Distinguished Mr. Speaker of the Assembly,
Distinguished Excellencies Ambassadors,
Madame Chair of the Parliamentary Committee of Foreign Policy,
Members of the Assembly
Friends and guests,
If we would have to watch in a movie archive more than 20 years of Albania’s journey from a bloody isolation towards a functional democracy, we would see that in every sequel of a much-expected development or a bitter occurrence we find the presence of inseparable international friends and partners.
It is enough to rewind the sequel of the stairs of this building to watch the Prime Minister Blair coming up to support Kosovo’s liberation war, the President Bush who descends to convey Kosovo’s Independence hour; Chancellor Vranitzky with his endless back and forths between the nearby hotel and the President’s Office at the other side of the boulevard, in an effort to find the reason lost amidst the smoke of 1997, or Prime Minister Prodi while coming back from the ruins of pyramids in Vlora to pave the way to the Italian Cooperation; the Secretary Clinton to greet Albanians on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Albanian State, other authorities of big and smaller states, good neighbours and old friends in further geographic distances.
But, these sequels of a movie archive that is rich with the supportive presence of Albania’s friends and partners are testimonies of another truth that only make us grateful.
That truth is that along the years of a difficult freedom, this country has been fortunate to find inside representatives of the outside democratic world we are striving to integrate into, ambassadors of larger and smaller countries, who were emotionally involved with the fates of the Albanian people or even those of the ordinary citizens of this country.
From William Ryerson to John Withers, the United States not only were a supporting force, but also a great defender of the democratic aspirations of the Albanians.
From Hans Blankenberg to Henk Van den Dool, a small country like the Netherlands has always been close to the communities in their endeavour for local democracy or has supported the victims of social discrimination in their utterly unequal fight against the prejudice of the traditional or political patriarchalism.
From Carola Holtkemper and others in a row, who have advocated the need for an economic rule of law in the country, to release in favour of the Albanian people immense development potentials that have been held hostage by the laws of the corrupt and clientelist jungle.
All these attentive passers-by, who have left their imprint in the turbulent life of this country, deserve all our gratitude that is not only directed to them, but also to the world of the values and principles embodied by the societies they represented in Albania with much dignity.
As an Albanian citizen who has lived and experienced intensively these two extraordinary decades of successes and failures, as one of the 140 freely elected representatives in elections that, finally, put an end to the era of rigged votes and court-fabricated results; as the Prime Minister of a country which, for the second time after 1992 voted not simply to switch ruling parties, but to restore the power to the citizens, I welcome you wholeheartedly in this room, which we are inaugurating today as renewed, both in form and essence, in a sign of respect for the architectural values such space entails and for the guests of this building whom we shall receive as they deserve.
I would like, first and foremost, to thank you sincerely for any assistance, either large or small, you have provided to Albania throughout these years in terms of your stands, human know-how or financial resources.
I obviously am thankful for all your good hours in our hardest days along these 20 years that have passed so quickly, but that often appeared to be never-ending, and, in particular, I would like to thank those amongst you who never ceased to believe in Albanians as being part of the European family, even when Albania did not show itself before the world as worthy of the dreams, hopes and values of its people.
I have taken this office fully aware of the reasons why the Alliance for the European Albania received one million votes in these elections, which make a strong call for the entire Albanian political class and for the government, first of all, to draw lessons from the past, to restore Albanians’ faith in politics, the law, to build a new model of governance and communication and, hence, represent them with dignity in the world and restore Albania to the normalcy of the world we so much long to integrate into.
We want to integrate into the European Union. But, to us, Albania is no train driving towards Europe, rather than a natural part of it. Europe is a destination within us that we can reach not merely by approximating our laws to those of the European Union, but, mainly, by making law implementation an integral part of our co-existence in Albania.
More Europe does not imply less United States for Albania. Equally so, NATO membership implies that the country should be governed with the awareness that we are not simply part of the largest world military organization today. It means that, at the same time, we are members of a coalition of values and principles for the sake of which we not only are ready to risk lives of people in war fronts around the world, but also to fight on a daily basis to develop the democratic life of our country in a qualitative way.
I have no illusions! European integration is quite easy in words, but extremely difficult to be done. It becomes even more difficult when it is only in words and grows to be impossible where such words do not match actions, as it, unfortunately, has been the case these last years. However, I do agree at one point with my predecessor when he said that Albania does not ask for what it does not deserve.
