Prime Minister Edi Rama on Tuesday took part in the Summit of the Heads of Government of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in Zagreb, Croatia. During this visit, Prime Minister Rama also held meetings with the top Croatian authorities. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between Albania and Croatia and a Joint Border Security Declaration was signed during the meeting between PM Rama and his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenković. The two prime ministers appeared at a joint press conference following the meeting.
Joint press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama and Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković:
PM Andrej Plenković: First I would like to welcome Prime Minister Edi Rama here in Zagreb. I also avail myself of this opportunity to express appreciation for his participation in the Central European Initiative meeting. At our earlier meeting, we agreed that ties between our two states are excellent and we are NATO allies, but we hope that the relations between Croatia and the Republic of Albania will remain as they are and even further improve in the future.
The Republic of Albania can continue to count on Croatia’s support while it moves ahead on its path towards the European Union membership, especially following the reforms carried out in the Republic of Albania, but also as part of the dynamics of steps that have been taken for Republic of Albania’s membership with the European Union. We are ready to commit Croatian experts to assist Albania on its journey towards EU.
I believe the Strategic Partnership Declaration we signed today represents a step forward in terms of trade and good exchanges between the Republic of Albania and Croatia. The value of trade exchanges between the two countries is currently estimated at 60 million euros. I am hopeful that our bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral relations will be much stronger in our future political and economic cooperation. I am also hopeful that our relations will become more intense when it comes to the Adriatic-Ionian region and we are looking forward to seeing the Croatian companies operating in Albania to provide their contribution towards development of Albanian economy.
We also highly appreciate efforts of Croatia’s Albanian minority for their great contribution to the Croatian society. At the same time, I also appreciate the work of Mrs. Emina Lekaj, the Albanian member of Croatia’s Parliament and our cooperation and the economic cooperation in particular will be more intense in the future.
PM Edi Rama: Thank you very much for the generous hospitality and the opportunity to share our common path we have embarked on for long and on which Albania has always found in Croatia a steadfast and staunch supporter. Today’s signing of the Strategic Partnership Declaration represents another milestone in these relations that have always been strategic to Albania and Albanians since the new and modern Croatia’s birth and the later steps towards Kosovo’s recognition, Albania’s accession to NATO and further on. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the long-standing relations between our two countries date back to a much earlier time and I think it is worth recalling the fact how the Zardar population opened their doors to Albanians around 300 years ago, how Mother Teresa received her first sacramental communion by a Croatian priest, how Milan Šufflay founded the Albanian studies, or how, most recently, an Albanian represents the Albanian community in the Croatian Parliament.
Today, as the Prime Minister already said, we also put emphasis on the need to boost the trade exchanges and agreed to jointly hold an Albanian and Croatian business forum next year in order to further promote cooperation, interaction and the trade exchanges.
Likewise, we are committed to expanding and strengthening the security cooperation. A joint Border Security Declaration was signed today. We are both committed to enhance cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration. Lastly, taking notice of the positive experience from the trilateral with Croatia and Montenegro, I proposed another trilateral or quadrilateral format among Albania, Croatia, Kosovo and/or Macedonia under the Strategic Partnership Declaration.
To conclude, I can’t help but as a former basketball player highlight the special intense emotion I experienced while visiting the museum dedicated to ‘basketball’s Mozart’ and the meeting with his mother, telling all of them watching us here in Croatia that Dražen Petrović was an idol in the then isolated Albania, when we used to watch him on black-and-white TV sets and Albanians used to support Croatia and not France in the World Cup tournament.
Greetings! Mr. Plenković, do you expect the European Union to make a rational decision on opening the accession negotiations with Albania next spring and which is Croatia’s position on the matter? The question for Prime Minister Rama; Your country has fulfilled its obligations under the integration process and opening the accession negotiations. What do you actually expect from Brussels? Thank you!
PM Andrej Plenković: Thank you for your question. This was a very active question at today’s meeting and it is the prime question whenever we meet with Prime Minister Rama. Regarding the position of the Republic of Croatia, I have clearly stated at the Sofia summit that Croatia backs opening of the accession negotiations with Albania, as well as the membership of the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Macedonia in the European Union. From the past June to next June, the Republic of Albania, but also the Republic of Albania have made a great step forward regarding their reform efforts and judicial reform in particular. I hope that no problems will arise after the European elections and both Albania and Macedonia will start the accession talks.
PM Edi Rama: I stated it earlier that Croatia has been a steadfast and staunch supporter of Albania and Albanians from the beginning of modern Croatia’s birth and what we expect from Brussels next spring is what we would deserve to receive since last June and it is what Croatia and the overwhelming majority of the EU member states have been calling for since last June, opening of the membership negotiations.
Mr. Rama, how would you comment on the currently aggravated situation between Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia with regard to taxes imposed on Serbian goods? The second question, Belgrade accuses you that the Albanian state and the Republic of Kosovo are preparing the pact for the formation of greater Albania.
PM Edi Rama: Unfortunately, I don’t speak Croatian, but I do understand the Belgrade’s accusations in Croatian. However, thank you for the translation. First of all, I want to say that Belgrade and Serbia have repeatedly violated the CEFTA agreement. Kosovo has repeatedly complained over this and no response has been provided to address the violations. The introduction of a 100% tax rate on the Serbian products is abnormal, but the situation is abnormal. So, under normal conditions such a move would have been a condemnable decision. Under abnormal conditions it is a decision that should be considered just like as it is, a political reaction outcry and not a war trade action.
Of course it is not only this. A sense of great and, I believe, justified frustration exists in Kosovo also due to the fact that a liberalized visa regime, a great promise by the Commission and the major member states following the border agreement with Montenegro, has not been materialized and Kosovo is now living in a paradox that is no longer bearable psychologically, because until lately they were second-class citizens under the Belgrade’s dictatorship and moved freely on Yugoslavia’s or Serbia’s passports, while today they remain the Europe’s only second-hand citizens.
As to the “Greater Albania”, this is a term that emerges in Belgrade, and not only in Belgrade, whenever Albanians ask for their obvious rights and every time Albania justly supports Kosovo.
PM Andrej Plenković: Regarding the position of the Republic of Croatia when it comes to the current crisis between Serbia and Kosovo, together with Commissioner Hahn, we agreed that the situation should normalize. We don’t see any further escalation of the situation.