President of Albania

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Mr President, from the outset I would like to thank you for the invitation and opportunity to address the distinguished members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly during this plenary session.

I would like to hail the outgoing President, Mr van der Linden, for his dedicated and serious work in heading the Assembly at a time of great political transformations in Europe, and to wish him further personal and professional successes.

It is also my pleasure to wish good luck and success to you, Mr de Puig, in your mission as the new President of the Assembly, and to assure you of my support, and that of my country’s representatives to this Assembly, in fulfilling your duty.

(The speaker continued in Albanian)

He said that the Parliamentary Assembly that he was addressing was the most dynamic force in furthering European integration and was in many ways the conscience of Europe. The Council of Europe had been the first genuinely European Assembly and its contribution in the Balkans during the early 1990s had been vital in bringing new nations into the family of Europe. It played a major role in preparing candidate countries for accession to the European Union.

It was a particular pleasure, but also a great responsibility, to address the Assembly on behalf of the Republic of Albania. He was speaking with the voice of the Albanian people and expressing their European aspirations. Albanians had a desire to complete their process of reform as quickly as possible and their aim was to increase living standards to match those of the rest of Europe and for Albania to become an inseparable part of a united Europe. The integration of Albania into the European Union was a national priority and a strategic goal, one which had the full support of the Albanian people. As President, he gave a strong guarantee of that public support and would continue to pursue those objectives.

The Republic of Albania appreciated the support of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Many of its members had closely followed and supported Albania’s progress in transforming itself into a democratic state. This transformation, while sometime painful, had been vital to allow Albania to become a fully fledged member of the European family of nations.

Public sector reform was a priority: that was seen not as a burden, but as a mission. European standards in that regard were continuously developing, which made Albania’s task of matching them an ever-evolving one. Particularly important was the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights. He was determined to support the reform of the judicial system in Albania to allow it to serve all of the people. The elimination of corruption was a vital part of that reform. The co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Commission to help train members of the judicial system had been particularly helpful, and he was optimistic about the results that this co-operation would produce.

Reforming the electoral system was also important. The debates that had been conducted in Albania had to bear fruit in the form of a pluralist democracy served by an electoral system of the highest standards. In this, Albania had been greatly assisted by support from the Venice Commission, and remained fully committed to implementing the framework for the protection of minorities. Mr Topi also acknowledged the help of the Council of Europe in opening a school of politics in Albania. That would help Albania progress to a situation in which the Council of Europe’s monitoring systems could be wound down.

Albania was fully committed to implementing its Stabilisation Agreement and hoped that it would be ratified by the European Union within months, after which it would seek candidate country status. He was grateful to European Union member states for their contribution and emphasised that Albania wanted to play its part in the European Union. It had to be remembered that the unification of Europe was an ongoing process. Only a united Europe could eliminate war as a tool of international relations and so bring stability and prosperity.

Albania had followed closely the discussions between the European Union and NATO. It was determined to join NATO and hoped for an invitation at the forthcoming Bucharest summit; moreover, Albania deserved an invitation and was fully united in pursuit of that goal. Accession to NATO would enhance regional security and offer a further positive example of the triumph of democracy. Albania’s transition from dictatorship to democracy was a beacon showing the benefits of integration into the wider European community.

Albania also encouraged regional co-operation. It sought to co-operate with its neighbours on diplomatic, economic, political and cultural levels. He was pleased that Albanians were convinced that the Euro-Atlantic partnership would provide a safer future for them.

Kosovo remained an unresolved issue following disintegration of the artificial state that was the former Yugoslavia. Albania supported swift independence for Kosovo: that was driven by the political reality within Kosovo and would also be in the interests of the region. Kosovo, within its present borders, had to be oriented towards the Euro-Atlantic partnership to ensure the long-term stability of the Balkans.

