Austria backs opening EU accession negotiations with Albania

Remarks at joint press conference between Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna:

Dear ladies and gentlemen, honourable Prime Minister, dear Edi,

I would like to welcome you here in Vienna and thank you for the good exchange and cooperation and I like to inform you that we are very happy that the Republic has very good contact to all the Western Balkan states and Albania in particular. We also have an excellent political cooperation, as well as strong economic exchange that are crucial to investment. Many Austrian investors are operating in Albania and Austrian exports to Albania have increased and trade and economic exchanges have grown too. We are happy about this good political but also economic cooperation. Of course we support all Western Balkan states, including Albania, in their bid to move closer to EU and want Western Balkan countries to advance step by step the necessary reforms.

There are certain EU member states, which due to their domestic situation have adopted another, or a critical look at things, but Austria is a partner of Albania and other Western Balkan countries to bring them closer to EU. All Western Balkan countries need a clear European prospect. This is path to reforms. This is also the pathway within states in a region plagued by long-standing ethnic tensions or other minor political problems. But that is also a guarantee for our security, for our stability in Europe. This stability in the Balkan countries is translated into greater security and stability in our own country, Austria.

The today’s talks focused on the fight against illegal immigration. Right now, the Balkans has emerged as the newest route for illegal immigrants. Smugglers try to get people out of Greece through the territory of Albania to Central Europe. This is of great importance because we have to fight against this phenomenon and against this route. I am very pleased we share same opinion and have discovered the early indicators not only in Austria but also in Albania. You should notice that the refugee numbers are growing and we must act to address this issue now before these problems grow big, just like it was the case back in 2015 and 2017.

I would like to wholeheartedly appreciate Mr. Prime Minister for Albania’s readiness to combat illegal immigration and smugglers. In this respect, Albania needs and deserves our support.

The Premier has asked for my support and I have pledged to stand by and strongly support Albania, including a financial support for Albania and other countries along this newly emerging illegal immigration route in order to combat this phenomenon.

In addition, we will also support Albania bilaterally when it comes to staff support, including police officers but also in other fields. I will be here together with the Minister of the Interior get in touch with the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior of Albania together with other EU partners in order to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants before their number grows.

Thank you very much!

Prime Minister Edi Rama:

Thank you very much for the hospitality in this capital where the Western Balkans has historically been on the focus of attention and where whenever I visit I feel Austria’s and its government commitment to the process of Western Balkans and Albania’s integration into the European Union.

I am very pleased to revisit Vienna today and meet with Prime Minister, our friend Sebastian Kurz, who as a former Foreign Minister has become a Western Balkans expert and has extremely detailed knowledge about our region.

Albania and Austria have excellent relations. Austria has been a staunch unwavering supporter of Albania and the Albanian people since the very first day of democratic change in our country. Austria is today an invaluable advocate on our path to full integration into the European family and I want to express our gratitude to the Prime Minister the Austrian government and the people for this unsparing support.

As you just pointed out, we see a steady progress in the bilateral relations, economic and trade exchanges. Likewise, thanks to Austria’s contribution, we also witness a significant progress in the process of improving relations within our region. With the Prime Minister, we also talked about expectations from the Austrian Presidency of the European Union in the next 6 months and we want to cooperate to further advance our project launched by me and today’s President and former Prime Minister of Serbia, Alexander Vucic, on a single market in the Western Balkans, about which I am also grateful to the Chancellor for expressing his interest and support.

On the other hand, I am very pleased about being in full harmony with the Chancellor about a potential new Balkan route for the immigrants stranded in Greece who may enter Albania to reach then Central Europe. There is an ever alarmingly growing influx that has been thoroughly controlled by us for now us now, but we need a close and immediate cooperation to prevent the recurrence of the scenes that worried and even shocked Europe in 2015. We have fully agreed on a close cooperation with Austria and, of course, with other interested countries.

I would once again express our gratitude to the Chancellor for the support. I would also like to appreciate him for his readiness to assist and fully explain the necessity of continuing the integration process, opening the accession negotiations because Albania deserves it and has received a merit-based positive and unconditional recommendation from the European Commission and convince certain friendly countries, which, as the Chancellor said, due to their internal and domestic reasons are currently sceptical.

Thank you so much once again!

Will Albania be able to open the accession talks during the Austria’s EU presidency, which starts on â July?

Chancellor Kurz: We will see that. I can’t give an answer or any assurance on this. Just like the Prime Minister said there are several EU member states which, due to their domestic problems or issues are finding it hard to make a decision and say “yes”.

However there is a strong desire in Albania to keep on the path of reforms. Albania has made significant progress on the road towards European integration over the past years and the accession negotiations are on the right path. However I don’t know when such a decision will be made. I can’t say it yet, but I can say that Albania is on the right path and the European Commission has already affirmed it. I think this is certainly true.

How emigration has changed over the years. How many refugees have made it to the country? Have you adopted concrete measures and have you talked about concrete measures as part of your joint efforts? I have also another question for the Chancellor. A day ago, the Vice-Chancellor asked what is this fresh refugee crisis and the new Balkan route?

Prime Minister Edi Rama: To get a clearer idea of ​​what is worrying us and why we have been addressing to our friends here in Austria over the past weeks in order to build a cooperation now without waiting for things to worsen just like it happened in 2015, is that some 2311 illegal immigrants entered Albania during the period from January through May compared to only 162 irregular migrants during the first five months of the past year.

It is still a low figure if compared to the 2015 refugee influx, but it is a worrisome signal. For the time being, Albania has succeeded in handling the situation on its own, but it is indispensable to find ways to avoid repeating mistakes and make sure Europe is not taken aback should the refugee number grows. You should also consider that good weather is one of the factors behind the growing influx of immigrants and that’s why together with the Chancellor we discussed exact ways of cooperation and the assistance we need in order to be ready and fully address the legitimate requests from Austria, Germany or other countries so that we can play our role and assume our responsibility.

We are ready to cooperate but previous experience back in 2015 has shown this problem cannot be handled alone and we don’t want people to travel to and cross Albania’s borders in order to continue their journey, but we want them be treated in a dignified manner and we are ready to make available our whole capacities as part of this cooperation in order to secure our borders and provide dignified treatment of all this people. In this context, I would like to repeat what the Chancellor said that I believe we have the capabilities and the right plan to prevent the recurrence of the unprecedented influx of refugees the EU experienced in 2015, which would be dramatic to us all.

Chancellor Kurz: Regarding the second question, I would say that the regime program clearly shows our position. The Vice-Chancellor’s statement should not be misinterpreted.

Regarding your first question, since you talked about concrete cooperation with Albania, I would like to thank Albanian Prime Minister because we don’t want to see what it happened in 2015 to be repeated again. We don’t want mistakes to be repeated in the future. The problems are growing and therefore we need to secure borders at a European level. Albania and other countries along this new route need European support.

Secondly, we want to support Albania bilaterally. The interior ministers of both countries have established contacts with each other. We discussed it today and we are looking forward to continuing talks at an expert level. The Albanian authorities and police are working and we will do whatever it takes to provide them the best assistance possible. We also discussed the very close cooperation with other countries in the region, as well as the financial assistance the European Union will provide. We also had technical talks.

Thank you very much!

Postal Address

Embasy of Albania
Prinz Eugen Str. 18/1/5
A-1040 Wien

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