2 October 2018 Remarks of President Meta at the public event hosted by CEPA (Center for European Political Analyses)
CEPA: “Centre for European Policy Analysis” and Jhu’s Krieger Institute of Johns Hopkins University
Dear Professor Mark Stout,
Dear Ambassador Reka Szemerkenyi,
It is my pleasure and unique opportunity to address your audience today at John Hopkins University organized by the respected US Centre for European Policy Analysis with the hope to highlight some important developments which concern Albania and indeed the region nowadays.
I would like to recognize your Center as a leading US policy analysis making for Europe and to use this opportunity to greet some of your members, such as Secretary Albright, Karl Bilt, Januzs Bugajski and many more whom I have known from many years.
Insight in the Balkans
To give an insight on the Balkans is always a challenging business.
When talking about the Balkans, you should surely refer to the present, but also never miss the context of its past.
The insight with the Balkans starts with one key sentence, which I don’t see that often any more: the Balkans is an unfinished business.
With three on-going important regional developments, and open NATO and EU integration processes, the Balkans remains still an unfinished business.
Let me briefly note that the most remarkable highlights in this region in the post-cold war era were:
NATO’s presence, the European perspective offered to the region and the commitment for a regional cooperation among the countries.
I want to emphasize the fact that NATO’s intervention and particularly US and later EU involvement was vital then, as it is as relevant now.
It was this decisive and determined involvement that saved the Balkans from becoming the Middle East of Europe.
The security architecture was backed up by the European integration processes, to fully and resolutely anchor this region to the western values and standards.
As these processes advanced, the Albanians emerged as a stabilizing factor in the region, while living in 5 states and in contiguous territories.
Following Kosova’s independence, the region has changed its mosaic;
the Albanians in Macedonia became a constituent factor; in Montenegro they have been indispensable key factor for the country to maintain pro- NATO and European track;
Let me underline that the Albanian factor has been and continues to be a vital catalyst to having the NATO and EU border extended in this region, as NATO and EU remain the basis of stability in the Western Balkans.
As the region is entering its consolidation phase – with Croatia, Albania, Montenegro as NATO countries, and hopefully soon also Macedonia – with Croatia as an EU member, and Serbia and Montenegro negotiating accession chapters, to be followed hopefully soon by Albania and Macedonia; on-going Stabilization and Association agreements and respective processes with Kosova and Bosnia and Herzegovina – and the EU-led dialogue between Kosova and Serbia entering the final phase – additional efforts and attention is needed to complete the unfinished business in the Balkans.
I find that the recent proposal to open a new debate on what would constitute the final agreement on the normalization of relations between Kosova and Serbia is wasted time, at its best, and a key to Pandora’s Box, at its worst.
Opening such debate at a time of red-flag alerts posted by both USA and EU on the involvement of third actors trying to undermine the stability and security in the region makes it even more alarming.
Let me recap that Kosova gained its independence because of the uncompromised intervention of NATO in response to Milosevic genocide.
So first there was genocide and war, and then there was the Ahtisaari Package that paved the way to the independence.
Kosova was soon recognized by most of the UN members, including 23/28 EU member states, and by its neighbors, except Serbia.
Kosova is a member of a number of regional and international organizations.
It has its own stabilization and association process with the EU.
It enjoys its legitimacy as recognized by the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice.
In its advisory opinion upon Serbia’s request, the International Court of Justice clearly stated that Kosova’s independence is in the Accordance with the international law.
Thus it was more than just a legitimate political act; it was the right legal act.
It was this opinion in 2010 which led to the establishment of the EU-led dialogue between Kosova and Serbia in 2011.
The purpose of this dialogue was to facilitate the normalization of relations between the two states, on the lines of this reality; not to undo it; not to alter it.
This agreement has to respect the values and principles of the European Union, to break away from the past and to embody positive energy encouraging the interethnic co-existence and harmony.
It would be unimaginable that this dialogue produces an agreement that alters borders along ethnic lines, blowing against the whole concept of the EU as we know it.
Borders are not a matter of map lining; it takes a computer to do that.
It is a matter of peoples and their daily lives, of their property, of their history, of memories of the past and the graves, of their pride.
Border changing agreements are not a matter of drafting; they are a matter of implementing.
The referendum result in Macedonia should be a wakening signal that even the best possible agreements, with clear and huge international support are not easy to implement in a complex context.
I hope that this agreement will find its way through the Macedonian Parliament, and open Macedonia’s doors to NATO and EU.
I also appreciate the fact that those who voted were clearly supporting this path voting in favor to this agreement.
In turn, NATO, the EU and the United States should continue their support for Macedonia, ensuring the success of a long-term investment to the stability of the country and of the region.
