EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca on Euronews Albania on the Constitutional Court, imperfect Justice Reform and reconstruction funds

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Ilva Tare: Thank you dear Ambassador Luigi for being at Euronews Albania.

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Ilva Tare: As you know, Euronews is 100%, a European name. And we as media, we try to do our best in advancing the democratic progress of Albania, of our country. First, if I may say, how do you find Euronews Albania’s work in the first year of broadcasting?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well, it’s not because I’m here sitting in front of you, but I have to really congratulate you and your staff for settling down so rapidly. I particularly I appreciate the deepness of the information that you provide in your programme, and in the news. But I also follow very much as you know, social media. And I like the way you provide videos and information on social media. We are running so fast in our life, that the news on social media becomes sometimes the first and only news we get, so the fact that you do it so well helped us, and helped me as EU ambassador, to have the flavour, also of European Albanian network.

Ilva Tare: We try to do our best as I guess you do with the yearly report that the European Commission published in the last weeks. Commissioner Varhelyi said that Albania is close to fulfilling all conditions for the first Intergovernmental Conference. The delegation has worked a lot on the report, we all read it. But are you happy with the findings?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I am, in the sense that despite the earthquake, despite the COVID crisis, the Albanian system has continued to progress. Of course, the progress change between one area to the other, and we might have done more. Albania might have done more. And there is still work to do. So let’s be clear. And we will talk about I’m sure. But as Commissioner Varhelyi said Albania is close to fulfilling the conditions or there are a few of these elements that needs to be prepared. To reply to your question, am I satisfied? It was a long process. We add a new methodology; we work very much with the member states. So compared to last year, there was more synergy with the local embassies, and with the ministries in the member states to ever more report, which is more felt as ownership by the member state.

Ilva Tare: You said there are more things to be done. So how close is close? What has to be done before the first?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well, I think the real point that needs to become super urgent is the fulfilment of the post in the Constitutional Court. You have probably seen me and my other colleagues mentioning this almost daily, and indeed the latest developments, the president, the parliament publishing the last available post, and now the Judicial Appointment Council called, I would say even urged, to go fast in evaluation and ranking can still allow to have to more candidates before the end of the year, in order to reach the quorum, which is necessary for the sort Constitutional Court to work. This is a necessary condition for the first IGC to be called, every member state is waiting for this to happen. So there is clearly an urge towards the Judicial Appointment Council (JAC) and the other appointing authorities to do their best and even more in order not to miss the train this year of the IGC

Ilva Tare: Let me stress this point again; The Constitutional Court functioning. As we see, it looks like it’s more technical, rather than intentional, in your analysis and the information you have, are there any particular parties or individuals that are willing to block or stop the election of the judges?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: The public statement of the two appointing authorities, the President of Republic and the Parliament have been very clear, and we stick to that. And we invite them, of course, to follow their statement, which is they will do whatever they can, in order to go faster into this process. You are right, there are technical elements, when a candidate is disqualified, he has a right to appeal, the appeal lasts up to 12 days, this is necessary for JAC to transmit the list. But we expect the appointing authorities once this is done, as they have said together in the meeting that speaker Ruçi and President Meta had in July to go as fast as they can.

Ilva Tare: And again, apologise for insisting but this looks like a crucial point for the first IGC. How many judges should be appointed for the member states to consider the Constitutional Court functioning?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: It’s very clear they must be six, because that’s the quorum for seeing in the Constitution of Albania in the Constitutional Law of Albania for the Constitutional Court to be considered as fully functioning, they can take any decision once they have six members on the bench.

Ilva Tare: When will the decision to hold the conference will be taken?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well, Ilva we are entering a very interesting next four weeks. Starting from today, where in Brussels while we speak there are meetings going on of the EU ambassadors to the European Union. The next four to six weeks, will be crucial for the member states in the Council to follow up on the progress report of the European Commission. And take the final decision. As you know, this is a unanimous decision. So every member state has to be on board. It’s a historical decision. And that’s why it’s so important that Albania presents itself to this moment, having done the homework.

