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Address by Bujar NISHANI, President of Albania

(Strasbourg, 4 October 2012)
Distinguished Mr. President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Jean Claude Mignon,
Distinguished Mr. Secretary General, Thorbjǿrn Jagland,
Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Dear Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to wholeheartedly thank you about the invitation extended to me to address this session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is an organization based upon universal values, such as human rights, democracy and rule of law. The Council of Europe has played an important role in the strengthening the unity on the European arena, based upon those values and facilitating the process of integration into the European Union.
It is a distinct privilege and pleasure for me to be here today, in the Palace of Europe, representing the first Albanian Presidency in Office of the Ministers’ Committee of the Council of Europe.
I seize this opportunity to wholeheartedly thank President Mignon for the very warm and friendly welcome reserved to me and to the Albanian delegation during our stay in Strasbourg.
Please permit me to express my special consideration and esteem to the Secretary-General, Jagland for the excellent contribution that he and his team have provided in the reformation of the Council of Europe, aimed at the transformation of this organization into a powerful political actor and the growth of its visibility beyond the borders of European arena.
Mr. President,
During the initial state of the transitional period, Albania, surviving the harshest dictatorship of the continent and a total isolation, faced an urgent need for real democratic institutions and a European legal framework, which would support the foundations of the new state based upon rule of law and a free market economy. For this reason, in the early '90s, the first contacts were set up with European political institutions such as: the Council of Europe, European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as with a number of financial institutions such as: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
In this context, communication with the Council of Europe and its institutions was the most intensive and the most needed for the Albanian fragile democracy, which was taking its very first steps. We have not considered Albania's membership in the Council of Europe as an objective per se, but as a necessary instrument to consolidate the democratic institutions of the rule of law serving our citizens and our European aspiration.
In 1995, Albania became a full fledged member of the Council of Europe. It marked an encouraging moment for the new Albanian democracy and a very important step for the consolidation of the relations between Albania and the Council of Europe.
The six-month period stretching between May 23rd and November 9th, 2012 marks another culminating event of the twenty-year history of our cooperation. For the first time, Albania chairs the Ministers’ Committee of the Council of Europe. Throughout these two decades, Albania and the Albanian society underwent the deepest, widest and the most intensive transformation in the thousand years old history of the ancient Albanian nation. The country that held records in violating human rights, at the present day is at the helm of the Ministers’ Committee of the Council of Europe, of this European temple of human rights. Albania, once notorious for its blind fanatical hostility towards the Western world, at the present day is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is currently contributing with peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Once having been a consumer of security, Albania now has been transformed into a contributor to the security of the regional countries and of the democratic countries worldwide. Once upon a time, a completely isolated country, Albania now looks forward with confidence to gain, based upon its merits, the status of candidate country for accession into the European Union, while the Albanian citizens travel freely, without visas in Europe.
Once a country with a deeply autocratic economy, Albania has turned today into a completely dynamic free market economy. At the present, my country successfully handles the impact of the global economic and financial crisis, demonstrating a positive economic and financial growth, as a result of prudent macro-economic well-structured reforms, trade liberalization, encouraging entrepreneurial atmosphere and a range of other bold reforms undertaken in this sector.
During 2007-2012 the average economic growth of GDP reached 5%. Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 of the World Economic Forum ranks Albania in the 78th place among 142 countries and economies. Also, the report "Doing Business 2012" of the World Bank on the "Ease of Doing Business" ranks Albania 82nd among 183 economies. In the "On getting credit" and "Consumer protection", Albania ranks respectively the 24th place and at 16, that places Albania among the countries with the highest results.
We are aware of what is expected from the Albanian authorities: to increase the level of standards and we are fully committed to continuously improve them, to be able to integrate into the European family with dignity.
These concrete steps are turning into reality the eternal European dream of the Albanians, an aspiration that set in motion crowds of students and citizens, who filled the streets and squares chanting: "We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe!" This was the motto that inspired Albanians in their final battle against the last dictatorship of Europe.
Albania is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence. The efforts of the Albanian nation to maintain its territorial integrity against possible partitions, ethnic cleansing and various occupations have been countless. But at the present day, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence as a free nation, who knew how to make use of the values ​​of freedom and mark real achievements.
Dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Ever since the first moment of Albania’s membership into the Council of Europe, this organization and its institutions have provided a valuable contribution to the process of democratic reforms’ consolidation. In particular, Albania has benefited from the expertise and cooperation with the Council of Europe in such areas:
- Constitutional reform, through cooperation with the Venice Commission;
- Holding free and democratic elections according to European standards;
- Establishing and consolidating an efficient and independent justice system;
- Fighting against corruption, organized crime and illicit trafficking (drafting an anti-corruption strategy 2007-2013);
- Growing the democratic culture and other reforms.