To that, I would like to add that we will do everything possible to deserve what we are asking from the European Union: the candidate status and opening of membership talks.
The elections of 23 June fulfilled another fundamental condition that had not yet been met before. Albanians did their best in the most spectacular way that day.
We do understand though everyone who wants to see their new government in action, before raising the hand in approval at the European Council.
That sounds perfectly normal if you think how fed up our European friends are with years of undelivered promises and good laws that are not implemented.
The new Government has but only 20 days in at work and today is my full second day in the office, following my visits in Brussels and New York.
The fight against corruption and organized crime, its depth and efficiency, shall be our permanent test until the day we will achieve EU membership. However, we are already in motion and the effects in this direction will be increasingly evident, day by day, and in the upcoming months.
There is a saying of our people that there is an immense distance between words and deeds. The process to overcome this distance from the Albania which had just emerged from the communist bunker of 1990s to Albania sitting around the table of the European family has started since long. The progress marked in these two decades in terms of cooperation with member countries, the European Parliament and, obviously, with the European Commission itself is significant.
On the other hand, though, such cooperation still remains a “tough love” as the distinguished Danish ambassador, Karsten Ankjar Jensen, used to say.
There’s a lot to say about a “tough love”, but one thing is certain that the truths told among parties are bitter indeed.
That related to corruption and organized crime is one of them in this long “tough love” between you, the Europeans of the European Union and us, Europeans living at the heart of the United Europe.
A “tough love”, nonetheless, is a love where disclosed truths boost the strength for cooperation.
It is our intention to intensify the cooperation that has now reached a new stage with the expressed willingness of the parties, that is, Albania and the United States, to establish joint investigative units and support the General Prosecutor’s Office in the fight against corruption.
Additionally, the beginning of joint projects with the EU, like PAMECA 4, or the establishment of border points or even twinning in the fight against corruption and organized crimes, have been announced.
In the meantime, we will organize an International Anti-corruption Conference by November and I am extremely pleased to share with you the cooperation we have started with both EBRD and IDLO not only in relation to the conference in question, but also for an innovative anti-corruption project.
Allow me to share with you my belief that the weapon of justice in the fight on corruption is irreplaceable, but to the core of this very fight is the State modernization, democratization of the economy and institutions, the efficiency and transparency of the services delivered to the citizens.
Corruption grows into an epidemic not only where justice is weak, but, first and foremost, where the state is anemic and powerless to meet the demands of its citizens and respond to the corruption itself.
In a country that is unjustly governed, where the clans and clientelism, kinship and entourage rule, the path of seeking justice in the doors of the judiciary is quite illusory for the unprotected majority.
That is why we are prepared to undertake deep reforms that are not only written on paper and have the determination to build day by day a new anticorruption-governing culture as a mindset and way of action.
In this tough love, the bitter truth of the uncertainty generated by crime is the other face of the medal of the uncertainty caused by corruption.
We understand all your painful criticism and even the unjustified falls in the international rankings on corruption and criminality, which has been progressively the case in last the years.
Likewise, we highly appreciate the relentless support of each of you who have invested yourselves in the area of security and, in particular, Italy and Great Britain.
With the full conviction that it is unforgivable for an Albanian government to misuse or weaken the effects of any partnership benefitting the people due to its own incompetence, I want to assure you that with this new Government you will find the desired partner for each programme and project, regardless of their size.
Our strategic allies, the United States of America and the European Union, do not only ask from us to have good laws and convincing words, but also results, and we will keep speaking the language of such results.
We have a new government, young in age and full of talent and ambitions, with an enviable gender balance compared to the past but also to the region. For that we have not only received your well-deserved compliments, which we humbly thank you for, but also a special appreciation from the World Bank that has included us in its innovative results-oriented governance project.
Together with Tony Blair, whose great guidance enabled the left to emerge from the ideological trenches of the last century and drove them to the result-oriented governance, and the World Bank President Jim Kim, we agreed on the establishment of a Delivery Unit in this building, which is a special unit to turn priorities into results.
That was one of the most inspiring and encouraging moments of the visit of our delegation in the United States.
During this visit we also had the chance to assist in an extraordinary moment for the diplomacy and international cooperation in these turbulent times for the world, which was the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 2118, For the Elimination of Syria Chemical Weapons.
John Kerry would say that diplomacy is so powerful as “to defuse the worst weapons of war.”
Our stand on Assad’s regime and the mass killing of the people in Syria is well-known and identical to that of the United States and, as I assured President Obama, we will always be side by side with them.
