EC recommendation to open accession negotiations with EU; Mogherini: Albania has received what it deserves

Prime Minister Edi Rama at a joint press conference with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, following the European Commission’s recommendation to open accession talks with Albania:

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Good Afternoon!

Expressing appreciation at the very onset for the presence of a guest on such occasions is a practice under a written protocol, but, on this occasion, the gratitude to the lady of the United Europe’s diplomacy is notably special and decent because obtaining the long-awaited result of the European Commission’s recommendation on opening the accession negotiations with Albania is directly attributed to Federica Mogherini’s tireless work to strengthen the bridge linking the European Union and the Western Balkans, as well as her resolved support for the region and Albania too.

Our region and of course Albania have made significant steps forward, but we all have the special need for good and true friends in Europe, for people and stakeholders to be open to us, people who know our history, recognize difficulties and our importance and also understand the unfinished project of united Europe, rightfully recognize our efforts and no easily obtainable achievements on the European state-building pathway in our countries and certainly not only that, but they should also show readiness and willingness to support and firmly argue on our behalf in gatherings we are absent during this not so favourable time for wind in the sails of enlargement within the EU walls, where it is a publicly known fact that people and forces sceptical to the enlargement policy see us and  do not hesitate to use us as scapegoat when it is in interest of their closure policy and their internal political interest.

Federica Mogherini is today here since we, Albania, succeeded in taking a very significant historical step on the uphill path towards making a national dream come true, which, not accidentally, made Albania the only former communist country, where the anti-dictatorship movement’s slogan was Europe, “We want Albania like the rest of Europe.”

On behalf of all Albanians, I would like to wholeheartedly appreciate the European diplomacy chief for everything she has done to date by encouraging, criticizing us whenever necessary, and unreservedly supporting us on not an easy path.

Thank you very, very, very much!

I avail myself of this opportunity to express gratitude to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, with whom I had a very friendly and encouraging call last night, and Commissioner Johannes Hah, who has also invested his mind and heart in advancing the project of Western Balkans integration into the European Union.

Just like I stated yesterday, and I repeat it again, Albania has received what it deserves in this stage of its development and modernization, neither more nor less. Our tremendous efforts to adopt justice reform, to legitimize and start implementing vetting, to eradicate cannabis from our country’s territory and tighten the state’s siege of organized crime reaching record figures on confiscation of crime proceeds, to fight corruption and reform the public administration, to create an exemplary coexistence framework for ethnic minorities and further expand the space of freedom of expression are objectively evaluated and with the recommendation to open the negotiations have given Albania a new social status among European countries. But this is not the end of the efforts, but just the end of a stage and beginning of another not an easy but much tougher stage.

The historic chapter we closed yesterday with the European Commission’s wording and stamping has given way to another chapter waiting to be written entirely. The newly and beautifully launched cleansing of the justice system should continue and further go on by yielding the long-awaited results of rightful punishment of all of those who have scores to settle with justice.

This is one of the pages that should be written on the white papers of the new chapter.

Further cleansing of the State Police through the newly launched vetting process as well as the systematic increase of the police striking power against all levels of crime is a substantial necessity in this new stage, with plans and words giving way to increased operations and required results.

The capillary cleansing of the nests of corruption within the public administration, the capacity building of the country’s administration and the overall increase of the transparency and speeding up delivery of administrative services at every level are a process that must necessarily deepen on the path towards building a European administration, which is still far from what we have today.

These and many others are written on the list of new homework for Albania, which yesterday passed an extremely difficult test, but today hasn’t a single minute to celebrate what it achieved, because the long and hard work should immediately begin in order to advance as quickly as possible towards the membership diploma.

Concluding I would also like to touch upon the political aspect of the process to come.

Not everyone shares enthusiasm about this Albania’s achievement and the crucially important certificate for successfully doing the homework during this phase is to many inadequate to open the way without putting obstacles in it by presenting subjective claims here and there in the EU member states. It is not a secret, it is publicly known that in many EU member states there are individuals, forces, which, let’s state it openly, do not want further enlargement and even do not want the region to advance on the path towards integration.

We are prepared to hear surprises in the months to come, because the political game associating the process takes no great science to understand. Just as Albania is not a great power so that not to be used by individuals or such forces as a weapon in domestic political games here and there. But these are quite natural problems we will deal with calmly, with the determination of the arguments, case by case and the certificate we have in hand from yesterday makes this job a bit easier.

But I would beg today – not in my capacity as Prime Minister, let alone as the chairman of the country’s ruling party, but as an Albania, as a citizen and as a colleague if you will – to our opposition’s representatives to cooperate with no foreign political factor, which for their own internal interests are seeking to hamper Albania in this process. I beg them not feed MPs’ offices with lies and half-truths, which are sometimes even more damaging than lies and do not export the mud of our internal political struggle, but to put aside rage and political anger when speaking in a foreign language.

I would renew today my invitation to Lulzim Bash and opposition to come together in one single national team with red and black jersey when we speak about Albania while abroad and ask all those who visit Albania to show respect for this country and recognition of all work done for this country.

I didn’t win. The government hasn’t won. The Socialist Party didn’t win yesterday. Instead, Albania won. All Albanians, regardless of whom they vote for, have won, because everybody knows that Albanians, either leftists or rightists, either Socialists or Democrats, have no divisions among themselves and they can’t afford dividing from each other when it comes to this national dream and to seeing Albania part of the European Union as soon as possible.

There are many individuals across Europe seeking to create difficulties to Albania’s achievements and don’t mind to put a spoke in Albania’s wheels. It would be totally senseless to see even a single Albanian joining these individuals or forces, who, fortunately, are today a minority in Europe where we are seeking to become full-fledged member.

Referring to yesterday’s speeches by President Juncker and President Macron, I would like to give the floor to Federica Mogherini, emphasizing that we face a crucially important national and shared task in view of those values ​​and principles that make Europe so attractive to Albanians and that we proudly and decisively must defend.

Thank you very much!

 

Federica Mogherini: Congratulations! Congratulations to all!

I am particularly proud to be in a position today to bring to Tirana the decision the European Commission took yesterday to give positive recommendation for the first time in the history of Albania that the European Council opens the negotiations for the EU accession of Albania. This has been the result of a collective work. If I look back on how this country looked like a few decades ago, how much of change you have made all together. And as this has been a collective result, I believe this day can be a day of collective acknowledgement. This is the result for the institutions of the country, all of them – from the President, to the government, to the Parliament, to the municipalities, and also of the people, to the citizens of Albania, each and every one of you.

And it is also a collective responsibility to carry out further work.

The enlargement process is always merit-based and we always repeat it.

I remember very well last year we were standing next to each other – I think it was March last year – and I was saying in front of the media, in front of the citizens of Albania, very clearly, that the European Commission would have given positive recommendation to open negotiations for the EU accession of Albania when the implementation of the justice reform, and in particular the vetting, would have started.

You have delivered, and we have delivered what we said.

So indeed it is, I believe, quite a historic moment in the history of this country, but also in the history of the European Union. Because this is a collective work we have done also inside the European Union. And I would like to join the Prime Minister in thanking not only all the Albanians that have been working to achieve this result, but also my colleagues and friends in Brussels with whom I have been working very much and closely, President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Juncker and Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn and all the other Commissioners, who have been supporting this process so far and who stand ready to continue now on the path we have in front of us.

The Commission assessment we have adopted yesterday says clearly that Albania has met the conditions that were put in the last report and recommendation that was adopted one year and half ago. And Albania is ready to open negotiations, maintaining and deepening the reforms that you have undertaken. And in this “maintaining and deepening” is the key of the work we have ahead of us.

