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Statement by President's von der Leyen on the occasion of her official visit to Albania

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 28 september 2021.

Thank you very much Prime Minister, dear Edi,

I come, indeed, as a friend and as a partner. And I could not have chosen a better start for my tour through the Western Balkans than here in Albania and starting with inaugurating the Korb Muça Kindergarten and here the school - fantastic. It was impressive to see, to have a look at the children over there, the boys playing basketball, the girls with the volleyball but also the class with the chemistry. I wish I could have sent my children to such a fantastic school - really, really amazing. And I really want to thank all those, the team here, that have made that possible. And to keep now the school up and running, without you that would not have been possible. So many, many thanks for that. This is amazing.

And it is a very beautiful symbol for our friendship and the enduring cooperation between Albania and the European Union, and of our common future. We have seen the future. We have seen the children, the boys and girls. And let me be very clear, Albania's future is in the European Union. We are friends and partners. And as you have said, Edi, we want to have this work together. The European Commission and me, myself, we stand firmly behind the commitment.

Albania has clearly delivered all that we have been asking for. And I know you have come a long way. That was a difficult process. You put an enormous effort in it. You were successful. You are successful. So I really commend you on that. And now it is us who have to deliver. We are starting the first Intergovernmental Conference, I am aware of that. So we are working hard on our side, and I think we owe it to all these young people who believe in a European future, who see themselves, of course, as Europeans in their lives. And let me congratulate you on the election of Tirana as the European Youth Capital in 2022. Indeed, youth is our greatest wealth and youth will be the driving force for our common future.

In many ways, this common future has already started, not only here with kindergarten and school, but of course working very closely together on our main and common priorities, ensuring a lasting recovery from the pandemic. So there are two main pillars we are working right now intensively on together: One is vaccination and overcoming the pandemic. And the other one is of course strengthening the economic recovery.

So to the first topic, vaccination: Here, too, Team Europe stands by your side. We had a difficult start in the European Union, with our friends in the Western Balkans. We know that. But we were able to overcome this difficult start. Team Europe donated over 450,000 doses to Albania. And let me assure you, we have discussed that in our bilateral, more will come. We know that vaccination saves lives. It protects you and it protects your beloved ones. And it is vaccination that we need. Not only the vaccines, but vaccinations will help us to overcome the pandemic. So we also need to boost the vaccination rate. It is a topic in the European Union. It is a topic in the Western Balkans. Trust matters, facts matter, science is clear - I just wanted to offer that we can help you to boost your information campaign, to share knowledge, to create trust, to build trust. And the EU funding could be used for those purposes too, if you wish so.

Finally, on the pandemic topic, I want to congratulate you that Albania has just recently joined the EU COVID Certificate, the platform. This is good news because it will of course facilitate safe travel between the European Union and Albania. So when you are fully vaccinated with an EMA-approved vaccine, the only thing you need is the QR code, and no restriction, travel is free to both sides. That is a big step forward.

On the recovery: Indeed, here we are investing significantly to address the emergency of the crisis, right now. We mobilised EUR 3.3 billion to support the region. Albania has received EUR 230 million in grants and financing to help you deal with the consequences of the pandemic, as we did it in the European Union where we injected a lot of liquidity into the economy just to overcome the difficulties of the pandemic. So you know the topics, it is from vital medical supplies to wider regional economic recovery packages.

But now it is also important to look forward in the future. And we must look at the investments that will ensure a lasting recovery, a strong economy. And it is not only about money, it is also about, again, finding a partnership of equals.

Because like in the European Union, Albanian citizens, and especially Albanian youth, deserve a greener, more sustainable and more digital future that we are working on. And they deserve good quality, well-paid jobs. That is the aim we have together and that is what our economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans is all about. You know the basis, we have put EUR 9 billion on the table. And important is for us - and that works very well - that you design, you propose the quality, the mature projects that are needed, so that together we can then leverage up to EUR 20 billion more in investment. That is our goal, we have started already this year. This year, the plan has already made available EUR 500 million. And I am very pleased to announce that we will propose an additional EUR 600 million still for this year. So let us make this plan a success, a joint success with the right projects.

We are working hand in hand - and I really thank you for the excellent cooperation - to identify those good projects that create jobs and that connect the region. For example, for Albania - Edi, if I may quote that - this includes the rehabilitation of the railway line linking Tirana to Durrës with Podgorica and also the rehabilitation of the Fierza hydropower plant, just to name a few of many other very interesting projects you have designed, you have identified and you are bringing forward.

The economic and investment plan indeed will create jobs and will create growth in the region, but it is also crucial to support the integration within the region. So all six partners must move forward quickly on the common regional market. And thank you very much for emphasising the importance of the Berlin Process. I stand fully behind the Berlin Process. I commend you on the steps forward. There is more to do and you have partners at your side. You know that - the two of us have been discussing that many times - indeed, it is important now to implement, to step forward, to create this momentum, so that we have a success on the plan.

I say that because the speedier the process, the speedier the EU accession process too. Because, as I said, Albania belongs in the European Union. And there is no question about it. I fully support moving forward on the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible. You have described the difficulties. But trust me, I really am determined to make it happen, that we have our first Intergovernmental Conference, so that we can start the accession talks. You know that - the two of us have been discussing that - we are working hard on it and you can rely on me. I really want to bring this process forward, so that we can start before the end of the year. That is the goal.

You mentioned another topic, indeed that the region needs cooperation and reconciliation. You have done a lot on that topic. The current rising tensions between Kosovo and Serbia is very concerning, is worrying. It is essential to lower the tension and to return to the dialogue. The European Union, too, was built on dialogue, initially. And it was built initially on economic development. And this led to understanding of both sides, this led to healing wounds and this led finally to reconciliation. This is a long process. And this is a process that leads to a peaceful and thriving future. That is what we want to achieve.

So to conclude, Prime Minister, dear Edi, I want to commend Albania on the progress it is making with the judicial reform. Here too, we are often looking forward in the future, but we should not forget what has been done in the past, the long way you have come. I want to commend you on your progress in the fight against organised crime, with new anti-corruption structures. It has been a great success and I know you are working now on the fight against money laundering and on the remaining by-laws on minority rights. Consolidating this track record in an area of fundamental reforms is crucial, and I really welcome the consistent work on it.

Now, let me say, Prime Minister, that I am looking forward to seeing you indeed next week at our EU-Western Balkans Summit in Slovenia. There too, we will together chart the course of our common future. And as a future member of the European Union, I also want you, I want Albania, to fully take part in the Conference on the Future of Europe because we need to hear from the people of Albania.

Thank you so much.


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