Presentation of new government’s political programme to Parliament

Speech by Prime Minister Edi Rama:

 

Honourable Assembly of Albania!

I stand before you today with a special sense of gratitude and appreciation to our voters and a sense of responsibility to every Albanian citizen, regardless of whether they have voted or not for the Socialist Party, to ask your vote of confidence for a third consecutive term of the Socialist Party in office.

The new government will go down in history, not only of Albania, as the cabinet, in which women form the majority. I am proud that this ruling majority, like never before, has taken forward the social endeavour to grant Albanian women and girls the place they deserve in our community. This government’s and majority’s composition has been a significant reflection of this effort, just like the effort to constantly grow the number of women MPs in parliament, thanks to the will of all members of this parliament. This is one of the important things the time always proves them right and attaches more importance to them. For this reason, I am confident this parliament will represent one of the not so many pages of Albania’s law-making history.

With the vote of confidence for the new cabinet, Albania takes the top spot in the United Nations’ overall ranking for the number of women in the government, after ranking among the top five countries on this ranking.

Having said this, two more things are worth saying.

FIrst; exceeding this time the gender equality rate to a 50 to 50% representation among members of the cabinet has not been an end in itself. The inverted ratio in favour of the women in the new cabinet is not a purposeful starting point, like it was the case when the first Socialist cabinet was formed, but it is the natural destination and conclusion, following an analysis and the work to form this cabinet. Today, our cabinet obviously includes more women colleagues than men, not because of the gender factor, but for the reason that the women ministers in the new administration better adapted at this early moment of the third term in office to the work we are seeking to do and the criteria for the positions they will be holding in this government line-up.

This means that just like gender factor has not been the incentive to massively include them in this government, and no positive grade will be considered when their performance will be analysed in this respect, with the outcome and performance results being the only indicator of a periodic assessment that will determine the time of stay for any of this cabinet members, regardless of gender.

Second; I would also like that despite the significant reflection of the progress in efforts to see gender equality also in other levels of the government over these years, with women deputy ministers or in high-level management positions within the state administration enjoy today equal even somehow more favourable position compared to men, while the battle against gender discrimination and the domestic violence goes on, and it is far from being won.

The extra-institutional reality and the reality outside the perimeter of the state administration, where more women than men contribute today, is absolutely not coming up roses. There are still many discriminating forces and negative energies within our society that act to the detriment of women and girls. There is no need for one to travel to the country’s remotest areas and come across dramatic cases, unfortunately not uncommon, of girls being banned from going to school and instead ending up in forced marriages while still in their adolescence, or even ending up isolated within the house’s four walls, just because they are not boys. Just like the tragic violence incidents are unfortunately not so uncommon or, even worse, the cases of extreme violence against women. Shocking events that have shocked the public are just the tip of a scary iceberg, while the domestic violence, with the victims normally being women and girls, wreaks havoc all over the territory, and not only in remote mountainous areas and urban suburbs.

I very much hope and wish that all the women here in this room, regardless of political party affiliation, but primarily the women ministers, as well as the new Parliament Speaker, feel stronger than ever before the responsibility to become frontline missionaries in this fight, by demonstrating leadership through the power of example and concrete, both individual and shared actions, possibly beyond the political barricades. All you honourable female colleagues will not be just consumers, but also generators of the positive energies of politics in the battle to empower women and girls throughout Albanian society.

The new ruling majority and our government itself will work through all the power of ideas and readiness for a broader and fruitful political and social cooperation, so that the figure of mother, woman and girl feels as protected as possible from the forces and negative energies in our society, and feel as much as possible supported by politics and institutions in their rights and aspirations.

We return back to this very hall after two years and general elections clearly won by a side and strongly contested by the other side. It is again a déjà vu of these decades of political pluralism, which nevertheless I hope it won’t bring back scenes of extreme shows and serious consequences like the ones recorded during the last term in office to this irreplaceable and inalienable democratic institution, which directly embodies the will of the sovereign people as a reflection of pluralistic society.

