“A fruitful meeting during which I reiterated that EU enlargement is not only a necessity but a unique and historic opportunity of shared political and economic interest”
George Frendo, President of the Albanian Bishops’ Conference, told SIR commenting on the meeting held February 4 in Brussels with Olivér Virhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, MEPs and representatives of the Croatian Presidency of the EU. The Archbishop was also joined by Msgr. Gjergj Meta, Secretary General of the Albanian bishops. Enlargement of the EU, with specific emphasis on the possibility of opening accession negotiations, was the focus of the meeting – at a time when the EU is reviewing its integration policies and preparing for the EU-Western Balkans summit (7 May) under the Croatian Presidency.
“Albania should indeed be part of the European Union,” said Msgr. Frendo. “Last October it was unfortunately decided against the opening of negotiations and this caused great disappointment among the people. Now it is necessary to make special efforts to instil new hope, especially in the young, many of whom are deciding to leave. I tell young people to love their homeland even more and to be optimistic about the future. Our young people are called upon to build a country that is ever more dignified, beautiful and efficient.”
“Whoever enters our country is touched by its core values – openness, hospitality, respect -. In Brussels I reminded my interlocutors of the great importance we ascribe to the family, while in other EU countries it is under attack. Then there is respect for the elderly. Many European peoples must learn this concern for the elderly from the Albanians. They are not a burden for us but a resource.”
Other points discussed with Commissioner Virhelyi include relations with Islam: “We know that some people are concerned about Albania’s entry into the EU because it is a country with a Muslim majority, 57% according to the latest census”, said Msgr Frendo. But
we must not make the mistake of identifying Islam with terrorism. The State of Albania is not Islamic, it’s a secular State,
that respects all religions as equal in dignity. Islam in Albania cannot be compared to the situation of other Muslim countries, let it suffice to mention the peaceful coexistence within our national borders. And I am not talking about tolerance, but about harmony. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom to defend human dignity, democracy, are spoken of as European values. All these values already exist in Albania. I have held numerous conferences,” the prelate recalls, “in which I spoke of the need for reforms, including electoral reform, the fight against corruption and organized crime. That is why we should be seen as an example for the whole region. To some extent Albania’s accession to the EU could encourage our neighbouring Balkan countries, with which we have good relations, to make the necessary efforts to facilitate the start of their respective negotiations.”
For the President of the Albanian bishops, EU membership also means “monitoring necessary reforms to sustain the rule of law and promote public confidence. Entering the EU, I repeat, is for us an historic opportunity that must be seized.”
“The first person who spoke about enlargement in the year 2000 was Romano Prodi. In a famous speech he referred to Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and even Albania. We have come a long way, and there is much more to be done. I trust that no one has ever regretted the process of European integration”.
These issues were also addressed on February 3 by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, on a visit to Albania where he met, among others, Prime Minister Edi Rama, together with Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci, and the leaders of the political groups. Addressing the Parliament in Tirana, Sassoli reiterated that with Albania “we share the same vision of reconciling the geographical and political region.” He underlined that “last year’s decision was not a ‘no’ but a pause, a moment of transition. In the reaction of the Albanian people and Institutions – said the President of the European Parliament – we saw the desire not to give up and pursue the path of reform. This is an important signal. Albania can be an example in this region. I therefore hope that accession talks may restart in March or at the latest in June this year”. “I share this hope. Sassoli’s words – concludes Mgr Frendo – give us new strength. Albania deserves something more from Europe. May the EU be more generous.”