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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Address by President Barroso to the Albanian Parliament
Address to the Albanian Parliament
Tirana, 30 June 2014
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Mr Prime Minister, distinguished Ministers,
Honourable Members of the Albanian Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the government, the parliament and the people of Albania for your kind welcome to this beautiful capital city.
Albania’s journey over the past years has been remarkable, under difficult circumstances. You have made clear progress on your European path.
It is a particular honour to address you only a few days after the EU Council's landmark decision to grant Albania the status of candidate country for accession to the European Union, a decision that the EU Commission which I lead had proposed and argued for. I am very pleased that I can share this great moment with you.
This decision turns an important page in Albania’s history and will certainly initiate a promising new phase. We expect that it will give additional impetus to Albania's reform agenda and to further progress on your European path.
This decision also shows that the European perspective of the countries of South Eastern Europe is not just a paper exercise. It is real. The EU's commitment to this perspective remains firm. EU enlargement remains high on the agenda. And we stick to our promises when our partners make progress.
The rightful aspiration of so many nations to become members of the European Union has been part and parcel of our common, quest to consolidate democracy, foster stability and achieve prosperity together.
And this has always been a genuine free choice. The Member States have freely agreed to share a community based on law, and to build the biggest internal market in the world. No country has been forced to join or stay against the collective will of its citizens.
On this sound basis of free consent, countries that once fought devastating wars against each other now form a close Union, built on common values and shared principles: peace and reconciliation, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, of human dignity and shared prosperity, tolerance and justice.
This Union is ever stronger – especially in what was probably the biggest economic crises we ever faced together. So the doomsayers, the Cassandras of Europe were wrong!
Successive EU enlargements have extended this area of peace, stability and democracy across the European continent. Integration and gradual enlargement have always gone together. Having lived under a dictatorship in my native Portugal for the first eighteen years of my life, I directly experienced the hope the European aspiration offered my country, and how it helped to anchor democracy, transform our economy and open our society - as it did in Spain and in Greece.
Then ten years ago, we have helped to reunite East and West after decades of artificial separation. But this reunification process is not over. It is not complete without the countries of South Eastern Europe becoming part of the European Union, too.
From Tirana to Podgorica, from Sarajevo to Skopje, from Belgrade to Pristina, people see the European Union as a beacon of hope and better politics at home. We will not let them down in their aspirations.
Their future, your future, lies in the European Union, and our commitment to this European perspective is unwavering. Pacta sunt servanda - that is key for our power of attraction, for Europe's magnetism, for our credibility.
And we are all aware that a clear and credible European perspective can be a crucial game changer for the better, as illustrated by the truly historical agreement between Belgrade and Pristina last year, but also by the reform efforts and the progress of others.
That said, enlargement is of course no self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not a one-way street. It requires political vision, courage and hard work. There are always issues and major challenges to be addressed. In other words, preparations for EU membership are certainly tough. But – and I can say that after leading the Commission for ten years: these efforts are also worth it.
They are tough because real and deep reforms are needed for joining the European Union. This is a question of credibility, and our stepwise conditionality is a guarantor of credibility. Let's not forget: It takes two to tango, and European citizens have to know that once you join the European Union this means that you are indeed fully ready to do so and take on all obligations of membership.
Meeting these challenges are a demanding task requiring determination, vision and responsibility. And as Members of Parliament you have a key role to play in this process.
Preparations for EU membership are also worth it because embracing the European acquis and joining the European Union will bring a real change in every Albanian citizen's daily life. You are not pursuing reforms to please us. You are doing this for your citizens, for yourselves!
For instance: A more efficient, independent and accountable judiciary and public administration will positively impact on the daily life of all Albanians, and will create more favourable conditions for investment and economic growth.
The application of European Standards will deliver major improvements not only as regards protection of human rights, the fight against corruption and sound financial management, but also in areas such as social protection, food safety and the environment.
Economic reforms, hard as they are, will also contribute to consolidate macroeconomic, fiscal and financial stability in your country. And structural reforms will help to create the conditions for sustainable economic growth, competitiveness and job creation.
In this regard, let me recognize Albania's strong commitment to economic reforms, including the agreement with the IMF. This is a solid basis for enhancing economic governance and will contribute to boosting business confidence and re-launching credit to the economy. You can be sure that the European Commission will cooperate closely with the International Financial Institutions to complement their assistance and to provide enhanced policy and financial support.
I also welcome your firm commitment to regional cooperation, not least because increased regional free trade is a key driver of economic growth. The consolidation and expansion of trade within the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), where Albania plays a very active role s, makes the region more attractive to foreign and domestic investors who now perceive it as an economic area.
All of this demonstrates: Domestic and regional reforms and progress on the European path go hand in hand. One would not work without the other.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I think this also illustrates that "Europe" is not a distant, theoretical concept. "Europe" is not the European institutions in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg. Europe is us, each of us.
The reality is that in order to succeed, European integration needs to be an inclusive process and a national objective uniting not only politicians but also the entire Albanian society.
Albania's integration into our Union has to be a project of each and every one of you; a project for an entire generation.
Each and every one of you can make a difference in your country's journey towards EU membership and contribute to driving positive change. That is one of the key lessons of previous enlargements; domestic consensus across party-political lines, across all sectors of society, is vital.
As we all know, Parliaments play a central role in democratic life. This is where all the ideas and interests of a nation are represented. In this House, important discussions take place, strategic decisions are taken, the democratic oversight of the government is exercised. As a former Parliamentarian in Portugal, I appreciate and applaud your role.
I highly value the democratic debate. It is in our Union's DNA, a Union underpinned by a culture of cooperation and compromise. Constructive dialogue, consensus and mutual respect are key values on which the European Union is founded, and we expect them to be filled with life in our candidate countries, too.
I also know by experience that fostering a vibrant democracy means a lot of hard work and an unwavering commitment to a long-term vision. The European success story itself has not been a simple, self-fulfilling development either. It is the result of clear vision and steady determination of our Founding Fathers. And of hard work from European nations and European institutions ever since. This is about "le courage de chaque jour", the "courage one must show every day", as one my predecessors as Commission President François-Xavier Ortoli used to say.
I therefore strongly encourage you to work in this European spirit and keep true to the Resolution of this House on EU integration, which was unanimously adopted in November 2013. Because it sends the right signal on your willingness to find proper political consensus on Albania's EU agenda, and to ensure that each and every commitment taken will indeed be implemented.
Albanian citizens also deserve clarity. They need to clearly understand what the European Union is about, what the country needs to do to become part of it, and what the political leaders of the country are doing to take the country forward.
In this respect I welcome the ongoing work to establish a National Council for European Integration as a wide consultation mechanism which would help to consolidate the nationwide consensus on EU integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am fully aware that the final destination of the EU integration process is surely the most rewarding prize. So keep the eye on that prize! But I also know from my own experience that each new step on this path is also worth the journey.
The European Commission will continue to walk alongside with you on this path with expertise and financial support and above all with friendship and commitment to write together with the people of Albania their European future, and the next chapters in your grand history.
Thank you for your attention.