“We rely very much on you, and we appreciate Bulgaria’s efforts for the enlargement of the European Union into the Western Balkans. We want to do our homework as best as we can,” President Ilir Meta of Albania said, welcoming the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva.
Albania is the second leg of a Balkan tour of Bulgaria’s chief diplomat. “I am glad to be the first European Minister to meet you after your inauguration, and I wish you a successful term in office,” Zaharieva told Meta. She emphasised that Bulgaria and Albania have excellent relations, the political dialogue is pursued at all levels, and statesmen should put more efforts in enhancing economic contacts as well.
“Our Presidency of the EU Council will prioritise enlargement into the Western Balkans, and we will do this not just in words,” Ekaterina Zaharieva said. “It is a big chance for the entire region that in the course of two years the Union’s Presidency will be held by four Member States which support enlargement: Bulgaria, Austria, Estonia and Romania.”
Deputy Prime Minister Zaharieva said that reforms are worthwhile because our EU membership has had a direct effect on income, the infrastructure and the country’s financial growth. President Meta agreed that when he last visited Sofia, he noticed a momentous change.
Ekaterina Zaharieva stressed that part of the criteria that Albania must meet concern the rule of law, the administrative reform, the fight against organised crime and human rights. In this connection, she also raised the issue about the recognition of the Bulgarian minority in Albania. Despite a European Parliament resolution calling for such recognition, a Government’s draft law which will be laid before Parliament shortly does not mention the Bulgarian minority. “We have a common history, and we believe that our minority can serve as a bridge between our two countries,” Zaharieva said.
President Ilir Meta promised to follow the progress of the bill in Parliament and make sure that a flexible solution is found.
“Nobody can be discriminated in Albania and be prevented from identifying himself or herself as a Bulgarian,” the Albanian head of State declared to the Bulgarian Foreign Minister.
Ilir Meta said that during his teens he practised weightlifting and greatly admired the Bulgarian school in that sport.
For her part, Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva recalled that the Albanian National Revival, which brought about the country’s independence, actually started in Bulgaria with the establishment of Albanian societies and the publication of Albanian-language newspapers, which functioned with the support of the Bulgarian authorities. She said further that the Bulgarian people will never forget the contribution of the Albanian immigrants in this country to the economy of the newly liberated Bulgarian State at the beginning of the 20th century.