Dear Mr. President Ambassador Hunter
Ladies and gentlemen.
I would like first to cordially thank you Mr. President and you ladies and gentlemen, for participating in this forum, for the possibility of addressing you and for recognizing all the comprehensive attempts we have taken towards our two main goals for the 21st century: Integration into NATO and the European Union
Albanians consider the achievement of these two projects as a roadmap for their return to the family of nations. I would also like to thank Canada, its government and Prime Minister Harper for the friendly meeting he reserved for me, the Speaker of the House , the Honourable Peter Milliken, and other distinguished Canadians officials for their excellent meetings reserved for me.
I would like to thank Mr. Bill Graham for this excellent organizations invitation it has extended to me. Today all Albanian political forces and over 94% of Albanians support Albania’s NATO membership. I believe that the main reason for this very high level of support for their country’s membership into NATO is the fact that during the second half of the last century, Albanians were deprived of their rights and freedoms more than any other nation. And they see NATO as the strongest guarantee for the security of their country and the human rights and freedoms of their citizens. Therefore the trust Albanians have in NATO, is based on their trust in peace, democracy, freedom and integration, values that Albanians share with the nations of the Western hemisphere and other people of the world.
Membership in NATO is for us the re-establishment of historical, cultural, economic ties that bind us with Western countries and civilization. Of course, Albanians also see in this process the contribution they gave and they will be able to give for the security of NATO’s south eastern wing with the values they will bring to this family, the family of small nations with many regions. This country never in its long history registered any problem between ethnicities and religions, but on the contrary was characterized by an excellent religious and ethnic tolerance.
Ladies and gentlemen, at the Riga Summit one year ago, Heads of States and Governments of NATO members countries, in appreciation of the success of the reforms undertaken in the country’s achievements, referred Albania as one of the countries that together with Macedonia and Croatia, could receive invitation for NATO membership, in the next summit in Bucharest. They clearly stated that such an invitation would depend on concrete and substantial results that our countries will show within the concrete action plans and other reforms they will undertake before the next enlargement summit. The North Atlantic Parliamentary Assembly in 2006 and 2007 also calls on the governments of NATO member states to invite Albania to join NATO at the next summit in Bucharest.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude towards your governments and parliaments as well as towards NATO for this message of encouragement and assure you that Albania took this message very seriously not only as a recognition of its achievement but also as a major obligation to carry out further reforms and responsibilities and to deliver solid results in the framework of the MAP (Membership Action Plan). I would like to present to you shortly, a profile of the reforms and the great transformation Albania and Albanians have achieved during these 15 years while consolidating freedoms and market oriented economies. During these 15 years Albania was transformed from a place of very numerous Gulags, deepest isolation where freedoms and rights of citizens were denied by constitution, a country of imposed atheism, total bureaucratization and hyper collectivization into a country of consolidated political pluralism which respects the rights of individuals and minorities, a country of free media, freedom of religions, religious and ethnic tolerance, where more than 80% of GDP comes from the private sector, and where the per capita income is now 20 times higher than in 1992.
Albania is now an open country and society, a partner and friend of your countries, a member of the Council of Europe, a partner of NATO, a country that has signed stabilization agreements, and makes a real contribution to peace and stability in the Balkans and further. Furthermore, the young Albanian democracy is a functional democracy with consolidated institutions, with a clear division and balance of power. Only during the past 3 years, Albania successfully passed three very important political tests such as the parliamentary elections of July 3, 2005 which brought upon successful rotation of powers. Second, the local elections of 2007, which despite some technical shortfalls, were accepted by all political forces and were considered free and fair elections by all major opposition forces. On July 2007, the country elected through a parliamentary procedure in full compliance with its laws and constitutions the new President, who after his election received wide support form all Albanians, greeted by our partners and allies all over the world.
The consolidation of the independence of the judicial system has also seen real progress in Albania being a fundamental condition for the proper consolidation of the rule of law. Today, the level of execution for court rulings in Albania is comparable to many NATO countries. In September, the President of Albania called a roundtable with all political forces that agreed to further reform the judicial system. The Council of Europe has agreed to assist in this reform. Parliament has established a bi-partisan commission on election reform to find the final solution for the technical problem that raised concerns during the elections in Albania. The implementation of the Electronic Civil Election project, production of digital ID cards and passports, will start during this month to better coordinate legislative reforms, promote fruitful political dialogue deemed acceptable for Albania’s integration into NATO.
