Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama at press point with Albanian journalists:
Prime Minister Edi Rama: Thank you for taking the trouble to accompany me during this trip and to respect you and all of those watching us, we created this special space for you and you are welcome to ask your questions.
–The Open Balkans cooperation initiative seems to have made progress each year. I would like to know whether a specific funding has been earmarked given that many individuals and structures have been involved in this process. Have the Western Balkan countries, part of the Open Balkans initiative, committed funds to support this process? Thank you!
PM Edi Rama: What is significant in this process is the fact that the entire process is not a matter of funding, but it is a matter of willingness and readiness to cut all the bureaucratic procedures and remove all the barriers that hamper the free movement of people, goods, capital and services, or otherwise known as non-tariff barriers. This is a good part of the process and therefore it is needless for us to commit funds, but it is imperative for us to mobilize all the human resources in the respective relevant administrations to deliver on merging all individual processes into a single one, which means providing the right conditions for any movement from point A to point B within this space of the Western Balkans takes place freely and unhindered among us as if moving throughout a single common space, as it is the case with the European Union citizens in their space.
– Aleksandar Vucic indirectly renewed the invitation to the countries that have yet to join the Open Balkans initiative, including Kosovo. Although a lot is being said about cooperation, it was most recently when the Kosovo boxing squad were denied entry into Serbia. How sincere sounds to you personally the invitation to Kosovo, considering the fact that such a cooperation being talked about at the conference is not actually happening on the ground. I would also like your comment and your expectations over the recent situation triggered in North Macedonia, although Mr. Dimitrov underlined that his country wouldn’t cancel its membership in the Western Balkans initiative. However, I would like to know your expectations.
PM Edi Rama: The sincerity of all the statements issued by the leaders or politicians is tested in reality. So, the President of Serbia, more openly than ever before, today stated he welcomes Kosovo and the two other countries to join the initiative, which means that this statement would be tested if Kosovo joins the initiative only. Will there be an obstacle or not? This is something I have stated since the very outset and what I have already explained – and you gave me this opportunity to explain it again – is that this initiative has been a must long before it was actually launched. When we realized, soon enough, that the Berlin Process was doomed to turn into merely a process of summits and declarations, without the direct effect in terms of implementing what was said, because the vision of Berlin Process is indeed 100% the vision of the Open Balkans initiative. The Berlin Process contains a set of criteria, which is 100% the set of the Open Balkans criteria, but it is not a process being led by those in Berlin or those in Brussels on a daily basis and therefore everything remains in the context of statements and agreements that are not actually implemented.
The Open Balkans initiative is actually the implementing unit of the Berlin Process. It is the implementing unit being set up in every country and in every institution involved in implementing foreign-funded projects. That’s why I call it the project implementing unit, because it is merely the Berlin Process itself, but now taken over by us ourselves in a bid to deliver and implement in reality everything currently remaining in the context of statements under the Berlin Process and, on the other hand, it is not a process about individuals. Of course, individuals are crucial to the progress of a certain initiative, but this is a process dictated by the indispensability of the countries, their strategic interest to boost their economic capacities and empower the societies in these countries through enlargement, as well as strengthen a peace process and make it irreversible through cooperation.
Of course, the case you cited was totally displeasing. Other similar cases are completely unpleasant and they are a result of a core conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, which is a conflict about Kosovo’s recognition or non-recognition and this process doesn’t interfere with the necessary Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, but in my view it actually helps and facilitates dialogue and delivers on what a very similar post-World War II process delivered between Germany and France.
You have frequently come across the appeal to Serbia to apologize. I also strongly agree that Serbia should apologize. An apology from Serbia is the cover that should ultimately conclude a dialogue process, which should resolve all the issues and should ultimately resolve Kosovo’s recognition from Serbia, but where I differ from those who point out the apology to tell me that I am a traitor is that I say the apology will come at the end, as it can’t be issued at the very beginning. Germany didn’t offer its apology in 1945 but in 1969 and until then Germany and France did everything, in addition to achieving final peace and forgiveness and it all started exactly as it is happening with the Open Balkans initiative; it all started with economic agreements, with the coal and steel treaty, with the exchanges of people, of young people, and so on. Because this way a different atmosphere of communication and interaction is created under this process, an atmosphere of recognizing and understanding the reality of common things and interests, which are directly related to the citizens’ interests, with people having to work on daily basis and provide for their families, people need to manufacture, buy and sell every day.
