President of Albania

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Jean Claude Mignon; distinguished Secretary General, Thorbjorn Jagland; distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly; dear guests, ladies and gentlemen; I wholeheartedly thank you for the invitation extended to me to address this session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is an Organisation based on the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe has played an important role in strengthening unity in the European arena based on those values, and in facilitating the process of integration into the European Union.

It is a distinct privilege and pleasure for me to be here today, in the Palais de l’Europe, representing the first Albanian presidency of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe.

I should like to seize this opportunity to thank President Mignon wholeheartedly for the very warm and friendly welcome shown to me and the Albanian delegation during our stay in Strasbourg.

Permit me to express my special regard and esteem for Secretary General Jagland, in view of the excellent contribution that he and his team have made to the reformation of the Council of Europe, aimed at the transformation of this Organisation into a powerful political actor and the growth of its visibility beyond the borders of the European arena.

Mr President, during the initial part of its transitional period, Albania, having survived the harshest dictatorship on the continent and total isolation, faced an urgent need for real democratic institutions and a European legal framework that would support the foundations of a new state based on the rule of law and a free market economy. For this reason, in the early 1990s, the first contacts were set up with European political institutions, such as the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as with a number of financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In that context, communication with the Council of Europe and its institutions was the most intensive and most needed process for Albania’s fragile democracy, which was taking its very first steps. We considered Albania’s membership of the Council of Europe not as an objective per se, but as a necessary instrument to consolidate the democratic institutions of the rule of law, serving our citizens and our European aspiration. In 1995, Albania became a fully fledged member of the Council of Europe, which marked an encouraging moment for the new Albanian democracy and a very important step in the consolidation of relations between Albania and the Council of Europe.

The six-month period between 23 May and 9 November 2012 marks another culminating event in the 20-year history of our co-operation, as, for the first time, Albania chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Throughout the two decades, Albania and Albanian society underwent the deepest, widest and most intensive transformation in the 1 000-year-old history of the ancient Albanian nation. The country that held records in violating human rights is now at the helm of the Committee of Ministers – it is at the helm of this European temple of human rights. Albania, once notorious for its blind, fanatical hostility towards the Western world, is now a member of NATO and is contributing peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Once a consumer of security, Albania has been transformed into a contributor to the security of countries in the region and of democratic countries worldwide. Once a completely isolated country, Albania now looks forward with confidence to gaining, based on its merits, the status of a candidate country for accession to the European Union, while Albanian citizens now travel freely without visas in Europe.

Once a country with a deeply autocratic economy, Albania has turned into a completely dynamic free-market economy. My country is successfully handing the impact of the global economic and financial crisis, demonstrating positive economic and financial growth, as a result of prudent, well-structured macroeconomic reforms, trade liberalisation, the encouragement of an entrepreneurial atmosphere and a range of other bold reforms undertaken in this sector. Between 2007 and 2012 our average economic GDP growth reached 5%. The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report 2011-2012 ranks Albania 78th out of 142 countries and economies. The World Bank’s “Doing Business 2012” report ranks Albania 82nd out of 183 economies on the ease of doing business, 24th on getting credit and 16th on protecting investors – that places Albania among the countries with the best results.

We are aware of what is expected from the Albanian authorities – we are expected to increase standards. We are fully committed to improving them continuously, in order to be able to integrate into the European family with dignity. These concrete steps are turning into reality the eternal European dream of the Albanians – an aspiration that caused crowds of students and citizens to fill the streets and squares chanting “We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe!” That was the motto that inspired Albanians in their final battle against the last dictatorship of Europe. Albania is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence. The efforts of the Albanian nation to maintain its territorial integrity against possible partitions, ethnic cleansing and various occupations have been countless. Now we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence as a free nation, which knew how to make use of the values of freedom and bring about real achievements.

Dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly, ever since the first moment of Albania’s membership of the Council of Europe this Organisation and its institutions have made a valuable contribution to the process of consolidating our democratic reforms. In particular, Albania has benefited from the expertise of, and co-operation with, the Council of Europe in the following areas: constitutional reform, which has come about through co-operation with the Venice Commission; holding free and democratic elections, according to European standards; establishing and consolidating an efficient and independent justice system; fighting corruption, organised crime and illicit trafficking; and growing our democratic culture and putting in place other reforms.

