First half of the year, priorities and objectives up until 2020

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s press conference:

Good afternoon everyone! Thank you!

I deemed it appropriate to hold this press conference today to take stock of the first half of the year and highlight some priorities and objectives for the September 2019 through July 2020 period.

Of course, following an outline, I would try to make it as short as possible albeit there is a lot to be said, it is up to make any questions you want. Being confident you will make questions about politics, I won’t include politics in my presentation and let you ask about it, focusing instead on the governance aspects, starting with the country’s economy, which despite an absolutely abnormal situation, or unfavorable for the economy – one that doesn’t stimulate, but deters potential investors and consumers – it performed well and rose 2.21 percent compared to the previous year.

The effect of severe drought is significant, considering that last year saw higher precipitation with heavy rainfall, which is translated into additional opportunity for higher economic growth due to higher electricity generation.

Beyond this fact, focusing on more private and public investment, both domestic and foreign investment, increasing revenues that – as you might be well aware, have gone through a problematic period due to the anti-state spirit constantly inspired in very aggressive ways directly contributing to a growth in informality – take prime priority. Combating informality is high on the agenda and will remain as such until end of this government’s term in office.

Employment rate rose 0.6 percent compared to the last quarter of the past year and 1.4 percent compared to the same period of the previous year.

One fact is worth highlighting; the National Employment Service offices across the country have mediated 16 000 job placements. But, in the meantime, the informal employment has grown and that’s why it has been included in the ongoing anti-informality operation that is set to go on intensively until end of our term in office.

I would like to reiterate the law violation-related high cost, because the damage caused by unregistered business, or informal activity is much higher than the profits generated through informality.

Public finances are stable and the public debt has declined by 2.16 percentage points compared to the last June.

Foreign trade exchanges, and the agricultural exports in particular have increased by 12%, while import has grown by 1.2% only and the food export-import gap has narrowed for first time.

I would like to strongly emphasize that we have entered a new stage and initial steps have been taken as part of an uncompromising fight to ensure food safety. As you already know, few days ago the Assembly adopted a series of amendments to the Criminal Code and harsh sanctions which would be imposed on any retailer, manufacturer and marketer that violate food safety standards. We won’t cease in combating abusers. I am confident that exemplary cases of punishments for food safety infringements will be recorded in the next half of the year, although I wish no manufacturer or food production entrepreneur face penalties, but nobody should forget that harsh punishments are already in place.

The area of irrigated land has expanded by over 16 000 hectares during the past six months. In the meantime, we are very encouraged by the progress in disbursing European funding through the first ever European financing program for the entrepreneurs and farmers.

Despite the absolutely not encouraging situation, the number of foreign tourists visiting Albania in the first half of the year rose 11 percent to over 2.13 million. It is a 11% growth compared to the same period of the previous year. As of today, some 220 new hotels have added Albania’s hospitality and leisure industry compared to the previous year.

However, I would like to underline that this is not enough and we should intensely work to ensure a considerable volume of foreign investments in the country’s tourism industry. Initial contracts on building five-star hotels have been already signed, while discussions are underway on a series of huge projects that I look forward to seeing them being materialized in the remaining months of this year.

Allow me not to provide more information on this, because the negotiations are based on confidentiality at the request of foreign investors that are classified among the major global tourism investors.

As for the road infrastructure, the Tirana-Elbasan highway is no longer on the agenda of concerns and worries of the government and this road’s users as the highway has been finally opened to the traffic along its whole stretch. All the vicissitudes and endless delays due to the scandalous project and the scandalous procedures carried out previously are now a thing of the past.

One of the lanes of Fier Bypass road has been opened to motorists, significantly easing road traffic and we expect the whole road to open entirely to the traffic ahead of the next tourist season.

Work on Arberi Road project is now nearly 40 percent complete. This is a truly satisfying progress and thanks to the public and private partnership, a largely criminalized term as part of a frenzy propaganda, the road will soon connect Diber and whole this remote and isolated region for decades with the country’s capital, indeed becoming a kind of a new territory or a green pillow of Tirana stretching along an axis of fabulous beauties and fantastic tourism potential.

The odyssey of opening the panoramic tunnel in the town of Pogradec is also over.

Works to construct Milot-Balldren highway and Orikum-Dukat road are set to kick off soon. Milot-Balldren highway is part of the Blue Corridor, or the European Corridor and part of the regional projects under the Berlin Process. Meanwhile, Orikum-Dukat road project is another axis of strategic importance to tourism development that will include the Llogara tunnel and a feasibility study is already underway while project will be designed soon. High priority has been placed on the road linking the coastal towns of Shëngjin and Velipoja and the road leading to the tourist village of Theth. These projects have been already finalized and the due funding has been earmarked and final procedures are about to complete. On the other hand, we plan to press ahead with the long awaited Seman road project.

All these projects are being developed under an infrastructure rebirth program due to be implemented during the period from September 2019 through July 2020, with a special attention being placed on the tourism infrastructure and easing access of rural areas and agricultural markets to the markets.

We will soon start work to construct the road linking the villages of Buz and Markuc, which will integrate the whole area of Himara and Vlora River, providing direct and quick link also with the wonderful mountainous region of Tepelenë, where a series of encouraging tourism and agritourism investments are already underway.

