you believe this? Do you know something that we do not know?
I can confirm that whenever the European Union Head of Delegation speaks – not only in Tirana, but also elsewhere in the world – it is the European Union that speaks. So you would not be surprised by the fact that I confirm the message. And this came also as no surprise to the Minister [Ditmir Bushati] and we discussed this as it is crucial for the European Union and for its Member States to see the work of the Ministry of the Interior fully functional and active, so that the important work in these fields that are crucial for all of us and Albanian citizens can be conducted properly and fully.
I want to say one word on the question you have addressed to Commissioner [for EU Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn, because I have said it myself many times and I think this is a message that we jointly pass: Serbia and Montenegro are always considered as being the frontrunners and we often say that they are the ones that are currently running, but once others will start to run then the race will be open and everybody can be frontrunner. Expectations can be indeed open and different, I would say, as of next year.
Q: [Addressed to Minister Ditmir Bushati] Can you tell us what is the position of Tirana and would it accept a possible deal between Belgrade and Pristina regarding so-called delimitation – changing borders or even transferring population etc.? What is you assessment on that?
[Addressed to the High Representative/Vice-President] Do you expect that the Kosovo government will lift 10% additional taxes on import of goods from Serbia that is violating CEFTA rules and it seems that Serbian President [Aleksandar] Vučić here in Brussels said last time that it is "sine qua non" to continue dialogue. Do you expect the continuation of the dialogue?
Thank you. Let me just add that I appreciate personally and I think the parties appreciate the support that Albania has given to this complicated facilitation process. Albania is an important player in the region. And I think this attitude of first of all seeing if and what an agreement could contain before endorsing it, is the wise approach to be taken.
And yes, I do expect that to happen.