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“For us it's a matter of life and death”: Albanian PM Rama on EU membership

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“For us it's a matter of life and death”: Albanian PM Rama on EU membership

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The European Commission is keen to offer the prospect of EU membership to six Balkan states, amid growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.

Albania aspires to join the bloc along with west Balkan neighbours Serbia, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo - most of which were war zones after Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s.

Yet disputes from the past and the need for reforms are among the issues needing to be settled before the EU opens its arms to the new would-be members.

Albania, along with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has won European Commission backing for membership talks to begin. On Thursday, a Western Balkans summit in Sofia will discuss their accession bids.

Euronews spoke to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews:

"Serbia and Montenegro, which are considered to be the frontrunners of EU integration, may join the EU by 2025. It's an indication date. When do you expect Albania to follow?"

Edi Rama, Albanian Prime Minister:

"Today, yes, Serbia and Montenegro are negotiating and that's why they are ahead of us in this process. But 2025 is a horizon where all of us can be ready if we work hard and we do our job."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"Do you need a date in order to encourage your people to follow all the reforms needed?"

Edi Rama:

"No, we don't need a date to encourage our people. We need to open negotiations in June. This is all. And we don't want anything else. Just to open negotiations and for Europe it costs nothing, not one cent they'll pay for it. For us, it's a matter of life and death, in the sense that opening the negotiations means that we are finally in the future and we are finally out of the past."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"There are some other challenges that the EU is posing. Mr Juncker recently said that there is still organised crime and that he doesn't want to import this kind of situation in Europe."

Edi Rama:

"First of all, we didn't wait for President Juncker or for anyone else abroad to tell us that there is still a big fight to be made with organised crime and corruption and many other things. The point is simple. We have fulfilled our homework for opening the negotiations. And the machine of the Commission, which is a very heavy machine of experts who deal with facts and not with fake news, has given us a positive recommendation with no condition. But from this, to divide the countries into countries with crime and countries with no crime, it's a bit far-fetched. If there is European organised crime, it is an interconnected organised crime and we need to fight it together."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"Speaking about your internal challenges, I want to talk about a very sensitive issue for the EU which is media freedom. And recently there was a report by the 'Reporters without Borders', speaking about journalists and 80% of journalists feeling insecure for their future and also 'exposed to insults' they say 'by Edi Rama who has called journalists trash, poison and public enemy'. Is this your opinion of journalists in your country?"

Edi Rama:

"I never try to dismiss directly what media sources might say. But when I say 'trash' it's a way to say in Albanian 'fake news' because it doesn't translate well in Albanian. So, I never insulted a journalist personally, directly. I, of course, express my opinion about trash media and we have a lot of trash media in the world today. If they have the right to express their opinions, it doesn't mean I don't have the right to express mine."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"But the same report says also that 'regulatory standards are manipulated in the interests of the government.'"

Edi Rama:

"This is another nonsense. But I don't want to talk about... It's always suspicious when you listen to a prime minister, a president or a politician telling you that the media is lying. But media is lying a lot nowadays. So, this is a problem. And I respect very much the solidarity between media and 'Reporters without Borders' or whoever else. They do their job, I do mine."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"We know that in the Balkans there are many Albanian minorities in other states as well. So, do you perceive yourself as the leader of Albanians, Albanian people or not?"

Edi Rama:

"In our constitution, we have the obligation to protect Albanians abroad everywhere but at the same time I think Albanians have never been better than today, where they live. So, in Kosovo, they have their own state now. In Macedonia, they are part of a real revolution in terms of change of approach towards the Albanian language and towards Albanian people. In south Serbia, I hope their conditions will improve, based also on the fact that Serbs in Kosovo are treated pretty, pretty well and much, much better."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"But you recently suggested that you could have a joint leader one day with Kosovo. So this created a lot of reactions."

Edi Rama:

"I am sorry for the reactions but it was not meant to be a shaking statement. It was meant to be an imagination, in a very special circumstance of the tenth anniversary of Kosovo's independence and in addressing the Kosovo parliament as a witness. And I said, twenty years ago, this was out of the world. And if someone would have talked about Kosovo independence, it would have shaken the world. Today, we are here and what will happen in twenty years? And before saying: 'Why not have a president for both of us?', I said that dialogue with Serbia would have been successfully ended, Albanians and Serbians would have been members of the European Union. So, there were a lot of preconditions to go to the point of a president for both countries."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"Do you regret this statement now?"

Edi Rama:

"No."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"But you rule out the project of unification of Albanians in the future, probably?"

Edi Rama:

"No. I always said that my dream is that we unify under the sky of the European Union and I never dreamed about a Greater Albania because I have a bigger dream, a Greater Europe, with the Albanians inside."

Efi Koutsokosta:

"There is an opinion that, of course, the EU enlargement project was revived because there was too much presence of Russians, too much presence of Turkish and too much presence of the Chinese in the region. Do you think that these countries could use this region in order to destabilise the EU?"

Edi Rama:

"Yes, it's space that someone has to fill. And it's a space that belongs to Europe and belongs to the European Union. So, the European Union should really take responsibility for this space strategically. Because if there is empty space, of course there will be others that will try to get there and to fill it."

with Reuters