We will press ahead with significant projects in the museum cities of Berat and Gjirokastra and the city of Shkodra will also definitely gain special importance. It will be a strategic priority area and when I speak about Shkodra, I mean the city of Shkodra, but also the north-western region of Shkodra. We have prepared a number of projects, with several of them being finalized while many others having yet to start after being delayed due to lack of will from Shkodra local authorities to cooperate. Our plans also include a much larger project aimed at creating a new attraction resort stretching the Lake of Shkoder to the Alps.

We will also focus on developing important development projects in Pogradec, an area with tremendous tourism development potential, which we couldn’t start earlier because of refusal of local government authorities to communicate and cooperate.

We will focus in building road access to the country’s three fabulous natural parks, namely the Lura Park, Korab Mountain Park and the Shebenik Park in the area between Librazhd, Diber and North Macedonia.

On the other hand, we will push forward the road linking the cities of Fier and Bera, a road axis currently in a lamentable state, yet vital to communication and movement of people and goods.

Along with tourism projects, we will support a series of important infrastructure projects to provide farmers access to larger markets and help entrepreneurs in agriculture sector, starting from Konispol, to Fier, Elbasan and Korça. A number of initial projects under the “100 Villages” program have completed and they will be followed by some more significant ones. Until next July, a significant volume of investments in tourism infrastructure and rural infrastructure are set to complete, including projects under the “100 Villages” Program.

In terms of the energy sector we have had a year, or a happy period, so to say, with the breakthrough and confirmation about a substantial oil reserve in Shpirag, while discussions are underway about other blocks and options to diversify the presence of large companies operating in this strategic sector are being explored. The recent discovery of high oil reserves in Shpirag has attracted great interest from large companies because it has confirmed the possible presence of an oil and gas super reserve across the basin that stretches up to the Dumrea block.

On the other hand, every hydropower plant with an installed generation capacity under 2 MW have been ultimately deemed harmful. As we have previously pledged, a process of screening the contracts on building HPPs has been carried out and procedures to terminate 27 contracts are underway.

There will no longer be issued permits to construct HPPs with installed capacity less than 2 MW and it will no longer tolerated destruction of important natural and tourist areas in the name of generating electricity.

Fortunately, the crime rate figures show that situation has not worsened although this could have been the case given the imaginary anti-state revolution over the past six months. Indeed, we are pleased to notice that despite the Tirana’s political chaos, the Power of Law, the Task Force specifically established to combat organized crime, has conducted 20 anti-crime operations, or 10 more operations compared to the same period of the previous year. Some 12 criminal groups have been destroyed, whereas some crime assets worth 47.2 million euros have been confiscated.

I am not going over details, but I would like to highlight that vetting of the police staff has already begun with the re-evaluation of 300 high-ranking police officers. The screening process is underway with verification of 45 firs files. The government will adopt the normative act to provide full overtime payment to the State Police employees. We are ready to adopt an indispensable reform to reduce the average age of the State Police officers, offering the opportunity to officers to retire and take their pension from age 55. There could be no officers over 55 years of age serving in the active police force. It’s nonsense. But the breakthrough has to be financially meaningful and in terms of modalities, fully reasonable and we have resolved this matter in cooperation with the State Police management structures.

A super special police unit is about to be formed and it will soon become fully operational after undergoing an intensive training program with a selected elite force that will specifically deal with the serious crimes and crime strongmen in the neighborhoods and cities across the country. This is the police unit I have announced sometimes earlier and it will be part of the intensive pressure that will keep building by the State Police to act against these crime figures, who should they decide to stay in Albania should be ready to hide in very tight caves where they would be unable to breath.

As data show, significant progress and results have been achieved in health care and social protection. The preventive primary check-up, despite the frenzy propaganda, is being consolidated as a good practice and more than 250 000 citizens have benefited health check-up for free; meanwhile, some 34235 surgical interventions have been performed for free in the country’s 29 regional hospitals; 25020 dialysis session; 1302 patients have benefited dialysis service for free under the service package in private hospitals.

Hospital-acquired infections rate is nearing zero after representing a serious gangrene in our health system over years because of the old contaminated and rusty surgical instruments, but we put an end to this phenomenon thanks to the modern sterilization process and another PPP contract to renew whole sets of surgical instruments being used in Albania’s health care system, where hospital-acquired infections were a scandalous phenomenon, incurring an extremely high cost, both in terms of health, but also related expenses.

The baby bonus certainly had an influence on the birth rate in the first six months of this year, with some 15135 new-borns benefiting the cash gift and I am confident the influence of baby bonus policy will yield improved results as it has proved to be successful in other countries too.

We have ultimately fixed the medical staff and doctors shortage problem in the country’s hospitals after medical specialization program was suspended during the period between 2009 and 2013. Today, some 139 doctors have been hired after completing the medical specialization program, which has been opened for the fifth consecutive year and 231 young physicians are currently attending the program.

I am not going to list the many projects to transform the health care and hospitals infrastructure and I am pleased to confirm that work is underway to construct maternity hospitals in Berat and Lezha and the regional hospital in Kukes.

Electronic data show an exemplary improvement in the primary health care and emergency medical assistance and services compared to the past years. Adding some 37 brand new ambulances to the fleet of life-saving ambulances of the Health Emergency Service has reduced transport time and as many as 49987 have benefited from this service.