When saying all this, I am realistic in recognizing the fact that the Balkans is neither the most important region, nor the hottest spot in the world.
But it is the region where the west, NATO, the USA and the EU have made the most historic political, military and economic investment after the 1990’s.
If the West will not be able to bring to fulfillment this strategic project in its own neighborhood, then how can it maintain its influence and leverage in other regions further south or further east.
For our countries in the Balkans, regional cooperation is the key to heal the wounds of the past conflicts and it is the only way to face the challenges of the future.
The European integration path has been a driving force for our countries in the region to embrace democratization processes and enjoying a long-lasting economic prosperity.
We are aware that just peace and stability is not enough to meet the expectations of our citizens.
We are facing serious challenges in particular to youth immigration and youth employment.
In that respect, we need to do more to attract foreign investments in our region through concrete strategic projects in energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, tourism and services.
Trans Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP) is one of the most important geostrategic projects in the field of energy for the whole region and beyond. This investment just in Albania surpasses 1 billion $.
Part of the Southern Gas Corridor, bringing the gas from Shah Deniz (Caspian Sea) – Azerbaijan, through Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy – aiming Italian and European market, this project will not only diversify the supply of gas for the whole Europe but it will make it less dependent on Russian gas.
Ionian Adriatic Gas Pipeline is another example of regional economic cooperation on energy area.
The project has just finished the feasibility study and will engage investment financing from Albania, Montenegro and Croatia to bring the gas from Croatia down to Albania and vice versa – linking with TAP.
Being a modest market of roughly 20 million consumers, we cannot afford to compete among ourselves for attracting big multinationals, rather we need to create the synergy for a regional approach to FDI, harmonizing trade practices and developing the key potential labor intensive sectors.
Despite the general increase in volume of trade and investments still the region has not reached the potential of FDIs.
This is the only alternative to create our “small EU” within our countries for the sake of our citizens.
In many ways Albania has been a flagship country in fostering regional cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
In recent years the Albanian Government has organized joint meetings with the neighboring governments and has signed several agreements on boosting trade and mutual investments.
We have at times undertaken unilateral positive steps and initiatives to facilitate such cooperation.
The last two decades have marked a breakthrough in this regard. Numerous regional initiatives and liberalized policies to facilitate movement of peoples and goods in our area are testimonies to such cooperation.
The countries in our region (including Albania) are part of CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement) which is instrumental to our EU integration path. Since then the economic and trade ties are strengthened in the region.
Although we don’t agree or share the same views on particular issues, regional cooperation has never been frozen, but has moved forward.
The EU has been instrumental in boosting this cooperation, through various mechanisms, the latest being the Berlin Process.
Whereas not a substitute to EU enlargement, the Berlin Process built a platform of intra-regional ambitious projects related to connectivity.
Combining local regional ownership and EU financial and political support the Berlin Process did create a new momentum of cooperation between and among our countries.
Within the Berlin Process, a strategic project that has been granted the green light is “The Blue Corridor” Highway, starting from Croatia all the way down to Albania, ending in cross-border with Greece.
The idea is to have an EU standard Highway that cuts short all route from Adriatic to Ionian cost line so that tourism, trade and economy in all our countries will be boosted.
One of the biggest challenges of our region is the illegal migration especially for the Mediterranean.
These phenomena requires a common and join effort to protect civilians, women and children but also a strong coordination for fighting the illegal migration, the drags trafficking and the international terrorism that risk the whole region and bring insecurity and instability in our countries.
Albania has joined immediately the Global Coalition against violent extremism and is contributing in the fight against ISIS/Da’esh.
Regional cooperation against terrorism, violent extremism, radicalism is a major challenge since the region is today a target of these influences that undermine security and stability.
Cooperation against illegal trafficking, transnational organized crime remains today challenges that require close and strong cooperation from all the countries in the region.
In the end, I want to make a final remark.
As I focused on pertinent security issues in the Balkans, we all agree that they are not the only challenges of this region.
Democracy, rule of law, market economy and human rights, and many more are areas where a lot more needs to be done.
In that respect, I think that all of our countries should focus more on domestic reforms facing the challenges we have. Before my trip to the United States I met with Pope Francis who gracefully shared with me his concern on what he called the “demographic winter of Europe”, a phenomenon that is affecting also our countries.
Pope Francis, most rightly, remembering his visit to Tirana, four years ago, told me that He saw many young people there, so do everything to prevent them for leaving the country.
And this is a major challenge for Albania, but also for the countries of the region, to discourage the departure of young people and to generate new opportunities for them, through better development policies, professional training, promotion of employment, and creation of well-paid job.
And most important is to give to young people the message of security for their future, which comes only through the strengthening of cooperation, good neighborhood, interethnic coexistence, and respect for minorities.