Dear representatives of civil society organisations,
Today’s event is the first time that Albanian civil society organisations are offered a large platform to present their priorities to political parties ahead of elections.
I am very proud that the European Union made this conference possible, together with the genuine and passionate commitment of many civil society organisations.
During the course of the day, you will discuss and present your policy recommendations to political parties for their electoral manifestos.
Policy platforms should be at the heart of the electoral campaign. Albanians deserve informed debates and serious proposals that address their real concerns. A campaign is not about politicians talking to each other. It is about talking and listening to the people.
That is why today’s conference is so important. We want to hear about topics that are not featured in the campaign: research, media, democratisation, culture, climate change, food safety. And we want to hear voices that are not featured in the campaign: experts, academics, artists, journalists, young people.
The demands of young people and their participation in elections is an issue I am especially keen to promote. In March, together with our Young European Ambassadors, we will engage with young people throughout the country to understand what they want for the future of Albania.
In this dialogue, civil society organisations have a crucial role to play. You act like a bridge to engage with citizens.
The spirit of constructive dialogue, which is the leitmotiv of today’s forum, is a pillar of the EU’s democratic values.
Civil society should be an active part of the decision-making process and its will be increasingly important in the coming years. We expect the government to give civil society organisations the important and legitimate place it should hold in the negotiation process.
Civil society organisations are also essential in mobilising people, encouraging those who traditionally do not cast their ballot, because of mistrust or because they do not see the impact of their contribution.
To strengthen this role, we are funding a project implemented by Albanian Helsinki Committee, Civil Rights Defenders and the Institute for Political Studies. It seeks to empower citizens and local NGOs to engage in the upcoming elections. I am happy with are also working with a number of local NGOs through sub-grants.
On Election Day, some of you might even be formally observing the process, and ensuring that the rights of women, persons of special needs, prisoners, minorities, and in fact of all citizens, are respected.
Thank you for that essential work. I encourage you to help citizens make sure they can vote, and to help them reject and report any violation, fraud or intimidation that may occur. On Election Day, the EU will also have its own monitoring efforts with observation teams deployed all over the country.
The integrity of the elections is determined on Election Day and before. Here I want to echo the call made by Commissioner Johansson this weekend in Tirana: party leaders have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that candidate lists are comprised of people with the highest integrity. The country deserves legislators who will support the EU reform agenda of fight against corruption and organised crime.
Elections look different in every one of the EU Member State. But the fundamental is that citizens decide on the basis of a political offer. It is even simpler. It is about citizens, their quality of life, their future and their ability to influence it through their vote. Discussions like today’s are essential to guide voters and candidates in this democratic process.
I am looking forward to read the conclusions of the day, but more importantly, I am looking forward to see political parties engaging with those recommendations and not let today’s very healthy democratic initiative go unheeded.