Joint press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama and German Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth:
Prime Minister Edi Rama: I had the honour to welcome today a dear and precious friend of Albania and Albanians and an outspoken advocate of the European path of our whole region, but also an advocate of Albania in particular, the German Minister of State for Europe. Of course, we all know this visit coincides with a not insignificant moment, ahead of the next meeting of the European Council on making an important decision about Albania and North Macedonia. I am very pleased that it is now not only those who acknowledged it until lately, but also those who didn’t utter though thought about it, that Albania has delivered on all its tasks and adopting the negotiating framework, based on the decision to open the accession talks by the governments themselves and holding the first intergovernmental conference is merely and just an internal matter of the European Council at a moment when in addition to the fact that there is a more positive trend than ever before, internally, the European Union faces yet another surprise from the surrounding Balkan world over the recent stalemate between North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Of course, I can’t help but reiterate the same thing I state confidently and through facts, according to me of course, in our view, for a long time now, that we must immediately open the process and the European Union should honour the decision it has already made and adopt the negotiating framework by calling the first Intergovernmental Conference.
Will it happen or not this way, this is something I don’t know, we don’t know, because it certainly depends on how much progress will be made to resolve the deadlock between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and on whether Bulgaria will be ready to lift the barricade it has erected to this process, in a forum where no decision can be made without consensus.
Most importantly, however, today we have an outspoken and general support from all countries, at least so far as we speak, and especially from Germany, to move further forward. The Minister will speak for himself, I will not speak on his behalf of course, but to conclude I want to publicly thank for all the support we have had from the Federal Republic of Germany, the German government, the German Parliament and friends of Albania and Albanians.
I wish we will host as many tourists from Germany this summer season. I also told the Minister that different from what one could perceive by reading the statement by the German Ministry of Health, Albania today is the most suitable country in Europe for everyone to come on vacation. By the way, the face mask use in outdoor areas was lifted today in Albania.
German Minister Michael Roth: Mr. Prime Minister,
Dear Edi Rama,
It’s great to be here again. I do not know if you miss me, but I miss you and I am happy to be able and show today a sign of Germany’s solidarity with the Western Balkan countries, but, most importantly, with Albania.
I want to be open with you today. There are certainly colleagues in the European Union, who say that my heart beats a bit too much when it comes to the Western Balkans. I always reply this is not about my personal preferences, but about a prominent strategic interest of the European Union. The Western Balkans is not the backyard, but Europe’s courtyard. Peace, stability, democracy, prosperity, the rule of law, regional reconciliation are all in the best European interest and the German interest. Putting emphasis on this is important to me.
Of course I am glad to be here in this building, which is not only the government seat, but also a placer, an art centre, and this shows Albania is going its own way, which I appreciate very much. Many of you are frustrated and even somehow disappointed at the EU, because you have delivered and accomplished a lot in the past, but more conditions were then set for Albania to fulfil, including functionality of the Constitutional and High Court. But we can say that Albania, just like Northern Macedonia, has achieved a lot. We expect the European Commission to make a positive decision. And for a long period now, we can openly state and this is my government’s position, that Albania has made progress and has achieved a lot. We also can say it about North Macedonia that has achieved a lot too.
To this end, we are working under pressure to make sure that the Committee of Ministers of Europe makes a positive decision on June 22. It should finally be made. Of course there are a lot yet to be done, and this is just the beginning of the journey; the rule of law, a functioning judicial system, a modern public administration, and approach respecting cultural or religious minorities. We are not just an economic and monetary community, but also a community of values and we need to revive these values. We must not do this alone.
The pandemic has shown we are …. [inaudible] you have made significant progress. You deserve my respect and appreciation precisely for this fact. We in Germany have yet to reach to that point; we still have to wear face masks. This is a fact that makes me happy and that is why we do not need national strategies in the fight against the pandemic – of course isolation measures are unhelpful to us – we all need to support each other. It is therefore in the interest of Germany and the European Union, but also in the interest of our immediate neighbours, that supporting each other, supporting people so that we lose as few lives as possible should be our common strategy. If Albania is successful in this aspect, this would be our success too. It is precisely this aspect where we need to avoid and eliminate prejudices. The meeting points, the common understanding are success stories in the EU and EU leaves no one alone in this regard. More than 12 billion euros will be made available to the Western Balkans in the coming days, primarily to mitigate the social and economic effects of the pandemic. I am not announcing this somehow like a “generous uncle.” I don’t want a perception be created that Russia and China are more committed to the Western Balkan region. I want to be heard as much as possible by all of you. I promise more commitment from all EU member states.
