Indeed, I am always happy to be here in Tirana, especially on an important day like this one. As you have just said, we have opened registration for the first academic year of the new College of Europe campus in Tirana. It is going to be fascinating to see that students from all over Europe, studying right here, will be part of our effort to build a common European future. Step by step. So, your path is going towards the European Union and is taking shape. It is getting real.
And this is my first very clear message: Albania is on track to join the European Union. As you know, enlargement is at the top of our priorities. This is actually where it belongs. Because we want our partners and neighbours to join and make our Union complete. It is also in our own interest because it will give our Union the weight, the clout and the capacity to act. And it will make Europe stronger, bolder and larger in a rapidly changing world. Albania has already achieved so much. The screening process, as you said, is progressing smoothly. Many thanks to the negotiating teams on both sides. They are doing a fantastic job. Our shared objective is to open negotiations on the so-called fundamentals’ cluster as quickly as possible. Our aim is to have this done before the end of the year.
My second message is: As we continue to work on the path towards accession, we are already building our common future. So, we should start doing this right away to make your country ready for membership but also to, already now, create new trade opportunities between us and to bring our economies closer. We have started this with the Economic and Investment Plan of EUR 30 billion. It is delivering fast, more than half of the financing is already mobilised after three years. In Albania, the plan has actually already mobilised EUR 1.4 billion. There are great projects like the Fierza hydropower plant, or the railway connection to the European Union via Montenegro, on Corridor X. Last year, we completed our Investment Plan with the Energy Support Package. This was during the energy crisis. It delivered very nicely. 90% are already mobilised.
But what I wanted to focus on today is the new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans. Because here, we are moving towards a new phase of action. This plan has the potential, if we implement it correctly, to double the size of your economy still in this decade and to drive growth and convergence. The principle is that, in certain specific areas, you will have access to the Single Market. For this, reforms are necessary. And the reforms are accompanied by investment. So it opens the door to the Single Market for the Western Balkan countries.
This will of course be then underpinned by the financial investment: So it is about the necessary investment and reforms.
My third message is that our investments will match your sustained reform efforts for Albania, for example to work on the improvement of the business environment to further equip people with the right skills – we did exactly this today by opening applications for the new campus of the College of Europe – and to diversify energy supplies, just to name a few topics. So it is very concrete.
I believe the Growth Plan is the right offer at the right time for the European Union and Albania to get closer. And it will play an important role in your path towards the European Union. You have consistently shown your dedication to this path. For example, and you said it, with your alignment with the EU’s response to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. And dear Edi, I want to emphasise your personal role in this, in defending our rules-based multilateral order in the UN Security Council in an outstanding manner. And I would like to emphasise too your very clear position on the terrible terrorist attack by Hamas a week ago.
So, we are getting ready. We are now on our way to welcoming Albania to the European Union. Thank you again for the hospitality. Thank you again for the excellent talks. It is a pleasure to be here in Albania.
Source : Europe Commision