At the present day, Albania is a potential candidate for European Union accession, and in this regard, the Council of Europe plays an important role as a vector of European policy on protecting and promoting human rights, strengthening of democracy and rule of law. Albania's success is closely linked, undoubtedly, also to the fruitful cooperation it has enjoyed with the Council of Europe.
On the other hand, the Albanian Presidency in Office of the Ministers’ Committee of the Council of Europe provides us with a great opportunity to give our contribution in these areas, advancing the achievements marked by previous chairmanships, as well as contributing with the best values ​​of our country. Through its cautious and moderate policies, Albania plays a stabilizing role in the region. Although a small nation, Albania can deliver a great message. Tolerance and religious harmony, a unique feature of the Albanians present a model of coexistence in diversity. The sacrifices of Albanians, often beyond their capacities and means, to shelter protect the Jews who face the danger of being exterminated, is a clear example of how a small nation, but with a great heart nonetheless, can make the difference.
We all understand that diversity is "the destiny of Europe", being that the ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity has always characterized European societies. The founders of the United Europe have viewed it as a strength and advantage of our continent. Albanian Presidency in Office is convinced that the Council of Europe, with all its knowledge and experience, is an appropriate international organization for the promotion of democratic societies that respect and uphold diversity and peaceful and free co-existence.
In order to serve this scope, the Albanian Presidency in Office will organize in Tirana a high-level conference under the theme: "Diversity in Europe: A powerful tool for the future."
A part of the topics of discussion is covers also the dialogue with our Mediterranean neighbors in order to share the best experiences towards creating stable democratic and open societies.
Allow me to seize this opportunity in order draw attention to another aspect, which is related to the European cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage is an integral part of the European values’ system. Respect and protection of cultural heritage is vital to the development of European identity. But nothing should be taken for granted. Our cultural heritage has a priceless value, but it is easily vulnerable. Its preservation requires action and joint investment from all the stakeholders involved – from civil society, heritage sector, public authorities at all levels, national and European ones and from anyone who is interested in cultural heritage.
Mr. President,
The Balkan region takes part in the current political-institutional structure of Europe and it is currently progressing towards integration into European structures. Its countries have put their past behind and has set their sights towards the future.
Western Balkans is entirely oriented at the present day towards European integration and, in particular, regional cooperation constitutes a very important instrument of multifaceted development of this region in order to accelerate the accomplishment of our countries’ European integration common goal.
The foreign policy of the Republic of Albania is oriented towards maximum engagement in strengthening the good neighborly relations and regional integration. Albania does not have any outstanding issues with any of the regional countries.
Albania's national interests are best served in a peaceful, stable, democratic, and economically developed regional environment.
The establishment of such an environment requires a spirit of cooperation and understanding by all parties in the region, both on bilateral and multilateral levels.
Common future of the region is the stabilization within the European and Euro-Atlantic integration processes. This is the only way that leads to the resolution of the problems inherited from history.
We encourage dialogue and institutional struggle as the only mechanisms of communication to address and resolve the internal problems and the outstanding issues among neighbors in the region.
In Albania’s view, regional cooperation goes beyond just expressing the political will of good neighboring. This is because we believe that, if we engage together, we can build a common regional modern infrastructure. We are removing all non-physical barriers to the movement of people, goods and capitals and encouraging exchanges among our countries. At the same time, getting to better know the culture, history and customs of our neighbors, we can improve the image of our region, by making it an attractive and competitive market, and we can align its European integration perspective. In this spirit, we play a moderating role to preserve and strengthen peace and lasting stability in the Balkans.
We view the presence of the Albanian factor in almost all the countries of the region as an instrument of our moderating policy of moderation. We have always considered the Albanian factor as a connecting bridge among our countries and we encourage the Albanians in the region to be cooperative promoters and inciters of common European Union integration processes of the countries where they live.
Dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Please permit me to emphasize the importance of the involvement of the Council of Europe in Kosova.
We appreciate the commitment of the Council of Europe in our country and the Balkan region, in the implementation of specific and thematic projects. We underline, in particular, the significant importance of the commitment of the Council of Europe in Kosova, to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to provide a closer European perspective for all the citizens who live there.
Kosova should be a safe haven for all its citizens, where the standards of the Council of Europe are steadily strengthen, where key European instruments are fully applied, along with their control mechanisms.
