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Albanian PM calls for European revival

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks during an interview in Tirana on June 28, 2016.   When Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote to the London Times about the risk of Brexit, his message was clear -- and echoed other Balkan nations desperate to join the European Union. / AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks during an interview in Tirana on June 28, 2016.<br />When Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote to the London Times about the risk of Brexit, his message was clear — and echoed other Balkan nations desperate to join the European Union. / AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

Albania’s Prime Minister says his resolve to join the European Union has not been shaken by Brexit but has called for a “substantial change” in the nature of the bloc’s leadership to ensure its survival.

In an interview with AFP in Tirana, Edi Rama also described the migration crisis — which saw hundreds of thousands of displaced people cross the Balkans — as a “disgrace for Europe”.

Rama, 51, described the vote by British people to leave the European Union as the “most important” shock for the 28-member bloc, stressing the EU’s importance for peace and security in the Balkans.

In his region, he said, there remained something “which was somewhat lost in the most developed countries: the true meaning of Europe as a large project for peace” — as well as security and development.

After Brexit, a “substantial change in the nature of European leadership” is required, otherwise the EU risks “being dismantled piece by piece with consequences that cannot be positive”, Rama warned.

Albania has been a candidate for EU accession since mid-2014, and Rama believes membership will happen “if the European Union exists on the day when Albania is ready”.

The Socialist Party leader, a former mayor of Tirana and head of government since 2013, spoke to AFP on Tuesday ahead of a Balkans summit in Paris next week.

– Failure over migrants –
He slammed Europe’s lack of planning over the migration crisis as “a disgrace for Europe” and “a disgrace for the countries which rid themselves of the problem” under the pretext that “geographically they were not affected”.

Rama said Albania had from the beginning been “ready to take responsibility” for welcoming “a number of refugees, in proportion to the country, and in a European plan.

“The European Union has failed to live up to Angela Merkel and Germany,” he added, saying the German Chancellor had “saved the honour of Europeans”.

Albania, population 2.8 million, did not become a major crossing point for migrants trying to reach western Europe, although hundreds of thousands have crossed through neighbouring nations over the past year.

One of Europe’s poorest countries, Albania remained on the margins of the crisis even after other Balkan countries closed their doors to migrants in March.

Rama has meanwhile been working to get his parliament to adopt reform of a corruption-plagued judicial system, a precondition set by the EU to accession.

“Albania’s justice is the most extraordinary example of why it is not a member of the European Union, and why we need another ten years to become one. It is the shame of this country,” said Rama.

– ‘Unthinkable reconciliations’ –
Rama acknowledged other difficult issues facing the Balkans, such as the refusal of Belgrade to recognise Kosovo’s independence, Macedonia’s political instability and Bosnia’s fragility.

But he insisted: “The changes in each country and in the Balkans are linked to a simple fact: the Balkan people want to be part of Europe.”

He pointed to his landmark visit to Serbia in 2013 — the first by an Albanian head of government in 68 years — and the reciprocal visit to Tirana by Serbian premier Aleksandar Vucic.

Rama concluded that “Europe is a natural force” towards “an area of peace, security and cooperation”.

Thanks to the European dream, he said, “we saw unthinkable reconciliations.”



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