The preparatory processes will complete soon to kick off the NATO investment in Kuçova’s air base and the bilateral agreement with the U.S. Department of Defence on providing Black Hawk helicopters has been finalized. There are a series of highly important elements and I would like to express appreciation to the Armed Forces for serving to community, always out of the public’s attention and not on the TV screens that, over the past six months, have been showing other forces, including illegally armed ones, and I would like to underline the fact that the reconstruction of the earthquake-affected houses in the Korça region has begun.

I am also pleased to affirm that during this period we have delivered on all commitments under the Pact on the University in line with the slated deadlines. Reconstruction of student dormitories in Shkodra, Vlora and Korça is set to start soon. Funding is being provided to support construction of the student dormitories in Elbasan and Gjirokastër too. Work is running on schedule to construct all student dormitories in Tirana University Campus. Major project on reconstruction and construction of new buildings of Tirana University Campus is being developed. It is a project we will implement in collaboration with Tirana Municipality and a new university campus will be built in Tirana within the second term of office of Tirana Mayor.

Some 88 000 university students have benefited halved or full coverage of tuition fees according to their categories. Recent news stories suggest that government will not cover tuition fees for students during the upcoming academic year. This is a lie and the government will definitely cover the tuition fees during the next academic year. All poor performing students with a grade point average five and six will be notified that they will not benefit tuition fee coverage if they fail to improve performance in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Some 459 best performing students have been recruited in the civil service and the administration positions under the Labour Code; 5 excellent students have joined the Diplomatic Service as part of the reform launched by the Foreign Minister; 951 trainees, 200 of whom have been employed in the public institutions.

I am not going over details on other aspects concerning the online library, the research projects, or the national student survey, but I am concluding by saying that over 20,000 student cards have been already distributed and the process is underway.

As for the justice system, we have witnessed the opening of the Pole of Justice complex and the government will earmark the last financial assistance to build its digital infrastructure. The new building will house all new justice bodies, as well as the School of Magistrates.

By the end of this year, we will open the doors of the new National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, which is finally transformed from a half-ruined building to a European opera theatre. When you see it, be prepared to trust your eyes. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying. However, we still face serious shortcomings in the sector of culture. We have initiated the new National Library project. We are working on the new Children’s Theatre. We are discussing the project on a twin structure vis-à-vis the country’s history, I mean a much earlier history than that of Bunk’Arts and House of Leaves museum. We are discussing projects on a Museum of Parliament on the site of the existing Puppets Theatre, and the Museum of Monarchy at the Palace of Brigades. At the same time, we are also working on a new museum project to feature the incredibly story of how Albanians saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the World War II, all this related to Albanian hospitality tradition and kept promise. But the museum will be mainly a space showcasing Jewish culture in Albania.

In September we will introduce the long-awaited and long-sought sports bill, practically addressing all concerns and requests made by the sports community, which have been also examined with the Albanian Football Federation and other sports federations in the country.

I would not go further on providing this outline, because I know quite well this is the least interesting part for you, as you deal with much more important issues than the economy, health system, culture, and education. I am ready to take your questions now.

Mr. Prime Minister, you concluded your presentation with culture and mentioned a string of projects. Will there be new developments regarding the National Theatre building?

PM Edi Rama: The developments regarding the National Theatre are an old story now and I feel both happy and sorry that it still keeps being a debate and a topic that should have ended, in my view, around 20 years ago. There are people who confuse walls with history and nostalgia, but I would first like to state that if there is a person or a government that compared to anyone else can’t be accused of lack of attention or sensibility to the country’s cultural heritage, this person would be me and the ruling Socialist Party. One should not forget that when I embarked on the efforts to preserve and save our cultural heritage, the complex of ministry buildings you see today was a complex of facades with graffiti dirty words, with plaster slabs falling and where fig trees literally grew on the roof of these buildings. I am starting with that very project, the first in a number of projects and I would conclude with the national stadium project. Take a look at the new stadium that best shows the sensibility to the true cultural heritage and the way how an asset of the cultural heritage harmonizes with the current needs and the future ambitions. The architectural gem by Gherardo Bosio had to do with a generation of bricks, mortar and tin sheets of the communist and post-communist era, but today it is the heart of the new National Arena and a historic monument that we are confident will attract a large number of visitors and tourists.

The National Theatre building is not a matter of blindness or indifference. It is a matter of reality. It is a building erected by the Italian army with temporary materials for post-work entertainment purposes. It has never been built to house a National Theatre. The Italian plan didn’t include construction of the National Theatre building on that site. The post-war plan didn’t foresee construction of the National Theatre on that site. It was a temporary building which became an eternal one because of the lack of opportunities and the building has degraded to degraded to the point that it is unrecoverable, even if they wanted to recover it. It is made of a non-recovering material. If the building were to have any architectural value and if the building had the space to house a theatre in it – it is simple because it was not built to serve as theatre – then it would not be possible to restore it, but instead it would be demolished and rebuilt identically according to the project. I would tell everyone; it would cost us much less than a new building if we rebuilt it identically.

Moreover, it has been rumored that the site and land of the National Theatre, or a part of it, will be used for private development. This is not true. Not a single centimetre of the National Theatre site will be used for development of a private property. The private project will take place outside the surrounding wall of the National Theatre. 