Albania is now a potential candidate for European Union accession. In that regard, the Council of Europe plays an important role as a vector of European policy on protecting and promoting human rights, and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. Albania’s success is also undoubtedly closely linked to the fruitful co-operation it has enjoyed with the Council of Europe. The Albanian Presidency in Office of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe provides us with a great opportunity to contribute in those areas – we have the chance to advance on the achievements of previous chairmanships and to contribute with the best values of my country. Through its cautious and moderate policies, Albania plays a stabilising role in the region. Although a small nation, Albania can deliver a great message. Tolerance and religious harmony, a unique feature of the Albanians, present a model of co-existence in diversity. The sacrifices made by Albanians, often beyond their capacities and means, to shelter and protect the Jews who faced the danger of being exterminated, are a clear example of how a small nation with a great heart can make the difference.

We all understand that diversity is the destiny of Europe, given that ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity has always characterised European societies. The founders of the European Union viewed it as a strength and advantage of our continent. The Albanian Presidency in Office is convinced that the Council of Europe, with all its knowledge and experience, is an appropriate international organisation for the promotion of democratic societies that respect and uphold diversity and peaceful and free co-existence. In order to serve this aim, the Albanian Presidency in Office will organise in Tirana a high-level conference under the theme “Diversity in Europe: A powerful tool for the future.” Some of the topics under discussion will cover the dialogue with our Mediterranean neighbours, in order to allow us to share the best experiences of creating stable democratic and open societies.

Let me take this opportunity to draw attention to another aspect relating to Europe’s cultural heritage. Cultural heritage is an integral part of the system of European values. Respect for and protection of cultural heritage is vital to the development of European identity, but nothing should be taken for granted. Our cultural heritage has a priceless value, but it could easily be vulnerable. Its preservation requires action and joint investment from all the stakeholders involved – civil society; the heritage sector; public authorities at all levels, both national and European; and everyone interested in cultural heritage.

The Balkan region takes part in the current political-institutional structure of Europe and it is currently progressing towards integration into European structures. Its countries have put their past behind them and have set their sights towards the future.

Western Balkans is entirely oriented at present towards European integration and, in particular, regional co-operation constitutes a very important instrument of multifaceted development of this region in order to accelerate the accomplishment of our countries’ common goal of European integration.

The foreign policy of the Republic of Albania is oriented towards maximum engagement in strengthening good neighbourly relations and regional integration. Albania does not have any outstanding issues with any of the regional countries. Albania’s national interests are best served in a peaceful, stable, democratic and economically developed regional environment. The establishment of such an environment requires a spirit of co-operation and understanding from all parties in the region, both on bilateral and multilateral levels.

The common future of the region is stabilisation within the European and Euro-Atlantic integration processes. This is the only way that will lead to the resolution of the problems inherited from history. We encourage dialogue and institutional struggle as the only mechanisms of communication to address and resolve the internal problems and the outstanding issues among neighbours in the region.

In Albania’s view, regional co-operation goes beyond just expressing the political will of good neighbouring. This is because we believe that, if we engage together, we can build a common regional modern infrastructure. We are removing all non-physical barriers to the movement of people, goods and capital, and encouraging exchanges among our countries. At the same time, getting to better know the culture, history and customs of our neighbours, we can improve the image of our region, by making it an attractive and competitive market, and we can align its European integration perspective. In this spirit, we play a moderating role to preserve and strengthen peace and lasting stability in the Balkans.

We view the presence of the Albanian factor in almost all the countries of the region as an instrument of our policy of moderation. We have always considered the Albanian factor as a connecting bridge between our countries and we encourage the Albanians in the region to be co-operative promoters and workers for the common European Union integration processes of the countries where they live.

Permit me to emphasise the importance of the involvement of the Council of Europe in Kosovo. We appreciate the commitment of the Council of Europe in our country and the Balkan region, in the implementation of specific and thematic projects. We underline, in particular, the significant importance of the commitment of the Council of Europe in Kosovo, to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to provide a closer European perspective for all the citizens who live there.

Kosovo should be a safe haven for all its citizens, where the standards of the Council of Europe are steadily strengthened, and where key European instruments are fully applied, along with their control mechanisms.

Our position is very clear. The Republic of Kosovo is a reality and a factor of stability in the region, which has removed any scepticism. The issue of its status and territorial integrity are already closed chapters. We support Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe, because only in this way will Kosovo’s citizens benefit maximally from the Council of Europe standards and enjoy access to the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, under the present conditions of a neutral status for Kosovo by the European Council, as recommended by Resolution 1739 (2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, regardless of positions on the status issue, all Council of Europe member states should support a greater involvement of this institution in Kosovo and the strengthening of direct contacts between Kosovo’s authorities and the staff of the Council of Europe, at all levels. Kosovo’s citizens are European citizens as well and they fully deserve European standards that are best embodied in the Council of Europe.

