Region, bilateral relations and sea issue 

Prime Minister Edi Rama today was invited to take part in the conference “The Western Balkans Beyond 2020” hosted by “The Economist” in Athens.

Challenges of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans also in the context created by the COVID-19 pandemic were some of the issues raised during the panel discussion, with Prime Minister Edi Rama saying: 

“My grandmother used to say: Happy neighbour, happy house. And there is no happy house without a happy neighbour. And I think that experience shows she was a really intelligent woman. I think that the Western Balkans cannot be left aside and shouldn’t be left aside, as the reality is there and life is stronger than the reality. And, of course, if the Western Balkans are today in a very encouraging moment regarding the potential of cooperation being released, although slowly and although with its difficulties, it doesn’t mean that things cannot worsen if the frustration and the sense of being left aside prevail upon the ambition and to be part of the European family.

Let me say that the pandemic showed something absolutely staggering and unimaginable before it happened, how much vulnerable the world is today and how much similar the situation was, despite the size of the countries, despite the power of any country and despite the level of knowledge and science in every country.

So, looking at big countries that were practically struggling for masks, everyday masks, masks and only masks, and thinking about the trillions of investments in military and science, it was quite shocking. On the other hand, it was somehow consoling for us, because for once we saw that there is no big and small, powerful and weak, but we are all on the same boat. And I would like to hope and believe that this can be a good lesson of how much interconnected we are today and how much security, safety and prosperity of one depends on the security, safety and prosperity of the others.

So, the idea of building castles and separating the world in different castles, or Europe in different castles is a crazy idea and it is not the solution it pretends to have. I strongly believe that we need to think about it and of course we – I mean “us” in the Western Balkans – are very clear about it, but at the same time I have mentioned before that the European Union today is not in its best shape. It suffers from a lot of distractions and also suffers from a very sensible fear. We kind of feel it. There is fear about the future of the European Union and it looks somehow like populism and the need for re-election have created a kind of mixture that time after time becomes a policy that harms the future of the great project that the European Union is.

I don’t think that there is yet a proper and unified answer to that and this of course creates room for insecurity and for strange feelings and reactions. But still I believe that in our modest size and in our humble position we have to do our best and for us this is the key, for Albania is the key to strengthen the relations with the neighbours, to solve problems of the past, to make the best out of the fact that we have had a very mixed life, as there are many Albanians living in Greece, and there are a lot of Greeks who live in Albania. I am bringing an example, but the case is the same in North Macedonia. North Macedonia is based on this harmony between Macedonians and Albanians, so it is Kosovo, so it is Serbia and every other country in the region. We need to change once and forever the attitude and see these presences in our own states as an incredible treasure and we need to cherish this treasure and make the best out of it by leaving as an inheritance to our children and the children of our children this incredible source of energy and harmony, that is having others in your own house and make them feel as if they are in their house.

This is also crucial to be stronger when we are hit by waves of populism or discontent that have always a tendency to bash the other, to bash who is different, to bash who suddenly becomes a foreigner, although being there for centuries or decades, no matter what, but having a family, having children, who speak both languages and who are ready to give their best to that house,” Prime Minister Rama said about Western Balkans’ path towards the European Union.

Answering to the panel’s interest regarding bilateral relations, PM Rama said:

“To the dear lady who posed the question, I would say that this was an agreement that was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Albania. I am very confident that we are on the right track. We had intense dialogue with the previous government on a whole package of issues that need to be addressed, that need to be solved because these issues become suddenly, time after time, hot potatoes in the fire of local politics, while they are simply issues that are far less heavy and important than the ground on which the Albanian-Greek relations have developed, which is the ground of magnificent relations between people.

Our challenge is to make politics between the two countries as good, as excellent as the relations between people. And what I understand from my Greek friends and what I see among my Albanian fellows, there is no bitterness, there is no negative sentiment between the people. It is all the contrary, all the contrary, and we owe to the people to bring the relations at that level and I am absolutely confident that with the new government here we are on the right track and we have all we need to solve not only that, but all the remaining things, which then cannot be anymore used by dark forces in our societies as reasons to start firing the situation and start popping up the ghosts of the past.

I have a very simple idea, which I have presented before and I very much hope that sooner rather than later we will have a common ground on that when it comes to the maritime zone we can address that issue with the help of others, namely a third country amicably helping us or, even better, the international court of law. And this can then be fair and objective and it cannot be used by “patriots” here and there. Just imagine. The Prime Minister of Greece addresses to the Greek Parliament about an absolutely legitimate right of Greece, based on the International Convention on the Law of the Sea to extend its own maritime borders by 12 miles and just that becomes an issue through the social networks in Albania, as well as in the political circles, like the Greek Prime Minister has to respond to people that do not know what they are talking about. So, it is like all the time fuelling discontent and disagreements based on issues that can be solved.

As for the question you asked, it is even much more complicated, but I have to say one thing. We are in a strategic partnership with Greece and Turkey, but I don’t feel that Albania is between a rock and a hard place. I believe that there is absolutely a potential in the Greek-Turkish relation to become a relation that can be helpful also for Europe, because Turkey is instrumental for the geography of Europe  and Greece is absolutely instrumental for the borders of Europe. What I can undoubtedly say is that Turkish President is not an anti-Greek or an anti-Greek politician and by no doubt the past here has shown that where there is a will there is a solution. And dialogue, dialogue and only dialogue without letting others in it and without bringing others, but just straightforward dialogue. Of course, it is not easy, but it is absolutely possible and I am 100% confident that constructive Greek-Turkish relations can be an added value for the whole Europe. And in fact, Greece is in the right place to be in between like an honest broker and I am sure this will happen, but until it happens, I don’t know what is going to happen. This is my last quote.”

The Premier went on further saying that the people in both countries should be seen like a treasure with an incredible potential to the bilateral relations.

“I have to contradict Dora on one point. The Constitutional Court of Albania has ruled about this agreement in 2009. At that time, I had never met, never spoke and never heard from President Erdogan, back then the Prime Minister of Turkey, and we had no relations. Because we were the main opposition party and we decided to take the agreement to the Court for a simple reason. There was a big debate in the society that was started by some civil society representatives and I didn’t want the debate to become political and become the usual fight between the opposition and the government in our region, about traitors, about patriots and about all this nonsense. And I said, we will bring it to the Court. The Court has all the instruments to check.  So the idea – and I have heard it in Albania and I have heard it even last week from high-ranking authorities, former and new, that this is an agreement that has been prevented by the interference of Turkey. This is absolutely not true and I can say and this is just my word – I don’t have any recorded thing – but in any meeting with President Erdogan, I have never heard from him that this agreement or this issue between Albania and Greece is any Turkish interest. Never. This is the truth.

So, we just need to clean the air from this kind of ideas, because they can affect our attitude towards each other, in the sense, do we need to solve this? -Yes.

Do we have to solve it? – Yes.

Do we have a common understanding that this is solvable? –Yes.

I am very much grateful to Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the Foreign Minister Dendias, because they have had a very constructive attitude and they have shown the will to solve it, without having to go back like nothing happened before, but by taking stock of what we worked together with the previous government and approaching it with open heart and a clear mind that nobody is interested to keep this kind of issues as impediment for us to release whole potential of this relation,” the government head said, adding “we need to see our own people in each other’s country like a treasure and we need to and we need to preserve this incredible potential that Albanians in Greece and Greeks in Albania can offer to this relation.“

*Simultaneous interpretation