Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In a few minutes, the Permanent Representatives of the 26 Allies will be signing the Protocols for the Accession of Albania and Croatia to the Alliance.
This is a historical achievement, not only for those two countries, but for the entire Atlantic community of nations. For both Albania and Croatia come from a region that, only a dozen years ago, saw the first operational deployment of the Alliance, a region which had witnessed the first major conflict on European soil since the end of World War Two;
NATO has invested enormously in the Western Balkans – not only through our military engagement in the region, but also through our persistent effort to help the countries in the region on their path to Euro-Atlantic integration.
Albania and Croatia have wholeheartedly committed themselves to this goal of integration. Accordingly, both countries have implemented major political and military reforms. They have therefore earned their rightful place in our Alliance. At our Bucharest Summit, this was acknowledged by all Allies. And so, as of today, Albania and Croatia will take a seat at our tables.
Today’s signing of the Accession Protocols marks the start of the ratification process. I am confident that this process will proceed smoothly, and that we will be able to welcome Albania and Croatia as full members soon.
As the ratification process continues in Allied capitals, we expect the two invited countries to pursue their reforms vigorously.
Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s ceremony will not be the last of its kind. The door of NATO remains open to other democracies who are ready and willing to foster the goals of the Washington Treaty and shoulder the responsibilities of membership. We all know that NATO membership is a key strategic objective of other countries in the Euro-Atlantic area.
To those countries, the historic achievement by Albania and Croatia should serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement.