Mr Prime Minister, dear Edi,
Indeed, I am always happy to be here in Tirana, especially on an important day like this. As you just said, we have opened registrations for the first academic year of the new College of Europe campus in Tirana. It will be fascinating to see that students from all over Europe, studying right here, will participate in our efforts to build a common European future. Step by step. Your path therefore goes towards the European Union and is taking shape. It becomes real.
And this is my first very clear message: Albania is on the way to joining 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 neighbors to join us and complete our Union. It is also in our own interest because it will give our Union weight, influence and the ability to act. And it will make Europe stronger, bolder and bigger in a rapidly changing world. Albania has already achieved a lot. The selection process, as you said, is progressing smoothly. Many thanks to the negotiating teams on both sides. They do a fantastic job. Our common goal is to open negotiations on the so-called fundamentals group as quickly as possible. Our goal is to achieve this before the end of the year.
My second message is this: as we continue to work on the path to accession, we are already building our common future. We should therefore start doing this now to prepare your country for membership, but also to, from now on, create new trade opportunities between us and bring our economies closer together. We started this with the 30 billion euro economic and investment plan. The results are rapid, more than half of the funding has already been mobilized after three years. In Albania, the plan has already mobilized 1.4 billion euros. There are large projects like the Fierza hydroelectric power station or the rail connection with the European Union via Montenegro, on Corridor X. Last year we supplemented our investment plan with the energy support plan. It was during the energy crisis. It went very well. 90% are already mobilized.
But what I wanted to focus on today is the new growth plan for the Western Balkans. Because here we are heading towards a new phase of action. This plan has the potential, if implemented correctly, to double the size of your economy this decade and 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 reforms are accompanied by investments. This opens the door to the single market for the Western Balkan countries.
Of course, this will then be supported by financial investment: these are therefore the necessary investments and reforms.
My third message is that our investments will match your sustained reform efforts in favor of Albania, for example to work on improving the business environment to better equip people with the right skills – this is exactly what we did today by opening applications for Albania’s new campus. College of Europe – and diversifying energy supplies, to name just a few topics. So it’s very concrete.
I believe that the growth plan constitutes the right offer at the right time to enable a rapprochement between the European Union and Albania. And this will play an important role in your journey towards the European Union. You have always shown your dedication to this path. For example, and you said this, your alignment with the EU response to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. And dear Edi, I would like to acknowledge your personal role in this, in the exceptional defense of our rules-based multilateral order at the UN Security Council. And I would also like to emphasize your very clear position on the terrible terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas a week ago.
There we go, we’re getting ready. We are now on the verge of welcoming Albania into the European Union. Thanks again for the hospitality. Thanks again for the great discussions. It is a pleasure to be here in Albania.