He condemned calls for the partition of Kosovo, which would revive the nationalist feelings, and said that Albania was determined to respect the borders of its neighbours. President Ahtisaari’s proposals were the only realistic prospect for a long-term solution. They offered a solution that had the support of a majority in the key international organisations. Kosovo could not be held a hostage of its undetermined status. If the United Nations process failed, as seemed to be the case, he urged the European Union, NATO and the United States to implement the Ahtisaari proposals and so allow Kosovo to join the family of nations. Kosovo’s election of a president and the appointment of an inclusive coalition government showed that Kosovo would be a credible partner in the European Union.

The world had become smaller, not just due to technology but through the globalisation of problems and policies. Albania had joined the multinational fight against the crisis of values, world poverty, terrorism and ethnic and religious conflict. Islam and Christianity co-existed in Albania and her happy experience of this could positively contribute to programmes for a Europe free from ethnic and religious conflict.

He concluded by welcoming the fact that the European notions of the 19th century had become a reality: the nations of Europe were assembled together, democratically governed, with the right to freedom and justice established on the principle of peace.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

thanked Mr Topi for a speech of great interest and for the way in which he had set out the changes and reforms that Albania had undertaken. He was proud that Albania wanted to join the European institutions of which the Council of Europe was part. He also thanked Mr Topi for his comments on stability and inter-religious dialogue.

Eleven colleagues wished to ask questions and, to ensure that all had the chance to do so, he would not allow supplementary questions. The session would end at 1 p.m. and he would stop questions at that point.

He called Mr Iwiński.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

A great number of Albanians are living beyond the borders of your country, Mr President, mainly in the Balkans but also in the United States, for instance. What is the policy of the Tirana Government on this diaspora? With regard to Kosovan independence, what type of relations could exist between two independent European Albanian states? Could they be based on a German, Chinese or Korean model, or another type of model?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that in his address he had said that Albania was in favour of the independence of Kosovo within its current borders. The integration of all countries in the Balkans into the European family would contribute to the stability of the region.

Mr BENDER (Poland)

Yesterday, we had a fruitful discussion about Kosovo, which is currently pre-eminently Moslem. In Albania, the biggest religion is Islam, but the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are also present. Can those three religions co-exist in harmony?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

thought that the greatest achievement of Albania was religious tolerance. The three main religions in Albania co-existed well. He said that a holiday for one religion was a holiday for all Albanians. Inter-marriage between people of different religions was not prevented by law or society. He was proud of what Albania had achieved in relation to religious tolerance and considered religious tolerance to be part of the tradition of Albania.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

In your speech, Mr President, you called this Assembly the conscience of Europe. Yesterday, we accepted a report on the future status of Kosovo which read, after being amended, “As a consequence, the Assembly concludes that … alternative ways should be envisaged to secure the continuation of the talks on the basis of the UNSC Resolution 1244 and the attainment of a compromise solution”. How will you respect that statement by the conscience of Europe?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

appreciated the role of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and its respect for diverse opinions. On the question of independence for Kosovo, he said that Albania had encouraged the process of dialogue. Albania had allowed the 120-day discussion period on independence and he had hoped that the United Nations would find a solution. Albania had not, however, moved from its position that the independence of Kosovo would offer the best prospects for long-term security in the Balkans. That position was now supported by the United States and by the majority of European Union member states.

Mrs HURSKAINEN (Finland)

What is the current situation with human trafficking in Albania and what measures are the government taking to eradicate both internal and international trafficking of women and girls for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that Albania had made progress in tackling the issue of the trafficking of women. It had adopted the relevant conventions and was co-operating with non-governmental organisations and with the media to reduce incidences of trafficking. Guaranteeing borders, fighting organised crime and reforming the judicial system had all helped this process.

Mr POLLOZHANI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

As you said, Mr President, the Balkans need stability and we are all committed to working towards that. But the Balkans also need co-operation between countries. One of the most important components of that co-operation is Corridor 8, which connects Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria in the west, and Italy and Turkey in the east. Many commitments, memorandums and agreements have been signed, but nothing concrete has been achieved. Do you intend to undertake additional initiatives to accelerate the achievement of concrete results, and what might those initiatives be?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that Corridor 8 was a very sensitive issue. The corridor was vital to the economic future of the region. It was important to open new corridors for the flow of information as well as to ease the movement of people and goods.

