Relations with North Macedonia, strategically irreplaceable

Joint press conference by the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama and the Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, in Tirana:
PM Edi Rama:
Good afternoon!
Honourable Prime Minister,
Dear Zoran!
It is my special pleasure, and I am not saying because of the protocol rules, but, because it really gives me a great pleasure to welcome you and the accompanying delegation.
Your visit comes after a historic and major achievement, which is a result of your leadership and the leadership of our common friend, Prime Minister Tsipras, the Prespa Agreement that ended a perennial impasse, cleared the way for North Macedonia’s membership of NATO and released great positive energy for further progress on the common path towards European Union integration.
I am very pleased that Albania, as it befits, was one the first countries to ratify North Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol. To us, the Republic of North Macedonia is not merely a neighbouring country, but a friendly state, strategically irreplaceable and inalienable, and our relations are now cultivated and developed through the best principles and values we share as two countries that belong to Europe and which will join together around the table of the European family.
I am grateful, Albanians are grateful to you for the fact that by showing an extraordinary courage and visionary leadership you paved the way for a missing yet and indispensable harmony between Albanians and the Macedonians in your country.
For us, your parliament’s session in Albanian language marked both symbolically and significantly a milestone and a reason for us to continue being staunch promoters of the idea that the North Macedonia’s integrity and stability is of a strategic interest to our Republic.
We are together at a special moment as we move forward towards the long-awaited decision on opening the accession negotiations with the European Union and the joint work we are doing, the expertise exchange and the experience accumulating and sharing step by step are helping us extremely a lot.
I am very pleased that we agree to move forward with establishment of a common economic zone, and not only that, by finalizing a technically complicated, but strategically necessary process of maximum border easement.
As we have already discussed, we have launched a process with Kosovo, although a misunderstood process here and there, mulling over a Schengen-like model, which would be to us just the starting point of a process that should expand into the whole region and which we are willing and committed to materialize, first and foremost with our neighbours, not only with Kosovo, but also with North Macedonia and Montenegro, wishing and being confident that all Western Balkan countries should join this process and that borders between our countries become as fluid as the borders between the EU member states.
If we have to do this with all EU member states once we become members of Union, then no one is preventing us from doing it among ourselves today, rather than tomorrow.
I am very pleased we agree on this and that we will work together that sooner or later we will provide our citizens with the opportunity to enter and leave both countries without any barriers, controls and problems, just as EU nationals do.
We held a joint session of both governments 15 months ago and it is high time for the second session, of course waiting for your official invitation. Because it is you who should now welcome us and cover the lunch cost, but I believe you and the parties in the governing coalition will agree to share bills and expenses.
Today we practically held not a routine, but meaningful meeting and we will keep discussing and talking, because there are many things we can accomplish together, as the Prime Minister said, at an extremely positive moment for North Macedonia in terms of a fresh jumpstart on the path of economic development and foreign investment growth. The volume of trade exchange between the two countries has increased significantly. Last year, the trade exchange has increased by 11%, but I think it is smaller compared to our potential, yet it is high compared to the past.
Just as many infrastructure projects unite us and the extension of Arber Road to Bllate-Skopje segment is a strategic need, and I hope your government will soon start the realization in accordance to possibilities and plans, hopefully in a near future.
To conclude, I would like go back to what is, I believe, the inalienable basis of this friendship that only has the potential to further strengthen, Albanians in the North Macedonia. The adoption of the law on languages ​​and the beginning of its implementation, the fundamentally improved interethnic climate and the move from words to deeds, thanks to your will, are indisputable reasons for us to strengthen this relationship every day.
The courage and willingness to move from words to deeds characterizes the today’s leadership of the Republic of North Macedonia and the accord on the Albanian language, its use at a broad official and administrative level to allow access and equality to all citizens in their relations with the state administration is definitely fantastic. We will continue with same commitment. I am extremely pleased that by welcoming and appreciating the decision to open the Honorary Consulate in Manastir as an example of strengthening bilateral relations, on the other hand I would like to confirm our readiness, desire and commitment that the Macedonian minority living in Albania enjoy absolutely the best fruits of all this positive climate, to grow the tree of traditional friendship, which is a friendship that will be strengthened and that is significantly strategic.
Dear Zoran,
Thank you very much for your presence in Tirana!
