Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama and Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković:
Prime Minister Edi Rama:
Good afternoon everyone!
Honourable Prime Minister of Montenegro!
Today marked a special day in the history of the relations between our two countries.
I am really pleased to affirm that today’s joint meeting marks just the beginning of the joint effort to take our bilateral ties to more advanced level. The traditionally excellent relations between us constitute a very strong basis for much more efficiently addressing the tremendous potential in the space we share.
Today we set some important milestones in the efforts to tackle this tremendous potential, guaranteeing the path to deepening our cooperation at a bilateral, regional and European level.
I would like to reiterate the fact that we have been eagerly waiting and we are proud of our decisive contribution towards Montenegro’s accession to NATO and Montenegro’s NATO membership today is an undeniable example of the strengthened stability and security in our region.
We have already ushered in a new stage on our path towards the European Union after being given a date to formally open the accession negotiations, but what it is more important we are about to start the screening process for the negotiations, a “de facto” process that normally begins with the opening of the accession negotiations. This means that we haven’t missed 12 months, but we have 12 months available to make the most of it to embark and carry out an analytical process in order to be fully prepared ahead of the intergovernmental conference, where we are fortunate to to share with the Montenegrin government both our challenge and their experience as Montenegro is a step ahead of us in this process.
We have discussed ways to ensure a better and more efficient use of the whole fantastic basin in terms of the natural tourism potentials and we will work concretely to integrate much more all the economic activity and the whole chain of activities that accompany and should support the further transformation of tourism in this area.
We remain very committed to working together to materialize the investment program under the Berlin Process, with both government making preparations to launch one of the biggest infrastructure investments, the Blue or Adriatic-Ionian highway that will eventually connect with the Mediterranean’s tourist ring, southern Croatia, Montenegro and Albania.
We are also strongly committed to advancing the process designed to facilitate and promote the trade exchanges by slashing the non-tariff barriers at maximum and providing the respective incentives to companies interested in cooperating on both sides of the border.
We are pleased about signing today the agreement on opening the Zogaj border crossing for road and waterway traffic. We strongly believe that this highly sought after attraction over years will be a source of communication, interaction, trade and further development of tourism.
In the same spirit we will soon materialize the opening of another border crossing point Pulaj-Shën Nikolla near the Adriatic, which will be accomplished with the fulfilment of all technical conditions, and make operational the border crossing point of Grabon – Zatrijebacka Cijevna.
I am very confident that rapid and sustainable progress will be made in the bilateral relations with Montenegro as, just like I pointed out at the start of this important day’s activity, good neighbourly relations without open issues connect Montenegro and Albania. Quite the contrary, it is a best-guaranteed neighbourhood by the respective minorities on either side of the border. I am very pleased that there is a full understanding with our brothers in Montenegro of the irreplaceable role of the Albanians in the whole process of Montenegro’s transformation from a former Yugoslav republic into an independent, democratic state and most recently a member of NATO and an important candidate for the European Union membership.
So having this very strong linking bridge, having this very positive approach to the relevant ethnic minorities we are convinced that there is no barrier to do a lot of things together, because we are fortunate to be in a geographic area with extraordinary potential.
We signed a number of agreements with the cooperation agreement on culture worth mentioning as an accord that speaks of the great affinity between the two countries, while major focus is being placed on aspects of security and the common fight against illicit trafficking and organized crime.
I am very pleased that both in relation to the region and in relation to the other processes within the region, including the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, both countries have adopted a completely unified approach. We have supported and strongly support the progress of this dialogue and meanwhile I would like to express gratitude to Prime Minister and President Đukanović, a great friend of Albania and the Albanians, for the commitment and the deep sense of understanding and readiness to find a final solution to the border issue between Montenegro and Kosovo.
Thank you very much dear Duško!
Many thanks to all colleagues who are here today to materialize a process launched in Shkodra a year ago and which will go on with annual joint sessions between the two governments on the other side of the border next year, as we have already agreed under the Joint Declaration on this meeting. At the same time, the willingness to move ahead on this path for the benefit of both peoples, for the benefit of both states and above all, I emphasize, for the benefit of our children whose future I believe will be much better.
