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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article29 April 2022Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations3 min read

Remarks by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi at press conference with Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama

Cssr and Rama

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Dear Minister,

If it was to convince me why we need to link all the capitals of the Western Balkans with each other through highways and railways, to make me drive from Skopje to Tirana yesterday, then I think a lot of convincing has been already done. I am happy to tell you, you remember when we started designing the whole Economic and Investment Plan, that this is exactly the reason. 290 kilometers in almost five hours! We can do better than that, and we have to do better than that! Visiting Tirana today gave me already one very powerful message. The Economic and Investment plan is no longer a plan. The Economic and Investment Plan started to work.  Today I visited the university of Tirana where we see first projects that are coupling our priorities on education, energy efficiency and greening. The refurbishment of the dormitories for Albanian students in Tirana is ready, but we cannot start celebrating until we have to travel five hours from Skopje to Tirana.

We are supporting the idea of Corridor VIII to be included into the TEN-T projects. The Commission is convinced that there is no connectivity in the Western Balkans because the connection is missing between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. This [connection] will create new trade routes, new investments for sure.

We also discussed the Russian war in Ukraine. We agreed that this war must end immediately. We very highly appreciate, not only in Brussels, but I would say, in all of the capitals of the European Union, the role Albania is playing in this. Because Albania has not only been with us all the way and joining our decisions, but also, Albania was a true partner of ours. Therefore, I want to thank Albania, Prime Minister Rama for all the support and cooperation that we have seen, and we count on your continued engagement and support.

The other big topic [of our discussion] was: when do we have finally the first intergovernmental conference with North Macedonia and Albania? You have seen that I have been touring the Western Balkans this week. I have been in Sofia, Skopje, and now in Tirana. You may have seen some of the public messages I have made in Sofia, so I do not want to repeat myself. What I can tell is that we have to use the powers we have. It cannot be that we have a war in Europe and Europe is not using its powers to stabilize the Western Balkans. The whole enlargement and integration process is about the stability and security of the Western Balkans. It is through that process that we can not only see stability, but we can establish long-term stability in the Western Balkans. I give no time for anybody who is involved in this process, not to do what needs to be done and we all know what needs to be done. We need to get this decision off the table and quickly move on. If we are not making the decisions we can, it means we are surrendering the power that we have. I am working very close with our Bulgarian and Macedonian friends, and I do appreciate the patience of Albania and Prime Minister Rama. I ask a little bit more, because our goal is to get this done under the French Presidency. To get this done and to move on finally, to talk about the real question. Because the real question is not this document or that IGC or this negotiation or that meeting; the real issue is the membership, and we need to start to work for the membership and for the real integration on the ground. The real integration on the ground is not only about the process or not mainly about the process, but also about, how we change realities on the ground economically, socially, and how we effectively integrate Albania into the European Union. This is the task that we have, and we should not lose sight of this common engagement. This is the reason why I am telling you that I am happy to go to Sofia and Skopje every day, if that is what it takes. We have to agree and we have to get it done, now.