Ilva Tare: So am I getting it right? Are there still chances the first Intergovernmental Conference may be held within this year?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: It cannot be ruled out at all. You might consider me optimistic, I am a pragmatic-optimistic. There is still a chance if the Constitutional Court condition is fulfilled, that member states might appreciate the effort made by Albania, which by the way, we’ve been recognised in many areas by the member states, and therefore give the possibility to call to the German presidency of the Council to call the IGC still this year. It is not ruled out.

Ilva Tare: So it is just the Constitutional Court or what Commissioner Varhelyi said during his speech in the parliament, that the electoral reform as well is a condition. What does that mean?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: That’s very interesting and useful that you tell me because it’s very important to clarify this point. As you know, the European Union together with his partner, have been very active in the run-up to the Fifth of June agreement. And I want to once again, after more than three months, still applaud the majority, the parliamentary opposition and the extra parliamentary opposition for having engaged. That agreement, which has been then translated on the 23rd of July in amendments has fulfilled the condition foreseen by the Council’s conclusion. Why? Because the Council’s conclusions were talking about the so-called OSCE-ODIHR recommendations on electoral administration. They were concerning the setting up of the electoral administration. This has been done on the Fifth of June agreement. Then the next step, which has been the decision of the majority to move into the elements of the electoral system is unrelated to the decision taken on the Fifth of June. You know our position very well. We ever regretted several times, I said it again only two days ago from Kukës by saying that we would have wanted to see this happening with the same compromise and positive spirit of the Political Council. That being said, this has happened. And now what needs to happen is to implement the electoral reform of the Fifth of June. The Fifth of June has to enter into force. I just met a few days ago on Friday, the State Election Commissioner, just appointed, and the deputy state election commission to see what needs to be done, what can we do to help to implement the Fifth of June agreement?

Ilva Tare: So let me get this straight again. When Commissioner Varhelyi said “electoral reform is a condition for the first IGC”, does that mean that we have to wait for the implementation of the electoral reform, such as the after the elections, the 25th of April elections, or the Fifth of June agreement, considers it fulfilled?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: The Fifth of June agreement fulfils the implementation of the OSCE/ODIHR recommendation, which as you read very carefully as you normally do, the Council’s conclusion is the condition for seen for IGC. In the second part of those conclusions, it is said that in the context of the negotiating framework, the reform needs to be implemented. And this means that during the process of negotiation. We expect, of course, the implementation to happen before the 25th of April when the election will take place.

Ilva Tare: So once we have the Constitutional Court, the first Intergovernmental Conference, may be happening…

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: This is up to the member states to assess.

Ilva Tare: Now it’s me being too optimistic. I’ll come back to the Fifth of June agreement, but I wanted to have your take or your answer regarding what I really saw with concern. And I know that’s very close to reality in the report, the widely spread corruption and weak results against the fight against corruption. In your analysis, who is to be blamed for this phenomenon, why is the fight against corruption not functioning?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: The progress report presents two side of the problem. On one side, we acknowledge that there has been some progress on the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of lower and middle ranking officials. On the other side, we continue, unfortunately, to acknowledge that this has not happened for the higher level of the public administration, and the political side. Why this has not happened? Certainly, we should not forget that SPAK has been working for few months only. Now we have the NBI Director, and there is a selection of the 15 investigators. But I think the political will, should be enhanced. What does it mean? It means that the whole political class needs to give signal that fighting corruption is a common effort of the whole society. Starting from the Prosecution Office, of course, we’re going into the whole element of society. I have to say that the initiative taken by SPAK to investigate 23 judges that were disqualified by the vetting, including nine from the Constitutional Court is a signal in the right direction. At the same time, the report said that corruption, petty corruption, gross corruption is still widespread and a serious concern. So, the call is for moving to the next gear in the fight is corruption. The call is on SPAK, but the call is in the whole society starting the political side to give a signal that they’re ready to be serious in this. And therefore, I’m sure that in the context of the negotiation, we will see progress. I expect, we expect to progress.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador, when you say that political will should be giving messages, clear signals. What do you exactly mean, what has politics got to do with the prosecution of such crimes?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well, of course, the prosecution has the lead, but it is clear that for example, the selection of the candidate that will run for the election on the 25th of June, selecting candidates that they don’t have any, let’s say, elements concerning their criminal past or any element of suspecting concerning corruption cases will give a strong signal to the public opinion, to the Albanian society, and to the European public opinion that the political class is giving a signal that is working hand-in-hand with the Prosecution Office.