Kosovo, through the support of friendly countries who stand beside it, has made concrete strides and entered on the path of consolidation of state-foundation. This fact was proven also by the latest decision taken by the International Steering Group to end its supervision. That decision turned a new page in the history of Kosovo: that of its functioning as a fully independent and sovereign state.

Kosovo is consistently demonstrating a serious commitment to the consolidation of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has set up comprehensive and fully functional multi-ethnic and democratic institutions across the country, demonstrating to us all its accountability and vision to move beyond the bitter past and to enable all citizens in its territory to build the future of their children and families. And this goal of looking to the future is also aided by the quick resumption of talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which will affect the further normalisation of relations between these two countries.

The mandate of the Council of Europe is focused on Europe, but many of the key issues today are influenced by developments in neighbouring countries: the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, central Asia, etc. that surround Europe. As a result, many of the activities of the Council of Europe, including some of the important conventions, seek to expand co-operation beyond the boundaries of Europe. Thus, the measures taken against terrorism, human trafficking, money laundering, cyberspace crime and so on, can be effective only if we include and involve our neighbours and closely work with other international organisations.

I express my firm conviction that the Council of Europe has all the necessary mechanisms to provide a contribution in building sustainable democratic societies in neighbouring regions and relations with these regions should be based on mutual respect and proper sensitivity regarding their cultural and religious context.

In particular, we appreciate the role of the Venice Commission in providing assistance and advice on constitutional law issues in Morocco and Tunisia, as well as in terms of necessary reforms to align the national legislation of these countries to the international human rights standards.

Albania remains a country that strongly believes in the dialogue between civilisations and will continue to be actively engaged to erase differences about issues related to the human rights agenda. It is exactly for this reason that the Albanian Presidency in Office of the Council of Europe has chosen as its motto: “United in diversity”.

Dialogue between different cultures and civilisations should be viewed as an ongoing process that requires commitment, good will and care. Harmonising cultural diversity is not always an easy task, and it can even be challenging at times for all of us.

We are all saddened by the serious consequences caused by a worthless video, which showed a lack of respect towards Islam and towards what Muslims consider sacred. Albanian citizens of all religious persuasions, our state and religious institutions ignored that video by maintaining their silence. It is unfortunate that in some parts of the world, this event was not accompanied by a similar reaction. On the contrary, it was used to fuel the blind violence of angry hopeless crowds – which led to fatal consequences.

We must make it clear that acts of terrorism or extremist action by isolated groups with bad intentions should never be confused with the positions of entire societies and governments. No anger can justify illegal acts of violence, which all political and religious institutions and all societies should strongly oppose. Rather, we must commit ourselves to building preventative social, educational and legal mechanisms to halt such phenomena.

We condemn with indignation the terrorist actions against the United States embassy in Libya and demand punishment for the perpetrators. We also condemn any action expressed through the violent protests against western countries’ embassies, whose mission is to promote understanding and co-operation among countries and nations.

Dear friends, peace and security in different parts of the world continue to be challenged by tyranny and oppression. We strongly condemn the violence against the freedom-loving people of Syria from a regime that has irrevocably lost its legitimacy to lead and represent the Syrian people. Nobody should stand idly by while observing the terrible events that have been taking place in Syria every day for a year and a half now, which have resulted in thousands of lost lives and deliberate and widespread destruction that has set the country back decades.

We all live in a world that is becoming increasingly globalised day-in, day-out, and that has overcome serious human tragedies throughout its history. Hence, in the interest of our common future, we must all learn the right lessons about the price that must have been paid because of human bloodshed.

