Published on : 24 August 2017

Economic diplomacy, a new era for our foreign service

Prime Minister Edi Rama's speech at the meeting with the ambassadors and consuls of Albania around the world, on "Our Foreign Service’s new role in the Economy of our Country":

 

Dear minister,

Dear Ambassadors and Consuls General!

I asked for this special meeting because I want to discuss a topic of special importance, a topic that hasn’t been dealt with throughout the years of transition of the Albanian Foreign Service, and unfortunately during the last 4 years either: The role of Foreign Service in the Albanian economy.

This is undoubtedly a topic with quite complex issues which require a profound reflection, a fine analysis of views and opinions, a complete project and a well-articulated plan of actions and measures.

Today, I can only start off an indispensable and unceasing source of discussion and consultation that this department should take immediately and onward on this major topic.

I want to start by making one thing very clear, according to me. Undoubtedly, the responsibility for the 27-year dramatic lack of a foreign service, in relation to the country's economy, falls on many factors and on many actors. To properly understand this unjustified absence for a country like ours, and in fact for no country nowadays, a serious analysis of all of its reasons needs to be done.

But the first reason is a traditionally totally peripheral attention, not to say a missing one, of the foreign ministry's political leadership to economic diplomacy, and that's the first thing that needs to be changed immediately, and it must absolutely change.

While preparing for this meeting, I remembered that a similar one was held by former PM Fatos Nano about 15 years ago. He raised the voice with your colleagues, perhaps even with any of you who could have been present at that meeting, for the same reason, for the same dramatic lack that has brought me here today. But nothing has changed. And whether or not any similar attempt has been made by his successor and predecessor in this assignment – I don’t know this – nothing has changed so far. So, this story of speeches gone with the wind, must not be repeated anymore, and I will make sure that this doesn’t happen.

The country's economy is an area that the Foreign Ministry can no longer consider beyond its functional responsibilities and obligations.

Of course, I’m not washing my hands here in front of you with regard to this responsibility, and I believe it is clear that I am the first one, as Prime Minister, to bear responsibility for such a weakness inherited over many years, but not addressed at all during our first term.

It cannot be so and will not be so anymore! The turn must and will be taken, and the responsibility for taking this turn will be fully taken and borne also by each and every one of you in this room, of course to the extent that this concerns you.

The work of the future chief of the Albanian diplomacy in the new government mandate, will be measured and evaluated each year, first and foremost, with "how" and "how much" the role of Foreign Service in our country's economy will improve. Your work will also be measured and assessed primarily on the basis of the real contributions you give in this regard.

I am convinced that there is in this hall full understanding of the necessity of a radically new approach. In the aspect, I believe, we have here all the abilities to cope with this not easy challenge with dignity and efficiently.  

On the other hand, I am also convinced that no one here or outside these walls, could not give a fact or a figure that could justify the existence of our foreign service in relation to our country's economy, if they were asked about how much the Albanian diplomacy has really affected the growth of trade exchanges or investments in this country.

As for the other question, how much has our diplomacy been able to live up to the demands of the country's economic and financial reality in a context of foreign relations with a reality that evolves more and more rapidly and imposes fundamental changes in our way of thinking and action, - I will answer on behalf of all of you: Zero!

These core questions are obviously very simple to answer today, but changing the content of these answers is far from being a simple job. Clarity, dedication, discipline and definitely a completely different level of organization and coordination between the Foreign Service, this ministry and other ministries and development agencies in the country are needed.

All of you must be convinced that I am aware of the commitment and the great volume of work that our foreign service faces. I appreciate the improved quality of service, especially of the public service, consular service, where corruption, anxiety and the excruciating stress of our compatriots outside the homeland have been significantly reduced.

Certainly there is still much to do until this sensitive part of our public service switches completely online, but there is no argument that the path is right and the results are quite encouraging. I know the undeniable contribution of this service as a whole, nor would I deny any individual contribution of each of you within the service.

Also, I am very much aware of the challenges that the service has faced over the years, as well as of the obvious shortcomings that are still present in some aspects of its functioning, and of your daily life either in the offices or in your apartments outside homeland.

It is out of discussion that we, the government should do more to guarantee dignified opportunities and conditions in your work and livelihood. Therefore, I have asked our experts to present me some scenarios of increasing the financial contribution for you, from the next year's budget. It is about time to narrow the still high difference at a level of ambassadors' salaries around us and the region, not to mention Europe, including Kosovo itself. I am very determined to have it zeroed within this mandate.

But, all this said, after putting everything in balance, I want my word today to reflect faithfully a truth that we must look at with courage and honesty as it is, bitter and cold.

Over the 4 years of this closing mandate, I find it very difficult to recall the last time I met in my office economic operators, entrepreneurs or business representatives brought or encouraged by you, to come and see if or how they can do business in Albania.