People can’t wait for this conflict to be resolved as long as we live in peace. Peace needs food, needs welfare, education and everything else and citizens cannot be denied of all these just for the sake of an idea suggesting that no dialogue can take place if no apology is offered in advance, because it has never worked and wouldn’t work.
Of course, the Open Balkans initiative is not a magic key, but a process that helps in this aspect. However, quite the opposite is true, as refusal to see the Open Balkans initiative as an opportunity is actually a bankruptcy of any stubbornness and horns locking, when we are not at war. It is a war-era inherited conflict that we need to resolve. Albania and Kosovo don’t differ on this point and there is definitely no difference between my position and the position of all those who say that Serbia should recognize Kosovo. But imagine what has been achieved in the meantime? It was not many years ago when no third or fourth-level meetings could take place, because Serbs abandoned such meetings. But Serbia is “today is inviting, saying you are welcome.” This is a significant achievement for Albanians, it is a great achievement also for Kosovo and this is a result of our diplomacy and foreign policy to take the region along this path. I don’t take decisions on behalf of Kosovo, because it is the Kosovo authorities who should do this, but it is for sure that this process offers advantages only. Refusing such a process simply means to deny yourself, deny your country and deny your people all the advantages that come with this process.
As for North Macedonia, as you know, a political situation is going on in the country, but again, no matter what happens politically, I would state that there is no chance that North Macedonia abandons the Open Balkans initiative. Quite the opposite, other countries will join the Open Balkans initiative too. They are just buying time and it is in their right to do so. I personally think they are just wasting time, but they will definitely join the Open Balkans initiative, because there is no other option. It is not feasible for a country to isolate itself and force people to undergo three different checks, when entering or exiting other countries.
What we have dreamed about over the years has become a reality now thanks to the Open Balkans initiative. One might ask why we haven’t removed the border. Because the border can’t be removed in an open conflict with Serbia, because it is not Serbia, but Washington and Brussels will react by calling it “Great Albania.” This is now a reality. So there are a number of significant accomplishments of diplomatic nature that Albania has achieved in the efforts to help Kosovo. Don’t they wish to see them? Don’t they wish to understand them? Do they want to brand them as treason? This is not my problem. I know the position of the Open Balkans initiative in history. It is needless for anyone to tell or warn me of the danger that the Open Balkans initiative takes a position in the darkest chapter of history. The place of the Open Balkans initiative in the region’s history will be in the bright part of the history of the Balkans.
– Mr. Prime Minister, did President Vucic apologize for the ugly act of removing the Albanian flags or burning it a few hours before the start of the Open Balkans initiative summit? Thank you!
PM Edi Rama: What for should one apologize in this case, when an extremist – every country has its own mindless individuals – has been already apprehended by the police and has been sent in front of the process he deserves to go through, while the Albanian national flags, as you already saw, were hanging everywhere and this was really an unimaginable thing until just few years ago and I am convinced that everything taking place are actually unavoidable things, because the situation is far from being ideal in terms of the relations between Albanians and Serbs due to Kosovo’s non-recognition and because of certain positions towards Kosovo. However, even the tensest of situations now relax a lot faster than it was the case just some time ago.
Therefore we shouldn’t lose focus and shouldn’t be impressed that much because of such incidents. What we need to understand is that we should work for the future and we need to take the relations among countries in the region to a whole different level and this starts with the relations between Albanians and Serbs as two biggest nations in this region and we both can do the region exactly what Germans and French did to built the Europe we owe to our children.
-Mr. Prime Minister, how much do you think the Open Balkans initiative will help Serbia’s Albanians? The most pressing problem in Presevo Valley remains the passivity of the Albanians’ addresses in the Presevo Valley. Have you ever raised this problem?
PM Edi Rama: It is not a surprise now, even without the Open Balkans initiative and without such relations, cooperation and interactions are taking place in the territory. Albanian farmers, manufacturers and exporters have been exporting to the Balkans and Serbia for years now, even prior to establishment of the ties until I paid the first official visit to Belgrade.
It is not something that is taking place thanks to the Open Balkans initiative. What the Open Balkans initiative is doing is that it is relieving these people from the horrible burden of bureaucracy and the pressure of borders.
Why should we go on that long way around? It is quite simple. There is a certain influx of ongoing activities and people need this. But this is not about this category of people only as the initiative will engage many other people in this space of interaction. The initiative will increase interest for foreign direct investments in the Western Balkans, with peace primarily being the guarantee for their investment.
Secondly, the guarantee for a much bigger market space, because whoever invests will no longer think he is investing in a market of 3 million, 8 million, 2 million or 500,000 people, but he is investing in a market of 20 million inhabitants . It’s a completely different thing. So, the positive impact of all this interaction would definitely extend to all societies and would relax many things, which time has hardened and turned into painful joints.