The Albanian parliament established on May 2007, an ad hoc bi partisan committee which is co-chaired by one member of the opposition, and one from the majority. The office of National Coordinator for NATO was established under the auspices of Ministers to coordinate work done by all institutions and agencies in the country for the fulfillment of the requirements and obligations that derive from MAP.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am aware that 2 years ago, numerous news reports informed the public in your countries about the really disturbing reach of Albanian organized crime which I stress was very aggressive, and seriously damaging the lives of our citizens and the image of my country in your countries.
It is for these reasons that my government declared two years ago a zero tolerance approach to organized crime and illegal trafficking. With their powerful and continuous commitment, displaying a very high level of professionalism and courage, Albanian police as well as other law enforcement agencies, have turned the country into a really secure place where crime incidents are similar of those of many NATO member countries. In two years, Albanian police dismantled 204 criminal groups and organizations, with 850 members and leaders of these organizations have been apprehended, and are now prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Another 181 of them were extradited or are in the process of being extradited.
The Albanian parliament passed a law banning speedboats, that were used for criminal trafficking in our territorial waters. The flow of illegal trafficking to Italy has dramatically decreased. Albania is no longer a source of transit points for the trafficking of human beings; neither is she the preferred trafficking route for hard drugs. The adoption of a law that places penal responsibilities on local authorities in cases where plantation of narcotics is in their territory of their community has significant reduced plantation of these drugs.
A new law of the Albanian state police has been created, establishing higher standards for the work of the Albanian police. With the assistance of the FBI and European police agencies we have created a task force to investigate economic and financial crimes. The fight against organized crime in Albania has given concrete results and there is no going back. I would like to inform you that my government is open and determined to sign every agreement with your government in order to successfully fight organized crime wherever it is.
Dear friends, corruption is a real concern for freedom of the individual in a society and it was a very serious problem in my country. The fight with zero tolerance and with no regard to political consequences has been an allying pillar of our coalition government govt policy. For this reason we decided first to establish new standards in our offices that would not allow public funds for private purposes. These standards made possible a reduction of 40% of state expenditures and 20% of the local. In addition, we downsized the central administration portfolios by 205 and the number of employees in these organs by 30%. We amended the law on conflict of interest and freed the administration from any such conflicts. A recent piece of legislation protects whistleblowers on corruption in the same manner as witnesses of serious crimes and rewards them with 6% of the value profited from their denunciation. We created specialized communication infrastructure for people to report corruption free of charge. With the assistance of Millennium Challenge Corporation Programs, the electronic registry for businesses, E-procurement and E-taxes have been established in my country.
In this context, the Ombudsman for Public Procurement was also established. Dozens of officials of all ranks and political affiliations have been apprehended and sentenced on charges of corruption. As a result of the fierce battle against corruption, the general cost of public procurement of the country has decreased by 23%. Although taxes were drastically reduced, state revenue budgets have increased from 22% of the GDP in 2005, to 27% of the GDP in 2007. Over the last two years, we have managed to send to the Albanian parliament, a second additional budget.
Albania’s economy continues to perform highly, with high economic growth, and making Albania the most attractive country for foreign investment is our goal. In order to reach this goal, in addition to further liberalization and privatization of the economy, we have private-public partnerships and we have taken drastic measures to reduce bureaucratic burdens on businesses. Electronic business registration has reduced the time of registration from 42 days to one hour. Based on one stop shop practice, soon we will establish this process for licenses and permits. The government has carried out this fiscal revolution after we decreased the profit tax by 150% and personal income tax by 130% we adopted flat tax rate at 10%. Small business tax was reduced by 50%, social security contribution was reduced by 31%, whereas the price for energy for business was reduced by 33%.
Albania is now the lowest fiscally burdened country in Europe and the lowest production cost country in Europe. Property reform and the fight against regulatory infractions continue to be, among the basic aims. Albania’s economy grows at the fastest pace in the region, and continues to thrive in a stable, macroeconomic environment. The interests of foreign investors in the field of energy mines, commercial banking, tourism and important infrastructure has been significant increased. The GDP growth is at 6% per year, inflation around 2-4%, and the budget deficit is at 2.6%. Albania’s exports increased 24% in 2007 compared to two years ago. Last year, direct foreign investment was three times higher than the average of the last three years, and bank crediting for the economy has increased approximately three times in two years.
In two years, flow of tourism in the country has increased 70%. During the last month, foreign media have ranked Albania in the first twenty countries most attractive for investment. On June 2006, Albania signed the Stabilization Association Agreement with the European Union, according to the assessment of the European commission, the implementation of the interim agreement has been a success story in Albania. This was followed by last months signing of Visa facilitation and assimilation in Brussels.