You can always count on Germany, but precisely because we need to take unanimous decisions it is essential that all partners are involved. Mr. Prime Minister already said that we currently face a bilateral issue between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Bilateral issues should be normally resolved at a bilateral level and not at EU level. But we are now helping and I am very grateful to the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union for following exactly the line of the German Presidency, but it is exactly because of this we need courageous politicians, who are ready to build solid bridges. This is my appeal to all.
I would like to extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister, who, together with his party, secured a clear majority. In this regard too, I want that a relation, an approach, a respect-based relationship is created between the ruling party and the opposition. The competition through ideas and individuals is the elixir of a living democracy. A minimum readiness for compromise should be achieved on the issues of the Electoral Code, the issues of democracy, and the common values of the EU. This is my message also to the other party. I will be meeting with civil society representatives, as well as with the opposition officials. But I am here to listen and find out on what the EU and Germany can better help.
It is important for me to primarily place attention to young people in the Western Balkans and Albania, who, unfortunately are increasingly leaving their homeland to build their future somewhere else. I wish majority of them return back home, as they would see for themselves it is worth returning back to homeland, precisely because there are realistic and concrete chances for a developed Albania, as well as other Western Balkan countries. A series of obstacles need to be overcome, yet the path is worth taking.
PM Edi Rama: Thank you dear Minister! And by the way, making it impossible for the Balkan citizens to normally travel to Europe because of their division into two categories, namely the category of those who have received Western vaccines and those who have received Eastern vaccines, would be much worse than postponing again the decision on adopting the negotiating framework and the first Intergovernmental conference. I hope this won’t be the case and I hope that you and other friends help us convey this message. There is no reason for people to be divided in categories when it comes to their elementary right to free movement, of course according to rules that should be applied and enforced equally to everyone.
– Actually it has been clearly shown that not only your heart, but also the heart of Chancellor Merkel’s policy beats for Western Balkans, but anytime an important decision has been made by the European Council over the future of the Western Balkans to date, you have backed their decision on Albania and North Macedonia. As the Prime Minister noted, there is now a surprise, namely the stalemate between Bulgaria and North Macedonia? Will you act in the same way? Will you act so that a decision is made about the two countries on June 22 or are you lobbying with Bulgaria to give up its veto?
A question for the Prime Minister, do you think that Albania should be decoupled from North Macedonia on June 22 when a decision is expected to be made on the two countries?
Minister Michael Roth: In politics, a decision is finally made not based on feelings, but facts. Facts are decisive. Facts are clear in the case of North Macedonia and Albania. Both countries, in our view, have met the conditions to start membership negotiations and therefore we must launch these negotiations with both countries and this process should finally begin now and we are resolutely and decisively working about that. We will talk with our colleagues on daily basis. We have been intensively negotiating with Bulgaria and North Macedonia within the Presidency of the European Council and the negotiations go on equally intensively by the Portuguese presidency. Since I deal with Europe, I am of course optimistic and I am hopeful this will be tackled on June 22.
Prime Minister Edi Rama: To put it clearly, as far as I am concerned personally, I would undoubtedly see it as a huge relief after waiting for so long at the EU door we were told it will open, but it has yet to open. But I won’t absolutely be worried should this door won’t open again as I was worried when that door wasn’t open first time and when it was not open second time, because I strongly believe this process has to do primarily with our country, our children and we are not doing reforms, we are not making efforts, we are not making the sacrifices because Berlin, Paris or Brussels is asking us to do so. We do them because this is the right thing for Albania and Albanians.
Of course, only by doing what we are doing and doing even more than what we have done so far as part of the European integration process, we will succeed in building a European Albania for our children, as a state that works in the same way as any member state of European Union.
As for what is happening, how it will happen and when it will happen regarding the recognition and affirmation of the work we have done, this is not up to us, this is up to the heads of that family, namely the members of the European Union and the European Council. So it is not a matter of concern for us whether one will decouple or separate from one another, whether they unite or not with each other or some others with others. This is purely a matter of concern for the European Council. This is because it is pretty clear that the decision making within the European Council has to do more than ever before with what they actually do, and not what we have done. We have done our job, and we will keep doing our job. I also told Minister that, in certain aspects of the integration process, we have advanced a lot more than the countries already negotiating and that have already opened several chapters. But that means nothing else but we are doing our job and we will keep doing even better.
So, my personal challenge is how to demand more of ourselves and how to do a lot more for ourselves. Of course we would welcome whatever our friends and partners send us. No matter whether the decision will be made or postponed again, we will keep doing our job and patiently wait until the decision is made. I see no difference between these two. These are after all important formal aspects of a process. The content of the process is something nobody can hinder us in enriching it every day, as we are already doing, because in the meantime we work closely with the European Commission, we work closely with partners, we work closely with the German government and friends and others in this process.