Prime Minister Duško Marković:
Honourable colleague Rama,
Honorable friend Edi,
Honourable media representatives!
I would like to agree my colleague Edi, who said that the two governments held a historic meeting aimed not only at affirming the good relations between Albania and Montenegro, but also at adopting a perspective of both countries rich in huge economic, political and social resources.
Montenegro and Albania, as you know, historically have good neighbourly relations. Thanks to the historical development of our relations, Montenegro and Albania face no challenges, problems or conflicts. This is the best position to build the future for our two countries and improve the lives of the citizens of both countries. These are the obligations of our two governments.
As Prime Minister Rama noted, today we signed a series of important agreements. I am not going to point out each of them, but I would like to say that these agreements include the concrete steps to advance our relations and turn our potentials to the benefit of the citizens of Albania and Montenegro. These are agreements between the line ministries and government bodies which we will analyze and take stock of their results during the next year’s joint session in Podgorica.
Albania and Montenegro share common values, the Euro-Atlantic values within NATO and I am very grateful to Albania for supporting Montenegro achieving its strategic interest, accession to NATO on June 5, 2017. So, we are turning our inter-state relations into joint activities within the Euro-Atlantic family, activities that have to do not only with our two countries, but also with the Euro-Atlantic space.
We also belong to the European values. Montenegro is at the forefront of this process. We are about to conclude the opening of the negotiating chapters and preparations are underway for the next stage in the process, the intensive closure of the negotiating chapters. We are ahead in this process.
Albania has made a very good progress in this process. Montenegro openly supports and is ready to make available its social and political and social potentials, as well as institutional capacities in order to support and assist Albania in the process of the accession negotiations the country will start next June and conclude the process as soon as possible, just like Montenegro is doing. Our experience and best practice in the accession negotiations will be made available to our Albanian friends and we in Montenegro are not satisfied that Albania will open the negotiations in June 2019. We have made every effort to help Albania and open the negotiations in July this year, because Albania deserves it, but as pragmatic politicians and responsible states we move forward and I believe Albania will recuperate this year and start the negotiations.
Our interstate relations should be crowned with a much better economic cooperation. Montenegro and Albania are both developing countries. Montenegro and Albania, along with Kosovo, registered the highest economic growth in the region last year. We have ample potentials for development of our economies, tourism, energy and agriculture, but for this potential to fully exploited and result in job creation we need to advance and modernize our infrastructure.
Today we discussed ways to improve infrastructure between Albania and Montenegro, ease movement of people and goods on both sides of the border without being subject to detailed customs procedures and instead turn these procedures into new businesses and values.
I am deeply confident that the today’s agreements will stimulate our efforts. Both Albania and Montenegro have untapped potential for development of tourism, agriculture and energy sector and we can work together in these areas.
I would like to reiterate what PM Rama said earlier. The people living in our countries represent the highest values of our nations. As you already know, the Montenegro’s Albanians love their country, they participate in the country’s government, strengthen its potential and strongly support Montenegro’s European perspective. Such a dedication of the Albanians, and other ethnic minorities, including the Croatians, Bosnians and other minorities, is the foundation stone of the Montenegrin state.
I would like to express appreciation to Mr. Rama and his government for adopting the law on the protection of minorities in 2017, under which Albania officially has recognized the Montenegrin minority in the country. This is a historic step forward by Rama’s government. This is the case for the Montenegrin minority to preserve its identity and to work for the good of its country, Albania, and never forget its Montenegrin roots.
These are values that should unite and bring us together in the future. The Euro-Atlantic perspective will provide us with new cases. The two governments are obliged to immediately make use of these cases in order to ensure that citizens in Albania, Montenegro and elsewhere in the region lead a life up to the European standards and we are committed to achieving this objective.
Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for arranging the details of this meeting!
