On 21 June 2016, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania held a public lecture about the European integration process of his country and regional cooperation in the Western Balkan region on the margin of his official visit to Budapest that took place in the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Márton Schőberl, Director General of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade welcomed Mr. Bushati and the possibility that such an important topic can be discussed on an event of the institute. As he pointed out the Western Balkans and its European integration process was a very important region for the Hungarian foreign policy, but unfortunately Albania was not in the centre of the Hungarian public discourse. He expressed his hope that the event will be a step to change this situation.

Mr. Bushati expressed his gratitude towards the Visegrad Group countries for supporting and accelerating the Albanian integration process. He maintained that a stronger Western Balkans is a strategic asset for the EU in the current security situation which is stemming from migration and terrorism since there is a great interdependence between that region and the EU. According to the foreign minister, the democratic state-building process in Albania has to be finalised in order to achieve security and growth which could be even furthered by a tangible, credible and comprehensive enlargement policy of the EU that includes trust building, shared understanding based on democracy and a consensus on the Western Balkans’ future. The current perspective is fragile and if the region has no clear prospect, then the EU is risking the regional tolerance.

Mr. Bushati highlighted that the EU is a crucial factor in keeping Albania on the path of Europeanization and cooperation because of its transformative powers at national and regional levels. He added that the Visegrad countries are very important partners for Albania in terms of integration. In November 2015, on the meeting of the Visegrad Group and Western Balkan countries an important political decision was made, and the agreement on the establishment of the Western Balkan Fund was signed. Mr Bushati emphasized that the regional cooperation model of the V4 serves as a good example for the Western Balkans and hopes that the regional fund - which was based on the experiences of the International Visegrad Fund – could be operational in next year.

The foreign minister also mentioned the beneficial effects of the Berlin Process which was initiated in 2014 to enhance the accession process of the Western Balkans to the EU and represents a new incentive structure that is instrumental in building closer ties with Western countries and enhance connectivity in the field of economic support, energy, trade, employment and youth. Mr. Bushati further explained that peace and stability cannot be achieved without a stable and sustainable economic growth.

The minister also reminded the audience that how different is the EU today compared to the times when Hungary joined. The security environment has also changed with the two crises that emerged in the recent years which have demonstrated the importance of the interaction. One of them is the refugee crisis that affected the Southern flank the most, but now the Western Balkans can also be considered as gatekeepers from a security viewpoint. Another element of this crisis is the terrorism and violent extremism that also calls for enhanced cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans.

He pointed out that one of the most crucial questions of nowadays is that how to move on from this crisis management mood and find a permanent solution. He noted that Western Balkan countries are called to stay faithful in these hard times and be faithful to European values. In this context, the Western Balkan route has been managed relatively well – he said.

Mr. Bushati shared his views with the audience also about the different attitudes of citizens in Albania. According to him, people have high hopes towards the integration process. He added that the Southern enlargement was also driven by democratization indicators and the EU is an incentive for that democratization along with social and economic development, however, the frustration between the political leadership will not disappear once Albania joins the EU. This has to be, however, changed. It is important to bear in mind that the lack of strategic engagement of the EU in the Western Balkans has impacted the democratization process negatively, and it has frozen the efforts in some countries due to the lack of clear EU perspectives.

Mr. Bushati also added that Albania is focusing now on the next step which is the opening of the accession talks. He hoped that this year the EU Commission would come up with the decision to start the accession talks, and Albania could get a strong endorsement from the European Council.