I have asked myself and I ask you today, very openly: How is it possible that you have been so sluggish and haven’t felt the urgency of the need to find the right mechanisms to build platforms, design formulas, sketch the necessary paths, so that our reality, this country that is changing every month and every week, is reflected with the proper dexterity, constant engagement, the ability and the necessary habits outside our borders, where they know us a bit, they do not know us at all, or even worse, they know us for bad?

I cannot justify this inherited gap for so many years, but as I said, in this regard we’ve done a wild goose chase even during the four years of the term we are closing.

I cannot agree with the lack of interest or simply of curiosity of our special messengers around the world to learn from the experiences and successful practices applied by others. And not just of more developed countries and highly consolidated realities, but also of some close to us. And I cannot get over the lack of ideas, proposals or just concerns on your part.

Times have radically changed. Geopolitics has accelerated and is accelerating every day and everywhere around us. The continent we live in is troubled. Globalization has affected, even broken, early balances, accelerating the establishment of new and often seemingly threatening balances.

But whether the new risks or the new opportunities require a new approach. They require new efforts and solutions. They require specific and courageous solutions, while our country and our society have increasing demands, legitimate and every day bigger, more persistent, demands towards everyone, of course, towards the government in the first place, and demands everywhere in every area, but of course this applies among the very first ranks of our diplomacy and our foreign service, because this area covers a part of our people and nation that is far greater outside than inside.

The transformation we have started is epochal, but the gap with where we should be is abysmal, and consequently and naturally also the responsibilities of anyone who is paid by taxpayers today, my responsibilities, the responsibilities of senior political representatives, your responsibilities as high state representatives outside the homeland are bigger today than yesterday; tomorrow they will be bigger than they are today, and the burden of responsibility for increasing these responsibilities is much more intense than it was a few years ago. There is no need to say this, I believe. It is well known that our diplomacy will continue to do that part of its work that it can do better, to protect our national interests with clarity and perseverance as we have done so far. To observe and apply all the protocols, rules, codes of classical diplomacy without any hesitation and also the new commitments we take. It will continue to work to strengthen our relations and positions in the region and to pursue with all its energies the major European integration process.

But this is not enough! How can it be enough for us? We are neither a great state with inevitable global responsibility, nor a small state with international problems. We cannot justify the existence of the Foreign Service within a daily routine that begins and ends with the thick lines of international political relations.

In my view, this kind of treadmill still resembles a time when this country was still isolated and would elucidate the whole world. We need a great overturn through a new approach, a much more dynamic engagement. A renewed will and energy in the view of country’s development rather than just formal representation of the country outside the borders. We need creativity and pragmatism, qualities that for 1001 reasons are today sleepy or absent at all.

People call you "Your Excellency", as required by your position and imposed by the respect for the representatives of a nation. It is a great honour and an extraordinary responsibility for anyone who can climb to your heights. But do you live up to the position where this society and this state have put you, with all your honour and responsibility?

Are you aware of how long Albanians have to wait for you, and I say this without making random words associations, to shine in what you do, represent them at their best, justify the height of your position, and deal successfully with such a big responsibility?

Do you ask yourself how much has not been done compared with what could be done by you and each of your representations, for a constantly-changing small country like Albania, but with the most diverse and most exigent needs, with a urgent need to regain lost time, develop and progress at a speed that is ruthless because of the context in which the world, classical diplomacy let's call it so, is developing today, - in my opinion ours is not a classic one but rather atavistic – it cannot be an option with which we can agree, neither for four more years nor for another four months.

Consequently, I believe we fully agree that our present commitments and responsibilities cannot be achieved with a verbal note per day, justifying the salary with a press statement, or by considering more than enough a dry reporting on a peripheral meeting without any profit, waiting for a phone call.

There can be no place in the diplomacy of a 21st-century European country for bureaucrats that fail to penetrate naturally into society and relevant structures in the countries they serve, to whom doors are not opened because they don’t know how to knock, or don’t have the required culture to articulate words even in the mother tongue, let alone in a foreign language and culture.

I am convinced that if you were to free your tongue from diplomatic shackles, you would have much to say about many of the bureaucrats you work with in your representations.

We do not need plenipotentiary envoys on the paper, neither diplomats who are exhausted when they wake up, and rested when they go to sleep. We do not need individuals who are unable to understand the political and social trends of the countries where they serve, and translate them according to our interests, and who are even unaware of the fact that this can be part of their duties.

For the sake of truth, there has been quite a cleaning this 4 years from all sorts of catapulted parasites in our representations for various reasons, except for the reason to serve with dignity the country. But we still have diplomats, delinquents and parasites, for whom I urge you ambassadors to raise your voice in your communications with the political leadership of the ministry.