Such an important discussion at the start of the debate on the vote of confidence for the new government would be totally deficient if prior to speaking about various sectors, investments, taxes, I was not to talk about the elephant in this very room, where we are again forced to stay together, like it or not, under the same roof for more four years, not only with whom we like to have on our side, but also with whom we do not like to confront.

The today’s and the future’s shapes of a country, growth of economy and social welfare in no way depend on the revenue and expenditure only, but also on institutions and the citizens’ trust in them. The level of positive, creative, productive, interactive and cooperative energies in a country primarily depends on the ability of the country’s political representatives, in the highest institution of representation, not to fade those energies with the political warfare.

We are not necessarily obliged to agree on everything. We may not even agree on anything, but a country’s quality of life and democratic progress does not depend on how frequently the government agrees with the opposition, but on the way the political parties express and handle their discord.

Debating, no matter how hotly, is something, but throwing insults and assaults without sparing muscle flexing is completely a different thing.

Slapping the rival through oratory is different from bashing the table violently.

Voting against is different from tearing the ballot paper.

May we never agree, but, after all, it is the vote the one that decides. However, it is impossible that we don’t make effort to behave, first and foremost here, like human beings and parents, so that this very room doesn’t sink under the mud of vulgarity, rowdiness and brutality, form which neither Albania would emerge stronger, but after all, whoever seeks to play the role of the strongman by resorting to the abusive language, the use of hands and feet, he has traditionally never emerged as winner.

None of us, to one degree or another, have excelled in the eyes of the citizens by setting examples of tolerance and good manners towards others in this room. The 30-year archive of this parliament contains many episodes, incidents and statements none of us would be proud of. There is a lot of hassle and conflict between us, has been etched in the memory of the people in this country. A lot of lost opportunities to do the best for Albania and our children are engraved in the consciousness of each and every one of us here. And once we walk out of here, looking so ridiculous in the eyes of the people – and always, according to us, we are not the ones to be blamed, but the other side should be held responsible, just like the kids playing the game of tag, after truanting from school.

Today I don’t like to point a finger to the other side, but I would like to acknowledge the part of my and this majority’s fault, as much as we can be blamed for, which, however, I certainly believe, is certainly bigger than what I and we can think we are to be blamed.

Our hand is extended to the Democratic Party. This is not just for the sake of saying, but it is a line of thought, which we will do everything we can to make a line of conduct throughout this challenging term for Albania. To put it clearly, we are asking you no concession of whatsoever, but we are ready to dialogue with you about any concession you want. We need none of your votes, neither we are seeking to reach a compromise you wouldn’t want, but we are ready to agree with you on everything you wish and it is in best interest of the country, the people and the future. We have come across some of your goals distantly. We are open to dialogue with you straightforwardly, but you should always consider something. You have never succeeded and you will never succeed in achieving anything by resorting to orders, threats or ultimatums. But we can agree on everything through direct communication, by talking and listening each other with arguments and patience.

One last thing about this issue. This is merely a renewal of a concept I have announced right after finalization of the Electoral Reform. Never and for no reason, I and this ruling majority will accept any foreign mediator to solve problems, impasses, internal political or institutional crises. The crises are caused in the Albanian way, including us and you, not by Albania’s international friends and partners. Therefore, they will be resolved only by us and you together, not by speaking in English to each other, but only in Albanian.

Distinguished members of the Albanian Parliament!

Albania still faces two major open fronts.

On the one hand, it is the front of the effort to finally undo the earthquake consequences, as several thousand citizens, socialists and democrats alike, are still waiting to return to their new homes.

On the other hand, the front of the endeavour to ultimately emerge from the exhausting fight against the pandemic that equally threatens the lives of both democrats and socialists, and all Albanians and where the countries all over the world still face huge dilemmas due to the frequent mutation of the deadly virus.

Today I would like to tell all those who still wait for their final housing that this is one of the two priorities of our government. Our plan, as we have pledged during the campaign, won’t change at all now that the elections are over. The earthquake wounds should totally heal in 2022. But all the quake-affected families will continue to receive the bonus rent until they cross the door and move into the new homes, including hundreds of families that since the very beginning decided to live in tents, because of the distance from the city and the proximity to the land and living thing in their village.

