Joint press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at joint press conference following her visit to Albania:

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama:I would like to say this is both a beautiful, but also a sad day for us. It is a beautiful day as we have the privilege of welcoming here in Tirana a friend of Balkans, a friend of Albanians and all the peoples in this region. In the meantime, it is somehow a sad day, because this day marks Angela Merkel’s farewell visit in her capacity as the Chancellor of Germany.

I am convinced nobody else has done more than German Chancellor in the post-war efforts for this region and, most importantly, according to me, nobody else has better understood this region than the German Chancellor.

It is always a problem with the Chancellor, because she doesn’t fall for speeches containing beautiful motivational words, but frankly and sincerely she deserves best words for what she already did by initiating the Berlin Process, a far-sighted vision, not simply to transit a several-year phase, but also to see the future together. And apart from all concrete results in terms of the area covered by the Berlin Process, I believe the Process’ biggest accomplishment is establishment of cooperation and interaction spirit and a sense of the common future.

It was a privilege to welcome the Chancellor in Tirana today, due to the impossibility to visit every country, and host here all the bilateral talks and the meetings with all leaders of our region. I would like to express gratitude and sincere friendship in behalf of all Albanians, for what Germany has done for Albania – and I am not going to count each of them as they are a lot in terms of the bilateral assistance – and for what the Chancellor has personally done for the region.

On the other hand, maximally respecting the fact that the Chancellor is a leader, who has led Germany for so many years and has always encouraged the European policy, but she is also a German and time is precious for her. I don’t want to take up more of your time, but I just want to say that the Western Balkans is now a much better region that it used to be prior to Angela Merkel’s initiative to launch the Berlin Process. Of course there will be a continuity in Germany’s politics, whoever the winner, but this region will miss Angela Merkel and I think it is in the interest of everyone here to, rightly enough, hear more of her words than my words.

Therefore, I am going to give the floor to her, again expressing the gratitude and appreciation and telling her it was a privilege, an honour and a pleasure for me to be in office at the same time with her, having the opportunity to learn from her and, according to me, modestly, today is a moment when we are all aware both of what the Chancellor has done and the void she leaves behind.

I very much hope that sooner rather than later this void will be failed, but of course, the Western Balkans were not to be what they are today if it was not for Chancellor Merkel, Europe wouldn’t be what it is today if it was not for Chancellor Merkel, despite the challenges and issues that have yet to be tackled.

To conclude, the Chancellor, who has been committed to the whole globe during her tenure, will hopefully soon have time and the desire to return to the Balkans and Albania to closer read our reality and somehow be rewarded for all the long years of hard work with the sun, the sea, the landscape and the humour of the Balkans that, at least in this area, is far more advanced than the European Union.

Thank you very much!

*Chancellor Angela Merkel:We should probably rethink and have second thoughts when it comes to the humour, but I agree with you when it comes to the sun.

Dear Edi Rama, I would like to thank you that in your capacity as Prime Minister we were able to hold bilateral talks in the first part of the day, discussing also bilateral topics. Relations with Albania are really quite good. We can further expand our cooperation and we have made it clear in many ways.

I would like to congratulate Albania for all the efforts the country has launched in most recent years to restructure its justice system. I believe both Albania and North Macedonia have delivered on the conditions for them to start the accession negotiations. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union because of Bulgaria’s veto, but we have also pledged to support this Process, because a lot of energies and efforts have been invested in it.

As part of the lunch with the head of governments of the Western Balkan countries, I was happy to conclude that since 2014 when the cooperation process was launched, a very strong and healthy tree has been grown. Much has changed in terms of the coexistence among the nations and countries in this region. Heads of state and government meet regularly and normally, but this was not the case in the past. 

Second, the cooperation, be it among civil society or youth exchanges or science, cooperation in all these dimensions has increasingly consolidated.

We also discussed very important infrastructure projects, which are already yielding their initial results. We discussed starting the construction work on the Peace Highway.

Another important topic that should not be neglected and about which we talked today is that once the countries in the region join the European Union they should all face the Fit for 55 commitments that these countries should meet to address climate neutrality, conditions that would have to change in the region.