The Albania we want, the one we are building and designing today, needs at all levels, let alone to the ranks of foreign service, people who want and know how to speak, behave, respect and be respected, know how to make precious friends, decide and expand contact with the world, find the right ways at any moment and opportunity to promote the country and the name of the Albanian people in a positive way. 

A clever and as usually cynical mind when it comes to the people of diplomacy, has described diplomacy as "the patriotic art of lying for the sake of the country".

Actually, that's not what I'm looking for, neither what we aim at, to sell a false image, but we all have the right to say that we have to present our best through our foreign service, rather than create illusions.

It was a fake mastery of dictatorship, and it is usually of dictatorships, and this country has tried it and there is no reason to be tempted to go back, but let us seek that through the representation of our best, we create bridges and new spaces of communication with the world on a continuous basis, new relationships and connections with people and entrepreneurs and communities beyond our borders.

What we need as soon as possible, is that we must be maximally active, organized and professional to put the country and its advantages, potentials, opportunities, our working and development plans, our concrete projects for today and tomorrow, our natural wealth and our cultural and spiritual heritage before all the eyes interested or curious of foreigners as a magnet to help the country, the economy and the welfare of our people.

Immediately after the announcement of the new government on Sunday, I will ask the minister of the new mandate to hold a three-day meeting with all of you, somewhere here in Albania, to launch an open, wide-ranging and deep discussion in view of the role that the foreign service will immediately undertake in the country's economy to draft a new project of economic diplomacy, and to design for each representation in accordance with the framework and overall quality of relations and with the respective specifics of course, realistic but ambitious and measurable targets that will require maximum engagement to continue on your part, with a method and working style that is far different from now.

I want everything that relates and identifies with the so-called economic diplomacy, to be the central pillar of your daily activity and not an empty phrase or cover, tent, umbrella of activities that bring nothing. I will ask and wait every three months for a detailed, personalized overview of each representation, of the efforts that have been made, of the activities that are being organized or are being prepared, in a broad and expansive economic and commercial relationship. And how they are reflected in the volume of exchanges in business and investment opportunities, in the quality of political, economic and trade contacts and reports at all levels. Contacts with business operators, chambers of commerce, tour operators, analysis of models and practices of others should be a top priority on your agenda.

I’d ask you to start this effort by generously putting your whole experience at the disposal of a very serious discussion, all your accumulated competences over the years, and with intellectual honesty, in the best sense of the word, in order not to leave untold the things that are there and are not told, and that undoubtedly each one of you has listed in their mind.

I am convinced that if any of you were to come here to justify this situation from their position, would have indisputable and undisputed arguments. Well, these indisputable and uncontested arguments cannot justify us but they should help us to open the closed path of this transformation.

In order for you to carry out this major task you are being asked to carry out, it is important that each of you speaks his/her own mind about what the ministry, the government, the prime minister should do in your view, because this means putting the cornerstone of building this new path together. If you don’t do this, then an important part of the knowledge, experience, and information about the "why" of this huge backlog, remains unavailable to address the backlog.

You need to make it clear today, because it can help in preparing this broad discussion which, based on the quarterly statements, will decide whether the evaluation and the promotion or the dismissal from office of the ambassadors. Likewise, the annual balance sheet of this work will determine the further political support for your minister, or dismiss the minister from office. We can no longer accept as given for granted that part of the job that certainly has been well done, and we can no longer accept economic diplomacy as an optional tail in terms of the way our foreign service exists and acts.

The story of the speeches gone with the wind in all these years, teaches that one thing is certain, that we can neither expect only from the Foreign Service, nor can we simply ask only to the ministry and the foreign minister, this radical change in the approach of this ministry and this service in relation to the country's economy.

Because this is one of those radical turns that require a commitment of all the factors and governmental and non-governmental actors connected to the economy and the country's development paths. If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the foreign service, despite their best will, remain an isolated island due to lack of interaction and because they don’t take responsibility from other governmental actors, and don’t involve other government actors, definitely we are destined to fail. But how and how much the others should be involved, this is something that we need to understand first by doing the analysis of the shortcomings, and in this analysis you are the key with everything you have learned, everything you have seen and everything you have encountered as a barrier throughout these years of experience.  

I expect a preliminary and complete report from your three-day meeting, where you can recommend also everything we are talking about, in order to go further with an inter-ministerial group that in cooperation with actors and development factors of the country, with you, and why not, with veterans of the Albanian and the foreign affairs and foreign service, will finalize the national plan of the Albanian economic diplomacy for the next decade. And together include all those who have something to say and give in this process, to analyse and consider the legal, administrative, economic discretion of the Foreign Service, the promotion and support of projects, whether foreign investments or the country's own trade exchanges; privileged access, possible interventions and incentives indispensable for the foreign service, for the ambassadors themselves, according to the weight of organized initiatives and projects received; human resources needed for these purposes, reorganizations and possibly new structures inside and outside the country in view of these goals; the state coordinating authority of this approach, without question with the foreign minister at the helm but necessarily with a wider involvement of other governmental and non-governmental actors.