We are very small a people to determine the fate of anyone but ours in this great world, but our fate, in turn, is such a great matter for us that could not keep us from being alongside the United States with our small contribution.
Without the United States by the side of Albanians in their just war for the freedom and independence of Kosovo, we would not have had the distinguished representative of the State of Kosovo with us today, as part of the diplomatic corps accredited in Albania.
Without the United States and the other great NATO allies who stood by the right side of the history and fought in favour of Albanian’s historical right, we would not have been witnesses of a new history of peace and stability in the region nowadays.
But without reaching at this point, we couldn’t have not have witnessed the greatest evidence of a simple and long-standing truth that the armed fight for the liberation of Kosovo people from Belgrade’s barbarian region would not only bring the freedom and self-determination of the Albanians in Kosovo, but also a much more sustainable peace for the region.
Thanks to the historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia and the leadership of both Prime Ministers, Thaci and Dacic, our region has turned a new page in its history.
The common challenge for us altogether in Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade, Podgorica, Skopje, Sarajevo and, obviously, in Zagreb and Brussels alike is to fill this area of peace with the substance of a regional economic and social development.
The Brdo initiative, through which France undertakes its visionary and historically important commitment to the peace and stability in the region, constitutes a meaningful move in reading it not merely as a challenge for the Balkans, but for Europe as a whole.
Highlighting the European prospects of the Balkans for a Europe that cannot be built without having the region as an integral part, the President François Hollande has determined at best the range of the challenge that lies before the region and Brussels, as well.
While there is no doubt that there are forces which live on the maps produced in the places that manufacture the nationalism of a past that is far gone each day more, there are also forces and voices which outside the Balkans borders are afraid of any changes of its internal borders.
The former, we should not forget; the latter, we should help so that they forget.
Not forgetting the former, means to integrate the region amongst us, through common paths of development and integrate ourselves by moving faster towards the European Union.
By helping the second group to forget would mean for us to prove through new ways of regional cooperation and development that borders are not walls to be demolished but invisible lines through which people, ideas and goods move freely.
However, we, the Europeans of the Balkans who are still outside the doors of the European Union cannot accomplish the first or the second on our own, as such peace is so large that it cannot stand only by relying on the internal social and economic force of the region.
In the course of the regional cooperation in the Balkans, we highly appreciate the Chinese initiative to advance economic cooperation with the countries of South East Europe in the framework of the cooperation with the European Union. This is a unique initiative that provides an exceptional opportunity which we will do our best to translate into concrete results, both for Albania and the region.
We are seriously preparing not only within the country but also with others in the region to adopt a more attractive approach within this initiative that is very promising for the economic growth of Albania and the region itself.
As part of our governance for growth, a central component of the South East Europe 2020 Strategy, one of our strategic priorities is to start a new era of the Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
Quite obviously, this priority is inextricably linked with the immediate measures to stop the financial ruin of the country, which is in the grip of a crisis that must be urgently halted.
Let us be frank in this room from which many imaginary successes have been propagated that neither Albania is the second most sustainable economy after Germany, nor the Government of Albania can continue to tell both Albanians and internationals to look at the finger while it is pointing to the moon.
Albania is currently faced with a deep economic crisis and Albanians do not to need the sweet honey of lies, but to take the bitter pills of the truths, just like in a “tough love”.
Those who love Albania and are looking for economic growth, employment, a truthful and sustainable development would have to face the blatant truth.
The economy has been trapped by a major slump that has led to State budget that is practically empty; that keeps the entrepreneurship and the business within a chain of debts the State owes to the companies, either as unpaid liabilities, or as non-refunded VAT, or in the form of other arrears, with the scariest among them belonging to the energy sector. The banking sector is also trapped, with banks that have cash but can no longer lend under the conditions where the non-performing loans have reached a rate of 25%.
However, we are neither hopeless, nor lacking opportunities to stop this disaster and enable the economy to overcome this situation and follow on the path of growth.
On the contrary, each crisis makes an opportunity to emerge stronger, and I am convinced that we shall not let such a chance pass us by.
As we speak, intensive consultations with the Bank of Albania Governor, a group of international highest ranking experts and experts of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are underway.
We shall start consultations with the domestic and foreign business in Albania, as well and in line with our commitment we will establish quite shortly the National Economic Council. This body will operate on a regular basis as an institution of dialogue for the economic and financial strategy of the country between the Government, the business, banks, international financial institutions and a representation of our distinct international expertise.
Soon, an International Auditing of the country’s finances will start, in order for us to have an objective picture of a situation that we found worse than we expected, but which probably is even more exacerbated than we read it at this very early stage of governance.
Thus, we shall move towards the next year draft budget and will pave the way for the economy to return to a normal state sooner rather than later.
Even our diplomatic service, which will go through a rationalizing reform aimed at enabling it to meet the strategic priorities of our foreign policy, will be at the inherent service of the economic development of the country.
The commendable work that has been done within TAP framework by the previous Government will be further advanced by the new Government, with the aim of ensuring that it has an extension passing through Kosovo.
While mentioning this important detail of the strategic cooperation with Kosovo in the area of energy, I feel as an obligation to reflect before Germany over the non-dignified action of the Albanian State in relation to the Kosovo interconnection line.
The project that was funded by the German KfW bank took a dark and intolerable path.
Germany is the number one donor in our country and plays a unique role in many areas with a direct impact not only on the economy but also on the consolidation of democracy.
The German presence in the region is a key to the building of the regional well-being and the new Government is determined to respond to the sensitivities of our partners, particularly so in terms of the rule of law and transparency in all areas.
I fully understand the disappointment and the persisting demand for economic security for foreign investments from our partners and I assure all of you that we will be strongly determined to impose the rule of law in economy.
Much more had to be done to deserve Germany’s support for the project of Kosovo interconnection line.
Such a bitter occurrence and lesson of the past lies ahead of us now, not only so that we refrain from repeating the same, but also that recover most efficiently the lost time and restore the undermined respect.
Actually, the near past teaches us that we should be conscious in every step of our foreign policy and domestic initiatives not only to every equation of the domestic policy, but also of the responsibility we have towards our international friends and partners.
Part of that responsibility involves our foreign policy, as well, with steps already taken clearly towards building a strategic partnership with Italy, Turkey and Greece, which are three countries that have ancient historical, cultural, political and economic connections with our country.
It is because of such connections, of the permanent mutual interest that has always existed between us, the key position each holds in the Mediterranean basin and due to our common Euro-Atlantic sensitivities and responsibilities that I believe that the strategic collaboration within this foreign policy triangle will induce a new dynamics of security, development and cooperation in the Balkans and beyond.
In this whole range of opportunities created by such a vigorous foreign policy we stand with Kosovo that is a key partner and a source of inspiration for ourselves and the region, not only for the way how it has addressed issues like that of the security or minorities, following very painful experiences, but, in particular, for the maturity it showed in the accord with Serbia.
We cannot but look to a common future in the European Union, side by side with the United States of America and the European Union, who are crucial, permanent and irreplaceable partners of Albania.
These are allies who even with their ambassadors have given Albania precious friends, like Ambassador Sequi and Ambassador Arvizu, who make impressive examples of the way how they have forged cooperation with our country, through that “tough love” which will be stored in our memory and theirs as a unique experience.
In the last days of office of the Ambassador Arvizu in our country, I would like to seize this opportunity to give him special greetings, full of respect and gratitude as a citizen and, now, as the Prime Minister of my country.
I would like to thank him for everything he has done with intellectual honesty and through a friendly and professional commitment to Albania and Albanians from his first day of office.
I would like to thank him, though, not only for the very good days we have had together, but also for the tough hours between us in which he did not keep to himself his opinions that differed from mine.
I am truly convinced that it is in those hours that real friendships take their solid form for life.
I recall having read the memories of a diplomat of the early 1990s where he wrote about how happy he was to have managed to not to fall into the whole left by Stalin monument here at the Albanian Capital in one of those wintery nights with no electricity.
He thought that in addition to the sarcasm by his colleagues, that kind of fall would have earned him headlines with the local newspapers, saying “Foreign Diplomat Looking for the Past.”
Anyone who has passed by this part has certainly an anecdote to remember, even though it has been a long time now and Stalin’s monument seems as if it never was part of “Deshmoret e Kombit” Boulevard.
Equally certain is also the fact that any of you is the most reliable witness that Albania is country not only worth visiting, but also worth trusting and that, throughout these years, it has a lot to tell about contributions that today, more than of past histories, speak of what Thomas Jefferson says are much more likable, the dreams of the future.
Hence, thank you for everything you and your countries do for the dreams of the future of this country, as part of a world where now and forever the well-being of everyone is interdependent with that of the other and everybody’s peace is interlinked with that of the other.
14 October 2021At International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism