Prime Minister Rama,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
This famous quote from Martin Luther King nails precisely the importance of an independent and accountable justice system to society as a whole.
If injustice affects even one citizen, or if one criminal manages to avoid justice through corruption, then the social contract is broken. The entire society suffers from the distrust towards institutions which should protect it.
It is all about justice because justice ensures equality of citizens.
It is all about justice because a functioning justice system is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
And, it is all about justice because the enforcement of the rule of law in one country sets the bar and inspiration for others in the region to follow.
The European Union is proud to have been tirelessly supporting the efforts of Albania to reform its justice system.
The EU is built upon the values of rule of law and fundamental rights. But reforms do not happen because we ask for them. Justice reform happened because of the overwhelmingly support by the Albanian citizens.
Citizens are the first to suffer from a failing justice system. Loss of trust in the judiciary is not a perception; it results from the bitter unfairness that many Albanians have personally suffered through the years: a property stolen because the judge was bribed, a seasoned criminal that goes unpunished, or a family business closing down because of unaddressed organised crime intimidation.
The acceptability and legitimacy of Albania's justice reform rely, first and foremost, on the unequivocal demand and support of the Albanian people. The results of the reform are their result.
Stepping back and looking realistically at what has been achieved in the last three years, you can only think that very few other countries in the world would engage in such deep transformation and level of international monitoring.
Honest judges and prosecutors who passed vetting will no longer be stained by the bad reputation of those with no integrity. In the context of this high level conference, I would like to give deserved credit to the judges and prosecutors who never lost their moral compass. They are the pride of their profession.
No fundamental change ever happens overnight, but it has to start somewhere. The new judicial system is a constitutional and institutional reality from where there is no coming back.
The reform is already part of the history of modern Albania, and one that is now being looked at across the region and beyond.
The story is not finished of course. We are today at a cross-road where the long-term sustainability of the system needs to be ensured.
Expectations are high to see the Constitutional Court and the High Court functional again. Albanian citizens are eagerly waiting for SPAK and NBI to be established and most importantly they are waiting for the first results of the work of these institutions.
The collective duty now is to avoid slowing down in the middle of the journey. There is much work ahead and continued cooperation is necessary for it to succeed.
The European Union will continue to be by your side. For the next there years, the EU will make more financial resources available, with 42 million euros dedicated to our new justice programme. This includes an envelope of 34 million euros that will contribute directly to the budget of Albania, if the country delivers on the justice strategy. The EU is proud to be Albania's justice first supporter.
We are now two weeks away from one of the most important decisions regarding the future of Albania.
Without justice reform, it is clear that the country would have waited many more years for reaching today's situation just before this important moment - years that the people of Albania cannot afford to lose.
The reform has laid the foundations for substantially strengthening the sector and consolidating independence, impartiality, professionalism, and accountability. Albania is ready to move to the next step. The opening of the accession negotiations would be a game changer for Albania, to make sure that the reform process become sustainable and irreversible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The story of Albania's justice reform is one of commitment and consensus. A journey towards the effective entrenchment of the rule of law and respect of fundamental rights. A story showing Albania at its best: when the country comes together, when leaders and parties cooperate for the sake of their citizens.
Quite simply, it is all about justice because it is all about democracy. For there is no true democracy without a justice system that protects individual rights, preserves fundamental values, allows for the truth to be exposed and the victims to be protected.