Ilva Tare: Do you have this expectation when it comes to the political party candidates’ as well the list they will select for the for the next parliamentary elections?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well, I expect them to be serious, to identify qualified candidates, people that can help to change this country which is in need of moving to another gear in the run up to the integration. So, very serious, very thorough assessment of the quality, of the integrity of the candidate, so that the Albanian can vote free and fair on the 25th of April.

Ilva Tare: Have you got any concerns so far regarding the candidates, the political parties are contacting or being?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I am not following at the moment, I have to tell you, I see that there is a process of selection. We will give our assessment when this process will end. But the call on the political parties is to do this exactly in this direction.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador Soreca, I’d like to ask you for as much as you can answer. But I really want to ask this publicly to you. Not only because of your background, but as the EU Ambassador as well, about the justice reform flaws or problems that we have so far witnessed, the delay. If I was to ask you about problems, or potential flaws, in the justice reform, would you select one of them and say this is what I consider maybe a problem that should have been done differently?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: That’s a very good question Ilva. The justice reform, is not perfect. It is clear that it was a unique adventure in which Albania and its partner entered in 2016. The implementation of justice reform has shown, for example, the question of efficiency, there is a need for more resources, for example, for the vetting, to go faster, there is the need of transitional measures to be taken. And I’m thinking for example, about Court of Appeal. Some Court of Appeal in Albania, due to the vetting have been emptied. Is Albania, in need to have probably a transitional period where less Court of Appeal are available in order to fasten this process. So I think Justice Reform is more than necessary for Albania. Is there a need to fasten this process? Absolutely, yes.

Ilva Tare: Maybe some requirements are necessary in terms of changing some laws or easing a bit the criteria because they seem to be very high and candidates are being either pushed away or they don’t want to get involved in the process. I cannot meet the criteria which were intentionally made very hard. Is there something we can adjust in the Justice Reform?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I think this is something that needs to be looked at in a second face. Now, believe me, the real priority is to finalising the setting up of the institution. So the utmost priority is to finalise the Constitutional Court, finalise the High Court which is functioning in one chamber, which means that backlog is taken up. Then these things can be looked. The fact that there were few candidates for three consecutive times running for Constitutional Court it’s an element to be considered and I think this will be the time when the Constitutional Court will be functioning to look at that.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador, you might have heard this, but I want to an answer from you for the public as well. The fact that the European Union is part of the Justice Reform through the international monitoring operation, makes some believe that EU has a kind of conflict of interest when it comes to the success of the reform. Are you being biased when analysing this reform in Albania?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: You know, I was not here when the justice reform has been adopted, I was not involved. So I could look at the justice reform with more distant eyes. And having my own background, as you know, I can look at those elements with a certain distance. Of course, I am the EU ambassador. So I’m involved in some way or another. What I can say is to repeat what I told you before, I think the Justice Reform is not perfect, and the implementation of it has shown that there is room for improvement. That being said, it’s strictly necessary for the country. The number of judges and prosecutors that have been dismissed is too high for imagining that it was not necessary. Therefore, can it be improved? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely, yes.

Ilva Tare: I’ll go to another issue that actually you raised lately. The anti-defamation law as we call it, the Media Law. Some journalists, the most part of them are not happy with it. And some member states are not happy with the current draft version that we have. And the government says that it will continue to approve it after considering the suggestions that have come from the Venice Commission. Should the government, in your view, retract from this law and take more time to reconsider together with the media community, some adjustments over it or go ahead and approve it?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Our position is very clear. I’ve been extremely vocal in the last month. And even last year on this, we do consider that the best approach for any intervention and legislative level in the area of freedom of expression is through self-regulation. Anytime you try to regulate freedom of expression, there are tensions because the conflict is inevitable between the political side and the word of media is inevitable. We do believe that if the government, if the ruling majority, considers it necessary to go ahead, and that’s in their power, they should absolutely fulfil every single recommendation that the Venice Commission last June has issued. We have said this several times, we have said this at the highest level, we do not consider that a media law, which is not in line with those recommendations would meet EU standards. So should they go ahead, it’s a decision of the government. That being said, we will be extremely focused on what the government is doing. We have expressed concern, we are giving the expertise together with our Council of Europe colleagues to make sure that the work is done, I understand and I welcome the position of the government to put quality over time, we will see the result and then we will continue to ask for wide consultation of the media community as it is not conceivable to have a media law without the media community being involved and having sufficient time to express his position.