Of course, this offers of lot of regional cooperation opportunities and I explicitly welcome also the Common Regional Market through the four deals, as we call them. Not everyone is cooperating equally regarding these agreements, others have been already involved and committed to their implementation, others are mulling plans to join this initiative, but today we agreed that the more cooperation you have, the stronger the Berlin Process will be.

Once again, I clarified that the Berlin Process doesn’t replace the EU membership. The accession negotiations of each country will be held. Countries in the region are currently at different stages of this process. Some countries are waiting for the intergovernmental conferences to take place, while others have to open more membership chapters. Some have yet to file membership application. In other words, every country is at a different stage. We would need to involve energetically in each of these stages, but of course the regional cooperation can also move forward, which makes more sense than implementing national projects.

It was a constructive discussion. I will now comment on with the bilateral talks with the heads of government of the countries in the region, which I couldn’t visit. I can say now we will meet again under the Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU on October 6, hoping that progress will be made by then.

They were good and constructive talks. I would like to thank them for this. The fact that I am convinced that from the geo-strategic viewpoint, the EU, or concretely Germany, the country I represent here, has its own interest in the membership of these countries into the EU,but of course it is something else, so to say, the process of cooperation at a regional level, an idea already endorsed also by the EU of from the German viewpoint. If you meet one another, it is your right to do so and I really and explicitly welcome this and I very much hope you will go on in this direction. My heart beats for this region, although I won’t have the opportunity to be vested with the same task and authority as before. As you already said, may be the sun will invite me to visit and follow development of these countries.

Germany will definitely maintain its interest and further support for countries in the region.

– The importance you attach to the Western Balkans was also clearly demonstrated by your visit to Tirana and Belgrade. From your point of view, can your initiative, the Berlin Process launched in 2014 be considered a failed initiative, because the Premier said that a better climate now prevails in the Western Balkans, but the region is still at the same stage it was in 2014 in terms of the EU integration, meaning that less progress has been made, while your initiative also envisaged concrete projects, whose implementation has yet to start. Do you consider this a failure and what is going to be the fate of this initiative once you leave the stage? As far as the Open Balkan initiative is concerned, I think you already consumed this issue. The same question goes to the Prime Minister; do you think the Berlin Process has failed?

*Chancellor Angela Merkel: No, I don’t actually consider the initiative as such. We can’t state that the construction of the planned highways has completed, but they are all initiated and planned processes, while exchanges at scientific level have been established with the youth networks in the Western Balkans. But we can’t also say that absolutely nothing has happened. As far as cooperation at the civil society level, I have met with representatives of a non-governmental organization operating in your country, who explained the ways they are conducting these exchanges. I think a lot has changed in this respect. Aleksandar Vucic and Edi Rama, taking notice of the fact that no exchanges have been taking place since 1947 until 2017, I think a lot of things have changed since the two met. May be something takes more time than needed in terms of the planning procedures and perhaps the EU is not fast enough in this regard, but everything is on the right track.

PM Edi Rama: I believe we need to see whole this process under a historical context. When the Chancellor invited as all to Berlin 2014, it was the first time in this region’s history and not in the region’s several-year history, but in the centuries-old history of the region that the leaders of all countries in the region came together around a table, neither to kill nor slaughter one other, or discuss the past, but talk about the future.

To further elaborate the Chancellor’s argument, this Process cleared the way towards establishing communication between Albania and Serbia to the benefit of regional development although they had never met up despite the proximity. Of course, the Berlin Process would take its time to materialize. The mechanisms to boost investments are moving at snail’s pace, but the Open Balkans too, an initiative of 3 countries that aim to include all the 6 countries, is the result of this process, because this process has given us the opportunity to realize we can build a common future through cooperation, communication and interaction. The inherited conflicts over the years will have more chances to be resolved under the atmosphere of the Berlin Process.

I believe Angela Merkel has set a milestone for generations in the region’s history and it will be the next generations to objectively judge what was launched at the Chancellor’s table in 2014.Of course it is legitimate for everyone living in this region to want things gaining momentum, but we must understand that we are getting over tens and why not hundreds of years of history and at the same time we are struggling with a profound backwardness that comes from very far away. Therefore, not only I don’t consider it a failure, but I really call it a long-term vision that will be handed down from one government to another, from one generation to the next, to accomplish the Chancellor’s vision about our region.