Our position is very clear. The Republic of Kosova is a reality and a factor of stability in the region, which has removed any iota of skepticism. The issue of its status and territorial integrity are already closed chapters. We support Kosova's membership in the Council of Europe, because only this way Kosova’s citizens will benefit maximally from the Council of Europe standards and would enjoy access to the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, under the present conditions of a neutral status for Kosova by the European Council, as recommended by Resolution 1739 (2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, regardless of positions on the status issue, all Council of Europe member states should support a greater involvement of this institution in Kosova and strengthening direct contacts between Kosova’s authorities and the staff of the Council of Europe, at all levels. Kosova's citizens are European citizens as well and they fully deserve European standards that are best embodied in the Council of Europe.
Kosova, through the support of friendly countries who stand beside it, has made concrete strides and entered in the path of consolidation of state-foundation. This fact was proven also by the latest decision taken from the International Steering Group to end its supervised independence. That decision turned a new page in the history of Kosova: that of its functioning as a fully independent and sovereign state.
Kosova is consistently demonstrating a serious commitment to the consolidation of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has set up comprehensive and fully functional multi-ethnic and democratic institutions across the country, demonstrating to us all its accountability and vision to move beyond the bitter past and to enable all citizens in its territory to build the future of their children and families. And this goal to look forward to the future is also aided by the quick resumption of talks between Kosova and Serbia, which will affect the further normalization of relations between these two countries.
Dear friends,
The mandate of the Council of Europe is focused on Europe, but many of the key issues today are influenced by developments in neighboring countries: the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, Central Asia, etc. that surround Europe. As a result, many of the activities of the Council of Europe, including some of the important conventions seek to expand cooperation beyond the boundaries of Europe. Thus, the measures taken against terrorism, human trafficking, money laundering, cyber space crime, etc., can be effective only if we include and involve our neighbors and closely work with other international organizations.
I express my firm conviction that the Council of Europe has all the necessary mechanisms to provide a contribution in building sustainable democratic societies in neighboring regions and the relations with these regions should be based on mutual respect and proper sensitivity regarding their cultural and religious context.
In particular, we appreciate the role of the Venice Commission in providing assistance and advice on the constitutional law issues in Morocco and Tunisia, as well as in terms of necessary reforms to align the national legislation of these countries to the international human rights standards.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Albania remains a country that strongly believes in the dialogue among civilizations and will continue to be actively engaged to erase the differences about issues related to the human rights agenda. It is exactly for this reason that the Albanian Presidency in Office of the Council of Europe has chosen as its motto: "United in diversity".
Dialogue among different cultures and civilizations should be viewed as an ongoing process that requires commitment, good will and care. Harmonizing cultural diversity is not always an easy task, and it can even be challenging at times for all of us.
We are all saddened by the serious consequences caused by a worthless video, which showed a lack of respect towards Islam and towards what Muslims consider sacred.
Albanian citizens of all religious pertinence, our state and religious institutions ignored that video by maintaining their silence. It is unfortunate that in some parts of the world, this event was not accompanied by a similar reaction. On the contrary, it was used to fuel the blind violence of angry hopeless crowds - which led to fatal consequences.
We must make it clear that: forms of terrorism, extremist actions from isolated groups with ill intentions should never be confused with the positions or be identified with the positions of entire societies and governments. No legit anger can be justified by the illegal acts of violence. All political and religious institutions and all societies should strongly oppose these actions. Rather, we must commit ourselves to building preventive, social, educational and legal mechanisms to halt such phenomena.
We condemn with indignation the terrorist actions taken against the United States Embassy in Libya and demand punishment for the perpetrators. We also condemn any action expressed through the violent protests against Western countries’ embassies, whose mission is to promote understanding and cooperation among countries and nations.
Dear friends,
Peace and security in different parts of the world continue to be challenged by tyranny and oppression. We strongly condemn the violence against the freedom loving people of Syria, from a regime that has irrevocably lost its legitimacy to lead and represent the Syrian people. Nobody should stay idly by and inobservant in front of the terrible events that are taking place every day in Syria for about a year and a half now, resulting in thousands of lost lives, deliberate and wide spread destruction, that have regressed that country whole decades.
We all live in a world that is being increasingly globalized day in and day out, and which throughout its history has overcome serious human tragedies. Hence, in the interest of our common future, we all must learn the right lessons from the costs and price that have been paid due to human bloodshed.
Dear participants,
In conclusion, I would like to especially praise the distinct role and the contribution of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly for the preservation and promotion of the fundamental values of the Organization in the member countries of this organization and elsewhere.
I would also like to express my special gratitude for the assistance and support that this Assembly has given to my country in satisfying and meeting all the necessary engagements and proper obligations.
Wishing you good luck and successes in your work during this session,
Thank you for your attention!