Many things relax and another perception is created over other people and the main painful issue of the inherited conflict, because of which Kosovo has not been recognized by Serbia yet, would likely be resolved due to the interactions that would be created and people in the two countries would take other positions vis-à-vis each other.
This is the essence and I think it is needless to go a long way around.
-Mr. Rama, would you personally attempt to convince Kosovo to join the Open Balkans initiative given that the next joint session of the governments of Kosovo and Albania is scheduled to take place on November 28. What one has to expect about Kosovo after the Open Balkans summit?
PM Edi Rama: Albania has a special relation with Kosovo that doesn’t depend neither on the Open nor on the Closed Balkans. We have a completely special relation with Kosovo and this is not up for discussion. We would do whatever to develop a more quality relation with Kosovo in the aspect of all issues related to the interaction between Kosovo and Albania, in the economic and trade aspect. But I reiterate, the bilateral relationship between two small economies and two small countries is something, but a multilateral interaction in a much larger space is a completely different thing. It is completely a different thing in terms of the impact on the economy, the domestic production, the revenues, trade exchanges and benefits for the households. As far as convincing Kosovo to join the initiative, I have been discussing these issues, yet I make no attempts to impose my will on others. It is a sovereign decision by those who have been voted and tasked with the mandate of deciding about Kosovo. It is neither my responsibility, nor my right to intrude in that process. Moreover, Socialist Party doesn’t have a branch office and is not an electoral subject in Kosovo.
-Mr. Prime Minister, is there a fixed date when Albania will host the next summit? Mr. Vucic hinted that it will take place after Christmas Eve.
PM Edi Rama: The next summit will take place between December 25 and 31, but we will decide about it.
-You said that concrete results are expected at this summit. What results do you expect? You also said that like it or not all countries will join the Open Balkans initiative. When do you expect Kosovo to join the initiative?
PM Edi Rama: First of all, what we are seeking to deliver on is that all those interacting as exporters, distributors, transporters, and entrepreneurs in all these territories face no border obstacles and they are not forced to go through various checks, inspections and verifications at borders.
So, we are seeking to deliver on what happens in the space of the four EU freedoms, namely the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. This requires for the bureaucracies of these countries to unify all the procedures and recognize all the documents issued by authorities in another country.
All this is part of the set of objectives under the Berlin Process. Such objectives were not met under the Berlin Process for the reasons I already told you, because it lacked the structures to set in motion the whole machinery with the Berlin Process. The Berlin Process has another aspect, as no deal can be reached unless not every country agrees. You have to wait until the last country agrees to ease border crossing rules for the fruits and vegetables you export to other countries.
This is not an option. We will keep doing this.
In the meantime, all countries will definitely join the initiative as they have no other option. Isolation and building castles along the Adriatic or on top of the mountains is not the future.
The freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital is the future. This is of course the future as part of the European Union, but what are we supposed to do when the EU is not yet ready and has to cope with other internal issues? Should we tell exporters, people who interact, citizens who wish to work in another country and want borders to be removed that they have to wait until we join the EU? Or shall we tell them that they have to wait for Serbia to apologize first?
These are not related to each other, because these interactions between people happen. So, these are processes that go hand in hand and if we really want to make Serbia offer is apology, we need to have a strategy and figure out how to progress towards final recognition and to Serbia’s apology instead of insisting on things to be done in your own way, because you may end up being totally alone in this world. This is the essence. Insisting on doing things your own way doesn’t work at peacetime. It can work during the wartime. But Kosovo has already won the war. Albanians have won the war, while these, where we are today, have lost the war. Kosovo needs to win peace now. But Kosovo is losing peace. This is a painful, but true fact. What is the solution then? Is blaming and branding Edi Rama as traitor the solution?
If this would help the economy, relieve society, help the future and contribute to the Kosovo issue, I am ready to accept this hallmark and it would be an honour for me to accept it, should the issue be eventually resolved by branding Edi Rama as traitor.
-Mr. Prime Minister, does the initiative also include reduction of customs fees along with facilitation of the customs procedures?
PM Edi Rama: We apply no tariffs and tariff barriers, but it is all about the non-barrier tariffs. The obligation to pay VAT when entering a country has not to do with this initiative. We are not talking about customs unification in the Western Balkans. It might happen one day, but it would be the last thing to happen, but we are talking about removing the non-tariff barriers. The customs fees and taxes will remain in force.