“It has never been so necessary to meet as it is at this time,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier stated on Thursday (28 April) upon receiving his Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. The two men had a wealth of bilateral and regional issues to discuss. Steinmeier called the Western Balkan country’s readiness to undertake fundamental reforms “exemplary”.
Key role for stability in the Western Balkans
The two foreign ministers met for a working breakfast on Thursday morning. The agenda was long, covering matters such as the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the situation in Albania’s neighbourhood, the painful aftermath of the economic and financial crisis in Europe, the upcoming British referendum on leaving the EU, and the refugee situation.
At the press conference afterwards, Steinmeier underscored that Albania plays an important role in preserving stability in the Western Balkans. This comment was prompted in particular by the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is plagued by internal unrest following the declaration of a controversial amnesty. In spite of the EU’s mediation efforts, the parties to the dispute are at present unwilling to attempt conciliation, Steinmeier stated.
No new refugee route through Albania
Given the refugee situation, there have for some time been concerns that Albania could become a new transit country following border closures on the Western Balkan route. Albania’s southern frontier borders Greece, and thus the EU Schengen area. Following his talks with Bushati, Steinmeier reported that such concerns have fortunately not been substantiated.
The agenda naturally also included political developments in Albania itself. Bushati thanked Germany expressly for its support in the reform process to date and for its initiative in launching the Berlin Process. This Process was initiated at the Western Balkans Conference in Berlin in 2014, in order to improve ties between the countries of the region and so to ease their progress towards EU membership.
Normalisation through the Berlin Process
The establishment of a regional youth exchange office in the Albanian capital, Tirana, marks a milestone in this Process. This is because understanding between young people forms a particularly firm foundation for amicable relations between states. While in Berlin, Foreign Minister Bushati took the opportunity to underline Albania’s interest in normalising its relations with the states of the region.
Steinmeier expressed his respect for the reforms Albania has already introduced in the economic sphere, saying that Albania’s readiness to pursue reforms was “exemplary”. He also referred to judicial reform, the next field to be tackled, as a key building block for EU accession. Bushati acknowledged the important contribution made by German experts in this field.
At the end of his visit, the Albanian Foreign Minister invited Steinmeier to make an official visit to Tirana. Steinmeier was glad to accept.