Ilva Tare: So as we speak, there is work being done between consultants from Council of Europe and the European Union and the government.

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Indeed. There are consultant experts, international experts appointed by the Council of Europe with EU funding that are working with the rapporteur in the Albanian parliament exchanging position on the context of the law. We have not seen yet the revised version. We are looking forward to see it and we will be able to express our position, but consultation with the media community is essential.

Ilva Tare: And since we are in a media, and we like very much here at Euronews Albania fact checking, let me ask you a question that needs some fact checking. The European Union was a great friend during a very difficult time for Albania during an earthquake and COVID-19 later, but I want to ask you about the generous donation a hundred million euros that the European Commission gave to Albania on the donors’ conference that was generously held in Brussels. The Prime Minister Edi Rama said last week that none of the funds has been delivered to Albania so far, zero investments, is that the case?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I am a great fan of fact checking. So I will give you the facts. I understand that we are entering into an electoral mode and some statements can be announced in a dialectic between political parties. But let’s look at the facts. On the 17th of February the European Commission has pledged 115 million euros as grants, which means donation, it means zero cost for the Albanian government. The member states have added also grants and and loans up to reaching one third of the 1.1 billion euro that was greatly reached that fantastic day. This is the biggest show of solidarity in the last 30 years, I think that the European Union has given to Albania. Since then, all these 115 million of the European Commission, of course, I’m talking on behalf of the EU have been committed. And let me say…

Ilva Tare: By committed you mean delivered?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Committed means first of all, that following the pledge despite the COVID crisis, those million have been recommitted for Albania. Despite the situation in Europe those 115 million were recommitted. Then, contracts have been signed. Prime Minister Rama has signed the first of this with President Von der Leyen on the day of the conference for the first €15 million has been used. And when I say used means implemented, which means contracted with the UNDP Albania for the reconstruction of the first 22 schools. This has happened in April, the first of the work done by UNDP, in Durres and Kruja. This will cover 22 schools that will be finalised by the end of the year. Additional €60 million are being now contracted with UNDP for the second part of the year for school, which will bring 42 more schools to fruition. And I would like to come back to the concept of fruition. The other €40 million have been already contracted which means already delivered to UNOPS for the programme EU for culture. Let me now say what does it mean contracted. We do not transfer these funds in the budget of the Albanian state. This money is transferred to the UN agencies that are implementing these two programmes and are implementing the programme according to the principle of “Build Back Better” and “Build Back Together with the Community”. For each of the 22 schools the UNDP have met with the local community and the municipality. We have asked them to choose the school they want. Why are we doing this? Because we are not only the biggest donor in Albania. We are donating to a member of the family. And we want therefore the family to be participating to the choice of the school they want, to the choice of the cultural site that they want. So we work of course, with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Ministry of Culture to identify the site at the school but the management of the money is done by the EU agent.

Ilva Tare: I think I go to clear picture, but let me make sure again. The €40 million for the heritage is part of the €115 million…

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: €75 million are to be used for school, €40 million for culture

Ilva Tare: And they are already contracted…

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Yes.

Ilva Tare: So has the Albanian public the opportunity to see such investments in place, in terms of schools?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: As I told you, 22 communities, including the municipality of Durres, Kruja and Thumane not only they have, they are choosing their own school, and four of them are in this very moment already being reconstructed. The objective is to finalise the 65 school by June 2021. It’s a fact.

