Albania and its European reality – by H.E. Mimoza Halimi, Ambassador of Albania to EU.

Albania is a country at the heart of Europe, that has never doubted its European vocation. Differently from the past, this is not a road imposed on us, but it is something we have consciously chosen. Albania has started its journey towards EU since 1991, after the fall of the communist regime. Today, when we look behind, we see that the integration path is not as easy as we perceived it more than 20 years ago, when our model was Europe and our slogan was «we want Albania like Europe». Certainly during these years progress has been achieved in advancing our aspiration towards European integration. Albania today is a NATO member, Albanian citizens are granted the right to move freely in Europe and the country has applied for membership to the EU, while continuing to play constructively in favour of stability and peace in the Balkans region. These steps make our journey to the EU irreversible.

Western Balkans is an unfinished business for the European Union. Joining the Western Balkans countries to the European Union will require a lot of efforts and actions from both sides, but it is a worthy and necessary process toward unifying Europe, which started with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The transformative power of Enlargement in the Balkans is immense. Membership of Croatia to the European Union, acceleration of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the start of SAA negotiations with Kosovo, the recommendation of the European Commission to grant Albania the candidate status, all these events clearly testifies, on one hand that at the end of the day reforms are rewarded, on the other hand that Member States, despite the difficult times they going through remain committed to make Western Balkans part of the big Family.

Albania considers the integration to the European Union a process, based on performance and merits and remains committed to fulfil all the requirements that this process offers. In April 2009, the Government of Albania submitted the application for the country to join the European Union, expressing this way the desire of Albanian people to become member this Organization at the right moment. Based on our performance, European Commission in its recently published Progress Report on Albania proposed that Albania be granted EU candidate status on the understanding that Albania continues to take action in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Albanian authorities considered the recommendation of the Commission as a recognition of the efforts and achievements of the Albanian society in the path of European integration, remaining confident that this progress will also be assessed by the Council in December. Beside this recognition, Albanian authorities are fully committed to undertake whatever concrete measure is needed, including in the field of fight against corruption and organised crime, to get the candidate status, as well as it remains determined to further advance the common agenda of all Albanians, by meeting all requirements identified in the progress report and in the recommendation of the European Commission in view of opening of accession negotiations. The political cooperation and the wide consensus for the European agenda remain key to advance the country in the European path.

The positive fact is that there is a high support amongst the Albanian population with regard to the European integration process, support that is reflected also in the political spectrum in Albania, where there is no anti-European political formation.

I would like to underline that joining European Union it is not perceived as an issue in itself. Because all reforms undertaken to get there, serve first and foremost to improve the daily life of Albanian people. Linking these reforms with the candidate status or opening of accession negotiations only testifies the transformative power that the EU and its enlargement policy has in our countries. By meeting all the membership criteria, at the end of this process, the country would have enormously changed to a stable democracy, Albanian citizens would enjoy comparable standards of living with those in other EU member states, industries and other sectors of economy will benefit from the new opportunities that the EU single market will offer, crossing borders with the countries in EU will become much smoother, with less hassle and time lost for both people and goods, etc.

One the other side, Albania can also offer its advantages to the European Union, one of the most important ones being the security, which fully matches our values. Albania has always played, and will continue to play a constructive role in the region, in favour of peace, stability and prosperity of our Peninsula. We consider regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations important pillars of our foreign policy, as well as preconditions for the European integration process of the region.

We have a certain level of cohesion in our country that is thanks to natural social solidarity. Albania represents a hospitable country, a tolerant society, where all official religious (Muslim, Orthodox and Catholics) live in peace all together. We have never had in the history of our nation religious conflicts. This is a tradition we want to share with everybody.

On concrete economic terms, despite the fact that Albania is a small economy, it has human and natural resources, which might be considered as good potential for the European Union.

We have a jung population, relatively well-educated and cheap labour force, enthusiastic, which are critical elements for productivity.

If we turn to natural resources, Albania has a rich supply of proven minerals resources. The mining industry has long been a key sector of the Albanian economy, and minerals exploited in the past, continued to be mined today, including chromites, copper, iron-nickel and coal. Albanian chromites are recognised as being among the finest in the world due to its high chrome to iron ratio. Albania offers also potential for investors in oil and gas.

Albania accounts for large unexploited hydropower water resources in the Balkan Peninsula. Albania produces 95% of its energy through hydropower, with only 35 % of the river potentials exploited so far. Having the comparative advantage of being rich in hydropower and other renewable energy resources, Albania is increasing its green energy generation capacities, upgrading its inner power distribution grid and inter-connection lines, which all ensure a reliable power supply for domestic use as well as potentials to export green energy to its neighbours and wider.

Green energy is important, but you are fully exposed and threatened by the weather conditions. Thus the only alternative is to increase our energy security by diversifying the energy mix and energy sources, which means the gasification of the country and the establishment of a gas market in Albania. In this context, we consider Trans Adriatic Pipeline an integral project for Albania and for the region as well, offering the possibility to be linked also with the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline, the Energy Community Gas Ring and be further extended to Kosovo. This project will turn Albania into a regional energy hub.

Albania has more than 70% of trade with EU countries, in absolute figures some 3.5 billion euro per year value trade Albani-EU Member States. These are not big figures but the closer the country gets to EU the greater the trade volumes are. And as we all realise, trade is translated in job places.

Last, but not least. In heart of the Mediterranean, with a coastline of almost 400 km on the Adriatic and Ionian seas, with a rich and diverse natural landscape from lonely beaches to high mountains, with resources to develop agriculture and agribusiness, with its cultural heritage and hospitable population, Albania has what it takes to develop tourism industry, being the entry point of Corridor VIII and part of Corridor X.

On its endeavours to become member of European Union family, Albania highly appreciates the realistic evaluations and recommendations of the European Commission, the continuous support of the European Parliament, as well as the commitment of the Member States to continue with the Enlargement project, as a power of positive transformations for our country, and the region wide.

Receiving the candidate status for Albania will be not only a confirmation of the progress that the country has achieved, a recognition of the responsibility of the Government to continue vigorously the process of reforms, but it will also be a positive and encouraging signal for other countries in the Balkans to undertake whatever is needed to make the European project a reality and the region a better place for all of us.

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