Thank you very much to the friends accompanying you and before inviting you to take the floor, I would like to express my great confidence that we learn a lot through this cooperation and the lessons we learn from each other in every aspect will be more helpful and worth in the future.
PM Zoran Zaev: Dear Edi,
Honourable cabinet members,
Honourable participants;
Honourable reporters!
Allow me first to express our gratitude and satisfaction for being here in the friendly country of Albania. Allow me that on behalf of the citizens and the government of the Republic of North Macedonia and on my personal behalf, to express gratitude for being one of the first countries to ratify North Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol through an accelerated procedure. The move sent a powerful friendly message and we are very grateful for that.
We expect that the Republic of North Macedonia joins the Alliance, where the Republic of Albania is a member state since 2009, to become the NATO-s 30th full-fledged member by end of this year. This is one of the country’s strategic goals. But in parallel with these expectations, our hope is that accession negotiations with the European Union open in June 2019.
June 2019 is a crucial date to the European perspective for our two countries, both the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania. To us, a credible accession process implies sustainability of criteria for demonstrating a democratic mature society and merit-based accomplishments, that is, delivered results in our reform efforts. If we fulfil our tasks, then we expect the EU to adopt a positive approach towards our two countries.
In our country, we succeeded in laying the foundations of a society for all, and we are working, through attempts for maximum consensus with the opposition on all legal reforms necessary for the European integration.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement in the Republic of North Macedonia is working and it will now take just social cohesion and its implementation by the administration in order to really build a “one for all” society.
Experience has shown that dialogue and reasonable cooperation among all stakeholders in the society, especially between the government and the opposition, is what paves the way forward for the country and we believe this is the path all Balkan countries should follow in order to achieve their European strategic goal.
So, we are on a visit like friends and want to send the friendly message to all factors in Albania that solutions can be reached through dialogue. I Zoran Zaev was not in opposition 100 years ago, but just 21 months ago, but we never allowed creation of an impression in front of European institution that we opposed the start of accession talks with the EU. No matter whether we are in the opposition or in government, we should definitely work together to achieve this strategic objective.
We are friends of every citizen of the Republic of Albania and we really wish the best for the Republic of Albania and the Albanian people.
Today, following the meeting with Prime Minister Rama, we further strengthen our common position and agree that there is more room to further deepen cooperation between the two countries. The Republic of Albania is one of our closest friends but also partners, with whom I am convinced that we can, also in this direction, work to ensure prosperity and security, as well as European perspectives of our countries, but also for the region. We know our task as political leaders. Citizens expect the politics to create conditions for progress of the economy and better living standards.
The economic cooperation with Albania, as Edi noted, has increased by 11.5%. This is an incredible success, but we should work more to develop a greater potential.
The open process for the Republic of Northern Macedonia’s NATO membership has already had a positive effect. The number of foreign investors interested in investing in our country has increased. In 2018, foreign investments in our country doubled compared to two years ago, or prior to the previous government, or were much higher than in 2013-2014, the most successful years when economic growth ranged from 11 to 12 %.
The increased economic cooperation in the region is what the European Union expects to see. And if we are economically stronger states, this will be an argument plus the European aspirations of our two countries. We are also promoting bilateral cooperation between Northern Macedonia and Albania. We motivate the business chambers of our two countries to even closer cooperation. We expect that the One Stop Shop project at the Qafe Thane border crossing will increase the mobility of people and goods and general trade.
And we continue to work on interconnectivity, construction of road and railway infrastructure, as part of the Corridor 8 project in particular. We are working on the Kerçova – Ohrid road project. I hope that we will soon also construct Kërçova – Lin railway, while work is underway on the final stage of the required documentation on the Kerçova – Diber road project towards the border with Albania and a strategic section for the interconnectivity between the two our countries. Our obligation is to boost cooperation between the two countries, as well as in the process of establishing an economic zone, agreed within the framework of the Berlin Process.
We need to stay focused on positive democratic changes that will lead us to Europe. The Republic of North Macedonia is doing so, and in the Republic of Albania we see a potential and partnership in this process of full integration of the whole region.
Thank you very much!
Mr. PM Zaev, you highlighted the word dialogue in your remarks, but, unfortunately, the international dictionaries of politics have included also the term “the Macedonian scenario,” which is now happening in Albania too. A Macedonia-like scenario has been suggested by the Albanian opposition that is inspired by the Macedonian opposition. How would you comment the recent development in Albania where opposition MPs have relinquished their mandates?
PM Rama, the Russian influence is being articulated recently, and the head of the State Intelligence Service (SHISH) also mentioned attempts to capture high-level officials during a behind-closed door meeting at the Parliamentary Committee on Security. How real is this influence and what are the actions the government is taking to prevent Russia’s influence? Since Macedonia faces similar situation, PM Zaev can also answer to this question.
PM Zoran Zaev: As I already said, we were in opposition just 21 months ago. I am now honoured to serve as the Prime Minister of my country and it is not a distant time to recall what really happened and even draw a parallel with your country. I reiterate, we are friends to every citizen of the Republic of Albania. We are visiting the country as friends, but I want to highlight that while I was in opposition the U.S. Department of State reports and the EU reports suggested the existence of a hybrid regime in the Republic of North Macedonia. The right to democratic processes was possible at that time, just like it is the case in the Republic of Albania, but every time, I had talks with Commissioner Hahn, MEPs and EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and entire EU leadership in my capacity as the then opposition leader I always begged for an accession talks date to be set for my country, because this was my country’s strategic goal, despite the internal political confrontations. Indeed, I understand the opposition, wherever it might emerge. We should all care about the country’s European perspective, regardless whether being in the government or opposition. So the state is an obligation to everyone and that’s why we exist as political parties, but we also exist for our citizens. As a friend of the Republic of Albania I really wish all the best to this friendly nation and people. Everyone has the right to protest as a democratic tool, but we should always care about the country’s future.
My country is an EU candidate since 2005. The citizens of Albania wait for years to see the negotiating chapters open, expect significant funding to be allocated so that we usher in the so-called golden age when the European Union will increase our economic standards through negotiations. That’s why we should become full EU members. That’s why I shared with the positive aspects of our country, because all these are translated into more foreign investments, new jobs and higher paying jobs for the citizens. I know that setting a date for opening the accession talks with the EU is the primary strategic objective of our two countries and we hope to achieve success in this respect.
PM Edi Rama: Russia is not a fan of European Union and the EU enlargement and of course there could be no support for the European progress of any of the Western Balkan countries. This is not a secret, but we have a national agenda to join the European family. Whenever this agenda is threatened, whoever is not a fan of Europe and European Union, Albania’s and Western Balkans’ full European integration certainly see a window of opportunity. This is all.
Mr. Rama, while you are waiting an invitation from PM Zaev for a second joint session of both governments, would you provide an outline of the progress of the agreements you have already signed during the first joint government session?
Mr. Zaev, what is your government’s political position regarding a regional Schengen model among the Western Balkan countries? You have discussed this issue at today’s meeting. Did you discussed concrete terms as when implementation of such a model is about to start, given that Albania and Kosovo are set to start its implementation in the middle of this year?
PM Edi Rama: I didn’t go over details about progress in our relations and bilateral agreements, but I can say this: the relations between Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia have never been better than today, they have never been more productive and more promising than today. This is a clear as the sunlight.
PM Zoran Zaev: I would make only a comment since I didn’t make any about the meeting between the two governments. The next joint session will be held in summer, after the presidential elections in Macedonia and after local elections in Albania. The joint session between the two governments will be held and our institutions will take advantage of the meeting to take stock of the positive developments and accomplishments between them. One of these issues concerns opening the One Stop Shop at Qafe Thane border crossing point where we will at least halve the border wait times both for travellers and the goods exchanged between our countries. We will adopt a single one border control policy by the customs officials. The same policy will be applied to the goods and the move represents a further step forward in advancing free mobility among the six Western Balkan countries under the Berlin Process.
However, our common goal is full integration into the European Union and, therefore, the full integration of citizens, the avoidance of borders and the accession to the European family, and the steps that we are really taking will lead us towards this path. The next step will include preparation of our institutions to delegate full credibility to the institutions of the Republic of Albania, such as the Food and Veterinary Agency. If we find that a food being exported to the Republic of North Macedonia meets the standards of the Republic of Albania, then this would be enough to allow such a product enter our country and vice-versa. This will be valid to other institutions too. These measures are designed to cut the border wait times by 10 to 20%.
As my friend Edi said our task is to work and make sure that economy grows, salaries hike, but also the overall export of our region to European countries also increases.
PM Edi Rama: Thank you!

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