Prime Minister Edi Rama at the Skopje Economic Forum, invited to talk about Europe, the region, Greece and Turkey from Albania’s viewpoint:

Hello ladies and gentlemen! It is an honour to have the Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev with us here. It is a great honor to hold a discussion with the Albanian Prime Minister, Mr. Edi Rama. Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister for joining us in this forum today. You won general elections most recently and I have read you have said that it was the most difficult, strongest and the most beautiful victory of your party. So my question is, what is your vision for Albania during the next term in office and how do you see Albania’s role in the Balkans?
Prime Minister Edi Rama: Thank you very much! I think that by definition every recent victory is certainly the most beautiful one. Yet it won’t be as beautiful as the next victory. But ultimately, victories in policies are not like victories in sports, because when you win a trophy, it ends right there, whereas when you win an election it is just the beginning. The election victory is just about the privilege to serve and facing a very challenging mission.
On the other hand, I must recall at the very beginning that I am here together with my brother Zoran after something not new at all for me that happened in Brussels and I am sure it is not something new for Zoran too. So, we will have to wait again. However, for me this is not waiting. It is just always the same thing. What we need to do is to keep moving and moving and not just rely on what Brussels says, but also relying on ourselves, on our people, our energy and do as much as we can to merge missions into one single mission, people into one people, countries into one borderless area in terms of cooperation and where Europe’s four freedoms are implemented.
We’re too small to live isolated from one another.
We are too small to be looking for the future of our children on our own, but we can do it together and together we can achieve the things they deserve. So, the spaces limited by our borders are not attractive enough to aim a transforming change as an economy. Only together our economies can become attractive and we need to make it attractive enough for everyone for companies to invest and it is up to us to transform and realistically make it an area with everyone approaching to invest, to see economic development for the companies and the people in this area.
– Obviously the forum organizers come from Greece, so allow me to ask you about the bilateral relations between Greece and Albania. You have met the Prime Minister and according to Greek sources you have decided to speed up the arbitration agreement. However, it looks like the process has been slowed down. My question is how long it would last?
PM Edi Rama: I wouldn’t say it has been slowed down compared to the decades long it has taken to be addressed. I think it is a good step on this direction. Our bilateral relations are not just about that. This is just one of the problems that need to be solved, but in the meantime we have so many things in common. We have so many common reasons to look forward patiently for a much stronger cooperation. I must say I am really positively surprised by the new government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Greece in the sense that they are very open-minded and they are persons, or representatives who do not look for exclusions, but they look for inclusion.
So, we all have a lot at stake when it comes to this issue. Greece is of course a different reality, given that Greece is part of the European Union, but for Greece too is unimaginable that the back is turned to the region and not to have a more consistent and more practical role in the region’s development. Of course, the financial crisis has made Greek politics somehow more introvert for good reasons, but now with the nightmare over, Greece is yet on a safe path towards growth and stability. I hope Greece enhances its presence also in the region.
– Allow me to insist on the arbitration agreement…
PM Edi Rama: It is actually your duty to insist and it is my duty to provide the answers I want.
– Is there a discussion about the arbitration agreement and other bilateral issues between the two countries, Albania and Greece, like the war law for example, which is a pending issue between the two countries. Have you asked for…
PM Edi Rama: First of all, the two are not connected. Second, there are certainly issues between us, but I don’t want to talk about issues as a problem. I want to talk about issues as an opportunity, because the more we treat them, the better is for us and, most importantly, for our people. Because you feel bad when you see people, you feel bad for being a politician in such a relation. There is no problem between Greeks and Albanians. Nor there is any problem between the Greek and Albanian nationals in Albania, where an important Greek minority lives. And of course, there is no problem between the Greek citizens and Albanian nationals in Greece. They are far ahead of us and they have realized they need each other. So, we just need to be at the same level and reflect this common sense among ordinary people to live together.
When it comes to the maritime border issue, it is very clear. We have decided to refer the case to the court and we are happy that the Greek side accepted it. This has been the primary alternative since I took office as Prime Minister, as we are Balkans, we are Mediterranean people, we are passionate and it is difficult for us to be objective when it comes to discussing something. Therefore, we needed an arbiter. 
As for the issue of the war law, this is one of the biggest paradoxes, because officially we are at war with Greece. Can you imagine that? I hope that the Greek government will abolish it, because it really is something that shows that we still lag far behind the people and signing the Friendship, Cooperation, Security and Good Neighbourly Treaty in 1996 was really an expression of the reality, but just imagine, we are in a relation with both of us having to be very good neighbours, but also still being at war with each other. This is typical Balkan love. But I think we need to abolish it, so that we don’t love and hate simultaneously.
– You said there are good relations between Albania and Greece. You said that there is an open-minded relationship, but at the same time we know you have good relations with Turkey. The President of Turkey says you are strategic partners, so what is this relationship? 
PM Edi Rama: Are you jealous? I don’t think you should be jealous. Everyone should have good relations with Turkey and I think Greece should also have good relations, EU should have good relations with Turkey, because it is absolutely in best interest of both sides and, in the meantime, having not a good relationship with Turkey is not a good idea. So, to us this is very clear. We live amid a triangle of countries and nations and history that naturally makes us strategic partners; Italy, Turkey, Greece. So we are OK with that and I strongly believe that Turkey and Greece have a lot in common to share and they can do so many things together and for one another, that perhaps today, for many it is unimaginable how important and beneficial such a relation is for both countries. Of course there are issues that need to be solved, yet I think there is again a way to solve them through good will. I am optimistic about the new chapter gradually but steadily being opened between the two sides. So, I hope they will be able to solve them through talks and allow me say that knowing both men, I have been thinking and I still think that if they meet in person and see each other in the eyes they can really do wonderful changes for this relation, as they are two men with a strong sense of leadership, they are two men who care about their people, as well as about the future. So I hope it will happen this way and I hope it will prove to many jealous people in Greece that they are wrong. We live in a region full of jealousy, so you are not alone.