Which means that if we were interested in developing a private property instead of theatre, it would have been quite easy for us to calm these protesters down by building a replica of the existing theatre building on the very same site as the old building cannot be restored. Why on earth would we do that and allow the private entrepreneur pay a lot less for the same land area and develop his property. Through our new project we ask the private entrepreneur to pay a lot more and build a new modern theatre building in exchange of a worthless land site behind the existing theatre building which has currently transformed into a kind of dumpsite.

So what is the matter?

The issue has become clearly a political one and it is a matter of mediocrity to come up with a false cause and trigger uproar. It is not in our interest to cause uproar if we are not convinced that the future can be built today and today we can’t do something that is not worth the future. It would have been great if everyone was to agree. I respect those who oppose the project, but we cannot all agree on everything. We are not voted by the people to wait for everyone to agree on what to do. We have been elected to govern and make decisions. The majority is clear in this regard, and I mean the majority of the theater community, artists and the public. Some disagree. You remember well that many opposed the project on new national stadium. Many levelled accusations against us and many were suspicious. But there it is. The most beautiful stadium in the region. Would you name a country or a city with such a beautiful stadium, one of Europe’s most beautiful stadiums, which has been constructed on the very same site of the previous national stadium that was included on UEFA’s and FIFA’s blacklist of stadiums that cannot host football games. But those who opposed the project proposed to keep the old stadium intact as a museum. What kind of museum?

If the old stadium was to feature any architectural value that would meet the criteria for being a cultural heritage monument, it was then certainly to be built from scratch identically. But what for?

Why the government is not waiting a Constitutional Court ruling as the President of the Republic has referred the law on building new theatre to the Court?

PM Edi Rama: For the same reason why we can’t wait for the devastating earthquake to hit the country and make other decisions then.

Are international diplomats, including those accredited to Albania, making efforts to establish communication between you and Mr. Basha to find some common grounds on which dialogue could possibly start? So is there a communication between you and Mr. Basha through third parties, diplomats?

PM Edi Rama : No.

Would the Parliament suspend procedures for the President’s dismissal if the Venice Commission justifies the President regarding his presidential decrees, or even if the Commission simply justifies the President’s decisions just because of the circumstances and the current situation in the country?

PM Edi Rama: We have sent the issue to the Venice Commission in order to carry out a more consolidated and well-understood process by the public and totally clear to the community of our international friends and partners. We will wait for the Venice Commission’s report and we will decide based on that report. I can’t for surely say what if this and what if that. The process goes on. We weren’t obliged to forward the matter to the Venice Commission, but given that we always believe in building consolidated processes in harmony with best opinion of experts and given that in this case we have the opportunity to ask for an undoubted quality opinion in this area, we addressed to the Venice Commission. We will wait.

The June 30 local polls are over. You just admitted that there is no international initiative to establish communication between you and Mr. Basha, but I would like to know whether there is a direct channel of communication between you and Basha? Will such a situation will continue in September too?

PM Edi Rama: As far as I am concerned, I would like to emphasize it today and make it clear to them that we will no longer devote and put a lot of energy into this situation. We have expressed our position. I have constantly reiterated our position. We are ready to dialogue at any moment with the extra-parliamentary opposition, but we are not ready to negotiate nothing that has to do with the people’s will that has been expressed by vote and we and I are not ready to waste our and people’s time with the same old story. Every common citizen of this country, while listening to what I am also saying, could rightly say: “Enough! You all bent the people’s ears!” There are a lot more important and pressing issues I have to deal with instead of waiting for Lulzim Basha, Monika Kryemadhi or whoever else to accept dialogue and talks. It is their problem!

We have assumed a greater role and a much heavier burden as we should also run all municipalities across the country. We have a duty to bear this burden successfully and with dignity. It’s a colossal job for everything I mentioned and for many other reasons that is not the place and time to mention them. I have already told them when they were still in Parliament, making them clear that the path they have embarked will worsen their situation. They decided to do so. They have all decided on their own.

When you make decisions in politics you should also assume responsibilities. As long as they will keep making or accepting decisions imposed by their leaders and never assuming responsibilities then we are finding ourselves in situation where you can talk to nobody and have nothing to talk about with anyone. This is a fact, while pressing ahead with investments, the fight against informality, delivering services to the citizens and bringing necessary transformations to the municipalities are the top government priorities. I am no longer just the Prime Minister, or precisely not only the leader of the Socialist Party, with a certain number of Socialist representatives running the municipalities. We should now show and work hard to show through deeds and concrete projects that we know how to transform Shkoder, how to transform Kukes, Berat and many other cities where we had no interlocutors to date.

Growing the country’s economy, growing employment, improving working conditions, improving food safety and many other pressing issues are much more important rather than whether we meet or don’t meet each other. We are ready, I am ready to talk without any prejudices or preconditions. If they want to sit and talk about the future? The year 2021 is nearing and it is much nearer than they think and if they keep doing what they are doing in the next few months than they have sealed the fate of their defeat in 2021 elections too.

Mr. Rama, I would like to make a question I have made to President Meta too …

PM Edi Rama: Whom?

The President of the Republic, Mr. Ilir Meta. Do you fear the Special Prosecution Office, SPAK? And if no, is that because you have captured the justice system through what the President has termed as the Ramaforme? And just to satisfy my curiosity, when you entered the politics did you ever imagine that there would come a day when you would have all the powers on your hand as it is the case now according to your political rivals? You run the government, you control the parliament where the current opposition backs any proposal you put forward to parliament for vote, just like it was the case of amendments to the Criminal Code, you run every municipality, while there are no trade unions and the official opposition has abandoned parliament. Did you ever dream about this?