We appreciate your cabinet members for their concrete contributions which will further promote our cooperation and I believe we will do the same at the next joint session of our governments in Podgorica, Montenegro, next year.
Thank you once again!
-Greetings! You mentioned the infrastructure connectivity between Albania and Montenegro. Is there any infrastructure project to connect Velipoja and Ulcinj? How Albania will make use of Montenegro’s best practices in development of tourism. I would also like to ask the Prime Minister of Montenegro about the requirements and the criteria Montenegro had to fulfil when the country was in similar position like Albania?
PM Edi Rama: We have already prepared the project on construction of the road linking Velipoja and Shengjin, which shortens the travel time drastically and on the other hand it offers a fabulous landscape for the visitors and tourists. Of course the idea is not to stop in Velipoja but to extend the road to the other side. To this end, we are currently exploring the best and most efficient solutions and then we will sit with our friends to discuss ways of cooperation under this project. I haven’t asked for the Prime Minister’s permission, but I always recall the story he has told me about his son, who always wishes to cross the border and head to Velipoja and Shengjin to spend vacations together with his friends. This is the story and the case of many people on both sides of the border. Of course there are a lot of stories on our side, because Montenegro has already launched the process of transforming its tourist potential into an economic reality for years now, in part thanks to the visionary leadership of President Đukanović. We are most fortunate to have such a beautiful successful experience close to our border. Of course people’s desire to communicate in this space is as strong as the readiness of our Montenegrin friends to assist us in this process. We are also strengthening the cooperation in terms of investments in tourism, in this area in particular.
PM Duško Marković: I think both Albania and Montenegro can do a lot more when it comes to development of their economic potential and economic cooperation. As you might know, Montenegro has done a lot. Montenegro is world-wide known for its tourism and development of the tourist potential, but Albania is increasingly attracting interest of serious and credible investors, who by visiting Montenegro will have the chance to explore Albania’s coast too. We support and encourage these investors to make decisions over capital investments and tourism investments in Albania’s tourism industry since we are aware of a complementary relation and both parties will benefit from this fact. We must work together to advance road infrastructure and infrastructure as a whole, including the energy and digital infrastructure. Today we talked about the importance of the Adriatic-Ionian highway, which has been included in the joint declaration adopted in the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. The Adriatic-Ionian motor way is a priority corridor, which will be funded by the European Union. It is very important project for both Albania and for Montenegro.
What I and my cabinet members have pointed out as a very important aspect of our relations as part of efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation is that both sides should reconsider and review the current non-tariff barriers, which threaten and hamper business and trade exchanges between private companies and between the two countries. We have decided to remove the non-tariff barriers under the CEFTA framework and ease doing business and trade exchanges between the two countries. These measures will be implemented under the Action Plan adopted in the Trieste Summit. So we are working together to figure out our needs. These things are much easier when working together.
PM Edi Rama: As for the negotiations process and the valuable assistance from Montenegro which is ahead of us in this process, I would like to reiterate that Albania initially received a positive and unconditional recommendation from the European Commission, but no date was set. The date to start the accession negotiations is set by the European Council and if the European Commission is the guarantor of the entire technical process and the Commission’s recommendation is based on the technical objectivity of the country’s achievements, the European Council is the political subjectivity of 28 member states that are not only obliged to view the technical assessment, but they also have their own internal dynamics and stories that everyone now knows. We expected the accession talks to start immediately, possibly following same model previously used for Montenegro and Serbia, which were given 6 months time to prepare the screening process. We won’t lose a single moment. Over the next two weeks we will launch the screening process with the European Commission. Montenegro has already opened a series of chapters and has completed three of them and it has gained valuable experience in the process. Montenegro has the right experts to assist us in the screening process.
-First question for you Mr. Prime Minister. A recent statement by the head of Montenegro’s department for state border supervision, Vojislav Dragović, over the construction of a barbed-wire fence along the border with Albania to stem the flow of illegal migrants has sparked heated debate. Is there a concrete plan considered in the talks with the government of Montenegro since the Hungarian Foreign Minister said a day ago that his country will donate 25 km long razor-wire fence and such a statement has triggered debate, even media speculations? Is there something concrete about this? Following same logic, I have a question for Mr. Rama: Is the illegal crossing of the border by the third countries’ nationals worrisome, including also the narcotics trafficking attempts with the green border with Montenegro being a serious concern, especially from the territory of Shkodra district?
PM Duško Marković: Nothing is happening regarding Montenegro’s policy on illegal emigration. Nothing new is happening compared to 2015. You know that Montenegro has not been affected by a massive migrant flow, but in 2015, Montenegro approved the operational plan, which meant a number of measures should the new migrants’ route passes through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Europe. So, the government of Montenegro has adopted the operational action plan in 2015. There are political speculations suggesting we will build camps for illegal migrants. This won’t happen, except the country’s responsibility to be ready to address any concrete challenges. This wouldn’t be the first time for Montenegro. You can recall that over 120 000 unfortunate people from our region sought shelter in Montenegro during the former Yugoslavia’s disintegration. We deported no one. All of them were sheltered. We provided shelter and living conditions for them. The majority of them remain in Montenegro and many others have returned home. When it comes to unfortunate people, Montenegro remains loyal to its commitment to help and provide any required humanitarian aid to these people. We need to make our institutions and politics effective. Solidarity brings together big organizations. NATO also functions upon the principle of solidarity.
It is true that we have witnessed a greater inflow of illegal border crossings from Albania to Montenegro, but, as you know, the Interior Ministers of Albania and Montenegro had a meeting 10 days ago to discuss the matter. We will work together to make our borders safe and ensure that we meet our constitutional obligations to maintain stability should there a massive illegal migrants’ flow happens in both countries. So Albania and Montenegro have adopted a responsible approach. There is no threat on the border with Albania. We do not plan to raise fences or build refugee camps. We are safe. Stability is a top priority for both governments. The fight against economic crime, regardless its source, including the illegal migration, is a top priority on the agenda of our security services.
PM Edi Rama: We have received offers for fence donations too. But we are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation that takes great pride in saving Jews and we are the only country to come out of the World War II with a higher number of Jewish population than before the war. Albania shelters today around 3000 Iranian refugees and we should not forget that this tiny country has sheltered more than war refugees who were displaced by Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing policy.
By saying we are a nation of immigrants I mean that Albanians live today in many countries, where they have been provided hospitality, shelter, and it means we are not a country of fences and rejection of the people who are fleeing war-torn areas to save theirs and their children’s lives.
Having said this, Albania and Montenegro were not part of the Balkan route when the big refugee crisis shook the foundations of Europe, but together with Montenegro we have expressed a clear approach at every regional and international meeting. We are ready to share our burden of responsibility under a European burden sharing project and we will assume our responsibility in human terms. We are neither a country of fences, nor saviours of the wealthy countries, which are sometimes tempted to treat migrants as toxic dump. It is true Albania has recorded a fifteen-fold increase in number of illegal migrants this year. This is an incredible increase compared to a year ago, but the migrants’ number is not as alarming as to knock on Europe’s doors for help. We are true Europeans in this respect, even more Europeans than many Europeans. We maintain constant contacts with our friends to ensure no threatening influxes of illegal migrants we can’t deal with head to our borders. But we are not going to raise fences between each other.
We will cooperate with Montenegro, just like we do with the Ministry of Interior of Greece, just like we cooperate with the Macedonia’s Ministry of Interior to ensure maximum stability within our countries, while maintaining our humanitarian values which feature Albania, Montenegro and the whole Balkan region as a whole.
As for the illicit trafficking, I would like to point out that we live in a country, where he who fights more is often accused of treason; he who builds is accused of destroying, he who works is accused of being guilty. What I know is that we have done more than all others combined in the fight against drugs and organized crime. In this aspect, your question reminds me of the time when Montenegro was on focus, as if it was the birthplace of trafficking and organized crime. It was a bitter past for our friends who overcame it by doing their work, by keeping on fighting and do what it was right for their country. Nobody speaks about Montenegro today as the country of the tobacco and oil smuggling, but it is a highly respected country. Albania, I guarantee you will soon be the same, a super respected country.
