Joint press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama and the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi following arrival of first COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines provided by the European Union:
Prime Minister Edi Rama: Good afternoon everyone!
We just concluded a friendly meeting, as always, with Commissioner Várhelyi, who has always demonstrated his commitment and support, not only for our country, but also for all countries in the region, being from the outset the voice of reason in the European Union not to leave Western Balkans outside the vaccine delivery scheme and who has materialized his several months’ work also through the support of the European Commission president von der Leyen to deliver 651,000 doses of BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccines proportionally to the countries in the region. Hence, I would like to extedn my gratitude and publicly thank him for this incredible contribution at this absolutely extraordinary time.
On the other hand, I’d also like to point out the fact that thanks primarily to the Commissioner, the European Commission once again became an engine of solidarity, not only in terms of the recovery plans, but also for vaccination of European countries, including in this case the 6 countries in our region.
I would also naturally recall the fact that the Commission has contributed to making the countries in the region, and I am talking about Albania in this case, eligible to the funds earmarked to support efforts to cope with the pandemic’s health consequences through the European Union’s solidarity fund and Albania is set to benefit around one million euros.
Likewise, the Commission has also approved the proposal for a the macro-financial assistance package to support Western Balkans, disbursing an initial instalment of 90 million euros, and, on the other hand, a total amount of 2.2 billion euros allocated by the European Union will also contribute to the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines to the region at a time when the initial doses have already arrived in Albania, which is set to receive its whole vaccines supply by August.
Together with the Commissioner we also discussed progress of major investment plan in the Western Balkans, with Albania certainly participating as a stakeholder in this process. We are very optimistic that many issues have been tackled and major projects will soon start moving in the right direction once initial funding are provided.
Thank you very much again for everything dear friend and gratitude for coming here, personally, to demonstrate not only symbolically, but also factually stand by our country and all the countries in the Western Balkans.
I would be pleased to give the floor to the Commissioner so that he can express on his part not only great importance of this moment in terms of European solidarity with Albania and the countries in the region, but also hopefully the Commission’s readiness to press ahead with a very ambitious plan that is no longer a desire or ambition, but a concrete plan, concrete steps that we will take together with the continued support of the Commissioner and the European Commission.
Enlargement Commissioner Várhelyi: Good morning everyone! Good morning Mr. Prime Minister! Thank you, Prime Minister, for welcoming us here today. It’s a pleasure to be back in Tirana. It’s a wonderful day again for the Western Balkans and it has to be a wonderful day also for Albania. I am truly happy to be at the end of the process of delivering the COVID-19 vaccines. We have been working very hard to make this happen. It was not easy but I think we are coming at the right moment. We are coming at a crucial moment when we need to start to get out of the pandemic. And getting out of the pandemic is a good thing and it is only possible if we promote vaccines and if we get vaccines. This is why we are bringing vaccines to Albania. For us it is a priority that our neighbours get the vaccines and needless to say, in the Western Balkans it is even more important for us. And I do hope that with these doses you can not only secure your health care sector but you can also vaccinate the most vulnerable people.
Albania is to receive 145,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines that are not only brought here by the European Union, but also 100% financed by the European Union. This is a donation; this is a present if I may put it like this, from us to you, to show you that we care.
And I also have to make it very clear that we would have never been able to make this happen without our Austrian friends and the Austrian government that have been instrumental to this process. I want to thank the Austrian government, Chancellor Sebastian] Kurz, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who have been on our side all the way to make this happen. Without their facilitation and cooperation we could not have done that and I am fully grateful.
I think that this cooperation shows the value of Team Europe and it also shows what Europe can bring if we are working together for one common good. You may also recall the fact that we have been on the side of Albania from the very beginning of this pandemic. Since March last year we have been trying to help you with everything we could, and at the right moment every time, be it with the masks, the ventilators, medical equipment, ambulance cars, intensive care units, refurbishment of hospitals or financial support to your economy or macro financial assistance to the budget of the country. And now it is the vaccines because this is the moment to not only start the vaccination campaign but to boost it, because none of us is safe until all of us are. We are sharing the same continent so we do care about your safety, your health and the safety and health of the Albanian people. Thank you!