PM Edi Rama: No, even in my worst nightmare I haven’t seen even in this country’s opposition to reduce to what it has been already reduced. I haven’t dreamed about this and could rightfully ask “what if”, but this is not the case. It is extremely difficult to govern the country while having an opposition constantly insisting it would commit suicide and not an opposition that would “kill” you politically through ideas and arguments. Because an inexistent opposition prevents you from finding all the forces you need to do the job well.

As for the all power talk, if I have captured the United States, if I have captured the European Union, then you can do nothing but concede defeat in this battle. Saying that one can capture the United States and the European Union because of a dark deep state force and state that all this can happen right here in Albania, this is extremely ridiculous in best case scenario and clinically disturbing in the worst case.

It is not a matter of fear and bravery, but simply a matter of deeds. One should distinguish the man of words and the man of deeds. From the day one, I have been determined to deliver on a reform, with us – as I have previously stated – approving everything adopted and forwarded by the international commission and expertize. Do you remember when I acknowledged I haven’t read the draft? It was true. I hadn’t.

This because a genuine justice could only be done if the ruling political force did not interfere in this justice reform, taking into account its narrow interest. This is not the first justice reform Albania is implementing, but this is the true justice reform, just because the largest political party doesn’t interfere in the justice system issues and this is the source of U.S. and EU strong support.

As for our relationship with the justice, you have witnessed many examples and might see many others that where justice acts, we clear the way to justice. So it is not a matter whether I fear or not, whether I am a brave man and “lash out at U.S. Embassy” while wearing swimsuit. These are unfortunately the kind of talks taking place in the top state institutions.

Mr. Prime Minister, I have two questions to make. Since the start of the first term in office you have declared a war on informality. Today, six years later you still keep talking about informality. Do you feel betrayed by the large army of the tax administration in the country?

Second question; You have mentioned a phone conversation with the President of France Emanuel Macron, but you have never revealed the topic of the phone conversation to the public? Could you tell something about it? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: Thank you. First of all, I don’t feel betrayed, because the tax administration is not my army, and I never rest on the premise that this army – let’s call it an army of the administration – includes a group of divisions and battalions that are deployed for a life-or-death struggle. Quite the contrary. But this is not a so easy issue.

The fight against informality is a much longer process than we would have wished for and it not just a matter of army or individuals, but a matter of system. I didn’t mention it during my presentation, but meanwhile we are preparing an ultramodern system, called the fiscalization system, designed to monitor every cash register and transaction done by each business around the clock 24/7. With the old cash register system that we opposed when it was introduced years ago, no transactions take place on real time and the information on every transaction is sent at a moment during the day. It is an outdated system that allows room for abuse, while the new system will operate online. So every transaction will take place online which means that businesses will no longer be monitored by knocking on their doors, but through huge screens that would monitor all flows and based on risk analysis and based on all trends. The system itself signals that something is wrong with a certain business. We are working on this and we will introduce the project’s first phase, which is the “business to costumer” phase, by next January.

On the other hand, we working on digitizing the inspection actions, which means that tax inspectors will be monitored in every move and the system will reveal their location, the time they spend in inspection actions and everything else. By strengthening and improving the system and by modernizing it we will then have less and less “soldiers’ who betray us. It is true that many do betray us today.

As for the phone conversation (with French President), I never share information on informal conversations with the public, because there is no agreement to share it with the public. I have a closer relation than many others with President Macron. We have established a continuous communication. He asked for a phone conversation that lasted 55 minutes or one hour. We talked about Europe and the region, topics that we always discuss.

Mr. Prime Minister, since you mentioned Europe and the region, I would like to make a question that you can answer also in your capacity as Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Albania is expected to assume the OSCE Chairmanship. Will you or the acting Minister chair the OSCE Presidency?

PM Edi Rama: We have yet to discuss this issue, but, as Elia put it, I have a lot of power, so in this case, I would be very happy should someone else chairs it. But we will look to do the right thing and do our best to hold the OSCE Presidency with all the dignity and seriousness.

A decision is to be made on Albania’s bid to open the EU accession negotiations on October 17-18. What are the expectations? I know there are always positive expectations, but considering your contacts and talks with your European counterparts, what is expected to be decided in October? Another question concerning Greece. A new government has taken office in Greece and the new Greek Foreign Minister said in an interview that he probably knew your grandmother and that he respected you for this.

PM Edi Rama: My grandmother?

Greek Foreign Minister said one fourth of your origin is from Greece and that he knew your relatives.

PM Edi Rama: What? I have a Greek origin?

This is according to Greek Foreign Minister. Can you tell us more about the state of negotiations with Greece?

PM Edi Rama: Let’s become serious. First, to put it clear, I have a mix in my veins and I wouldn’t mind at all, or feel bad if I had some Greek blood, but I have no cells of Greek blood. While I have some other veins, just like I have some other veins of origin from Shkodra and Mirdita, Berat, Vuno, and Vlora too. I want to make it clear that for me, the Albanian Orthodox are Albanian and the Greek Orthodox are Greek, so let’s be clear about that too. And since in religious terms, if we read it that way, I have both a Catholic and an Orthodox origin, and because of my grandmother’s will and vision I am a Catholic, I want to point out very clearly, the Albanian Orthodox are Albanian. This is clear. Greece considers them together, but if for them, in their full right, every Greek is Orthodox, to me, every Albanian Orthodox is Albanian. While our minority brethren are Orthodox, they are Greek too. They are Greek, they are Orthodox.