Ladies and gentlemen, as devoted Atlanticists, you are aware of the profound process of transformation that the Alliance is going through, but so is Albania. We have undertaken serious and quite successful reforms, in our different sectors with the aim to create a small professional army, well trained, well equipped and capable of serving alongside NATO armies in peace keeping missions around the world.
To facilitate this transformation, we increased our defence budget to 1.48 % in 2007, and 2.06 % of GDP in 2008. The transformation of Armed Forces, into a fully professional army will be completed in 2010 instead of 2013 as previously planned. So far, Albania has removed old military technologies and has successfully eliminated all chemical agents and weapons.
During this past 15 yrs, Albania has established a close and loyal cooperation with the alliance. The ports and airports of Albania, and all of its territory, have been at the disposal of the Alliance for all its peacekeeping missions in the region. Albania has participated in operations and initiatives of the Alliance in the region and beyond, such as Bosnia and Afghanistan. Only 3 months ago, we sent another company to Herat in addition to our platoon already in Kabul. We are currently in discussion to send 2 teams to Afghanistan to train the Afghan army. We are actively involved in operation Mediterranean Sea and we have expressed the political will to participate in the NATO pool of forces.
The republic of Albania condemns all forms of terrorism and is determined to continue to support and to work with the U.S. as well as other governments in the fight against international terrorism. Albania will continue to actively support the U.S. Atlantic charter and has achieved great success in cooperation with other countries in this charter. Albania contributes to regional peace and stability and maintains friendly relations not only within the framework of the Atlantic charter but with all neighbours in the region. Albania supports the process in Kosovo. We believe that Pres. Ahtisaari’s proposal constitutes the best possible document for a long term peace and stability in Kosovo and the region. This document provides the best possible solution for Serbians and all ethnic minorities and for the independence of Kosovo in accordance with the will of the majority of its citizens.
Ladies and gentlemen, the historical truth about the relations in Kosovo is that of the relations between occupier and colony. If one differentiates between Serbia and Greater Serbia, he then comes to the conclusion that Kosovo, in her history, has never been part of Serbia. From the year 1389 to 1912 Kosovo was one of the 4 vilayats of the Ottoman empire almost wholly populated by Albanians. Beginning in the last century, all of the great powers believed that the Albanian state should comprise all territory where Albanians constitute the majority of the populations with geographically continuity.
But, other great powers which came out as victors, in one of the greatest historical injustices in the history of Europe, divided the territory of the Albanians into five states in the Balkans. Kosovo was given as a reward to Serbia, only because it was part of the Empire that lost the war. And because of the prevailing belief at the time, that Serbia might play the role of the policeman in the Balkans in order to stabilize the peninsula.
In the official language, Serbs who lived in Kosovo and Serbs who were sent by Belgrade were called colonizers. The administration that was put in place in Kosovo consisted of only Serbians. The story of Serb administration in the last century is the story of apartheid and genocide. The massive graves, killing of civilian population, thousands and thousands of missing people, the destruction of houses in towns and villages over Kosovo, and the expulsion and cleansing of 1,000,000 Albanians from their homes by Milosevic’s Serbia in 1999.
This shocked the human consciousness of westerners, and obliged NATO to undertake the biggest air operation since WW2 to protect the human rights and freedoms of Albanians in Kosovo.
This is why independence of Kosovo in accordance with the project of President Ahtisaari is in reality the only solution that can put an end to Belgrade’s colonial claims on Kosovo., it is the only solution that will eliminate the goal of greater Serbia which is still prevalent there. Today, Serbia, on one side claims to be a NATO partner, something we commend, but on the other side encouraged by the blocking stance of Russia at the UNSC refused the Ahtisaari project and accused NATO of creating its own country in Kosovo. The proposal calls on Kosovo not to make a unilateral declaration of independence, but to continue to coordinate their stance with those of US governments, and other friendly countries who have supported President Ahtisaari’s proposal.
We also commend the recommendation for the reconciliation and cooperation between Serbia and the Kosovo leadership presented by the last round of talks as a contribution to future peace and stability in the Balkans. We remained determined to offer all of our help and assistance so that Albanians and Serbs can start a new chapter in their relations, in the best interests of these two nations, and peace in our region
Finally I’d like to close this address by saluting the great role ATA has had and continues to play in promoting the ideas that the Alliance has protected and developed since its foundations. Now, only a couple of months separate us from the Bucharest summit. I’m taking this opportunity to assure you that Albania, and all Albanian state institutions are fully committed to take every measure, adopt every legislation, pay any price necessary for the success required, in order to deserve membership in NATO as the best and most secure future for their country. Thank you once again for the opportunity you provided to me, and the attention you showed to my address. Thank you.