Ilva Tare: And you need better communication through your office and PM’s Office or…

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: We have two experts that have been detached, seconded to the Ministry of Reconstruction in order to help this flow of communication. As I said, we are entering into a pre-electoral mode, and I think solidarity to Albania has been so huge that I would certainly go into the fact checking more than the public speaking.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador Soreca also the EU has been close after COVID-19 and the emergency that we had in terms of medical equipment. What has been done so far?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: We have contracted and spent €4 million in the very first weeks, between April to July of medical equipment 110 ICU beds, 120 ICU ventilators, 10.000 testing kits have been delivered. We will finish next week the whole programme with the X-ray big check control that will be delivered to one of the four COVID hospitals. The reaction has been immediate. Once again we have to thank UNOPS who has helped us to compete in the world to bring the best quality to Albania. This has made, in my view, a difference in the treatment of the patients in the last five months. This is only a part of it. There is also €46 million that will be transferred to the budget of Albania by the end of the year for the social economic recovery and in particular the social inclusions. You have probably heard me talking about this in the last weeks. It’s something to which I’m very much attached. It means working for the families in need working for the youth to make sure that for example, even cash assistance is provided to the small medium enterprise to the families to the youngsters that have lost their jobs. This will be transferred, the first €37 million, by the end of this year.

Ilva Tare: And again, since we’re talking about funds, there was another generous amount mentioned by commissioner Varhelyi, €9 billion for the Western Balkans. Does Albania have to compete for different projects to get some funds, are there already predesigned?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: No, this is a regional plan. All the projects have been included in the plan following consultation with the six partners in the country. So, the Albanian government has identified in the preparation of the plan those projects that having a regional dimension were considered as a priority by the Albanian government, and those have been reflected in the plan. None of this projects is only Albanian. It is of course to be implemented on the Albanian territory but is a part of the regional. The rail system that will connect Podgorica to Durres to Tirana, the pipeline that will be concluded from Fier to Vlora is part of the Adriatic Pipeline, the blue highway that will connect Croatia to Greece will pass through Albania. Now, it’s very important that the Albanian authorities put together the part of the project that needs to be put into this basket. I heard this morning, the Prime Minister talking about putting together a pool of expertise. I am looking forward for this to happen in order to benefit at best of this incredible, and frankly, allow me to say innovative approach to regional economic integration, that it is the economic investment plan.

Ilva Tare: Well, I would like to talk now about the hottest actual issue, we mentioned a bit earlier, the political situation and polarisation that was mentioned in the progress yearly report as well. Ambassador, we had that agreement, you and the international community or American colleague and other member states applauded the Fifth of June agreement, but in the end in the parliament was voted unilaterally. And there were some and I’m quoting here, “extensions” to this agreement. Will those extensions influence Member States against the potential holding of the conference, the first Intergovernmental Conference or the opening of negotiations?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I understand what you mean, our position, as I told you before, is that the condition for the IGC has been fulfilled with the Fifth of June agreement. But the Council also called for inclusiveness, in which sense that we would have, as I said, wanted to see this extension happening in a more inclusive way. But there are limits to what the European Union and the member states can do. The sovereign power of the Parliament, of the Albanian authorities, does not allow us to do that. So what will be the position of member states? We’ll see, as I told you today, we start this moment of the next four to six weeks, where we will see the position of our Member States rather than mistakes. My feeling is that there is a will, by the member states to acknowledge the progress made by Albania as a whole. That’s why we said in the progress report, the political dialogue needs to be improved, to give a sense that we are going all together in the right direction.

