Press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, marking the launch of the screening process as part of the preparatory stage for the accession negotiations process.
PM Edi Rama: First and foremost, I want to appreciate the European Commission, the Commissioner and his team for their continued and irreplaceable support for the country’s European Union integration process and the contribution towards boosting the regional cooperation and interaction as a parallel process of each Western Balkan country’s integration into the EU.
This cooperation enters a new stage today through the preparatory process due to take place over the 12 coming months, which, I would like to underline for all our mediators with the public opinion, who are here with us, but also for the others who are watching us, this is a process and work that typically takes place after the formal start of the accession negotiations, whereas the language of the conclusions by the European Council allows for the start of this work now. It means that even the negotiations were to be formally open in June this would be exactly what we would be doing. So we have 12 months that are not a waiting time rather a time of work that with the formal opening of the negotiations allows us to be in a more advanced position as a results of us wasting not a single second.
That is a quality change and shift also in the approach and engagement of all EU integration units and structures horizontally across the board of the government, but also in the involvement and engagement of other institutions starting with the Assembly of Albania.
We are not going to waste time, not only in carrying out the screening, or the so-called preparatory stage, but we will also continue work deepening progress in all areas as recommended both by the Commission and the European Council so that next June is a moment when we celebrate and when the formal opening of the negotiations is a moment of consolidating Albania’s position on this not easy path, but considering what we have done makes us confident about we should and will certainly do in the future.
I feel very much pleased that we have today a qualitatively stronger relation with all EU member states and specifically we have a closer and much structured relationship as part of this process with both France and the Netherlands, with whom we had an uneasy debate and who became part of this solution at the last moment. They have also reassured us of their readiness to be by our side on this journey, where every step will be jointly taken with the Commission, whereas we are going to interact will all member states and where creating a cohesion in relations with Albania and creating a solid position in the eyes of everyone is part of this journey and goes beyond the technical elements.
We learned from this stage that the Commission is the technical objectiveness, whereas the Council is the political subjectivity. These two have now converged and we now have it written on black and white that Albania and Macedonia will open the accession negotiations by June and then we will continue further.
I will give the floor to the Commissioner hoping that he will be thanking us for all this rain we brought in Albania on occasion of his visit.
Commissioner Johannes Hahn: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister, but the sun is now already shining and this is exactly what we would like to see. However, it is also good to have some rain time after time in order to clean things when necessary.
But in any case, I am very much delighted together with my team to back here in Tirana. And the reason is quite simple as Albania has just received a very important acknowledgement by the European Commission and its member states as it was stated several times today.
Back at the end of June, the General Affairs Council, which usually deals with all enlargement matters, has taken stock of the very good progress Albania has made in its reform agenda and which, a couple of days later, was also endorsed by the European Council. Therefore, the Council has set the path towards opening the accession negotiations in June 2019. Of course, the EU member states have also emphasized the critical need for Albania to further consolidate the progress made so far. That’s why I reiterated to Prime Minister Rama and his fellow ministers that the efforts should indeed continue on the judicial reform and the vetting process in particular, and I really want to highlight and stress that we very much welcome the very concrete and promising initial results of this process, not only for Albania, because in the meantime some other countries inside the Union have looked at this very comprehensive and far-reaching reform and they are already exploring the ways how to copy or, so to say, adopt it in a way that would serve their needs. Therefore, I would say that all the achievements are important, first and foremost for your country and interest of your citizens, but it also should not be underestimated that it is really seen as a blueprint for other countries too. Therefore, in that prospect I am very much interested in seeing very good and positive results, which indeed can serve as a good example for others too. But it is also about showing tangible results in the fight against corruption at all levels and the organized crime in particular, including the countering of drugs cultivation and trafficking.
In order to pave the way to future steps, the Commission has started the necessary preparatory work as also noted by the Council and this is exactly the reason why I am here today. The Prime Minister already referred to it. So I have formally inaugurated before the whole government of Albania the screening process, which represents one of the first crucial steps ahead of the future negotiations. Actually it is part of this whole process and it is something which has to be done with each country and it will be done in the future with all the candidate countries hopefully just like it has been already done with the more advanced countries in this process and other nations which have already joined the Union.
I have stressed the importance, and this is something I want to highlight the importance of this whole process for the entire administration in order for the latter to step up the necessary efforts and organized the best possible structures for what is going to be a very intensive process. However, this is an effort that will require only a push by the government in charge, but there is a key need for all other actors to provide their contribution to the process. This includes the whole parliament and the civil society, each within its respective competences.
I was very pleased to gather the commitment of Prime Minister Rama and the rest of the government to pursue with great determination in this process and their intention to reach out to all relevant stakeholders. The process we have launched today is good news for the country. It responds to the citizens’ EU aspirations and brings a great responsibility for the political leadership to deliver results. I reassure you all that the Commission will continue to assist and support as always the efforts made by Albania, but once again everything you are doing here is not about pleasing and satisfying some officials in Brussels, but it is about serving the interest of your citizens, it is about addressing reform issues where of course the European perspective serves and finally will benefit the citizens and will improve the living conditions and perspective.