Mr IVANOV (Bulgaria) (interpretation)

said that there were many minority groups in Albania and in other south-eastern European countries. The Bulgarians in Albania were one such minority. He asked what were the President’s intentions for protecting Bulgarians and allowing them to be taught in their mother tongue.

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that the missions of the Council of Europe that had visited Albania had recorded that they had found on the ground evidence that Albanian institutions took minority rights seriously. Minorities now enjoyed more standards and rights than the native Albanian population. Standards in schools and classes were higher for minorities. Minorities were fully integrated and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish who was from a minority group and who was not.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

My question relates to the internal political life of your country. You have two strong political parties, the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which disagree on almost all issues. When we read reports about your country, we see that sometimes the ruling party and the opposition have completely different views. How can you as President help to change that negative situation?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that Mr Vareikis was missing some recent information. New ground had been opened up after the opening of the new parliamentary session in Albania. There had been a pact between the political parties to carry out fundamental internal reforms. That clearly demonstrated co-operation between the political parties within Albania, showed that democracy ruled and that there was political will for this to be the case.

Mr PAVLIDIS (Greece) (interpretation)

congratulated Mr Topi on the progress made by Albania. He asked when there would be regional co-operation within the Balkans, and whether Mr Topi would agree with and support that co-operation, for the international community had waited long for that to occur.

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that he thought that the visit that he had made two months previously to Greece, which had included talks with the President and Prime Minister and with the leader of the Parliamentary Assembly, had demonstrated the foundations of good relations between Albania and Greece. It had been an opportunity to strengthen relationships – economic, regional and global. He felt that there were no bad influences on the relationship between Greece and Albania, although there was still work to be done at professional level. Great willingness to co-operate had been demonstrated by both sides.

Mr DAČIČ (Serbia)

As there have been some misunderstandings about terminology, I should like to know whether the people who live in your country and in Kosovo are the same. There are two names in use: Albanians and Kosovars. Does that mean that Kosovars are a national minority in Albania, and that Albanians are a national minority in Kosovo? Or are they the same people who want to have two Albanian national states in Europe that will eventually become one?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that he thought that the same situation had not happened to other people. Albania and Kosovo were two countries with two separate sets of institutions. The minorities in Kosovo had representation following the recent free and fair elections held there. Serbians and other minorities had taken part in the Kosovan Parliament. Albania and Kosovo were two countries with their own institutions and threatened neither their own nor anyone else’s borders.

Mr MATOSHI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

Albania, Macedonia and Croatia are part of the Adriatic Charter. It is expected that they will receive an invitation to joint NATO in April. Could you please briefly explain the readiness of Albania to join NATO, and whether you expect to receive such an invitation?

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that he was full of optimism that Albania would receive an invitation to join NATO later in 2008. Albania had undertaken a long preparatory period for acceptance, which had included military reforms. He said that everything had so far gone as predicted in their preparations for meeting the requirements for joining NATO and that all the institutions had complied with the requirements of the invitation. NATO ambassadors had recently visited Albania and had observed the reforms for themselves.

Mr BRANGER (France) (interpretation)

said that the French appreciated Albania’s foreign policy and the courage it had shown in implementing its internal reforms. In the Assembly there had been talk of obstructionism and the need for further reform to the judicial system in Albania. He asked what measures had been taken, and would be taken, to reform further the judicial system in Albania.

Mr Topi, President of Albania (interpretation)

said that the Albanian political class was taking time to mature and to do so had gone back to the primary issues of importance for the country. There had been a willingness within both the political parties and the judicial authorities to reform. They were currently enjoying fruitful co-operation. Further co-operation would bring Albania up to date with prevailing global standards.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Mr President. That concludes the questions and I would like to thank you very much for answering. Members of the Assembly have asked you all sorts of questions on many different subjects. There has been full freedom to raise any issue. Thank you for having submitted yourself to this exercise and for giving such detailed answers.