As for the relations with Greece, surely we have always desired and sought to build best possible bilateral ties. There has been a number of pending issues to be discussed and we have been engaged in negotiations, because these are all issues belonging to the past and that have been historically presented to us as a problem for the future for political reasons. We want to continue dialogue on these issues with the new Greek government, we want friendship, understanding, respect, because our good neighbourly relations cannot depend on the political origin of one government or another. Regardless of whether a left, right or a centre government is in office either in Tirana or Athens, this should not matter, as it does not matter in the ties with Italy. Just as it is very important to intensify dialogue and cooperation, and dot all the i’s also of some aspects distorted by information, or due to mistreatment at certain levels of the media or politics, regarding the respect of the rights of the Greek minority in Albania. The Greek minority in Albania is not only respected, but it is desired and viewed as an integral and undisputable part of our coexistence and as an asset and as a bridge.

With regards to the decision (on opening EU accession negotiations), I would keep on reiterating my position and others can of course continue to insist and reiterate theirs. In the framework of the peace we have established, you are right to defend your views. The October decision has not to do with Albania and North Macedonia, but with the European Union and its future. It has to do with the EU’s internal dynamics, but with the internal debates in the European Union and it has to do with certain, not completely harmonious, positions within the European Union. Do you wish to think the opposite? Do you want to believe the opposite? Want to think the opposite? Everyone is in their own right, but this is the truth. It is just a matter of politics, it has nothing to do with any objectivity and no objective technical evaluation. It’s clearly politics. The European Union is not in its happiest days and it is not in its brightest moments, so anything can happen in October. I do not exclude any option.

Mr. Prime Minister, around 10 days ago, speaking to reporters following the Socialist Party’s National Assembly meeting, you ruled out an immediate cabinet reshuffle. But, with the new parliamentary session in September, do you think there is a need to review the cabinet?

PM Edi Rama: No, in principle no. Then, if necessary… I can’t say today what is going to happen. This is another topic, but no cabinet reshuffle will take place in principle.

Mr. Prime Minister, Edi Rama of the early’90-s, the one with hair on the head, used to be an opinion maker, commentator who criticized the government. In your view, what would have thought the then Edi Rama about you? What he would say about the 2018 pact with Berisha; about your withdrawal following a three-week hunger strike under the slogan “open the ballot boxes, or leave!”; about granting half of the cabinet positions to Lulzim Basha in 2017; about the files 339 and 184 and many other issues? What he would have told you today?

PM Edi Rama: What would hairy Edi Rama would have told me? I have never thought about this, but let me think about it and I will give an answer at the end of this press conference.

Mr. Prime Minister, why your party’s parliamentary group is dismissing a senior Socialist like Arben Malaj? Has it to do with his most recent critics against your leadership? And did you dismiss Ditmir Bushati from Shkoder district for the same reasons, for his critical and public approach? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: The first question concerns the parliamentary group. You should ask parliament members who have called for Mr. Malaj’s dismissal.

Second, I accept more critics than I seem to accept and not only that, I attach great attention to critics in general. But I do of course defend my opinions and there is nothing personal in this regard. I have nothing personal with anyone, neither with him nor with anyone. I was even about to say I have nothing neither with him, nor with Lulzim Basha, but with the latter, on the contrary, I have something personal, positive, but I do not know how to help, honestly.

As for the other, first, it doesn’t turn out that Ditmir Bushati has levelled any disturbing criticism. I don’t know, I don’t know where you got it … but even he did, it doesn’t matter. New organization requires some commitment, some pace, some energy and some skills that also require some changes. That’s all. Shkodra is a priority for me, it is a very important priority in all aspects, but first and foremost, in an aspect that has nothing to do with politics and not with votes, but with everything I think about that city, its history, for its potential and with everything Shkodra as an area can give the country’s economy, it can give the country’s development and future. The situation in today’s Shkodra is lamentable and I am determined to bring about important changes and transformations to Shkodra, just like we have done in other cities. At end of the new elect mayor’s term in office, Shkodra will be transformed and that transformation will have the same impact of the changes you already see in the city of Vlora. I want people to be surprised when visiting Shkodra at the end of the four-year mandate of the new mayor. Therefore, we must radically change the complexity of our actions and approach to Shkodra.

Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to return to the theatre issue again as I asked permission to make questions earlier, but your Communication Director thought it was not appropriate to let me speak and therefore I am forced to the return to the theatre issue once again. First, when do you plan to demolish the National Theatre building? Secondly, the police acted to prevent artists and citizens from entering the Theatre building? In other words, why police act to protect the Theatre from those who are really protecting it? And the last question, how would you comment on the accusations alleging that a competition has been launched on building the new theatre building, yet the winner has been already picked and the insistence on building the theatre on that site is linked to the millions of euros the project would generate? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: I don’t know what is the point of entering an institution claiming “we are protecting it.” As far as I know a request has been forwarded first to the Ministry of Culture, which on its part has asked the Ministry of Interior to take actions because unknown people until that day, supported by these “revolutionary” leaders sought to storm the building. That’s why police were deployed on that day.