I would also like to avail myself of this opportunity to commend the government and other for the efforts to address the issue of unfounded asylum seekers as the country was facing some criticism by some member states. But I want to say here in Tirana the government did everything to decrease the number of the asylum seekers in order to convince member states that this is not something that it is pushed by the government but quite the opposite and allow me to say that this should not be necessary in the future. ….[inaudible] This is exactly what we are looking for to really offer living conditions and turn the brain gain you are still facing into a brain circulation.
It this is all possible then I think you have achieved a lot and once again it is in the interest of your citizens and this is what counts and this is where you can rely on our strong commitment and determination.
Thank you very much!
In order to avoid the potential political interpretations, can you make it clear to an ordinary Albanian citizen what was this step taken by the Commission? I mean the start of the screening process while a final answer is expected next year. What should Albania do until next year? Are there other conditions Albania should meet or this screening is all what it is meant? What is the main EU requirement Albania should address during this period?
Commissioner Johannes Hahn: First and foremost, I would like to reiterate and underline for a third time that we are not introducing any new conditions. So what we are doing again is – as I have already said – a process we have done with every other candidate and we will do with every other candidate country, because at the beginning of this process we have to identify where the country is in terms of its legislation compared to the legislation of the European Union. Let’s take an example. One of the key priorities was the vetting process. The vetting process is relevant substantial element within the whole, so to say, rule of law area, but it is, if you like, one puzzle of it. There are many others. And what we are doing now is to have a comprehensive stock-taking about where the country is. If it comes on the so-called fundamental we are now looking into the overall situation of the rule of law in the country and then we can compare it with our legislation. Then we have to make an assessment as to where is the country and what still has to be done and what are probably the so-called benchmarks for starting the negotiations and so on and so for. That’s why I stress again and again that the better the quality of this screening process is done by all the institutions involved, not only by the ministers here, but also by the General Directorate, the more will be anticipated and done for the then starting negotiations on the individual chapters. So again it is part of the overall process which has to be done with each country. So it is not a tailor-made approach, if you like. The tailor-made result is to look into the outcome of the screening exercise and establish so to say the negotiating mandate based on this screening process. So it should be seen as part of the whole process and I think it is rather ambitious and challenging to do this in one year. So that’s why I am here already in July without waiting till September, because someone could have said: “Ok, they took the decision in June. Let’s take a break and a breath and let’s start then in September.” No! Not at all! Don’t lose any day and instead start as soon as possible. I always say, people are on holidays but not the institutions.
What are the guarantees the European side provides in the contractual relations with Albania so that no conditions or European expectations change next year based on the position of individual member states? I mean the relationship between what the European Commission proposes and what the member states expect or approve.
A question for Prime Minister Rama. Which is Albania’s strongest weapon that makes it believe it will deliver on this ambition within a year?
Commissioner Johannes Hahn: All I can say about our own credibility as European Union is that if a partner delivers, then we have to deliver too. It is clear what should be done. We have no doubt that this can be done. And again therefore I am very much convinced that the timetable will be kept and this is where we are. I think we have clearly outlined what has to be done, what is the timetable and what can be expected by end of the next year. In the end of next year, the aim is to open the first chapters, namely the chapters 23 and 24
PM Edi Rama: What is important and I believe it often goes unnoticed, or it is generally left unmentioned is the progress the country makes month after month and year after year in this process, not matter how the things go from the Commission level to the Council level. So, in other words today’s Albania compared with the yesterday’s Albania is a much more advanced Albania in terms of the aspects directly related to our common work and efforts to deliver on the five key priorities. If a year ago we are engaged in a great political and public battle and a national fever whether there would or wouldn’t be a vetting process, whether this step will or won’t be made, whether the cleansing of the palace of justice will or will not begin, a year later we see a daily and brutal cleansing – if I may use this word – of the palace of justice.
Of course if we are to consider it in terms of where we should be a year, two or three years later, it is inadequate, but if we are to look at it compared to a year ago then the progress is extraordinary. It means that the process at the end of the day is a process that is being done for our kids here and not because it is required by the Commission or because the Council convened and asked us to do these things because we want you to do so, but because these are indispensable to our country’s future. This is very important and what is fundamental is that, as the Commission reports show, as the Council’s decision shows, we have received a deserved assessment. France and the Netherlands would have never had changed their position should there were no results that would speak for themselves and respect for work and results. It was the respect for our work and results that led to this solution.
The European Council would have never adopted exactly the language the Commissioner explained during the meeting and this press conference should there were no results, setting a deadline for the formal start of the accession negotiations on one hand and launching the screening process on the other. There would be no screening if there were no results. Screening is the process that normally begins after the formal start of the negotiations. One should not forget that the EU integration history shows that it took more than a year for Serbia to start screening after receiving a date for the opening of negotiations. It took more than six months for Montenegro to start the screening process after the date for opening the negotiations was set. Why? Because it is this process we are embarking on now. So, even if we were to formally open the negotiations back in June we would have been doing exactly what we are doing right now. Therefore, the launch of the screening process is a recognition of our merit and the need to move ahead in this process.
As for our powerful weapon in this process, I would say, like it or not, our most powerful weapon is our passion for Albania, although at certain moments we may not be able to show it properly as we may make mistakes at certain moments, but our passion for Albania is unmatchable by no one else in this country. This is our strongest weapon.
Thank you very much!