-I have a question for Mr. Rama. You have been talking about Albania’s European integration. You have stated that you and Mr. Marković have focused on this topic. Can you tell us something more about the challenges Albania faces? Are you ready for these challenges and for the cooperation between the two countries in this regard?
PM Edi Rama: I believe that what we have said so far speaks of the fact that we are ready for these challenges. We are aware of the difficulty of the challenges we have embarked on, but one thing I believe is clear – which is the case in Montenegro as well – the one to address these challenges it is only us and nobody else. It happens for both governments to be the two sides of the same coin and I am deeply confident we will make progress together and this whole border area will greatly benefit from this process.
I will go over the immigration issues again. You said you have no plans to build refugee camps and accept immigrants, but you are aware of the last week’s conference, which concluded that not camps will be built in Europe, but outside the European Union. Given that the two countries are outside the European Union, if it happens that 2 000 illegal migrants enter the country, how are you going to deal with them?
-I have a question for Mr. Rama. The government authorities cite the repatriation problem. I think there is an agreement in place, but which is not being enforced. Do you have any comment on this?
PM Edi Rama: “Al Jazeera” has become a Balkan-like media in this environment, because no options for building refugee camps in our region are mentioned on the joint statement issued by the EU member states. Meanwhile, saying that number of illegal migrants has increased 15 times, I mean people who have already entered our country. We haven’t deported them from a border to another one. They have been accommodated in our asylum centres and we are treating them providing them whatever we can afford, just like we have always done in our own homes throughout our history when someone has knocked on our door. I would like as long as there is no need for alarm, no alarm will be raised. We are not like the wealthy countries that raise the alarms about hundreds of Albanian citizens, who having no access to Europe’s free labour market choose to ask for asylum.
If we were to be unable to cope with the migrants flow, then we would definitely address to the European Union together and do the same thing Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, who simply sent refugees from one side and to the other, because they were facing a great hypocrisy situation in this process. So we are absolutely aware of what it is and we are absolutely calm, for the moment, having full control over the situation.
With regard to the refugee camps, I have clearly stated since this fake news was spread here – Albania has been the cradle of the “fake news” well ahead the fake-news outbreak around the world – that there are no plans for such camps in Albania. We will never accept to set up migrant reprocessing camps for migrants whose asylum applications have been turned down by authorities of the wealthy EU member states. Their rejection as if these people were toxic dump is morally unacceptable and, on the other hand, we are not the place where such a solution can be experimented, which is clearly a solution that does not work for 1001 reasons.
PM Duško Marković: I will speak briefly since there is no need to comment on an inexistent thing. Let’s go over details. Our borders have been illegally crossed even before the recent migrant flow. Today we register illegal border crossings by refugees or immigrants and this is regulated by national rules and international rules, including the repatriation agreements, which precisely provide for procedures when citizens, migrants or someone else enters illegally the territory of a country. So, Albania and Montenegro implement the repatriation agreement. We implement the repatriation agreement with Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and there is no problem in their implementation. No problem, I emphasize. You live in Podgorica. Have you noticed any change in Podgorica, or elsewhere in Montenegro because of an increased presence of migrants in the country? No. On your behalf I would say no, because I know there is no such a problem. The situation is calm in Montenegro. Every government is responsible for the problem that has preoccupied not only Europe, but also the US in its traditional principles, in its traditional values regarding the migrants’ issue. If Europe deals with this issue, we should not stand idly by. We are part of Europe, not formally, but we are in Europe. If Albania and Montenegro are to face such a problem, our governments are obliged to react according to the constitution. The migrant processing centres are not refugee camps. They are centres to shelter and provide food and healthcare to unfortunate people and assist them return to their countries of origin, or offer asylum if they apply for.
PM Edi Rama: Welcome to Shkodra! Enjoy your stay in Shkodra, because it is a beautiful part of our common space!