Ilva Tare: The president of Republic has made it clear he will not sign this law and will send it back to the parliament. And the majority has said that it has no intention to change it. Is there still room for negotiation or it’s a done deal?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: It seems to me that the position has been clarified by the two sides, and this is the prerogative of the President and the prerogative of the Parliament, or the ruling majority. At this stage, what we want, what we as EU, is to approach the decision time in Brussels with the best possible political dialogue.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador Soreca, this is the first time that you are appointed as an ambassador in a beautiful but not an easy country such as Albania with a highly politically polarised climate. How do you feel? After two years in September, it was two years of work in this country. And sometimes you were attacked by some and then asked again to work together. Can you share with us your feelings?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I think these two years have been intense. You’re right. This is my first Ambassador post. But I had quite hot spot in the past. And I work with Albania already in the past. So, I know that the political environment in this country is very much polarised. And the only way forward I think, for an ambassador to try to be successful as far as possible but at least to do the job, is to be balanced and to work on the facts. And the fact is that we work with the government who is in place at the moment we are working with that country. Of course, I’m working with the Rama government now, but as you might know, in my previous experience with this country I worked with another government and I delivered to that government probably the most important result that Albania has had from the European Union, which is visa liberalisation. That government was the Berisha government in 2010 with foreign minister, the president Meta and Minister of Interior Mr. Basha and I worked for years with them, working with the government that is in place, is the only way possible for an ambassador to go through its own course.

Ilva Tare: Currently we are facing heated debates on the controversy between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister Edi Rama. How do you see as the Ambassador of the European Union in this moment this rhetoric and who should be more tolerant in your view?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: When I listen to all political statement, which as you say are getting more heated, I am looking forward to next month towards the elections, this is my first election that I witness in Albania, I also see at least one common denominator, at least in the public statements, which is the attachment to EU integration and as EU Ambassador I must say that my invitation, my urge and wish is for this to become the centre of compromise by all political forces beyond the political rhetoric is found. As you know, more than 90% of Albanians are in favour of EU integration, they want to join the EU, I haven’t seen a single politician in this country saying that he is or she is against EU integration. That, in my view, is the common denominator that every politician should find its place and bring at the table of the next electoral campaign the concrete elements that the citizens of Albania want to discuss for. For example, we are presenting in our campaign “Europe is Here” now in the last 4 months and until next February what we have done on the ground to help the Albanian citizens in the daily life.

Ilva Tare: Actually, you preceded me in the next question which was your engagement lately with the Youth European’s Ambassadors initiative that I saw you were very fond of. How did you find talking to them, are they feeling they want to leave the country or do they feel that there is pace, that there is room for their contribution?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: They want to be part of the game, they need to be empowered, they need to be listened and that’s what I am doing personally I think since day one. Last year the Europe week was “The Power of Youth”, this year we have launches the great project of the “Young European Ambassador”. I was in Kukes on Monday, one of them was with me, we are giving tasks to each of them and in order to speak with the other young people, and what we want to achieve is to explain that they need to be part of the future of this country. 30% of Albanians are between 15 and 29. Everywhere I go I meet amazing young people that at 16 to 25 they just want to be heard. So let’s make sure that they have a place, a forum, a structure and we are providing that for them to show their amazing added value.

Ilva Tare: On social media accounts you are very active I see, from the perception that I get, I see that you have a kind of stressful life from Monday to Friday and then on the weekend you enjoy the beauties of Albania…

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: In order to restart again on Monday…