On the other hand, part of this topic, as important as this issue, is the cooperation with the Diaspora that leaves extremely much to be desired, with Diaspora organizations, with the new forces created in the Diaspora, in order to move forward not merely to further concretise the commitments of the first Diaspora Summit, but to make the reconciliation between the new time we live, the new forces in the field and our Foreign Service in view of the new Albania we want.

I want to inform you that in view of this fundamental aspect of this new approach, the new government will also have a state minister exclusively for Albanians outside the homeland.

The vote of Albanians outside the country is now an unavoidable obligation by an Albanian government. Inter-Albanian relations in the region require a much more focused and intensive attention from the highest level of government. So, in this respect, which is one of the most excellent aspects of the work of the Foreign Ministry in the past four years, the Foreign Ministry needs a very strong arm, a new force with full political power which stems directly from the prime minister's level.  

Also, the Albanian world of knowledge outside the borders has taken new dimensions, and our distance to that world of knowledge that is being developed - as we have been caught up with old contacts and relationships with some organizations which, with all due respect, are very few compared to this new world of the Albanian knowledge - should be narrowed every day, every month, every year.

Because the power of the Albanian Diaspora in support of the country's economic and social development, is an untapped potential which we cannot continue to treat as a beautiful landscape in a greetings card from afar, and cannot continue to live it as a relationship crowned in national festivals or in sporadic meetings of Albanian government representatives with Albanians abroad, which are very important but totally peripheral and fruitless meetings, considering the breadth of the Albanian knowledge today outside the borders. Establishing a central figure as a State Minister near the Prime Minister, helps, I believe, but is not enough, because our communication abroad, including that through the social network of embassies, consulates or even through direct media access or other forms of contact, is neither rich nor dynamic or attractive; it is an embarrassing communication. Whereas we are a small country, we are a small nation, and we do not have the luxury to be left out of sight and not try to involve any developed cell of the Albanian brain around the world. Every cell, let alone the other parts of this brain that are out of touch with Albania in the institutional sense and in the sense of co-operation, I'm not talking about their individual contacts and family relationships that are part of every individual's life.

This communication needs to change, and I am convinced that we will change it together and begin to change it in a relatively quick time, because we have no other way.

The other side of the coin is that we will pay special attention to the success stories of the ambassadors and find the right ways to highlight them, by building on them and replicating wherever possible. Just as, we will find the appropriate ways to specifically stimulate the commitment, creativity and results of each of you.

Those who have more results will receive more in every aspect, both financial and moral. An embassy that continues to live as a reception office rather than as a catalyst and as a generator of contacts, connections and ideas, and will continue to operate as such, has no reason to exist and will no longer exist.

Today, I won’t mention here examples because I consider that each of you is a knowledge mine in relation to what we want to do. And I want that we, because of each and every one of you, use every aspect of your knowledge for this transformation we want, which we cannot do either alone or with finding, as I am doing, neither with speeches and plans made outside the tangible reality of the Foreign Service work.

So, I won’t bring examples, but one thing is certain, if it was applied today with the same criterion, we would have here half of you in this hall, and so it will happen next year, if our embassies don’t justify the reason for their existence.

I will not accept the theories about the need for embassies that only spend money. While their spending can very well go to the embassies that spend little in relation to the energy they spend to do their job. 

The whole governance, ranging from the new government, will be built on the principle "More with less". This principle will apply to this ministry, both for the embassies and for our consulates. In a world where technology gives us unlimited opportunities, we do not have to add embassies. We should have to increase our contacts, and we must focus much more, more seriously, to give much more power, more dignity to the major embassies and to the consulates that bear the bigger weight.

And I am convinced that these embassies can cover much more and with much more efficiency, territories outside their current jurisdiction, if they are appropriately empowered from the financial point of view, from the standpoint of human resources and from the point of view of other instruments which you know far better than me how much they are lacking.

I believe you remember the famous motto of President Clinton's campaign in 1992 "It is the economy, stupid". If I synthesized today in a single sentence, this speech of mine with your jargon, it would be "It's all about the economy your Excellency!"

This is basically what you are being asked Your Excellencies, and I am expecting it to be furthered detailed in the coming weeks along with your superiors.

I’m looking forward to get acquainted with the report of your next three-day meeting, and I’m asking you to be generous in exchanging your knowledge and experience, and keep nothing for yourself no matter how bitter it is for us.

Being convinced that together we can open this new era for our foreign service, I thank you for your attention and assure you that everything I shared with you today does not diminish the weight, the importance and the value of what you have done until today.

From now on, the weight of things must be balanced, and hopefully you will be the driving force in this process. I wish you all the best and much success in this first year of our shared endeavour!

Thank you very much!

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