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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address on EU-Albania relations
Just BE Conference/ Tirana, Albania
25 March 2013
Dear Minister, Excellencies, Members of Parliament, Dear Friends,
Thank you for this opportunity, I like the way that we developed this interactive discussion among ourselves. At the beginning I´ll make six important comments about why are we having this conference and why now.
First, together with my colleagues in the European Commission we care about Albania and Albanian citizens. We are committed to assist them in delivering on their European aspirations and I will keep coming to Albania ready to fight the forces of nature – last time I was here the plane was hit twice by the lightning…
Second, this engagement with Albanians, with various stakeholders, should not only continue but it should be further strengthened and intensified, despite the fact that the political class focuses now on parliamentary elections. It is important to keep Europe on the top of the agenda together with other important issues, and not to have any of those issues put away at the expense of the other.
Three, we did not come to participate in pre-election campaign, we respect political parties, we will respect the choice of the citizens and I hope politicians here will respect it too: the choice of the citizens and the results of the forthcoming elections.
Four, this event is not just a series of lectures; this is indeed an attempt to communicate, to exchange the views on how to keep the focus on Europe, how to deliver on that European dream.
Five, it is an attempt to reach out not only to you but through the media also to many others in Albania and I am happy that at the end of the conference we will be able to enter cyberspace with our debate, launching the information portal of the EU Delegation in Tirana.
Six, I do not want to see this conference as ad hoc event, I see it as an attempt from our side to build a strong basis and even more active engagement after the elections because the time has come to deliver on a number of the requirements. The time has come for this country to become a candidate country. The time has come for the citizens of this country to benefit from opening of accession negotiations and to be part of the enlargement mainstream in the Western Balkans.
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence and it was a year in which we worked together intensively on issues of key importance for the country´s accession to the European Union.
Last December, the conclusions of the General Affairs Council sent out a perspective to Albania; they took account of its European Union-related achievements and showed the way towards its European integration future.
In 2013 our engagement with Albania has continued with determination on both sides.
As you well know, some difficulties have been encountered in moving ahead with European Union-related reforms but I am not going to dwell too much on those difficulties today because I have strong faith in Albania's capacity to resolve these issues and take the next key steps towards its European integration.
Today I would like to focus on wider issues of European Union integration, issues that are of major interest for business, civil society and the Albanian public.
State of the European Union
Let me start by making two remarks about the European Union of today.
First, it is a very different Union from the one that Albania applied to join in 2009 and it is continuing to change and change for the better. The deepening of integration that has been spurred on by the financial crisis has meant that the majority of Member States are working to put in place:
A European banking union with central European bank supervision;
A European fiscal union with stricter controls over national budgets and deficits;
A European economic union, with more joint decision making on economic and social policies;
Greater democratic control through a union that integrates further politically.
The Economic crisis is a global reality but the European Union has proved that far from being the cause, it is part of the solution. It is European Union structures that are reinforcing banks to survive the crisis. It is only through the European Union that our Member States can together take the big decisions on innovation, infrastructure and business competitiveness that will lead to economic growth.
Second, this deepening of integration is not just a solution to our internal problems – it also guarantees Europe's relevance in the world, a globalised world where size matters. That is why the interaction of the two policies that have accompanied the European Union from the outset, deepening integration and enlargement, is so important. As rising powers like China and India take a greater role in the world, together in a European Union of more than half a billion people, we count for more. Together, we can face the challenges of globalisation, financial crises and climate change to name but a few. Alone we count for less.
Benefits for Albania
It comes as no surprise to me that the overwhelming majority of the Albanian people see their future in the economically stronger, more deeply integrated European Union which I have just described.
European integration will bring stability and prosperity, enhanced and helped by financial assistance through the structural and cohesion funds, also opening the door for new business opportunities.
Full application of European Standards will deliver major improvements not only as regards protection of human rights, fight against corruption and sound financial management, but also in areas such as social protection, food safety and the environment, thus improving radically the quality of life of the people.
For the Albanian people, there will be many new opportunities to travel, study and work in the European Union.
The European Union is Albania’s main trade partner. 80% of Albania’s exports go to the European Union and 65% of its imports come from the European Union. Greater European integration means greater markets for Albanian products, stimulating innovation, entrepreneurship and diversification in the Albanian economy.
As I mentioned in my introduction, inside the European Union, and the Eurozone in particular, the economic crisis is leading us towards new mechanisms for economic coordination.