The continued mass vaccination plan won’t change also thanks to the constant and timely procurement of all the needed vaccine doses, until vaccination is indispensable to protect population from infection.

Nobody can govern perfectly, without deficiencies and mistakes, despite the strong desire and the good will. But one of the reasons to feel proud during our second term in office is the fact that in the fight against the pandemic, in the efforts to cope with the incredible difficulties due to the pandemic, we envy no other government or country. We have been and we remain among the countries with the most efficient performance in this fight. The facts and figures speak for themselves.

A day ago we received the long-waited news about approval of the Green Pass Digital for the free travel of all vaccinated Albanian people to Europe. Green Pass Digital is directly generated via the e-Albania platform. This is a significant message to all the citizens who should receive the vaccine yet, so that they get the jab as soon as possible to primarily protect their health and lives, as well as to travel freely abroad.

Not only our effort in these so important fronts will go on with all the passion and the needed patience, but our readiness will also be maximal to be held accountable and do any required correction, anytime or in any case the opposition or the media will reveal deficiencies or wrongdoings.

Given the high sensitivity of both of these uncommon challenges, I would modestly urge today, both the opposition and the media, to ask the government for any possible official information before formulating their public positions.  Fake news and half-true denunciations, which are the biggest lies, told on TV, portals, inflict the same psychological damage, either they are intentional or unintentional.

I pledge that any criticism or reported denunciation will be investigated through the required seriousness and in any case, when turning out to be founded, we will react publicly by reflecting properly. The government will make available to the public and the media a specific information channel on its official website for any accusation, denunciation or any claim expressed publicly and it is about the public interest.

The old format of the traditional politics, with both sides levelling tit for tat accusations and counter-accusations through press conferences and counter press conferences to poison the public and become disgusted from the politics, is a closed practice for us.

Anyone interested in our position, anytime the criticism or the allegations are related the public interest, will find it put down in black and white with institutional responsibility by any relevant government authority.

On the other hand, neither the government nor the 74 Socialist MPs in this room will ever use the microphone, the mandate or the vote to defend whomever inside or outside this room from charges or judgement from justice system. Whoever at every level of the central government or in this room, in the local government, who are likely to face charges from the justice about the responsibility they have assumed, will have to defend themselves on their own, alongside their lawyers. The presumption of innocence will be valid only during trial and not to earn even a half word of political support from this governing majority, until the case is ultimately handled by justice bodies.

Not only this, but the government will encourage a lot more than it has been done to date as the already known mechanisms further strengthen, including the co-governance platform, which will operate under a specific legal regime or through innovative mechanism inviting citizens and the investigative media in a frontal combat against corruption at any level.

Since the very beginning, we have been confident and we are more confident in the Justice Reform today, being aware that significant results we and all Albanian citizens expect from it cannot be yielded either easily or immediately. Building an independent and professional judiciary from scratch to replace a rotten justice system is like transplanting whole decomposed backbone. It takes a radical and specifically long surgery, exemplary perseverance, unprecedented patience in front of a seemingly impossible challenge. So, anytime we lose patience and the distant light at the end of still long tunnel of the Justice Reform would fade away, let’s all recall that when we embarked on this reform there was not a tunnel, but complete darkness, when gavel of corrupt high-level justice wreaked havoc, while impunity of the strongmen of all sorts just shamed Albania.

Earth is moving today under the feet of all of those who used to take the law into their hands and look at the law and the state from the top to bottom, using the prosecutors as shampoo and the courts as a comb to challenge a whole nation.

The new justice bodies have escaped from the hands of politics and the crime. Political parties are losing their power to resist the pressure of time, when justice is sought. Nobody who has to be accountable to justice can sleep now peacefully. The counter-offensive of the forces and individuals enjoying political influence to prevent, damage, stop the Justice Reform, has really consumed considerable social energy, by staging public acts, media operations and unprecedented political actions with their anti-democratic, unconstitutional, anti-civic savagery. The inspirers and the masterminds of this counter-offensive are today the Albania’s most discredited political figures. The crime bosses are now behind bars or hiding in holes, where they are just buying time, but they can’t prevent the day when they will appear before justice. In the meantime, the energy sources of the politics opposing the Justice Reform are drying up.