With regards to the procedure, I can affirm that the procedure is underway. A law has been approved. I mean, the idea that a minority or a majority, no matter what, may prevail over the law must come to an end. There is a law into force after being adopted by Parliament. No matter whether you like it or not, the law should be enforced and nobody can doubt about it as long as a legislation is into force. Moreover, I don’t think that a certain community, even if it were for all members of that community, cannot take an institution hostage by violating the law. But I am not going to comment on this as I don’t want to involve in this debate because I don’t care about this part. It is known that community there is a mixed representation of theatre playing politicians and political actors. It has nothing to do with the substance of the case, it has nothing to do with the content of the arguments. But there are no convincing arguments. They make allegations and speculations, but they provide no convincing arguments.

With regards to the accusations, I would challenge you all to name a single project when no allegations have been made. But this is a simple, open, direct project and no secrets are involved. It is quite simple; we want to build the new national theatre, but the state budget cannot afford such an expensive project. Because the national theatre would have been built by the previous governments if they would have been able to earmark the due funding. It is a costly project, many times higher than the annual budget of the Ministry of Culture.

And in this case, the government invites private entrepreneurship to build the new theatre. In this case, the project presented by an entrepreneur to develop a private property coincides with our interest to construct the new theatre.

What we can make available to the private entrepreneur in exchange of the new theatre building? We can offer a free land site across the theatre’s site. We can make available a barren land that has turned into a kind of dumpsite where waste materials of the former décor enterprise of the Municipality of Tirana are dumped and we offer it in exchange of building the new theatre. It is not a PPP contract like the one on building the Arberi Road project, inviting the entrepreneur to construct the road in three years’ time and settle the arrears in 13 years. In this case this is a PPP contract granting the private company this land site in exchange of building a new modern theatre first and he can then develop his private property.

It is a fortunate coincidence that across the Theatre’s wall there is a free plot of land owned by the Municipality of Tirana and that has been transformed into a landfill over the past 30 years and a rare opportunity is now being offered to increase its value and “purchase” a new theatre building without having to pay a single cent from the state budget and the taxpayers’ money. We would have done if there was not such a plot of land there? We would have done what we plan to do with the National Library in the future. How would we be able to build the National Library that can cost more than the National Theatre? Shall we let books rot there? We can provide no funding to build the National Library. How are going to construct the new university campus? We will invite entrepreneurs to build the project immediately and settle the payment in tranches over years. Why the Arberi Road project was not constructed over the past 30 years, although it has been a long-time pledge? The road was to be built now. As a Prime Minister I am interested in constructing and granting the road to Albanian citizens and Diber residents.

I can only say that once works to construct the theatre complete, everyone will finally be able to enter a National Theatre that deserves and lives up to its name. The National Theatre will then finally be able to invite foreign theatre troupes to perform on its stage. We currently have a National Theatre where no foreign troupe can come and they can’t take the stage because you should first pay the insurance contributions. Do you figure out what are we talking about? The same was the case of the Qemal Stafa stadium that could not host foreign teams.

This is what we can afford. This is the way in order to have a new stadium, a new national theatre, a national library and the children’s theatre, because on the other hand we should also build schools, and hospitals. How are we supposed to build the modern regional hospital in Fier? Do you have any idea how?

I haven’t invented the private, public partnership, but it is a practice broadly implemented in other countries too, including Germany

I would invite you to take your cameras and record the plot of land behind the Theatre, which will be offered to the private company in exchange of the new theatre building, and then tell me whether it is worth keeping that site and let the existing derelict theatre building stand there and give up plans to build a new modern one? Is that barren plot of land that valuable? The investor is certainly interested to invest there, otherwise he wouldn’t waste money. But most importantly, we will have a new modern national theatre.

We benefit a new theatre that neither communists, nor post-communists built it, because the Albanian state budget can’t afford it.

In your remarks at the SP National Assembly you acknowledged there are few things that have been done wrongly and that you shouldn’t have done them. Which are these things that you have done wrongfully?

PM Edi Rama: The hydropower plants with installed capacity under 2 MW. There are other things too, but since you asked me to provide an example.

In 2017, international high-level officials were forced to come to Albania and mediate a crisis solution back then. Shall we expect foreign officials to travel again to Albania now in 2019, or you and Mr. Basha will travel to the partner countries instead?

PM Edi Rama: No, neither.

Turkey’s Interior Minister visited Albania last week and he held talks with you and Mr. Lleshaj (Interior Minister). Did you talk about the fight against the so-called FETO organization?

PM Edi Rama: Of course we did.

I would like to ask again about what you described as top government priorities a little earlier, that is investment and economy. I am a SCAN TV reporter and we are interested in economy. You focused on investment projects. Do you think that the country is able to ensure rule of law as an indispensable prerequisite to promote investments given that the country lacks the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court? And second, do you think that the peak tourist season was the right time to start an intense anti-informality operation?

PM Edi Rama: The goal of this operation is to hurt those who violate the law.

But it may hurt the citizens as well?

PM Edi Rama: It is part of a joint effort.