The Western Balkans are not part of this concerted co-ordination. But the dialogue will intensify in future in order to better introduce candidates and potential candidates to our economic policy mechanisms. Our economies are highly integrated and the crisis is having an impact on our neighbours with whom we have significant economic relations. The countries and the Commission need to work together so that economic repercussions do not negatively affect the accession process. By working together our efforts will be strengthened.
As future members, enlargement countries feature high on the list of partners with whom we engage in Europe 2020. The Commission is opening support through the instrument for pre-accession assistance from 2014 to 2020 for all candidates and potential candidates; we emphasise the Europe 2020 agenda in projects to be financed by this forthcoming instrument IPA II. The work has started to prepare our assistance and I wish to commend you for the true spirit of partnership and cooperation so far!
In addition, we believe that an important part of work on sustainable recovery can be done through regional cooperation. The countries, following a ministerial declaration in Tirana in November 2012, have started to design a regional mid-term strategy called 'South East Europe 2020' and have defined concrete targets in a number of priority areas. They include measures to increase regional trade flows and joint efforts to improve the business environment by promoting the rule of law.
Regional trade is a driver of economic growth. Albania is a case in point. Its trade in CEFTA grew by 30% in the last year. Foreign and domestic investors now perceive the region as an economic area. They tend to operate across several countries, but they can only expand if the infrastructure and logistics of the region are improved.
Progress under the regional strategy has a direct link with the European Union economic accession criteria. The expertise and awareness gathered through the regional fora can help you move forward on your track towards the European Union.
And let’s not forget that the promotion of strong democratic governance, the rule of law and ensuring respect for fundamental rights are key elements of the enlargement policy. These are important challenges, but which will bring concrete benefits to the Albanian society as a whole and will also play an important part in creating more favourable conditions for economic growth.
A more efficient, independent and accountable judiciary and public administration will positively impact on the daily life of the Albanian citizens and will contribute to develop a favourable climate for investment.
But just as Albania stands to benefit, it’s also up to you – all of you – to put your desire for European Union integration into action.
It's essential that Albania as a country - not just the government and the opposition, but the public, the businesses that provide jobs and create economic growth, the media, academics and civil society - all work together with this in mind.
European Union related reforms are investments in improving the lives of its citizens. Albania's entire process of European Union-related reforms needs to be sustainable, self-motivated and consensus-driven – for the good of all Albanian citizens.
The existing broad consensus in Albania on European Union integration also needs to be confirmed by action. Albania's goal of European Union integration needs to be mainstreamed in political programmes and agendas. This important goal should not fall victim to internal party politics. Cross-party consensus on and support to the EU agenda is key. This has been clearly the case in my country and more recently it has been the experience of Croatia, a country which is on the verge of joining the EU.
On this note, let me underline that it is the responsibility of all political parties, whether in government or in opposition, but also of the entire Albanian society to contribute to guarantee that the forthcoming elections reach a high level of democratic standards which doesn’t leave them open to being contested. By ensuring this, Albania will send a strong signal of maturity and commitment to democratic values and stability.
The Albanian public also needs to better understand what the European Union is about and - crucially - what the political leaders of the country need to do to take the country forward.
This is why I am launching today the European Union Delegations' portal – we want to bring the European Union closer to Albanian citizens so that your country can get closer to the European Union. The blog is intended to be a platform for all those who share the interest in Albania's European Union integration, a platform to exchange views and opinions, and I invite everybody to participate.
Regional stability and reconciliation
Excellencies, Members of Parliament, Dear Friends,
Keeping the European Union perspective in mind, good neighbourly relations are an essential part of a country's obligations and a key element for stability in the region.
The entire region needs to show vision and courage to put the past behind – and move towards a future that is clearly anchored within the European Union.
Addressing risks of instability in the Western Balkans is manifestly in our joint interest, given the legacy of war and division which has plagued this region. The enlargement process supports the advocates of reform in the region, further entrenching its post-war democratic transition.
It helps avoid the potentially far higher costs of dealing with the consequences of instability. In this context, I welcome Kosovo's full participation in the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), which was confirmed a month ago. Strengthening stability and democracy in south-east Europe is also an investment in deep and sustainable democracy in the European Union’s wider neighbourhood. Albania has a major role to play in this context.
2013 is a year full of opportunities for Albania and it is for Albania to make full use of them. The European Commission remains strongly committed to Albania's European perspective and stands ready to support Albania in this process.
Thank you for your attention.