It is of course a moment of celebration, but it also a moment to look already at the further work we need to do together. And to me it is 100% clear – even looking at my Twitter account and the number of young Albanians who are writing enthusiastic comments on it – that this is a work that needs to continue not because of Brussels, but because of your people. This is, if I am not wrong, the second youngest country in the region. This is, if I am not wrong, one of the countries of Europe that has the highest trust in the European Union.

It is not only a strong determination of the Albania’s people to join the European Union, it is also an interest of the European Union to have Albania coming into our Union when we will be ready for that. And I hope it will be soon.

The five key priorities you know by heart will continue to remain the key elements on which Albanian citizens will, I believe, assess and judge the capacity of the institutions to deliver on their needs and also will continue to be the basis for our common work in the future. But again, let me stress this: with all the work that has been done together in this country – and I remember the divisions, the fights, I remember the difficult moments – I am sure that this can be the moment for collective acknowledgement of the results achieved all together in Albania and the commitment to work together, government and opposition, different institutions and all the citizens of the country. Let me stress this, because a collective effort is not only the institutions, it is also the people.

All together to continue this work that actually would start even more when the negotiations begin, because as you Edi very rightfully mentioned, this is a process that allows for even more transformation of the country. And again, this is probably the country that has transformed itself the most in Europe over the last decades.

Let me make two more last comments.

One is about the role of Albania in the region. Let me recognise the positive role that Albania has played and is continuing to play, including work on good cooperation and good relations with your neighbours and with the other countries in the region, which is extremely important. Because as I had the opportunity already to say yesterday in Strasbourg: in the Western Balkans, the enlargement policy of the European Union goes back to the DNA of the European integration project, which is reconciliation and peace. So good neighbourly relations, coordination and cooperation within the region is an essential element of the reasons why we joined together in the Union. And in particular in this region, I believe, it is important. I would like to say “Urime!” – Congratulations also on this. You are showing good will and good determination in improving relations with the other partners in the region.

And I would also like to have a special mention on the fact that Albania is a country that is one hundred per cent on our same page when it comes to Foreign and Security Policy. And this is not something irrelevant in these times, being completely aligned, as one would say. And it is a terminology that I do not like too much, because it gives sometimes the impression that there is one position to which you align. No, it is about aligning each other. It is about sharing the same analysis and the same objectives on the world seen. This is something valuable and important. I would like to thank not only you Edi, but also the Foreign Minister for this good work that we have always been doing together in this field.

This is a collective result; this is a collective work that needs to be carried out in the future. The European Union has been accompanying Albania, its institutions, its people in these years of deep change. And we will continue to walk this path together with the same determination, with the same optimism, but also with the same realism and “with same with the same close attention to how the individual steps are taken one by one. The path is not easy, it is never easy. But you managed. And I am sure that the way ahead will continue to bring good results for this country.

Thank you!

-Question to Mrs. Mogherini. You came back to Albania amid a tense political context as the last time you were in Albania with the opposition calling for civil disobedience. There is an ongoing  debate in Albania as to whether this is expected to affect the decision of the Council in June. Will this affect the decision and what are the real odds that the Council would give the green light to the opening of negotiations in June?

Mr. Prime Minister, Germany is one of the sceptical countries. German MPs have publicly stated also here in Albania that their scepticism is connected with the government’s approach to the Tahiri case, the prosecutor’s request for an authorization to arrest the former Interior Minister. Do you think this could influence and, if it will influence Germany’s decision, are you ready to assume responsibility for this?

Federica Mogherini: I will meet the opposition later on the day. My message to them will be exactly the same as my message to the Prime Minister, the government; the same message I have shared publicly and very openly in full transparency. This is not a result of one party or another, this is not a result for the government or the opposition, or one institution or the other. This is a result of which all those who have been working in the last – can I say even – decades for transforming the country so deeply can celebrate today, and can take not only credit for, but responsibility for, when it comes to the future.

There is no way, and it has never happened in any case in the history of the European Union, that the path towards membership of the European Union has been used by one party against the other. This is a national effort and if I see, if I read the Albanian society right, I see a lot of unity among the people of the country on this aspiration to join the European Union. I believe this is in the interest both of the majority and the opposition, both of the government and the opposition, to join forces and to make steps towards this maintaining and deepening of reforms, in all different sectors that are key to the process to come.

I have to say that if Albania delivered on starting the vetting, on the justice reform, it is because political forces managed to finally come together. Indeed when I say you delivered, I mean you all delivered. It took some time but – I come from a country where we understand very well the complexity of political forces relationships – the aspirations of your citizens come first, and especially when it is about a generational dream that can come true. I believe that – again it is not a matter of political parties, neither on the opposition nor on the government side – it is a national effort.

On the perspectives for the June European Council, it is very clear. Yesterday, the European Commission clearly said: the assessment we make – and this is for the Commission to make – is that the conditions have been met and that Albania is ready to start negotiations, and with a clearly positive recommendation to the Council to take the decision, again assuming that reforms will continue and the current reform momentum will be maintained and deepened. But it is an unconditional recommendation in technical terms, again assuming that things continue to be going this way as we have seen them going in the last year and a half, on the pace and on the depth of reforms, especially with a focus on delivering concrete results. Then it will be for the European Council to take its decision, but again enlargement policy is based on assessment, merit-based, somehow technical assessment – this technical assessment is for the Commission to make and it has been made and the results are positive.

I think that today we have very good news, not only for Albania but also for the region. Obviously it is not necessarily a gift because work can be very hard and will be very hard. But again, I think Albania is very much aware of what reforming and changing deeply a country means, because you have been doing so and it is about continuing doing more.

The image I have – I don’t know the right terminology in English and I don’t know whether you would allow me to express it in Italian and, if they want in Albania, I have to study Albanian – the image I have is that of a starting grid of Formula 1, now the traffic lights are green and then the race starts. But this is very important. The race starts now. I know that there were a lot of talks here about frontrunners, non-frontrunners. We had in the last couple of years, two countries of the region negotiating. Now the lights are green also for two other countries of the region to start running.

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Since Federica concluded with the Ferrari, I’m going to start with the Mercedes. Germany is not a sceptical country to the EU enlargement, rather, Germany is a champion nation of the United Europe project and for years now, the German Chancellor is at the forefront of a process where, not accidentally, she has also assumed leadership to announce a new relation with the Western Balkans. So let’s clearly distinguish among things so that we do not get confused. In Germany and other countries as well there are individuals who are sceptical and forces that oppose the EU enlargement. A political force that has recently made it to the German parliament is a threat to the European project, but fortunately that party is not part of the governing coalition’s decision-making process. But even within the coalition itself there are individuals we already know for their close ties with the Democratic Party of Albania and who are regularly fed with the propaganda I mentioned above in my opening remarks. There are also individuals who came to Albania to campaign against us last June and this is of course something normal.

The most important thing however is that we present arguments since sound arguments only are valid in this process and it is also crucially important that succeed in explaining that on Saimir Tahiri’s case, the Assembly and the governing majority has strictly adhered to both spirit and the letter of whatever the Venice Commission has stipulated on the cases when a special parliamentary committee is asked to examine a request to arrest or consider other measures against a member of the parliament.

Secondly, we have clearly stated since the first day and, since you asked, I’d like to reiterate it today that we are waiting for the Prosecutor’s Office to come back and provide at least a single evidence, not ten of them, but just a single evidence and the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes is far from being a body that could be considered under influence of whomever from the ruling majority’s side, if we theoretically were to acknowledge speculation about the potential influence.

Third, I repeat, is the easiest thing to invent excuses and alibis and pseudo arguments to the fact that Albania has done one by one its homework and has already received a certificate from the Europe’s most merciless jury of exams, from the European Commission, which doesn’t present gifts, which has nothing to do with the feelings of generosity, but which examines the homework and their implementation one by one. Thus, in this aspect, we have done our duty. Now we are in the court of politics, interests, games, strings and so on and so for in a Europe that is not living its best moment in terms of the winds of enlargement. Saying all this, I assure you that Albania today is not what it was yesterday. And in my view, today we are not only ready, but today we enter a new, concrete phase of preparations to sit on the table of negotiations.

There will be definitely efforts to hinder, delay and block us not because of us but for many various reasons. We will overcome all of them. This is undisputable. The most important thing is that we have received a clear and direct test certificate. The political theories and acrobatics over “how”, “what”, “why” by others who seek to play the Commission’s role at a time when the Commission has its role determined, or others who will seek to intrude into certain moments over stories that have nothing to do with ours, are of course part of this world. But for sure, the traffic light is now green and we will take the race to its end with the support of Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and all these unmatchable teams we will overcome all difficulties and elements that may illegally emerge or disappear on our track.

-After being spoken about the Ferrari, the Mercedes, Peugeot, I would even probably lower the stake a bit, and I would like to ask Mr. Rama about the statement by French President Macron. Yesterday he stated that before thinking about its enlargement, the Union should seek to address its own internal problems. How do you view this statement by French President and what do you think France will ask from Albania in exchange of its support at the Council in June?

PM Edi Rama: Together with German Chancellor, President Macron is another champion of Europeanization and enlargement policy and this is a known fact. They are two great European personalities, who have been recently elected with a clear pro European agenda and have warded off anti-European waves in their electoral battles. So France, just like Germany, is not sceptical of enlargement. Prior to his election, President Macron has announced his idea about deepening a reform process of the European Union, an idea he reiterated in his yesterday’s speech and I absolutely agree with him. The European Union should usher in a new phase of reform, and I would like to quote, to deepen before it enlarges. Today is not the day we are asking to become EU members. Today we are asking to sit on the table and negotiate membership and what I would add to what President Macron said is that we move ahead in parallel as we deepen in the negotiations process and Europe reforms itself as two forces that meet each other when the enlargement day comes.

We are not discussing it today. Today we are discussing negotiating. Let’s not forget that Serbia and Montenegro are negotiating in the Balkans and it would be absolutely unacceptable not to include Albania and Macedonia in the negotiations process after the yesterday’s recommendation, without taking into account the fact that as the enlargement package and the yesterday’s Progress Report note that Albania is seen as a role model for enlargement in the region when it comes to the justice system reform. We are talking about countries already negotiating and very soon we will see that both Belgrade and Podgorica will be also asked to deliver on vetting. Of course the friends who are here today, and not us as a model for success, will ask the two countries to endorse vetting. So I don’t see any problems in the sense that a whole country could be sceptical. The problem lies with the fact that there are internal dynamics which are now part of the whole and this is normal, this is the Europe’s real life.

We now hold the certificate in our hand and we will knock door after door to tell we have nothing to do with your problems and such problems should not be transferred to us. Let’s not forget that next year we will be holding local election and let’s not forget that process has been delayed, not only in Albania’s case, but also for other countries, asking first for elections to complete. This is the real world. We are not heading to paradise; we are heading to a better place that is the European Union.

What ultimately matters is what Federica emphasized and we have clearly stated on the first page of our 2013 electoral program. To us, the European integration is a journey within the country, to build the European Albania right here, because the reforms and homework we deliver are not a process we have embarked on to please Brussels, or because we are asked by foreign forces to do so. We are doing it because these are the instruments to build new Albania, modern Albania, an Albania with an European judiciary, an Albania with European public administration, an Albania with an European Police and European services. We also do it for the negotiations and I agree with Lulzim Basha, because the negotiations add pressure on the country and the government to do things better and take a launched process to the end.

So this is for us and today we are in another position. We now face the real political life of Europe, because we enter as a factor that may delight many and disturb others, whereas many see the country as a scapegoat to play politics for their own interests. This is the real life!