The Chancellor comes from a past quite similar to ours. We haven’t had and we won’t have, likely for a long time, someone in the European leadership who knows first-hand what communism is, what dictatorship is, and what censorship and the suppression of people’s freedoms and rights are. This has made that not only the Chancellor, but whole Germany adopt a unique approach. I very much hope that whoever takes office in Germany won’t turn the back and will continue to influence the region. But no matter what happens in Berlin, the region has taken a turn and the open Balkans represents precisely the awareness that we will take things forward without waiting for others to take us by the hand, but of course by cooperating closely with Germany and cooperating closely with the EU.

*- Honourable Mrs. Chancellor, honourable Mr. Prime Minister, countries like Albania have already the experience that the EU accession process fails when a member state uses the veto power. How much do you hope the process will move forward after the today’s talks and meetings? Question for the Federal Chancellor. Do you imagine taking an active role as a mediator of the Balkan interest after you leave the post as the Federal Chancellor?

*Chancellor Angela Merkel: I don’t plan any political active role, but I will remain a friend of the Western Balkan, I will keep giving advice anytime I would be asked to do so, and the experience that someone imposes the veto to block the process is actually something we have experienced several times. But this is irrelevant to Albania and North Macedonia. I am hopeful and we have made efforts in this regard also under the German Presidency of the European Union, precisely to give our active support in this regard. We have done a fair deal of the work, and we have had some accomplishments in in this regard. Of course, North Macedonia and Albania have had the support of all EU countries to open negotiations. It is now about the intergovernmental conference and there is definitely understanding about all the signs of impatience being show by these countries in this regard.

PM Edi Rama:If I were to answer, I would state as following; the Balkan countries were once engaged in major conflicts and as soon as they emerged from conflicts, it was supposed that the European Integration process would ease and relativize nationalism in the Balkans and this is true. However, we are now hostage to the nationalisms within the European Union. There is not any nationalist government in the EU member states currently, but unfortunately the nationalists and far-right extremists are influencing the decisions made by moderated governments in several countries. This is the first and in fact, even what is happening today is that the EU integration process is being taken hostage by a wave of nationalism in a country. 

I think that, given the Chancellor is here, despite the huge pressure in Germany too, the Chancellor has never conditioned the integration process of the countries in the region with the domestic politics, while I can’t say the same when it comes to other countries. Just like Angela Merkel saved Europe’s honour by being the only one to open the country’s doors to the Syria war refugees, in this respect too, the internal pressure has never become Germany’s foreign policy. Of course we are and may remain for a long time hostage to the vetoes closely related to the election processes in the wealthy countries, but also in less developed EU member states most recently.

-Honorable Mrs. Chancellor, with your departure the Western Balkans will lose an incredible friend and a staunch advocate of the region. Who would be the next EU leader to look after the Western Balkans with the same commitment you showed over the years?

–Mr. Prime Minister Rama, which should prevail in the agenda of the Western Balkans, the Open Balkans initiative or the Berlin Process? Thank you!

*Chancellor Angela Merkel:The Berlin Process, if I may say, is the core of everything and, of course, in this context the Berlin Process is irreplaceable. Things can only be accelerated within this Process.

First of all, the Western Balkans in recent years have learned to cooperate with each other and not just sit with each other. It does not matter if it is Sebastian Kurz or Emmanuel Macron or Von der Leyen or Charles Michel. So there are many friends of the Western Balkans. 

Emmanuel Macron has visited whole region. We have jointly held meetings in Berlin, as well as we have been working together in the framework of various projects. Sebastian Kurz is also a friend of this region and every other Federal Chancellor will definitely be a friend of this region. A significant number of people from each of these countries are currently living and working in various EU member states and therefore the interest to cooperate with this region is really high and we have demonstrated this not only during my tenure, but also before it. As the Prime Minister said I come from the former East Germany. I have witnessed what power and energies it takes to overcome the historical differences in our context towards Poland, or towards the national-socialism. So, the Federal Chancellor is well aware of this responsibility. The Western Balkans have a lot of friends in Europe and I assure you about this.

PM Edi Rama: Since the Chancellor also answered my question; allow me to answer the Chancellor’s question too. Angela Merkel is one and unique – to put it clearly – even though I already said it is never that easy to speak when she is present – because of her history and because of her extraordinary experience in four consecutive terms at the helm of the European Union locomotive. 

