by Sali Berisha, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania at the Flag raising ceremony for Albania and Croatia
Honorable Mr. Secretary General,
Honorable Mr. Prime Minister of Croatia, my friend IVO,
Honorable Foreign Ministers of Albania and Croatia,
Excellencies ambassador, member of the North Atlantic Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have come here today, on this historic day for my country and my nation, to convey to you Mr. Secretary General, to NATO, to the North Atlantic Council and to your international staff my most heartfelt thanks and the deepest gratitude for the very precious support and assistance that you provided to my government and my country in the process of Albania’s NATO membership.
These last four years, here and elsewhere, we have met together several times and I have presented our case to the North Atlantic Council. In all these meetings, I was delighted to notice your strong desire, and that of the North Atlantic Council, for Albania to move forward with thorough, comprehensive and successful reforms in order to deserve the invitation for membership accession.
Your suggestions, requirements and review of Membership Action Plan Cycles turned into a fundamental pillar of my government’s agenda while the whole process of membership became a powerful drive and motivation for the reforms and overall actions of the majority that I lead.
But what I can thankfully affirm today is the fact that Albania has changed faster than ever before. Once a country of the most notorious organized crime in Europe, Albania is today one of the safest and most secure countries of Europe where indices of criminality are clearly below the NATO and EU average.
2.7 million tourists, from allover the world, visited Albania last year in the most secure environment.
From one of the 24 most corrupted countries in the world, today Albania fights corruption with zero tolerance and has already left behind 95 countries.
In the past, thousands of investors had abandoned the country because of organized crime and corruption whereas mygovernment’s reforms have turned Albania today into a very attractive place for foreign investments. In 2008 Albania had the highest economic growth in Europe. In December 2008 and January 2009 alone the government concluded several concession contracts in the energy sector, totaling some 3.7 billion euros.
During these last four years the country has carried out major constitutional and institutional reforms based on the widest consensus ever. Our armed forces have made significant progress towards a professional army backed by a defense budget of 2 percent of the GDP and are upgrading their skills in order to successfully carry out any NATO mission.
Mr. Secretary General,
This is the headquarters I have visited most than any other in my political carrier. Here I gained encouragement and inspiration for turning my nation’s dream – NATO membership of Albania – into a reality. I have been received here by your predecessors as well, who also offered my country invaluable help. Today, I would like to thank all the Secretaries General that have welcomed me here and visited my country during these years. In particular, Albanians will forever remember you, Secretary General Scheffer, as the man who at the helm of the North Atlantic Council, through your relentless and tireless support saw Albania’s process of NATO membership to a successful end.
I am deeply moved to remember, on this occasion, a great friend that is no longer among us, Secretary General Manfred Werner. In 1992, he received me in these headquarters. At that time, we both knew that Albania was light years away from the standards of the member countries. But this great man responded with an exceptional joy and grace to my request for NATO membership and made that publicly known in our joint press conference. On this momentous occasion I feel the duty to say:
Thank you my dear friend Werner, the project we started together is now accomplished!
Mr. Secretary General,
I have come today in this solemn ceremony to assist and honor the raiing of our national flag side by side with the proud flags of the freest and most powerful countries of the world, members of this Alliance. For this flag and the nation it represents, this day as the greatest day after the declaration of independence of Albania.
Our national flag is one of the most ancient state flags of Europe. This flag has united and led Albanians in their struggles for survival and freedom since the time of their legendary leader, Skanderbeg. In its countless cells, rest the soles of hundreds of thousands of martyrs of my nation, who sacrificed their lives since the year 1444 until only a few years ago, for the freedom and dignity of Albanians. Today this flag flies higher than ever in his history and together with him rise and fly higher than ever the fallen of my nation and the dignity of my country!
I return today to a country prouder than ever, that this aspiration, this dream of ours, has come true!
We, the Albanians, owe to NATO our freedoms!
I carry with me a determination, stronger than ever, to put all my energy, efforts and work into consolidating in Albania the values and principles this great Alliance stands for.