This governing majority will keep working closely with Albania’s strategic allies, the United States and the European Union, by fully supporting every step as part of the Justice Reform. That’s why, our support for the new justice bodies, the vetting commissions and the judges qualified after the vetting process, will be unwavering. We will be totally ready, institutionally and financially, to do whatever on our part here in parliament to implement this fundamental state-building reform, as well as morally and professionally promote the protagonists of the new justice system.

Likewise, we increasingly believe that in tandem with freeing justice, the modernization of public services and entrepreneurship, their complete digitalization is Archimedes’ lever that can completely overthrow the old system of bribery from the domain of public administration. We will also fully support further building this country’s digital capacities, either to put an end to the paperwork practice in public service delivery to the public and entrepreneurship, by eventually shutting down the service windows and transferring entire system of official documents to the smart phone or personal computer of each individual, both to usher in a new development stage or expand the digital technology, starting with the overall reset of the IT teaching and learning in schools and by stimulating the human capital for the digital economy through creation of a chain of spaces to accumulate advanced IT know-how, namely coding, and not only, so that our young people become skilful enough to gain access to the global online quality employment without having to leave Albania.

To ensure a substantial stimulation of the digital technology sector, we will make available a sovereign guarantee fund of 50 million euros and 10 million euros to companies for these advanced computer education spaces for young people and start-ups.

School, university, culture, sports for all will be during this new governing term a domain, where we will invest with energy and fresh ideas to create more conditions for increasing the invaluable human capital of the youngest to this society, starting with the children, to whom we will dedicate ourselves with a new cross-sectoral offer, a small part of which is the start of teaching English from the first grade of primary school in all schools across Albania. Two new programs, namely the arts and craftsmanship  and the sports program, will start to be implemented in our schools, where we want our children not only receive lessons, already with quality textbooks of leading publishing houses like Oxford, Cambridge, Pearson, and which have been provided to schoolchildren for free, but not only to be educated qualitatively with the belonging of their digital world generation, but also develop skills and know-how about the real world, our land’s richness and values and nature, to handicrafts, manufacturing activities, handicraft practices and traditions, artistic creativity, as well as with physical activity and collective sports. The integral part of this new phase of the education system will also include training of teachers to further grow professionally. We will unreservedly support the public caregivers of our children, both professionally and financially.

Our goal is to take the higher education system, where more progress is required as part of the education reform, to a whole new level during the next term in office and prepare the ground that Albania 2030 becomes a totally possible choice for Albanian families, and not only a mandatory choice alongside the normal choice to educate their children abroad in the open world we live in.

We will strongly commit to supporting the idea about structured opening of public universities to allow merger of curricula and degree programs with the European public universities. Work is already underway and the cooperation with our university rectors has ushered in a new phase based on mutual desire and willingness.

Protecting the threatened future of the environment, either because of climate change or human actions will involve us much more and transversely during this new term, starting with kindergartens, schools, universities and to communities in the territory. I wish we find strength and energy in civil society to deliver on the impact of this effort. The new governing majority, starting with next year’s draft state budget, will establish a non-negotiable principle with the distribution of funds to municipalities, conditioning funding with cleanliness and environment protection.

Growth in consumption, construction industry activities, and tourism growth are being associated with environmental pollution, because of presence of rubbish in our everyday life. The local government units failing to clean their territory and properly handle waste will be denied any unconditioned grant from the state budget. No new investment would be worth and valuable for the community, if the environment cleanliness is primarily ensured and this should become a top priority for all local government authorities all over Albania. We won’t also tolerate the negligence of the local government authorities to the illegal buildings, which will be a priority target of the daily police task, based also on the amended law on this area.

Me poshte pjesa e dyte e fjales se KM Rama per prezantimin e programit te qeverise ne parlament:

We want to make Albania the Western Balkans’ absolute champion for tourism by 2030, but in order for us to succeed in delivering on this ambitious goal we need to ensure cleanliness and environment protection.