With regards to your first question, I would like to quote German Chancellor remarks at the Poznan meeting, who said that it is true that Albania currently lacks a Constitutional Court but this is because of the vetting process that has been strongly sought by the Parliament of Albania and Albania’s international partners. This is a transitional period with such a situation being either a success of a process like the vetting, or a failure of the justice reform process?

You can provide an answer yourself, because I am not authorized to go on quoting the Chancellor, but defend my viewpoint. We are cleaning the justice system through a process that was unimaginable before the justice reform started. We are cleaning up a scum that seemed like a lifelong curse to this society and that there seemed to be no force in the world to remove it. Because we have been talking for 30 years about corruption and wrongdoing of politicians and for first time in 30 years we are not merely talking about it, but acting against the corruption and wrongdoing of those who were the true untouchables and who then guaranteed untouchability of others, having created a kind of profitable at the expense of the citizens’ rights

As for investors, I guarantee that Justice Reform is one of the reasons attracting their increased interest. If we were to choose between a court like it used to be and without a court it would be better without a court. In the meantime, the Court due to be formed soon will be much better than this situation. But let’s not pretend we don’t understand. This is a situation that results as a result… we are performing a surgery and you cannot operate a sick athlete and ask him why he is not breaking the record while undergoing surgery. You should wait first for the surgery to complete, let him recover, rehab and then start running. This is the purpose of the operation. That’s why this is a complete farce by those who do not want to see the Constitutional Court formed and who have profited and abused during the absence of the Constitutional Court.

Don’t you think that early general elections would put an end to the political crisis in Albania and end conflict both with opposition and President Meta, let alone the problems during your second term in office, which practically seems like you haven’t started it yet?

PM Edi M Rama: No, I don’t think so.

How would you act regarding the anti-defamation law? Will you accept the OSCE recommendations?

PM Edi Rama: This is an ongoing process and we are reconciling everything with the OSCE.

Meanwhile, the OSCE Media Freedom Representative has tabled a direct request to modify the Article on the high fines that can be imposed by the AMA Compliance Committee, saying AMA cannot assume competencies of the court?

PM Edi Rama: We have harmonized the bill with the OSCE and it will be forwarded to parliament in September.

Are you not going to review this part?

PM Edi Rama: I am not aware of details, yet I can confirm that the bill has been drafted in close cooperation with the OSCE experts.

With regards to the relations with Kosovo, why PM Edi Rama declined to express his position regarding Ramush Haradinaj, focusing on KLA war only instead?

PM Edi Rama: To me, it seems the most normal thing to do, because it is the KLA’s war that can never be charged and blamed, including Ramush Haradinaj. Whereas the fact whether he steps down or not as Prime Minister this is a political and tactical issue vis-à-vis the trial and the Tribunal. While as far as the war is concerned, I praise Ramush Haradinaj, Jakup Krasniqi and everyone else who have been summoned for questioning as leaders of a liberation struggle. That liberation war can neither be tarnished, nor reduced when it comes to its heroic and historic values, where Ramush Haradinaj has definitely played a role.

You talked about Milot-Balldren road that will be awarded as a concession, while the opposition has made allegations, suggesting that you have shunned the EU summit by not presenting the project in order to benefit funding as part of the EU projects. What is your comment on that?

PM Edi Rama: If I was to react against any accusation levelled by the opposition, then I would have been forced to give up everything else, but I have a lot much more important work to do than react to the opposition’s allegations.

You affirmed readiness to discuss about the future, saying the year 2021 is nearing. Could a caretaker government be part of such discussion several months ahead of 2021 general elections?

PM Edi Rama: Jo.

But what are you willing to discuss?

PM Edi Rama: The electoral reform that should be importantly addressed in compliance with the OSCE -ODHIR and the European Council’s recommendations and which would be a very important base for the electoral race. In other words, the parties negotiate the rules of the game, but not its outcome. It’s as easy as that. The game decides the outcome. Prior to entering the game, parties negotiate and agree on the rules, if they want new rules, or they obey to the existing rules. Any political party seeking to win whatever it wishes, it should first enter the game and win it. It is the voters and nobody else the ones who decide the winner and the loser.

Have you met with Mr. Meta after the June 30?

PM Edi Rama: No, thank you.

You have stated your readiness to sit and talk with the opposition, but do you plan to normalize relations with President Ilir Meta?

PM Edi Rama: No, I have no such plans, but I intend to help the President, if he asks me to do so, because I am sincerely sorry about the President and very sorry about the current state of the institution. But, for the time being, I am refraining and I will continue to spare him, because in reality the President’s situation is grave and I do not want to add any more troubles to his perception of the reality.

You could start normalizing relations with Mr. Meta by responding to his earthquake concern?

PM Edi Rama: It is pretty easy since he can issue a decree and stop earthquake from happening.

When demolition of the National Theatre will begin?

PM Edi Rama: According to the legal procedures. According to the law, procedures for the whole process are already underway. Of course, the old building will be first demolished otherwise we can’t build a new one.

Question… inaudible

PM Edi Rama: The one I remember, i.e. Edi Rama you refer to – as it is somehow absurd to talk about him – but… back then I had never entered any state office, but the Institute of Arts, the National Gallery of Arts, or the National History Museum. He (Edi Rama) entered for the first time a state office as a Minister of Culture and back then he had no clue about the kind of life taking place on the barricade’s other side. Therefore, he would have criticized me regarding many issues today, because he wouldn’t understand me.

Thank you!