The justice reform won’t stop no matter whether the doors to North Macedonia and Albania will open or not so that the first Intergovernmental Conference takes place. The justice system reform will go on, the process will go on. The challenge we face is how to improve our job and how to take our accomplishments in this process further. The Minister already said it, but this is something we also know, that this is just the beginning of a long road and it is not the end. We are not seeking to become EU members, even though certain countries have described it as if a decision will be made on June 22 and a day later we would become members and will start to use our veto too. We are simply asking for what we are actually entitled to. Fortunately, everyone now knows we deserve it now. Whether this right would be granted or not to us, this is a matter of time.
–With June 22 date nearing it would be interesting enough to know what is the climate among the member states about giving Albania the green light to have the first Intergovernmental Conference launched? Are there countries that are sceptical or that oppose it? Thank you!
Minister Michael Roth: The pandemic has changed each and every one of us. Perhaps, something has moved towards not a very positive direction, but everything is moving towards a positive direction. It is a crisis that has attacked and impacted everyone and we all have been affected and this makes presence of each and every one of us reciprocally necessary. The countries resorting to aggression and retaliation have no perspective and we are certainly interconnected with each other in this context. Things would go well with us, if things go well with the neighbours. We in Europe have a privileged situation. This region differs from the East. There is a membership perspective for all countries in the region and you know that situation in Western Balkan countries differs. When it comes to the East, of course there is no clear membership perspective for all countries. Both in Albania and North Macedonia, in terms of progress of the two countries, the climate has become more positive even in the context of the pandemic. So, we have a friendlier approach or perspective towards the countries in the Western Balkans. I however find one problem for the time being, one that we have openly discussed, but it has nothing to do with Albania and it is a bilateral, extremely emotional issue between Bulgaria and North Macedonia that we are treating warily. This is the reason why I visited North Macedonia yesterday and this morning; precisely to discuss with our friends and partners in North Macedonia the ways how to eliminate such a conflict so that both parties can live up to the solution that can be found.
PM Edi Rama: We don’t know today whether there are sceptical countries or not, because Bulgaria has come to the fore and others don’t have to take the trouble to speak out at all. As soon as the stalemate is resolved, if ever resolved, we will then see whether there are sceptical countries.
– Mr. Roth, you highlighted the values of the European Union and keeping promises is one of the values. Which is the relation between delivering on a promise and the unanimous vote principle, as we learned here that the stalemate between Bulgaria and North Macedonia could be resolved in an indefinite time, while Albania, though having delivered on its obligations, would remain hostage to such a stalemate indefinitely? If we talk about values, can we think about a relation of values that need to be determined so that the European Union’s credibility is not compromised?
Minister Michael Roth: Yes, European Union should deliver on its pledges and I am saying this self-critically. For example, the visa-free travel regime should have been fulfilled long time ago, not because this is what Michael Roth wishes for, but because the European Commission has found that the conditions have been fulfilled. This is also the case today. The conditions have been met and therefore we should keep our promise, but the European Commission has been structured on central issues, exactly on reaching the consensus and I can’t alter the EU treaties. The treaties stipulate that the security and foreign policy decision should be take unanimously. I can’t complain about it. After all, all the EU member states should assume the share of their responsibility.
I am forced to be rational, because I am convinced that scepticism can be overcome through sound arguments. In the end, this is a process with everyone having to assume their responsibility.
That’s why I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for underscoring the fact that the rule of law consolidation, consolidation of the independence of the justice system, the media freedom and diversity, the fight against corruption and organized crime are not a gift that is made to the Brussels, Paris, or Berlin. No, these are reforms that serve your country, but these reforms certainly help to overcome scepticism within the EU.
This is why we are talking about the EU, not as an internal market, but as a value system worth consolidating, and this has been one of the top priorities of the German presidency of the Council of the EU. We introduced new mechanisms, we introduced the mechanism of dialogue on the rule of law, stipulating for the member states to receive less funding from the EU if they fail to adhere to the principles of the rule of law and this once again highlights the fact how important these values are and how they should be fulfilled. This is a process that, as I said, should be carried over by all member states.
It is exactly because of this reason I am extremely happy to see substantial progress has been made here in Albania too and nobody says we have fulfilled all the conditions and that everything is ideal. No, a lot has been done and this should be appreciated.
– Is there any signal showing that the citizens from the Balkans, including Albania, won’t be discriminated by dividing them into the ones who have received Western vaccines and the ones who have received the Eastern jabs? Second, Minister Roth mentioned the compromise between the government and the opposition. The rule of law, justice, reform, in this context, where do you see the compromise? Second, Minister Roth put emphasis on the compromise between the government and the opposition. On which area do you see a possible compromise, the rule of law, justice and other reforms?