This year’s tourist season was both a reason for optimism in terms of the huge number of visitors, but also a wake-up call in terms of our tourist offer. Urban waste and illegal buildings, starting with the tourist destinations, primarily along the coastline, are an intolerable outrageous offence against future of the Albanian tourism, as well as our national dignity itself. A new aggressive intervention plan from the government designed to ultimately remove these two scornful enemies from the path of development of tourism and the country’s future will become operational starting next January. Albania’s coastline, this God’s miracle and a bonanza of wealth from which our national economy and people can increasingly benefit each year should be seen as a reflection of patriotism that should reflect patriotic and civic responsibility.

Patriotism is not about hating another nation or curse your compatriots who do not hate just like you, but it is to love your country, treat it like your home, pay your dues and protect the environment that does not belongs to you, but it belongs to the next generation.

Manufacturing, retailing and introducing plastic bags for individual use in Albania will be sanctioned under a zero tolerance policy. We are not the first ones to do so, but we should have really done it much earlier. All licences and absurd permits to collect supposedly recyclable waste by removing them from the trash containers and polluting the streets and the air in every community and piling up waste throughout Tirana and other cities all over Albania will be permanently banned. My message to the industry involved in manufacturing plastic bags for use and retail is to refrain from any concession from this government, because it would be a concession to the detriment of the future, something our government won’t do.

You will have nine months available to adapt a new production line.

Next June 1, the children’s day will also mark the day of Albania’s liberation from the plastic bags on behalf of our children.

Albania is not a country financially rich, but it can’t in no way be chronically polluted. This has and will change at any cost. On the other hand, investment in tourism will usher in a really historical phase in terms of their multiplication during this decade, starting with the major construction projects, namely the four tourist ports in Saranda, where work is already underway, Vlora where construction work is set to kick off soon, Durres where work is also slated to begin soon, and Shengjin where the project will seemingly start somehow later. Tourist ports whose construction will kick off one by one, two international airports in Vlora, where construction work will finally begin within the year, and in Saranda, the international tender for construction of which will complete soon. In tandem with these construction sites, we will also start relocation of two commercial seaports in Porto Romano, the port of Durres and the Triport in Vlora, where work to construct two new ports will begin within this term in office in line with the best international standards.

We will keep boosting the Civil Aviation’s capacities, not only through construction of three new airports, but also by expanding the Mother Teresa international airport in Tirana, where the investment designed to extend the runway and the new terminal is set to begin this year, while the national carrier Air Albania will keep expanding by constantly increasing its fleet, the destinations, offer quality primarily for all Albanian travellers.

This will also be the term when the major project on construction of Blue Corridor, the largest in the history of road infrastructure development of Albania, will be launched and a highway built according to the European standards from Murriqani to Fier, traversing through Milot, Thumana, Kashar and Rrogozhina, will complete within next five years. We have been waiting longer than we should so that this investment, a priority project under the Berlin Process, be funded by the European Union. But we won’t wait longer and we will start construction work. I am not going to go over all projects on the very long list of infrastructure projects, but I can briefly state that we will dot the i’s in that part of the road segments still needing to develop in line with the standards of Albania 2030 programme.

We want Albania becomes a net electricity exporter and we will take decisive steps towards this strategic objective for our country in the next four years.

Construction of Skavica hydropower plant has been a dream in the drawer since’70s of the last century and the notorious Vlora thermal power plant will no longer be an open wound of serious financial government failure of the past.

The next four-year term will see the construction site of the Skavica HPP open, which in addition to significant increase in electricity generation capacities will also serve to ultimately avoid the forced floods of all areas in south-western Albania because of the excessive rain. Likewise, the next-four year term will also see the start of the project to transform Vlora thermal power plant into a gateway for the liquefied gas to Albania. Two major investments by two leading U.S. companies, which also mark a significant boost in U.S. investments in Albania. With the construction work on the Karavasta photovoltaic park already underway, the work to construct the Spitalle solar energy park will begin in the first half of the next year. The region’s two largest photovoltaic parks will boost the country’s power generation capacities, as well as will help to diversify Albania’s green energy portfolio. In the meantime, efforts are underway to introduce wind energy generation, about which projects with considerable capacity are in the process.

