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Statement by President von der Leyen on the occasion of her official visit to Albania
Thank you very much, dear Prime Minister, dear Edi,
It is very good to be back here in Tirana. So much has happened since my last visit. It is just a year ago, I think, since I came last time to Tirana. In July, you started the accession negotiations with the European Union. And I was very glad to be with you in this historic moment. It was a touching moment, a very special moment. But let me repeat what I said at that time: It is your success. It is the result of many years of hard work done by Albania and the Albanian people. Years of patience, too. I remember that vividly, of course. You maintained a very strong focus on the European path, on the process. And therefore, this is now paying off with the accession negotiations. You have shown time and again your commitment to the values of the European Union. You are fully aligned with the European Union's response to Russia's brutal war of aggression. I must say it is exemplary how Albania has been actively defending the rules-based international order in the UN Security Council. I really thank you for this clear commitment. This honours you. It shows time and again that we are a community of shared values.
Albania is now firmly moving forward on its European Union's path. The screening process that has started is on track. The latest enlargement report that has just recently been published shows all the progress that Albania is making. You are strengthening the rule of law, with important reforms of your judicial system, for which you actually managed to build a cross-party consensus, and I really thank you for that. Because we know by experience that this is a precondition, but it is not easy, it takes a lot of strength to do that. And it is the right way to go forward. You have adopted new measures to ensure equality and inclusion in your society. Your economy has come back strong after COVID. These are all very tangible and very visible achievements. And these are achievements in a very challenging time. I am talking of course about Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the terrible cruelty and destruction that it is bringing to the Ukrainian people. Russia is breaking international law and disrespecting the UN Charter. And we also see and feel that Russia is using energy as a weapon, and by that it is manipulating the market. And of course, we all feel the knock-on effects of the rising energy prices and the unstable security of supply of energy. Fortunately, as you have said, Albania is completely independent from Russian gas, due to your hydropower system. But of course, the electricity that comes to Albania is influenced by the disturbances that we see in the energy market – the skyrocketing prices. And thus, it is also affecting your country; it is also affecting Albania. In the European Union, we have decided that the only possible response is unity and solidarity. As we are in this together, the response, together with Albania, is unity and solidarity.
We are in an Energy Union already. We are putting forward now an energy support package for the Western Balkans. We are doing the same in the European Union. It includes, first of all, direct budget support to address the impact of high energy prices that it has on families and businesses as you have said. There will be EUR 80 million of grants. And if I understood it correctly, you have a system in place that is good to support families and small and medium enterprises in this difficult time. The second part is not looking at the immediate support that will be accessible from January on. But the second part looks into the mid and long term – the support for the energy system: Here, we are talking about EUR 500 million in grants to invest in energy infrastructure for the whole region. It is going to be channelled through the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. And it is already at work here. Indeed, I saw the beginning of the railway that is being built. But for me, it is also very important that we invest in renewable energy. Because renewable energy is home-grown; it gives us independence; it creates good jobs here in the region; and it is good for the climate. Investment will go into the floating solar power plant in Vau i Dejës. The modernisation of the Fierza hydroelectric power plant. I was stunned to see that it produces one quarter of the overall electricity production, and also to see for example the energy renovation of the campus of the University of Tirana. These are only few examples. But they show the direction of travel.
Dear Prime Minister, dear Edi, I think, once again, Albania can be proud of its achievements. Because indeed, from your words, but more from your deeds, you prove that your people have shown not only vision but also resilience. You are on track on your way to the European Union. And therefore, from my part also: Congratulations to the fact that on 6 December, we are going to meet again, here in Tirana, with the European Council and we will have the Western Balkans Summit here in Tirana. It is going to be a very important meeting. I am very much looking forward to that. And many thanks again for the hospitality today.
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