PM Edi Rama: Is there any signal that this continent’s people are being divided into two categories according to the vaccine producer? Yes, there is, and there is not a signal. But it would be better if we warn this in advance, rather than when a full signal is sent, because it would be extremely difficult then. Of course, we would probably fail in changing things, yet it is our duty to utter our truths without feeling shy or being overwhelmed when it comes to our rights. Because it is not the same when it comes for example to the decision of the European Council on further advancing a process that after all has to do with the right to becoming full-fledged member of the EU family and when it comes to the fundamental human rights to free movement, the right of Albanian citizens to travel freely in this case, a right that has been granted for years now and which cannot be fragmented just because someone received Pfizer vaccine, one has received Sinovac vaccine and others AstraZeneca or Sputnik vaccines.
You implied hostages when asking the Minister. You asked whether it is possible that Albania is taken hostage. The EU is the temple of democracy and politics. Politics is like chess game. Chess is a game of hostages. However, when it comes to this fundamental right, I think the EU should take hostage nobody living here in this region just because of the company that produces the vaccine.
Of course the free movement criteria I have already seen stipulate everyone enjoying the right to free movement, like it is the case with Albanians, should show test results or be vaccinated. Why should Albanian citizens undergo COVID-19 test and pay for it just to travel to Europe – to the EU member states to be more precise, since we are also part of Europe geographically and nobody can deny us this right at least – because they have received Sinovac or Sputnik vaccines. And this is not about Albania’s Albanians only, but also the Montenegrins, the Serbs, Macedonians and Bosnians. The EU has taken Kosovo hostage. Kosovo is hostage to a chess game, with one of the chess pieces has decided to hold that soldier hostage so that Kosovo Albanians cannot travel freely. This is not because whole EU thinks that way, but because one of the chess pieces says “no, the soldier there place diagonally shouldn’t move.” Ok, this is shameful, but you can do nothing about it. Nobody is to be blamed and punished for what every country has done with everyone fighting to put an end to the pandemic and frankly saying we in Albania have fought and succeeded in doing that after being left on our own, just like every other country in the region, because others minded their own problems.
Which was and which is the primary and most important target? It was saving the people’s lives without thinking that if we succeed in saving the lives of half a million people by using the Chinese vaccine, Europe could tell us: “No, because you are second category people.” I am saying all these to warn about it, yet it is not me the one to decide, it is not Albania to decide. What Albania can decide is what we can do here.
I am concluding by reiterating what our friend, the Minister underlined that we should do our job and make efforts to do it increasingly better and one of the things we should deliver on and make efforts to do it in best way possible is to understand each other, not to agree, but understand when we talk with one another, become more mature and overcome this phase of political adolescence and adolescent-like quarrels we then export to Bundestag, we export to Brussels and Paris, we export them everywhere else around the world. And indeed, he who wins here domestically, he wins again and again, and the one who loses would lose again, but it is Albania the one that would lose from this export, while we are in the government and will remain in the government, whereas losers will remain in opposition.
So we shouldn’t wait for our friends to come from abroad and tell us to improve our conduct towards each other, but we should do it ourselves if we really mean it when we say that we are ready to do everything for Albania. Nobody here is asking us to give our lives, neither take up arms and deploy to fight against an enemy somewhere, or make sublime sacrifices. It is just about an alarming and long standing request, because we are calling for the first intergovernmental conference to open and we need to demonstrate that not only we deserve it because of the homework we have done, but because we are also a matured country. And it is not just the Prime Minister and the government the ones who speak on behalf of this country, but also the opposition. And when we speak English – because nobody speaks German here – we should primarily be Albanians and then Socialists and Democrats.
When we speak Albanian, we are both Socialists and Democrats, but we shouldn’t forget that we are primarily Albanians. I guess it is certainly easier said than done. I am determined to do whatever it takes for this. I am not interested in nothing else deriving from the past we have been all involved, for the sake of truth and it has not been one party only, but we have been all involved in a war that has gone too far to the limits of absurdity. Who has to be blamed most about that, this is something that Albanians only can decide. Albanians told us that on April 25, and it is not time for us to try and do things in best way possible. And we are not alone in this endeavour, as we enjoy the support of our friends, partners and great allies. They also do whatever they can. It is important that the sceptical countries, as you rightly name them, want Albania to become their ally, want Albania to join the European Union. They differ with each other when it comes on how fast or later should this happen, but we can’t do anything about it.
This is the European Union and Europe; Albania is today the safest country for vacations. I told the Minister that once, at a moment in our lifetime and in our history, all of a sudden, we were the best. Germany has overtaken us now.
Thank you so much!