The President of the Republic of Albania, H. E. Mr. Ilir Meta
The Western Balkans: How to Overcome Obstacles on the Road towards the EU.
WASHINGTON, D.C. on February 6th, 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here as people who share faith in God, as friends who share mutual trust, as strategic partners who share a common vision for a solid Trans-Atlantic future.
The end of the Cold-War followed by the US-led NATO military interventions in the Balkans catalyzed the prevailing US and EU dominance in the region, deflating any other attempt to position as a rival alternative.
The design of European and Euro-Atlantic processes for South East Europe was the biggest strategic investment of the United States and the European Union.
Both the US and EU saved us from becoming the Middle East of Europe.
Inter-ethnic conflicts, reckless destructive politics, and blood-stained history were duly replaced by regional cooperation, reliable leadership and European and Trans-Atlantic values, laying the foundations for the region’s safe, secure and prosperous future.
While much is being taken for granted, we must remind ourselves of the great progress that has been achieved in this course.
The European frontier has been further extended with new EU members, including Croatia.
Montenegro and Serbia are forerunning the accession negotiations, followed by Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia in the door-step of opening accession talks.
Kosovo and Bosnia and Hercegovina are on track, although moving at a slower pace.
EU integration is both a process of peace and a process of democracy.
Building functional institutions, market economies and modern societies that respect and promote human rights, based on common European values and standards, are at the core of the processes in each of the 6 countries of Western Balkans.
To that I would add two other vitally important policies that, in my view, should shape the European future of the Western Balkans.
First, keeping an open eye to security challenges, and second, bringing more substantial European investments to the region.
European policies designed for the Western Balkans should strengthen security, institutions and our economies; be implementable, transparent and aim at increasing citizens’ trust; fully aligned with European values and standards.
The EU must not error compromising this orientation; rather maintain its focus to the fundamentals of our respective processes.
The young generation who lives in the virtual world of Facebook and Instagram is daily fed with dreams of a European prosperous future, free from ghosts of past conflicts.
This is a fact, and an asset we must make best use of.
I want to note that the parallel advance of the NATO membership trajectory has been key, not only to further strengthening security in our region but also to overcoming gaps created by European vacuum at times.
In the past years, we have witnessed how Montenegro’s accession to NATO, and the latest Prespa Agreement now sealed between Republic of North Macedonia and Greece, have synergized new optimism in our region.
The only border change for which we must work night and day in our region, is the full extension of the European frontier in the Western Balkans!
With that in mind, Albania’s and Macedonia’s aspirations to open accession negotiations, and catch up with front-runners remain as intense as ever before.
I would also like to see the wise and bold EU decision to implement the visa-free regime for Kosovo’s citizens as soon as possible, and in general a fast track accession process for the whole region.
These expectations do not translate into automatic accession.
We are aware that the process of deep transformation is still on-going, and that we must not lose faith.
We understand the difficulties the EU is going through.
Yet, we stand in solidarity with our partners, and against any gambling of our common European future.
I want to highlight the crucial role that Germany has played insofar to overshadow the European fatigue, by a more focused approach towards the Western Balkans through the Berlin Process.
The latter was never designed as a substitute to enlargement, rather as a triggering mechanism for more substantial European investments and cooperation in our region.
I hope that more serious European investors bring their capital to strategic sectors in our economies, with the guarantee of enjoying priority and full support, while in turn helping us stop the depopulation of our countries.
The history of the EU has shown that the Western construction has successfully survived all tests against different challenges surfacing since the end of the Cold War.
Enlargement and deepening have happened hand in hand, regardless of doubts or hesitations that have always been present.