Open Balkans is an offspring of the Berlin Process, it is not an alternative to the Berlin Process, is not an initiative contradicting the Berlin Process, but it is an offspring of the Berlin Process. Open Balkans is neither more, nor less but a mechanism to expedite the Berlin Process. That’s all. The open Balkans initiative contains nothing contradicting the Berlin Process. It is quite the opposite, it is an effort to take the Process forward without waiting for others to gather for us somewhere once a year, or some others to come together in Brussels to have this work done for us and the initial results have already started to speak up for themselves and they will increasingly speak for themselves more and more. Open Balkans is nothing more but the tool available to the region to implement the Berlin Process.

Whoever pits the two against one another or whoever claims that one runs counter the other, he either does it intentionally, or he is unable to understand. The other important thing that we discussed with the Chancellor today together with colleagues is that conspiracy theories “well, the Berlin Process or the Open Balkans or regional initiatives are masterminded by third actors, or they have been simply thrown here by the European Union to fool to us so that we can create a micro EU here so that we never join the EU,” these are all nonsense. 

The Chancellor, at a meeting in her office in 2014, said:“You are not EU member states, but you are Europeans and it is precisely for this reason we need to launch a process that in tandem with the individual efforts of each country to become a EU member, you all together and with us supporting you should all work so that the region rises in political, economic and social terms. We have no reasons to wait for EU accession so that we can build highways and the digital infrastructure or build common markets. We have no reasons for that. This is the essence.

– I want to address a question to the honourable Chancellor Merkel. Mrs. Merkel, what are the steps you think that the European Union should launch to align its approach to your very recent view that it is in the European Union’s geostrategic interest that the Western Balkan countries become part of the bloc as soon as possible? Thank you!

*Chancellor Angela Merkel: The European Union and the member states should have actually say which are the criteria and the requirements one should fulfil to become a EU member or launch the accession process and we have clearly stated this in the case of Albania what needs to change in the justice system or in other areas, sectors and as soon as these requirements are met, the EU should have kept its word and not always come up with new conditions again and again because it doesn’t have any interest — perhaps due to domestic reasons in some countries — to push forward the process of accession. That causes disappointment and I can understand that disappointment. Of course, we in Germany too need the Parliament approval and German Parliament precisely reads all the European Commission reports on the requirements fulfilment. Parliament members themselves visit the region in fact-finding missions, hold talks with NGOs, the civil society organizations and other stakeholders and I have to admit that once they find the conditions have been fulfilled, we should deliver and keep our word, because otherwise disappointment would ensue. We should trust each other.

– Question for Prime Minister Rama. What are your government objectives in its third term, given the fact that it has followed the Berlin Process since its initiation? So, what are your objectives to take the Berlin Process accomplishments forward, focusing on the regional cooperation and strengthening the Albanian economy’s flexibility? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: This is quite simple. The Chancellor rightly underscores the need for the six countries in the region to sign the agreements on the common regional market. The negotiation process between the six countries is actually quite confusing and complex process, and what we have seen in the past is that often one country or another blocks everyone else. That’s why the Open Balkans initiative has been created not to exclude others, absolutely not, but for everyone not to depend on the others’ veto power or the conspiracy theories, but to move forward by always bearing in mind the Berlin Process road map. At the end of the day, the Berlin Process has two main pillars; the for EU freedoms, namely the free movement of people, free movement of capital, goods and services, as well as the investments under the European Commission package led by President Von der Leyen.

As far as investments are concerned, this is a process running in parallel. As for these four freedoms, this is a process depending on readiness and speed. We want to move faster and I want to emphasize that the obstacle to moving faster, one of the obstacles indeed, has been that Serbia did not accept the free movement of people. Why? Because it thought that if the free movement of the people would be one of the agreement’s elements, the free movement between Kosovo and Albania would be guaranteed and it is indeed really incredible that Kosovo is not willing to take advantage of this element and instead develops conspiracy theories over the Open Balkans initiative. It is as simple as that. The path is paved; the Berlin Process will continue. Open Balkan is a mechanism to speed it up, that’s all. There is absolutely no contradiction between the two.

Thank you so much!

 

*Simultaneous interpretation