– Your visit to Tirana takes place precisely 10 days after the parliamentary elections in the country. I believe you have been informed in detail of the election conduct also by Ambassador Soreca, who has been quite active both on the election day and the ballot counting process. How do you see these elections, given that the opposition refuses to recognize the election results already certified by the Central Election Commission? Do you think the government has used its power to manipulate or buy these elections? Would the opposition’s position affect the prospect of the first intergovernmental conference and will Albania continue to remain hostage to North Macedonia, I mean will the fate of integration process of both countries will be interconnected?
Commissioner Várhelyi: We have really a very good Ambassador to Albania and I am very proud to have the opportunity to work with him. I follow all his work and we maintain regular communication and we have also constantly communicated regarding the election process as well. So I am very pleased with the EU Ambassador’s work in Albania.
As for the elections result, I have closely monitored everything that is happening, the media reports, as well as the statements issued by the OSCE/ODIHR. So, I think that after a very heated election campaign and heated debates, what we need now are clear final results and I was told that the process has started, ie the appeal period, so we want to look at all the irregularities, even the possible vote buying to be prosecuted by all judicial authorities, but we will need final results after this entire process. So, with the final results, we will need to see the Albanian Parliament start its work to speed up the EU reforms. Without a full parliament, it is not possible for you to move forward on the path to the European Union, and there is still much work to be done. As for your second question, this is even truer if it were an agreement to hold the first intergovernmental conference in Albania in June. Should this happen, the work will not only have to continue, but it will have to be accelerated, not only by the government, but also by the new Albanian Parliament.
So we will all have to show results through our work, and we will have to look at these results. We have to wait for the result of the appeal process and we hope that Albania will then move forward and work for its EU membership.
PM Rama: Since the question was addressed to us both, I would like to reiterate that it is my conviction and readiness that the third term in office doesn’t resemble to the first two terms as far as the internal political infighting is concerned. The Socialist Party will abandon the tranche of that outdated, detestable, banal and totally needless war for the country as far as I am concerned and as far as we are concerned, we will focus entirely on the major things we have been voted for and we will we hold out our hand for the opposition, namely for the Democratic Party.
DP is welcome anytime, but it has yet to come to the terms with the situation so that an unconditional discussion process is launched on how we can jointly contribute to advance Albania’s European integration as much as we can.
I have nothing else to add regarding this aspect and with your help I believe I would be able to stay away from the old, invalid, tedious controversies between political parties.
Albania is enjoying a moment with a huge potential to move forward to a whole new level. We have won the third term to take Albania to the height it deserves and my and the majority’s energies will focus on this direction only.
– Will EU continue to support Western Balkan countries, including Albania, by providing more vaccine doses, taking into account the fact that countries like Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are lagging far behind the rest of Balkans on the mass vaccination? Will Western Balkan citizens be allowed to travel freely to the EU countries? A question for PM Rama. Will Albania ask for a vaccination passport for foreign citizens wishing to travel to Albania for pleasure or tourism purposes?
Commissioner Várhelyi: I very much hope that with the delivery of 651,000 vaccine doses we are just starting delivery of these doses. We are working on other initiatives to deliver more doses and I hope I will personally come to Albania to bring more doses, but at the same time I also hope that vaccine doses will be delivered so often and frequently so that I won’t have enough time to travel to Albania.
As for the other question, the answer is yes, we have made a proposal to the member states and the member states are the ones to make this decision, that is, the decision on how to move forward, how to proceed. It is a recommendation we propose as part of our recommendations, and we have suggested that the member states reopen their borders so that citizens from other countries, citizens from the Western Balkans in particular, can travel to the EU, even without substantial reasons, therefore, their free movement resumes. Of course we will refer to the epidemiological data regarding this issue, so that citizens from countries with a good epidemiological situation can freely travel and visit the EU member states, as well as the individuals who have been vaccinated. So I hope we will gradually resume whole his process and I am looking forward to enjoying a normal summer season as it is already time for this to happen.
