Audrey Tilve: It’s still the dream to be a part of the European Union. That’s the case here in Albania, a Balkan country still linked to troubles, such as corruption and crime. But the socialist prime minister, Edi Rama, who has been in power for three years, is a reformer. His aim, to join the European club. But where does Albania stand now. That’s what we are going to try and find out right now . Edi Rama, thanks for coming.
Audrey Tilve: We’ll start with the European Mission, since that’s your mantra. Albania has been a candidate since 2014. Since the beginning of the year you’ve been pushing hard to get accession talks started a quickly as possible. What is so attractive about the European Union when you can see the state that it is presently in?
Edi Rama: “I think at home and in the Balkans, in general, we have not forgotten what is often forgotten in Europe, that the European Union, is above all, a project of peace and prosperity.
“You must remember that for the first time in 68 years I went to Belgrade, and my Serbian counterpart came to Tirana for the first time in the history of two neighbouring countries that have waged war against one another.
“And why? Because we are all united in this bid to join Europe. And if Europe has problems we must not treat it like something that doesn’t work, but something that needs leadership and courage going forward.”
Audrey Tilve: And in a troubled European Union, what would be the point of welcoming Albania, which has even more problems?
Edi Rama: “This is exactly the reasons Marine Le Pen and her allies in Europe have given.
“They’ve spread propaganda against the so-called enlargement but Europe will only become more solid if we complete this project and don’t leave a grey zone in the middle of Europe where players outside, such as Russia and Islamic Fundamentalists find a stranglehold to endanger the security of Europe.”
Biography: Edi Rama
- Edi Rama was born in Tirana, the albanian capital, on July 4, 1964
- He took office as Albanian Prime minister in September 2013
- He was the Mayor of Tirana between 2000 and 2011
- Rama was Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports between 1998 and 2000
- Before entering politics, he was a painter
Audrey Tilve: Anyway, before you start membership talks, Brussels says you need a major overhaul of your judiciary system. Progress on this has been slow, notably because of conflict between your government and the opposition, which has slowed things down. How are you going to get yourself out of this tricky situation?
Edi Rama: “Reform won’t be a long time coming. We started on this road over a year ago and we in the process of wrapping up the loose ends.
“It’s a fundamental and radical constitutional reform to completely change our judicial system. And, yes, it’s very very difficult. There are discussions, and there could be probably more.
“But you need to remember two things. For a start, we are on schedule…?”
Audrey Tilve: What is the time frame? When would you like to adopt this reform?
Edi Rama: “We, we want to open membership talks by the end of the year. There.
“We want the reform passed by the time the Council of Europe meets. And it will be passed. On the other hand, we need to stop these stories of a corrupt and criminal Albania …”
Audrey Tilve: Albanian magistrates are not corrupt? Can you confirm this in front of everybody?
Edi Rama: “We need to stop these stories of a corrupt and criminal Albania and of a corrupt and criminal Balkans.
“Because these are stereotypes that were created years ago and which stigmatise our countries very easily.”
Audrey Tilve: According to Italian anti-mafia prosecutors and expert reports, about one-third of the Albanian economy is governed by crime of all types of trafficking. Drugs, arms trafficking, women, organs …?
Edi Rama: “That’s disgusting! That’s disgusting! There has never been a report, anywhere, that says one-third of the Albanian economy is concerned with human trafficking, drugs trafficking.”
Audrey Tilve: What would you say? What are your figures? Do you deny the fact that there is illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons and women in Albania?
Edi Rama: “I strongly reject this and I tell you it’s completely untrue to talk of trafficking weapons in Albania.”
Audrey Tilve: So, there are no problems with crime in Albania. All is good?
Edi Rama: “Why do we need to go from one extreme to the other. I don’t understand it. Either there is no problem, or crime is everywhere. Why?
“Isn’t there a more rational answer? Or is it just journalistically interesting to tell these stories. You’ve described Albania as if it were the source of all evil in Europe. But that’s not true.”
Audrey Tilve: That’s not what I said.
Edi Rama: “It’s a country that changes every day… with problems, with a very very difficult past … the most difficult of all the communist countries because we were cut off for from not only Eastern Europe but Western Europe for 50 years.
“So there. What we have done in 25 years is a real miracle, considering where we come from.”
Audrey Tilve: We are going to change the subject and talk about the economy that you are trying to develop and boost. Foreign investments are rising, however, the country produces very little and imports a lot of goods. What sector has the potential for the future?
Edi Rama: “Well, Albania is rich in natural resources, oil, gas, minerals. Albania’s tourism industry has amazing potential. We can develop a competitive agriculture sector to provide enough for our needs.
“And we done a lot in the energy sector. And of course we have an inexpensive workforce that has helped us develop our manufacturing industry. It’s in these areas of growth that we are looking to build our new business model, and it works.”
Audrey Tilve: We are going to finish on a more personal note. Before entering politics, you were an artist, a painter. Looking back, do you regret leaving the arts world?
Edi Rama “Me, I never regret anything. I had other plans, but there you are, I’m here now, in front of you. And I took on the great responsibility of leading my country. And it’s the biggest privilege and honour that one can have.
“But at the same time I haven’t given up my work as an artist. I am an artist at the same time as I am prime minister. I paint during meetings, I paint during calls.
It helps me to concentrate during phone calls and meetings. But as you can see, I don’t paint during interviews, so it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.”
Audrey Tilve: Edi Rama Thank you.