Ilva Tare: How are you enjoying the beauty, the natural beauty of the country. What is missing there? What can’t we as Albanians benefit from this kind of beauty?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I think it’s related to the fact that I am certainly a foreigner even if I feel at home in Albania since day one. I am Italian, from the south, so this probably is inevitable. But I find amazing the contact with the people in the countryside when I go hiking or visiting and as the EU ambassador of course I try to understand how can I help Albania and the 61 municipalities to enter the process of integration. And by doing my social media efforts presenting the beauty, sometimes endangered by the time, it’s also to make sure that attention is given to the beauty of Albania that can become a driver for the economic recovery, tourism, jobs and growth. And that’s why EU for Culture, and the other investments that are doing in tourism, have this long-term perspective to create a sustainable tourism. The one that brings here German, French, Brits, Scottish, Danes, and Italians.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador, what is expected on the visa-free movement side. Albania and the Western Balkans remain isolated, although now they are below the EU average number of 100.000 infections per capita for the last 15 days. Will we see any opening of the EU-Schengen area anytime soon?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Well I think this is a very technical process. My office provides every two weeks to the Council in Brussels the state of play, the member states they meet, they assess the situation in the country. So every two weeks there is an assessment. I think as you say rightly so Albania at the moment is below the level of the infections and as you know in Europe is going quite high. I will expect that the next months would be critical and probably no change in the next 2-3 months because the forecast in Europe is again not going in the right direction. So it would be difficult for the policymakers to take a decision to reopening Schengen, of course the visa-free approach is kept. By the way, we are going to celebrate it on the fifteenth of December this year the ten years of the visa-free, hopefully a public event, whatever possible. And I want to say that this has never been a question for Albania. It’s a temporary solution to a problem related to the dramatic situation in the member states of the European Union.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador, we had the Greek Foreign Minister yesterday in Tirana for a visit that resulted very important in terms of the maritime agreement that Albania and Greece have been suffering a long time to get a bilateral agreement. So now we are heading towards the International Court of The Hague, such as it was announced by Prime Minister Rama and Foreign Minister Dendias. What’s the EU’s stance on this? We had the spokesperson last night commenting on this but how do you see this development between the two countries? Will it be a problem in the negotiating framework from Greece if this issue was not put in that?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: It is certainly a good step in the right direction. We welcome the decision by the two governments about deferring the issue, this will unblock the situation that, while legally speaking, is not a condition for the EU integration of Albania, we don’t have to forget that accession means also solution of border limitation among future and existing member states. So this is a very important step forward that would help the next weeks the decision time. There are other issues that are more related to the EU integration between the two countries that are being taken care of, there is progress, there is need for more progress but certainly this is a welcomed development that we certainly acknowledge.

Ilva Tare: What does the concern, especially from Greece, consist when it comes to property rights especially in the south of Albania ambassador, I am sure you are aware of it?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Of course I am and this is one of the elements I was mentioning. I think in the last months we have seen positive movement in the right direction, the setting up of specific offices, three in particular in the south and a start of the exchange of information necessary for the local community to being delivered the title of property. Dialogue between the government and the local authorities and the community is essential. We have invited and we are supporting with our expertise this process which is going in the right direction. We understand the importance for the community to be heard and we understand that this consultation is taking place. So let’s follow this direction. It is clear that without a solution of the property rights in this country there will be no long-term investment from foreign countries. We have discussed this in the past, this is as important as other big reforms that are taking place in the country.

Ilva Tare: Ambassador, I know you are very ethical and you are not the source but we have seen the negotiating framework as Euronews Albania that is being done, the draft among the member states and there are 9 member states that are sceptical and have issues with Albania. I don’t know if you can name them or if you believe that the issues that they’re raising will not be a problem for the first IGC?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: You said it right, I am very ethical. I am a professional and I know that member states are discussing. I don’t want to pre-judge their final position. I know that there are national elements. Sometimes we forget the enlargement is not necessarily a foreign policy issue. Enlargement is called a national issue because opening a house and making somebody enter is not only a matter of foreign policy, it’s a question of putting the house in order and if in one apartment there is a problem, this can impact the rest. Let’s have the member states discussing. I think that the signal that will come from Tirana in the next weeks is crucial. Political dialogue, the correctness, the implementation of the Fifth of June agreement, the Constitutional Court, these are the messages that we need to get in order to finally open this path that we all want to be opened.

Ilva Tare: And a final question Ambassador Soreca. It looks like our destiny with North Macedonia, during last year for the opening of negotiations, was linked together and we know the famous phrase “decoupling”. Is it going to happen this year?

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: I think North Macedonia and Albania are entering this final stage with a different set of conditions. North Macedonia has gone through a very important political development; elections, a new government. There are still issues that are being discussed between North Macedonia and member states. Our wish is for the region to go ahead together and we hope that both countries will go ahead. That being said, the member states will apply the merit based approach and the final decision will be on that basis. But the hope is that the region continues together.

Ilva Tare: November, a crucial month for Albanians and the region. So let’s work hard all of us.

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: Yes, and EU and the delegation is as usually here to support the dream of more than 90% of Albanians.

Ilva Tare: Luigi Soreca, thank you very much for this interview.

Ambassador Luigi Soreca: It was my pleasure finally to be here. I am very happy to have had this chance with you. Thank you, Ilva. 

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