Dear colleagues, in conclusion, I would like especially to praise the distinct role and contribution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the preservation and promotion of the Organisation’s fundamental values in its member countries and elsewhere. I would also like to express my special gratitude for the assistance and support the Assembly has given to my country in satisfying and meeting all the necessary engagements and proper obligations. I wish you good luck and success in your work during this session. Thank you very much for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr Nishani, for your very interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you now. The first question is from Mr Toshev, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

In 2009 our Assembly adopted Resolution 1681 and Recommendation 1881 on honour crimes. At the time, the Kanun and Besa practices in Albania allowed a kind of vendetta. Today we are witnessing honour crimes being committed in other regions, such as the Caucuses. Will you share with us Albania’s achievements in combating honour crimes?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

Today Albania has some very isolated cases of so-called honour crime. In fact, we have made some changes to our penal code to strengthen the criminal policy against such cases. In that field we have engaged with and involved different actors in society. It is not just about investigations and impunities based on criminal terms; it is also about increasing the education and cultural awareness in the very remote areas where such crimes happen. I remind you that they are very isolated cases and that, with regard to criminality statistics, Albania today ranks just below the European average. I of course share your concern, but I guarantee that we are focused on all kinds of crime in Albania, which has decreased greatly in recent decades.

Mr HAUGLI (Norway)

On behalf of the Socialist Group, I want to thank you for being here and for pointing out at the outset of your speech that human rights are universal values. At a time when some member states are taking away fundamental human rights from lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people, such as their freedom of speech, I want to compliment Albania for its efforts. Your country should really serve as an example to others. Although you have come a long way, many challenges remain, so I want to ask you how you see the path forward for the LGBT minority in Albania.

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

We fully respect the rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or their organisations. Albania has approved a special law in parliament to protect sexual minorities and we have a special commissioner who protects the rights of these groups. They also have their own organisations, which face no obstacles to speaking, representing themselves or engaging in activities.

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain) (interpretation)

shared Mr Nishani’s dream of Europe and asked what progress had been made in Albania on the rule of law insofar as it applied to the protection of personal property.

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

The rule of law is a very basic part of a democratic society. Albania, through the process of European integration, is very much focused on some priorities, particularly the rule of law. Let me tell you about the most recent development in our parliament, which I, as president of the republic, appreciated very much. Both the opposition and majority parties reached a consensus and voted for some changes to our constitution to lift the immunities from members of parliament and some high-level employees of public administrations. That is a very good message about the implementation of the rule of law, particularly in relation to the fight against corruption. At the same time, Albania has full legislation to European standards, which our institutions now apply. Our prosecutor’s office is completely independent and applies criminal policies against everyone who might be involved in criminal activities. Our judicial system is also completely independent and is becoming ever stronger in this regard.

As for your concern about engagement in such important fields, Albania is working on the basis of the 12 priorities of the European Commission that directly address the rule of law and property issues. We have agreed an action plan with the European Commission and are working in that way. A special department has been created in our Ministry of Justice to address property issues, and that is a crucial project financed by the World Bank and implemented by companies supported by the World Bank through the digital registration of properties. The problem of the restitution of property in a country that suffered for five decades from terrible isolation, when everything was confiscated, will not be solved through a short process. However, things are going in a positive direction.

THE EARL OF DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

Mr President, on the question of Council of Europe assistance to local democracy in all our states, which of the Chaves recommendations are still to be carried out? Will they be implemented by the end of the Andorran chairmanship?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

Local democracy is one of the main issues for Albanians, so for several years we have been engaged in addressing the question of real power in local government administration, starting by transferring public property from central to local government. We have made it possible for local government to create its own budgets through our system of taxes collected by the local government administration. At the same time, we are focused on our local government and local democracy strategy. The support and engagement of the Council of Europe in this process, working with Albania, are very much welcomed.

Mr PETRENCO (Republic of Moldova) (interpretation)

said that, as the co-rapporteur for the Assembly on Albania, he had followed events in that country closely, and shared its successes and failures. In 2013 there would be parliamentary elections in Albania. Criticisms had been made of the work of the Central Election Commission, and it had been the subject of formal complaints by the opposition. Was it possible to choose a chair of the Election Commission in whom everyone could have confidence? What steps were being taken in Albania to combat corruption, which remained a major problem, and to implement court decisions?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

The election process has been observed by high-level international organisations, such as the OSCE, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. It has been assessed and reported on and the recommendations have been addressed. Let me inform you of the latest development in our parliament, which is very encouraging. A majority in the opposition agreed and voted by consensus on a new electoral law for the upcoming elections. That was good, because the amendments in the new law reflected the recommendations of the OSCE, ODIHR and the Council of Europe. I was encouraged by and welcomed the requests of the opposition parties, which were approved and voted on by all parties in parliament.