Albania is today the largest vegetables exporter in the Western Balkan region and ranks second for the fruits export, while seafood exports have increased many times. Just eight years ago Albania lagged far behind other countries in the region in terms of agricultural and seafood exports, but we won’t absolutely stop here.

Our ambitious goal is to grow the country’s agricultural exports to over one billion dollars. We will seek to deliver on this objective within the next four years. This would mean more support in every aspect for the farmers and fishermen, more greenhouses, more technological innovation, but also more quality warrant of the agricultural inputs, more modern collection infrastructure, more incentives for agricultural joint ventures, more know-how transfer, training programs, information and interaction between the institutions and the farming entrepreneurship. A concrete plan has been devised to serve all these aspects, and the plan implementation will start frontally in the first 300 days of the new term in office.

I would like to point out that further transformation of Tirana’s Agricultural University is part of this plan, in close collaboration with one of the leading European higher institutions and rural development centres, namely the Vienna’s BOKU University. Our goal is to restore our agricultural university to its former glory as a national advanced know-how centre for the agricultural and rural development. We will spare nothing to deliver on this strategic goal for Albania 2030 programme.

During our second term in office, we just successfully opened the chapter of agro-tourism, a completely missing branch of tourism over the decades in the country. We want to further write this chapter by supporting significant private investments throughout Albania’s rural territory, from Vermosh and Theth to Dropull and Konispol.

We also want to open a new chapter in the area of food security, where significant progress has been made, considering the profound underdevelopment. Animals were slaughtered on the streets just eight years ago.

A recent upward trend in the country’s economic growth following a dramatic decline under the strangling pressure of the peak of the pandemic, is really very encouraging. We have recovered numerically all the lost jobs during the pandemic. This is a fact and not only that, but employment rate has increased in several sectors. The state budget revenues have increased like never before. The country has recorded a significant increase in consumption as a result of a growing purchasing power. But, of course, this is a period of recovery after a dramatic downturn due to the pandemic, and we do not want to see the economic growth falling below 4% annual growth rate by the end of the four-year term.

The macroeconomic indicators are stable and the optimism to successfully access the international capital markets soon is realistic, but none of these would be sufficient without recording first a further sustainable growth in the climate of business climate, competitiveness and productivity. It is time for us to give a strong impetus to manufacture sector through direct financial support in order to create a closed loop production process and take the fragile Made in Albania mark to a whole new level. This would certainly boost capacities as well as the salaries in the manufacturing sector due to the new manufacturing quality. We plan two sovereign funds to support this goal.

A sovereign guarantee fund of 50 million euros to ensure transition into new production lines and a special innovation and excellence manufacture program, operating under a financial reimbursement mechanism for costs covering human resources improvement, innovation, design, marketing and research projects.

We are fully aware that the minimum wage, although recently increased to 30,000 lek, is still very low, and therefore its gradual increase, probably to 40,000 lek by end of our term in office, is an objective we have already announced during the electoral campaign and which we will soon start deliver in the next year’s draft budget and fiscal package by increasing the minimum monthly salary to 32,000 lek.

I feel really great today, because everything we pledged during the campaign has been included in the government program. Indeed, during the debate with the group tasked with drafting the program, I told them to write down the electoral campaign program and vote it in parliament and fully stick to it, because none of the goals we have announced during the campaign have not been left out of the Socialist Party’s governing program.

The truth is that not everything goes always as planned for all sorts of reasons. By this I don’t mean the politicians, whose promises are like the doves a magic trick performer pulls out of an apparently empty top hat, but I mean true commitment to deliver on a campaign pledge. That’s why it may be the case that a certain pledge is not kept on the promised time and its delivery is sometimes delayed constantly for reasons out of the government reach and willingness.

The earthquake is against the will of the government.

It is against the will of the government pandemic.

The interactions among third actors are out of the government reach, just like it was the case with the Vlora airport, where we encountered undesired and unexpected difficulties, completely out of the government will.

But it is just as true that I never promise something I know it is undoable just to gain some more applauses or votes.

Just like it is also true that we will do our best to deliver on everything we have promised. So, we will increase the salaries, as already promised, and it is something I am confirming today again now that the campaign and the elections are over and I am confirming it before the Albanian parliament that this ruling majority, during this term in office, will increase:

The teachers and education staff salaries and nurses by 40%;

The public administration salaries by 30%.;

The average monthly salary for the public administration employees to 85,000 lek from the current monthly pay of 72,000 lek.

Allow me to add something we haven’t actually pledged. After the last night’s top show and performance by the troupe of the reborn National Opera and Ballet Theatre, with the soloists demonstrating a tangible proof of their precious value for the prestige of our national culture, excelling alongside the stars of the world stage, as well as after a last-minute consultation with the group tasked with drafting the economic program, the salaries of our incredible soloists, who have decided to stay and contribute to Albania, will double starting next year.

In the meantime, we will also soon present a financial incentives program for that troupe, which definitely features some of the most European and decent representatives of this republic and whom we will motivate further to become Albania’s ambassadors to the region and the world.

We have promised nothing significant for the pensioners during the election campaign. Not because we are not aware of the fact that they deserve to be rewarded more than anyone else, even not because we don’t wholeheartedly want to approve a significant increase in the pension payment, apart from the special year-end bonus we allocate, but we have been unable and we still can’t afford taking such a step. This is because the threatening abyss, created over so many years under the old pension scheme and because of the irresponsible criminal management of the social insurance system, before we undertook the Pension Reform and making some progress in management of the social insurance system, although it has been narrowed by becoming harmless to the sustainability of pension funding, this abyss has yet to be narrowed to the point that would allow us to take a bold step forward.

Today I would like to state today, not from the podium of the electoral campaign, but the podium of the Assembly, that a plan has been forwarded to the government table, depending on the overall progress of the reforms and the country’s economy in the first half of this term in office. It will definitely be the most beautiful day of my public life when I will be rewarded with their blessed smile by setting in motion the plan on a significant pension hike.

Dear fellow citizens!

I believe it doesn’t take a lot to highlight the fact that today’s Albania has nothing to do with Albania eight years ago when it comes to its dignity in the international arena. And if the factory of political mud wouldn’t have exported in the last eight years so much defamations to the European offices, since fortunately this mud is not being bought in the United States for years now, this country wouldn’t have suffered so extremely in the labyrinth of the European integration. Not that we would have secured the decision by the European Council to open the negotiations earlier, neither that the intergovernmental conference would have been held by now. No, because neither this nor that depended on fulfilment of a number of conditions and sub-conditions that kept growing after the Commission recommended the start of the negotiations, after Albania delivered on those conditions, becoming like the riddles that confuse children. But now the children have realized too that everything depends on the situation of those who have the power to solve this issue.

We understand this best; this is a way how the nowadays European Union works because of 1001 internal divergences and issues, but it will change nothing in our effort to move forward and fulfil all the requirements so that Albania becomes a state meeting the European Union standards here domestically. When the conference opens or ends, this is something that doesn’t depend on us. However, nobody questions the fact whether Albania is ready to sit with the European Union to open the accession talks, and no matter happens with the Bulgarian veto, we will keep doing our job and, most importantly, earn respect of everyone as a reference point in the Balkans.

Who could have ever imagined, frankly, that the Chancellor of Germany would visit Albania twice in eight years? I don’t know, but the last visit probably took place 100 years ago. Frist was the first bilateral visit in history by a German Chancellor, and the second bilateral visit, and a summit with the Western Balkans leaders. I am not considering the working visits we have paid to the Chancellory.

This is just one among so many examples, including the fact that most recently Albania was the country to host the NATO’s biggest tactical military exercise and this of course for a good reason. I can’t help but state today, even proudly, that Albania does no longer take its seat as an inferior country in every international instance, but as a European state from the Balkans with its respectable voice.

I have recently received several messages from first-hand authorities in the international arena, congratulating Albania and welcoming Albania’s position, not through me, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the last NATO ministerial. Just like we will receive similar congratulations over Albania’s position, not through me but the Minister of State for the Relations with Parliament at the International Forum on Crimea issue. This is not about an attitude or a speech, but about Albania’s position in the international arena, beyond the individuals, which is a result of the new dynamics that we gave to our foreign policy as a ruling majority.

Albania’s OSCE chairmanship was not a coincidence. Albania has previously demanded to chair OSCE, but it failed.

Albania’s election as temporary member of the UN Security Council is not a coincidence, given that nobody visited Tirana just few years ago, except the foreign mediators in the last period prior to the start of our first term in office. In the meantime, the previous Prime Minister of this country was not invited at bilateral meetings and these are facts.

I have something more important to say.

Is the today’s position of North Macedonia’s Albanians a coincidence or it has nothing to do with our foreign policy, given that just few years ago a Balkan satrap in Skopje used to treat Albanians as national minority, pretending as if co-governing with Albanians, without ever thinking about to clear the way to the most fundamental right to equality of the Albanian language, as a language of a nation without which that state cannot stand on its feet, because Albanians in North Macedonia are a state-forming population. The Albanian political factors in North Macedonia were there, but Albania’s foreign policy back then and the office I hold today were focused on electoral campaigns, and not on ways to advance the rights of our compatriots in that state. I believe you remember the much-condemned Tirana Platform that had a huge impact on those processes.

That’s why all those who pretend not to understand the Open Balkans initiative should take into account the facts to the benefit of the Albanian state and nation thanks to our foreign policy.

Open Balkans is not a Serbian game; it is neither a Russian or Chinese conspiracy to revive the former Yugoslavia. Just like it is no way a deflection from the European Union integration path or the framework of the Berlin Process. These all are not fairy tales or ghost stories told near the digital fire in a fight waged from the chair and Facebook against a previous enemy, whom Kosovo, Albania and whole Albanian nation have ultimately defeated as an enemy in a real war fought with bombs and rifles more than 20 years ago thanks to the United States and the great European allies against the Belgrade’s bloodthirsty, and thanks to the Kosovo Liberation Army and its leadership.

The babies that were born both in Tirana and Pristina during that war and are gradually becoming men and women today, owe nothing to the politics that pretends to play wars with Serbia. It is not their fault that Kosovo, driven and encouraged even by Tirana to resort to policies that have nothing to do with the nation, that have nothing to do with the perspective of the Albanians, but with the electoral war here and there only, to lose them in peace, not at war, as in a political casino roulette where bluffs with the foreign policy just for internal political games, all international credits that have been won through blood, pain, and very hard diplomatic efforts.

Of course, we can just talk and not decide about Kosovo. It is up to Kosovo authority to make their decisions they deem fit for Kosovo, and we should just respect them. However, the same is true vice versa. It is the Albanian authorities who decide about Albania and they should simply respect our decisions. If we don’t like each other’s decision, let’s discuss them openly and fraternally, but we should in no way declare as traitors, conspirators, as pro -Russian or Chinese, pro-Serbs and nostalgic-Yugoslavs, all those who they think differently, playing with the pains of people totally devastated from the war, but also with the ignorance of those on this and that side, who take up arms when only in TV screen or on Facebook, to level all sorts of criticisms the name of a fake patriotism.

The Open Balkans initiative is an outcome of the Berlin Process, as a result of the need and indispensability to move forward faster with the implementation of the freedom of people, the goods, capital and services, without waiting for us to be convened once a year somewhere in Europe and sit the routine meeting and reach the same old conclusions without doing anything at all. The Blue Corridor was part of the Berlin Process? Yet, this Corridor is still non-existent.

The Open Balkans doesn’t assume anything if one comes out and tells us a certain issue is not part of the Berlin Process framework, but simply allows us to do everything on our own, without waiting another 10 years, hoping that others from Berlin, Paris and Brussels, will come to our help, as if they have nothing else to do, while we blast each other. Of course, we highly appreciate and welcome their precious assistance and support, just like the Open Balkans initiative is definitely an additional mechanism to speed up building the spaces and European institutions in our own states. Our destination is the reality of united Europe, and not the fantasies of those who still resort to the XIX century turbo-folk nationalism.

The Open Balkans initiative is to the benefit of people who are fed up with long wait hours at border crossing points.