– It is not about jealousy but the fact that Turkey sometimes breaches the international right and this is what Greece is opposing.
PM Edi Rama: I am talking about your jealousy, and I am not talking about the official jealousy as this is not up to me to do so. Again, yes, there are different approaches, there are different interpretations, there are different reasons and of course there are a lot of things to be blamed, but this blame game leads to nowhere for many years, therefore I think that both countries decide to talk and solve this, it would be way too better. Everyone has reasons to blame the other. I will not go over this and don’t expect me to say that the Turks are wrong, the Greeks are right. Just like I would never say Greeks are wrong and the Turks are right. For us, they are both very valuable partners, very precious friends, so I strongly believe that it is in the interest of Greece to have good relations with Turkey and of course, vice versa. 
– Let us go on with the EU relations with Albania. The General Affairs Council failed to reach an agreement to start talks with Albania a day ago. The Bulgarian veto on North Macedonia punished Albania although the 27 EU member states agreed that Albania met the conditions.
PM Edi Rama: This is not the first time they fail in reaching an agreement. We are used to it. I once used to be overwhelmed with emotions while waiting for their decision. It was just like preparing for marriage, with everything decided, with everyone beautifully dressed, as if having booked for the orchestra playing best music, having prepared best food possible, yet the bride doesn’t show up at all. The bride does so once, twice, then forget it. They do what they have to do. We have to do what we have to do. It has nothing to do with punishment. I do not feel penalized. I don’t feel that way, because we keep doing our job, and that’s why they all ultimately agree we are ready – we were actually ready previously and I don’t think we weren’t really ready just because some countries said we weren’t. We know how it works. They experience their own troubles and they have their own choices. For example, I have always told Albanian public, forget it until elections complete in the Netherlands. And all of the sudden, once the elections were over, we were ready. Okay, as the legendary Donald Trump would say, that’s the way it is.
I am not worried at all about that. I am worried how much we would be able to take it forward, how much we will move forward and we do so not just because some people in Berlin, Paris or Brussels ask us to do it. We do it because it is the right thing to be done for our people, for our children to build functioning European states. Of course, this is quite a useful process. This is the reason why we are pretty much interested in the process, because it is a tool that otherwise it can’t be invented as it has to do with the know-how and the whole journey. However, they may not reach an agreement time after time and this is not a problem. I actually came here to encourage Zoran, because he has done incredible efforts, something that nobody believes it would ever happen in this country. I know this country. We are part of this country, because a significant part of this country’s population is Albanian. But it is really great for this country to have a leader who would do whatever it takes to change the discourse, fight against all odds, open the party of North Macedonia – and I am not saying Macedonia since you are a Greek – to include Albanians on the list and show this is the party of all people and not the party of few ethnic people and solve the issue with you, the Greeks. He and everyone has the right to feel frustrated because all of a sudden, there’s Bulgaria demanding something more. I told Zoran that I hope they wouldn’t demand that you call yourselves Western Bulgaria, because in that case you would have to sit again with Greece to negotiate. It is a joke, Zoran. You know it.
No, it is not us who didn’t succeed, it is them who didn’t.
They have their own reasons, and I understand that – it is their home and we want to come in. We have yet to yet to have our share in that house. We are Europeans without being part of the EU. We are Europe, we are right in the middle of Europe, we are surrounded by the EU borders. It is incredible and we have yet to become part of their house. The only thing is that they could have always very sincerely told us: We love you, we want you to join us, but we have yet to address some problems first, and therefore your rooms are not ready yet. They’ve kept saying you are still not ready, which is not true. They could have simply said you’ve done your job, but we are not ready. What do they mean by saying we are not ready? This is not true. This is what really causes problems here, because all people here, in Albania and elsewhere listen to this people with respect and blame us, saying “you are the problem, because these people are really good ones as they welcome you, but you are the problem.” This is the only thing I oppose. They could have told us that we have done the work we had to do, but we are not yet ready instead of saying “we love you, we are looking forward to marrying you, but you are not well dressed and you stink.” No, this is not true. I can go on talking endlessly about this, but let me stop here as I don’t want to cause more troubles to Zoran.
– Prime Minister, thank you for your time, thank you for your presence in North Macedonia.
– This was it, quite European, not many words. We are on time.
PM Edi Rama: It means we have learned something from them.
–Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for coming, for traveling from Tirana to attend the forum here. I would also like to thank Prime Minister Zaev. This was an excellent moment of our conference.
PM Edi Rama: I would also like to thank you so much for something very special I had to experience here since thanks to your Forum I had the opportunity to meet again a legend, Mr. Butari, who has once promised to visit Albania. He has yet to deliver on his promise, but I am very happy to meet him here. He is a legend and I respect him a lot. When we met last time, Nikolai introduced him as the Mayor, but I said: “No, he has never been a Mayor, but an institution on his own. He is the living example showing that socialism can work.”
– Thank you very much! I promise we will bring him to the Tirana Forum too, Mr. Prime Minister.

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