Published on: 12 February 2018

Speech of Minister Bushati at the EU – Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee meeting in Tirana (SAPC)

Dear colleagues,

I would like to express my pleasure for being in this committee, which is held at a crucial moment in this decisive year for relations between Albania and the European Union.

It would be difficult to talk about the stage and progress of our relations without mentioning the European Commission's Enlargement Strategy published earlier this week. The content of this document attests the attention towards the Western Balkans and provides a list of measures for the transformation of all countries in the region.

We welcome the assessment and readiness of the Commission to start membership talks with Albania and consider it a sign of recognition for the progress in the country, and as a confirmation of the need to move forward in this regard. We believe that this Commission's assessment will be supported unanimously by the EU Member States as a sustainable investment for the irreversible reform process in Albania and the democratic stability of the region.

We also believe that in this way the European Union will be able to strengthen its engagement in the region and demonstrate strategic clarity to thoroughly transform this part of Europe. The Global Security Strategy, introduced by the EU's High Representative in July 2016, underlined the strategic importance of the Western Balkans region for the European security architecture. The Enlargement Strategy confirms this message.

European Union’s return of attention towards the enlargement process, by emphasizing the importance of the credible prospect of membership for the Western Balkans, is the right message in this moment. It is a valuable investment for the further rapprochement of the region and contributes in creating a positive atmosphere for a common interest that has the underlying commitment of the Western Balkans to develop in peace and security and to prosper by becoming part of the prosperous European zone.

In December, Prime Minister Rama paid a visit to Brussels where he met with all heads of European institutions and discussed the stage of reforms in Albania aiming to accelerate the European integration process of Albania. The common message transmitted by all of our European partners was that Albania is making progress with reforms that bring the country closer to the EU and to the ambitions European dream.

Specifically, they welcome our major engagement, both in the radical reform of the justice system, as well as in the fight against narcotics, organized crime and corruption.

Parliament, despite the fiery debates and resistance shown by certain political segments, had a substantial role in fulfilling key reforms. In the first months of the new legislature, we managed to adopt by consensus a number of acts related to the constitutionalization, financing and functioning of the vetting institutions, as well as the very important law on national minorities.

The forthcoming period will be decisive for Albania. In the spirit and commitment of the Enlargement Strategy, we expect that the European Commission report, in addition to identifying the progress and reforms to be undertaken, clearly projects the start of membership talks. Such an assessment would create the necessary atmosphere and trust between the Member States for decision-making and setting a date to this process.

The opening of negotiations is just the beginning of an even bigger, more difficult, and more complex job. It is actually the opening of the largest site in which the country has ever engaged itself. The efforts made so far give us the confidence that we have reached a substantial amount of engagement in this path and the advancement of the process, the ongoing reforms and concrete achievements will provide Albania a clear sense of direction. Engagement in the negotiation process would provide clarity and credibility for the process not only to the involved actors, government and institutions, but throughout the Albanian society. The negotiating process would further enhance the role and impact of the EU, mainly as regards the pace and extent of reforms, accelerate Albania's progress and fortify our irreversible European commitment.

Reform in the justice system illustrates better than any other reform the impact of the European integration process. It is enough to take a look behind in order to conclude that in a relatively short period of time, this reform was put in a safe track.

The implementation of the key element of judicial reform has begun, which is the re-evaluation of about 800 judges and prosecutors, starting with the highest courts. The process is based on three essential criteria that include background, proficiency and assets assessment. Noteworthy is the fact that some of the judges of the higher instances have resigned by refusing to undergo the vetting process, which means that the reform has already started to be fruitful.

Allow me say a few words about relations with the countries of the region, with whom Albania has strengthened its engagement and contribution. We are currently involved in an intensive dialogue process with Greece, aiming to address issues with a certain historical importance, as well as topical issues of the present.

We have enriched the tradition of intergovernmental meetings with Macedonia, as with Kosovo. We will do the same thing with Montenegro in spring, as well. We are strengthening regional cooperation through the implementation of the Action Plan on the creation of the Regional Economic Zone. The Western Balkans Fund and RYCO, the two newest organizations, are fully functional and have started concrete projects.

In this context, we appreciate the importance that the Enlargement Strategy devotes to the candidate countries’ foreign policy alignment with that of the European Union, an area which testifies the seriousness and continuity of Albania's foreign policy.

Dear colleagues,

Our dedication to the reform agenda is solely a reaffirmation of the strategic clarity and determination that the country has in its Euro-Atlantic orientation.

We encourage our European partners to closely monitor the progress that Albania has made and is still making in order to move together towards a clear perspective of European integration. Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude for your so-far support and hope for your comprehension and help to open a new page in our relations shortly.

Thank you!

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