-Mrs. Mogherini, as you mentioned, Albania’s constructive role in the region is praised. The report also praises Albania’s foreign policy alignment with that of the European Union. Do you think this is a criterion for Albania to receive a positive assessment in June and open the negotiations, considering that several countries which are already negotiating neglect this approach?

Federica Mogherini: First of all, let me say that I never heard the word “merciless” related to my work. That is also a learning exercise and you are right. I do not take it personally. Just to say, to stress the fact that yes, you can call it “merit-based,” you can call it “strict”: this is the exercise that has been done and indeed it has been strict, merciless – you can call it however you want – but based on clear criteria and based on very strict technical assessment.

An indeed, the decision we took yesterday, to give a positive recommendation, is an extremely important step in a process, a process that has not started yesterday, because otherwise you would not have got here, and it is not finishing tomorrow. I think it is clear to all the countries that have joined the European Union that this is not about ticking boxes. This is about transforming dynamics in society, which is much more difficult to do than answering a questionnaire. It is a real transformation process.

On the regional dynamics and on bilateral relations, it is indeed a very important element in not only the assessment that the [European] Commission produces, but also in the political decisions that the Council takes, because you know the Council decides at unanimity. Let me say that it is extremely important, in particular in the Western Balkans, because of geographical reasons, not only for historical reasons. For me this is not even an issue of enlargement. This is an issue of the re-unification of a continent. The region is bordering the European Union, it is surrounded by European Union Member States.

So it is about re-uniting a continent therefore this is why it is so important to put a lot of effort and good will and compromise attitude as well on solving bilateral issues that are open. And let me here commend the work that has been done and is currently under way in particular with Greece, that I think is extremely important, extremely positive, and that I encourage completely. And I hope that this can be finalised as soon as possible. But regardless of the enlargement process, obviously this has its relevance also for that, I really believe that having the courage and the wisdom and the pragmatism of solving issues of the past in a constructive manner is the best way to pave a brighter future for our respective countries and our common Europe. And in particular for a country like this that is so young, let me stress how relevant this is.

Let me also say a word on the debate on the future of Europe. I said it already yesterday in Strasbourg. I was in the hemicycle listening to the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron, an excellent speech on why we need our Union, and how we risk to forget it from time to time. Let me say that seen from outside, seen from here, you perfectly well remember why we need our European Union. And this is also and added–value of this process we have in common that seeing ourselves from your eyes we realise much better what we have and what is the value of what we have and what we risk to lose.  But I think it is good that the debate about the future of the European Union in institutional terms – how to function better at 28, or 27 tomorrow – can go together in parallel, step by step, with the process of the reunification of the continent. I have always said, it is no mystery: my personal view is that the future of the European Union will not be at 27, it will be at more than 27, because we are negotiating with some countries and are ready to negotiate with some others. So it is a serious issue – the one that President [of France, Emmanuel] Macron has put on the table: how the European Union can reform itself to function better already now at 28, or tomorrow at 27, or tomorrow at 30 or more.

And I have also said something a bit unconventional yesterday in Strasbourg, I have no problem with repeating it here: even considering a two-speed Europe, no-one can guarantee that those that are currently members of the European Union would automatically be in the “first circle of speed” and the new Member States of the future would be automatically in the “second circle of speed”. It might well be that some Member States – if we ever get to an option like that – that are today Member States would have a different role and some future Member States might decide to do more and faster – going back to the Formula 1 comparison.

Probably, three or four years ago nobody would have imagined that the United Kingdom, a well-established Member State of the European Union, would have been out, so the important thing is that we keep focused on the will of our people, the will of your people in this case, the future of the country, the future of the region and – I go back to this – the “maintaining and deepening” the reforms you have started and delivering on the results of that. And I think it is like a bicycle, you do not stand still. If you stand still, you fall. You need to go. And going and keep on going is where we got, which is quite a good place.