PM Rama: Albania will impose not a single condition or obstacle to those who wish to come to Albania for a summer tourism season, which, I have already previously said, will be a much more relaxed season that the last year’s season. It is with great pleasure that I am following entire booking process and the growing demand of citizens from other countries to travel and spend their holidays in Albania this year. We enjoy today an admirable position in terms of epidemiological situation, in terms of the quantity of the administered vaccines and the mass immunisation continues apace throughout the country. We have hit our goal half a million vaccinations with 29 days to spare. We have announced a new one million vaccinations goal now and work is in full swing to make sure that Albania smiles again totally freed from this long anxiety and the country makes use of its tourism capacity as much as it can this year, and fully uses tourism capacities next year.
–Honourable Mr. Commissioner, I believe you have heard or even you might have read publication of what has been called as non-paper. I would like to know your comment on this non-paper and whether its publication has worried Brussels?
I would also like to ask Mr. Prime Minister about the same issue, what do you know about this non-paper and what is your answer to all of those who claim that in a way or another you too have contributed to this non-paper?
Commissioner Várhelyi: Well, it is like a season of non-paper blooming. So, it is quite interesting when we hear such news reports, although we are quite convinced that none of these non-papers are actually true. If these non-papers were to be genuine, then we would have been worried, because of course we all know well where redefining borders in the Western Balkans would lead us. I don’t think anyone who is really serious, no serious person would table such a thing up for discussion, especially in this region where we are. So we disagree with any part of it, so I do not think these are real and genuine ideas. But perhaps it serves more some other purposes and I feel pretty good, I am very calm about the fact that they have been announced precisely by the very same persons this document, this non-paper has been attributed to. Therefore, let us move on to the next season and this season is about how we will make this season be the season of the Western Balkans and how we will actually secure the accord on holding the first intergovernmental conference, not only with Albania, but also with North Macedonia, how we will deliver on application of the new enlargement methodology regarding Serbia and Montenegro, and how we will continue to continue the dialogue and how we will need to achieve success between Belgrade and Pristina. These are the real issues and I envy all those who can afford their time in drafting such papers.
PM Edi Rama: I have already expressed my opinion and I would reiterate again and again that we need to cut the history production and instead grow production of the economy. Our third term in office, among others, will largely focus on efforts to reduce production of history and the stories we make up in full capacity here in Albania in past 30 years, costing a lot of energies and draining people of the energies the country’s affairs and the citizens’ plight need. As far as the Balkans are concerned, my vision and conviction has been openly proclaimed, the regional Schengen is the way we should move on every day, while civilly discussing our disputes.
Our disputes should not stand on the way of our daily efforts to jointly support economic growth, support improvement of the social and economic situation of the people in this region, jointly support building new basis for a future that would serve all children in the region. Regional Schengen is a vision and a project fully embraced and endorsed by the European Union, and fully supported by the European Commission and the Commissioner is a concrete contributor to this project through the investment plan. So there are so many opportunities for us to make the most of them and it would be really regrettable if we keep wasting precious time producing and reproducing stories that lead us to nowhere. I do not see any possibility for us to find magical solutions to the problems we have to solve very patiently in the region, but I am confident that the more we improve the economic, social, neighbourly atmosphere among our countries, the more we will be creating the conditions for even the biggest disputes to be treated civically, in a European and productive way.
Unproductive conflicts represent the biggest stumbling block to the region’s development. Unfortunately, the art of triggering unproductive conflicts is really an art nobody can compete us. We need to Europeanize and not re-Balkanize at a time when we are halfway between Balkanization and Europeanization. Therefore, let’s instead focus on issues directly concerning the citizens’ life, the life of our people, the future of our nations, while conflicts will take their time to resolve.
I strongly agree with the Commissioner that any attempt to provide magic keys that open the doors of the future in the blink of an eye would lead only to what we have seen in the past of the Balkans and that should never be repeated. Thank you very much!
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10 June 2021Joint press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama and the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi