Joint press conference between Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who paid an official visit to Tirana:
Prime Minister Edi Rama: Good afternoon!
I would like first of all to extend my appreciation and gratitude to the Prime Minister of Belgium, who made and within a short period of time delivered on his promise by visiting Tirana today and reaffirming the friendship that binds us and desire and readiness of the country he leads to further strengthen ties with Albania.
Recently, we have been repeatedly meeting and discussing not only Albania’s European perspective, but also the efforts we can jointly make to further boost the bilateral economic and trade cooperation which, for the sake of truth, does not reflect very good level and excellent quality of the political relations between the two countries.
Of course, the today’s talks, just like during the previous meetings, focused on progress in addressing key priorities that link Albania to the European destination and we discussed the positive and unconditional report and recommendation of the European Commission. We shared the view that with the EC recommendation to open accession talks, the country ushers in a new stage for the country as the entire integration process is a process for the country and its future based on a modern state and democratic institutions on which this process greatly contributes.
Of course, we also discussed the major challenges involved with the coming process. Just like I appreciated Prime Minister Michel at our direct talks today for his continued personal support and encouragement as well as for the support his country provides to Albania and the attitude to the EU enlargement process in general, I would also like to publicly appreciate him.
We believe Albania deserves a decision to open the negotiations.
Of course, we are aware that opening the negotiations doesn’t mark the end of our efforts, but the beginning of a new and long phase of efforts. We remain confident that we enjoy the support from Belgium and our European friends and partners in this endeavour.
Surely, last but not least, we also discussed on the region, the progress of regional cooperation process and intensification of the regional relations. Surely it is no coincidence that Prime Minister Michel stopped in Tirana as he will continue his tour with visit to Belgrade, sending a clear message of support and encouragement for the path the region has taken and for the intensification of the bilateral and multilateral relations among the countries in the region.
Expressing again my appreciation very cordially dear friend and hoping that your next visit will last longer, because Albania, which welcomed you on a sunny day in Tirana today, yes it is a tiny country, but yet it is much larger that Tirana itself and has a lot to see and taste. I’m pleased to give you the floor.
Prime Minister Charles Michel: Thank you very much!
Of course, I would like to begin by extending the appreciation to Prime Minister Edi Rama for the invitation and his welcome. As the Premier said, we have had the opportunity to meet several times either on sidelines of international gatherings or at bilateral meetings like the one we had in Brussels few weeks ago, where we had the chance to talk in depth about bilateral relations between Belgium and Albania, but also about the relations between the European Union and Albania.
I would like to stress out several elements that seem critically important. First and foremost is this determination to work together in order to strengthen, foster and consolidate bilateral relations in all political and diplomatic areas, but also in the efforts to stimulate and enhance economic and trade ties. During this meeting we identified several concrete initiatives. Our diplomatic teams will work to further deepen these initiatives in the bilateral framework, the economic efforts, investments, cultural and academic cooperation too, as well as efforts to strengthen cooperation and mutual understanding and foster this strong partnership, this diplomatic friendship that unites us. This was the first important point.
Secondly, we also had the chance to touch upon a significant challenge in the bilateral relations, which also important to the European Union, the issue of immigration and the partnership in the field of immigration. This is important. I would like to highlight the efforts that have been made – and which are rightfully widely appreciated – under the Prime Minister’s leadership to build an honest and quality partnership in the field of immigration. Belgium considers Albania a safe country and it is important that we work together in order to convey encouraging messages and prevent forms of illegal migration. We work hand in hand. The efforts that have been made are widely appreciated.
Another issue at the heart of our meetings, as it happened today too, as it has happened earlier in our previous talks in Brussels, was our ambition to play a key role in European Union’s future by supporting reforms that should be delivered to deepen the European Union, strengthen economic dynamism, boost investment, improve external and internal security and tackle the immigration issue. But this future of the European Union passes through a clearer vision of our relations with the countries in the Balkan region.
I want to say this publicly that we also rightly praise the important reform efforts undertaken by the cabinet of Prime Minister Edi Rama in the area of the rule of law and judicial reform. We will keep on encouraging important reform efforts, which are seen as crucial by the Belgian government. Delivering these reforms to align the country with the European Union standards is not easy task.
Few days ago, an important recommendation was made by the European Commission, which unconditionally clears the way – as EC puts it – for the EU membership process. In the coming weeks, very important high-level political discussions among the EU heads of state or government at a summit due to take place in Sofia. The summit represents an opportunity to discuss the European Union’s perspective and the countries in the region. A very important decision is to be made in June.
We agreed to maintain a close dialogue with the Prime Minister in order to encourage progress towards this decision that is to be made in June. Belgium will express its attitude in June, we cannot say now the official decision. However, with a lot of clarity, I would say that in one way or another we want to continue the efforts to move closer to the European Union, also the ability, the opportunity to deepen reforms within the European Union and to foster deepening of efforts within Albania to give a signal of positive optimistic perspectives and to take into account the responsibilities in implementing the reforms in order to integrate even more. This is an important principle for the European Union.
However, thank you for this meeting and very open exchange and partnership. I’m convinced of my country’s integrity to take into account the efforts that have been made and to point out everything that is possible in order to deliver tangible results for the citizens of your country, so that this approximation is not a façade, but it is expressed and materialized with the opportunity to consolidate ties in various fields, political, diplomatic, security, immigration management, trade exchanges, etc.
Mr. Michel, you said Belgium has yet to make a formal decision with regards to the opening of the accession talks with Albania. However, do you personally think Albania deserves to have the accession talks opened?
Mr. Rama, most recently you have repeatedly appealed to the opposition leader, Mr. Basha, to cooperate in order to open the accession negotiations. Would you agree on taking a joint tour with Mr. Basha to seek support from the main EU chancelleries for the accession negotiations?
PM Charles Michel: With regard to the first part of your question, I would say my visit to Albania today is not a coincidence. It was with great pleasure I received the invitation to visit the country, certainly to send also a signal from the European Union and that is a signal of friendship, a signal of respect and recognition for the significant efforts that have been made. At the same time, as Mr. Rama said, it is important to understand that the beginning of a process is not the point of arrival, but just the beginning, it is the opportunity to push for further efforts and additional reforms and this alignment needs to be materialized step by step and in the process of decision-making within the European Union. It must respect a set calendar. I can’t put the cart before the horse. So, it is the EU heads of state and government the meeting to take place first and this issue will be then included on the agenda of an official meeting and I will announce Belgium’s decision at that moment. However, I will express a message of willingness and support for the efforts and we will have the opportunity to continue this political dialogue with the Prime Minister on regular basis, because I belong to the group of those who think that the efforts should be recognized; that these efforts should be encouraged and deliver tangible results.
PM Edi Rama: You already know I never comment on the opposition in a foreign language. Therefore, my answer, in short, is that your question does not require a direct answer, because it would be really a valuable thing if this were to happen.
The developments and collaborations in the economic market and cooperation in academic and cultural aspects were discussed in concrete terms. Could you provide more information on these projects and the opening of negotiations in June, as our government expects? How do you see Albania’s economic development?
PM Charles Michel: Our shared ambition is to ensure a better mutual understanding between Albania and Belgium, not only in economic terms and not only in the diplomatic terrain. Our ambition is to explore ways hot to encourage, mobilize the private sector and investors, to better figure out the opportunities, the economic development potential, and opportunities for trade partnership between the two countries.
I will provide an example. There are many Belgian companies specialized in the infrastructure sector. A country like Albania has ambitious plans to develop the tourism sector, which is one of the ways to contribute to the country’s economic growth, urge investment, create new jobs and provide greater social support, and, probably, the opportunities to promote Albania in order to attract a larger number of tourists from Belgium and other EU Member States. This would help to better know this country and this would also help to favour Albania’s irreversible alignment with the European Union. So, this is a concrete example we want the diplomatic teams to work together and host meetings with relevant officials at ministries and the Federation of the Belgian Investors to explore investment opportunities and set investment priorities. Such meetings could take place either in Brussels or here in Tirana, but it is important to launch a process that would promote investment and foster economic and trade ties. The same goes for cultural and university cooperation and students exchange programs. This is also a way to consolidate long-term and irreversible relations between the two people and nations. These are concrete objectives and we have asked our diplomatic missions to collect proposals in the coming weeks and months.
PM Edi Rama: Opening of the accession talks is a process that ushers the country in another phase of major challenges to push reforms forward, show commitment and seriousness in delivering reforms and grants the country another status in the eyes of the foreign investors and visitors. We have discussed on what we can do together in the case of the relations with Belgium in order to attract more tourists as well as more potential investors in the country’s tourism sector after witnessing both an extremely encouraging and challenging growing trend in tourist numbers. The history of integration process has shown that the countries which have opened the negotiations have also entered a new phase also in the aspect of a growing interest of the investors for these countries.
I have a question for PM Rama. I would like to ask you whether your country should make additional efforts to convince the current EU member states to support the EC recommendation ahead of the June decision, including also the relations in the region. Is this the case to clarify once and for good that the dream of some for a greater Albania and a rapprochement with Kosovo should be ultimately evaded?
PM Edi Rama: First of all, I want to firmly stress that there is only one greater thing in the future of Albania and the Albanians, and that it is the great Europe with the Albanians within it, either the Albanians of Albania or the Albanians of Kosovo, or all Albanians in the region and other regions where they live.
Secondly, I would say this is not a case to be closed, it is not about closing, or breathing a big sigh of relief, because we are all aware this is a process that continues and will continue because it in the best interests of Albania, it is what we have to do for our children and for the future generations. Reform and the integration process are not something that is being done because Brussels asks us to do that, or because others are asking us to do so. The reforms and the integration process are a matter of life and death, a matter of Albania of the past and Albania of the future.
I would like to ensure you all that we work in this spirit every day and every week there are things that take place in Albania. I told the Prime Minister we have launched a process of cleansing the justice system and some 21 senior judges and prosecutors have failed to pass the vetting process. This is a demonstration of strong will for reforms and their implementation.
Saying this, I want to add that we are all aware this is a long journey and after the ongoing cleansing process the justice system should provide examples that it is functioning like in all European countries.
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