Albania's Prime Minister discusses the issue of Fredis Belleri with "France 24"

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama during an interview for France24’s “Ici l’Europe”

Nov 20, 2023. Posted by  Balkan Periscope - Hellas

In an interview for France24’s “Ici l’Europe” (Here Europe), Prime Minister Edi Rama discussed Albania’s ongoing process of European integration and Greece’s warning to impede the process over the “Beleri” issue.

Regarding Greece’s decision to block the letter from the 27 member states for opening negotiation chapters with the EU due to the “Beleri” matter, Rama expressed skepticism about the longevity of this blockade.

“I prefer not to engage in this controversy. Honestly, I don’t believe this blockade will be sustained because it wouldn’t be sensible. Moreover, it’s fundamentally a matter of justice. The progress report acknowledges Albania very positively for its judicial reform efforts. I’m content because Albania is leading the way in the Balkans on these issues,” he remarked.

Rama highlighted the “strategic relationship with Athens”

“When discussing the Greek minority, I want to clarify that, as I mentioned, the candidate was of Albanian-Greek origin, and his opponent in the elections was also Albanian of Greek origin. Therefore, it cannot be solely an issue related to the Greek minority,” he emphasized.

Rama pointed out the generally favorable nature of the EU progress report for Albania.

“It objectively recognizes the progress we’ve made, but it also underscores areas we must continue to address because we haven’t reached the end of the road yet,” he noted.

Responding to a question about whether the opening of negotiations with Ukraine is an encouraging sign, Rama suggested a cautious approach until the official confirmation.

“It is undoubtedly a robust geopolitical decision and evidence that the European Union has been shifting towards a more geopolitical stance and less technocratic. However, concerns exist, and we must observe how events unfold, especially given the new conflict in the Middle East, which doesn’t contribute positively. On the other hand, there is a general weariness in European and American public opinion towards this war, requiring patience and avoiding falling into the trap of polls and perceptions that may not favor the commitment to continue indefinitely at any cost,” he added.

The Prime Minister also touched on economic developments and expressed satisfaction with international financial institutions recognizing the Albanian economy’s resilience.

“During the crisis of prices, energy, etc., we maintained the lowest inflation in the region. Simultaneously, this year, and continuing next year, we anticipate a significant wage increase, propelling the average public sector salary to 900 euros. This was inconceivable just 5-6 years ago. Additionally, we are optimistic about the European Union and the growth plan, crucial not only for Albania but the entire region,” he emphasized.

When asked about the impact of Kosovo-Serbia developments on the region’s European integration, Rama suggested that these events could serve as an additional reason to pursue integration.

“From a geopolitical standpoint, excluding the region or certain countries would be detrimental to the European Union. On the contrary, inclusion and unity are essential for achieving lasting peace in the region. While challenges arise from time to time, the overall situation in the region is far better than it was a decade ago, thanks to the European Union and the attraction it holds for these countries,” he stated.

The agreement with Italy on migrants

The Albanian premier also discussed the agreement with Italy on migrants, clarifying that it involves establishing a reception center meeting the same standards as those in all European Union countries.

“It’s crucial to emphasize a simple fact. While Albania is not yet an EU member, it is a fully European country, a neighbor to Italy. If a similar agreement had been made with an EU member state, it wouldn’t be considered news. However, making this agreement with a non-member state generates not only news but also conspiracy theories and unwarranted suspicions, in my opinion. If we question the method, it should be questioned throughout the European Union since these reception centers are not a novel concept,” stated Rama.

He clarified that this involves a reception center adhering to the standards prevalent in all EU countries.

“Why should we be alarmed if it’s outsourced from an EU member to a fully European country that is a neighbor to that EU member? There’s no need for alarm; instead, we should contemplate how to respond to this escalating phenomenon, to which no one has provided an answer. Perhaps reception centers aren’t the ultimate solution, but it’s not our role to advise Europe,” he remarked.

Rama underscored that “we are merely offering modest assistance to not just a neighboring country but one with which we have had deep ties for an extended period”.

Furthermore, he noted that this doesn’t concern 36,000 people but a reception center with 3,000 available slots.

“This implies there will be 3,000 individuals in Albania and no more. If there is rotation, that is normal; there might be additional people waiting, and their requests will be reviewed in Albania. However, it’s 3,000 people. I don’t believe these 3,000 people will disrupt the tourism industry since we have already accommodated over 4,000 Afghan refugees,” he highlighted.

The Prime Minister emphasized that “this isn’t the sole reception center in Europe; it adheres to the same standards and nature as those in Greece”.

“Greece is an EU member, and I don’t discern any difference, nor do I understand where those who criticize perceive a distinction. The 3,000 people coming to Albania for the reception center, becoming the pretext for age-old narratives involving mafia, traffickers, human rights, and the like, isn’t a serious matter. We need to delve deeper into these issues and find solutions,” he concluded.

(The topic in Greek)