Our parliament has started the procedures to elect a new Central Electoral Commission. The previous CEC was elected by consensus in parliament and we hope that the new one will be too. As for your question about the decisions of the Court and their implementation, the situation has improved as for a year and a half we have focused on the privatisation of the bailiff service. That has helped in implementing and resolving all the decisions of the Court. I emphasise that the procedures will address all the concerns of our citizens.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

said that for many months, Albania had been undergoing a political crisis which had been disastrous not only for everyday political life, but for the long-term future of the country and the prospect of its accession to the European Union. This crisis had severely affected the image of Albania abroad. Could the President of Albania give an assurance that the country would return to democratic normality, with a regular exchange between the government and the opposition? How could the Council of Europe help Albania?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

The co-operation and partnership of the Council of Europe is always welcome. Parliamentary life has gone well for several years in Albania; the opposition has been back in parliament for three years now and we are working together. Of course, political life is political life and there is political debate in parliament and between the political parties. As president of the republic, I will support and encourage dialogue and co-operation among political parties. I have mentioned the two most recent cases where political parties contributed to the country and the system: the new electoral law and the changes to the system that have lifted immunity from prosecution. An ad hoc committee is working in Albania to improve and make changes to the rules of procedure for parliamentary life and I have high expectations that both the majority and the minority parties will vote in favour of those changes. We have political debates, as one would anywhere, but the attitude of the political class in Albania has absolutely improved.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

This summer, I personally experienced the developments in Albania and Kosovo. Albania and Hungary have a common fate since our nations must live as a result of unjust treaties in not one, but different states. How will Albania cope with this challenge? Europe, according to the rule of law, may not deprive traditional national communities from self-determination, either internally or externally. What do you think about self-determination and the intranational and territorial autonomy that could be an outstanding tool in avoiding bloody conflict?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

As I said in my speech, Albania has contributed and will contribute to peace, stability and good neighbourliness. Albania does not support any changes of boundaries or borders in our region. We have to focus on our common future. There have been difficulties in our region in the past. We have not forgotten the past but we have to reorientate so that we look to the future, because it is a common one.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you. I cannot see Mr Nikoloski. I call Ms Vasic.

Ms VASIC (Serbia)

Mr President, on behalf of the Serbian delegation I would like to ask you what concrete measures the Albanian authorities are planning to undertake in order to facilitate a smoother investigation regarding the findings in Dick Marty’s report on “Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”.

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

The Albanian nation is much more interested than any other nation in the region, or anywhere else, in seeing a full investigation into this report. There are two pillars to the question: on the one side there are rumours and on the other we have to investigate. Albania fully supports the involvement of EULEX, and we deeply believe in its competence and professionalism in conducting a full investigation into the report and the questions that it raises. To facilitate the investigation, the Albanian Parliament has approved a special law opening up or creating the facilities for the EULEX investigative team to come to Albania and investigate all of the things that they will ask to do. We are more interested than anyone else in investigating and presenting the truth about this question.

Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) (interpretation)

noted that Albania was currently chairing the Committee of Ministers. Mr Nishani had spoken about the possibility of Kosovo joining the Council of Europe. However, some members of the body did not accept the self-declared independence of Kosovo, so such a development would be in breach of international treaties. He asked for more detail of Mr Nishani’s views.

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

What I would like to see, and what I deeply believe that people all around the world would like to see, is the achievement of European standards for the whole of humankind, because European standards are the world’s finest achievement. Kosovar citizens of all ethnicities – Albanians, Serbs, Romanians and everyone else – are European citizens and deserve to have their own institutions based on, and functioning according to, European standards, and to be offered European-standard services. In that context I would like to see the staff, the bodies and indeed the experience of the Council of Europe working with the people and authorities there to promote the values that the Council promotes, sharing those values and working with the Kosovar institutions so that they could achieve European standards and share the standards that the Council of Europe promotes, in order that citizens of that country could profit and have services based on those standards. That is my view.

Mr A. TÜRKES (Turkey)

Albania is a prominent player in the Balkans and its ethnic population is scattered across six countries in the region. Its European trajectory is key to the overall stability of the Balkans. It is therefore important that it upholds the values of Europe. A revised electoral code recently came into force in Albania. What are the implications of that new code for the upcoming elections in 2013? Will it lead to more transparency?

Mr Nishani, President of Albania

Absolutely; I deeply believe that. The aim of the political parties in parliament was to create much more transparency and better standards for the upcoming elections, so they worked together, agreed and voted on this new electoral code. There is now much more trust among the parties.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr President, I, too, thank you most warmly for your statement and for answering all the questions that were put to you. I also thank my colleagues for the quality of their questions. I suppose that you and I will see each other very soon, since we are about to meet for a reception in your name.