Today is another milestone in the EU’s cooperation with the Western Balkans. I am very pleased to be here in Tirana with Prime Minister Edi Rama and European Border and Coast Guard Agency Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
We are here today to open an entirely new chapter in our cooperation on migration and border management. Today we are also seeing a concrete example of how the strengthened European Border and Coast Guard Agency can provide increased support to our neighbouring countries.
Tomorrow, the first European Border and Coast Guard teams will be deployed in Albania. They will support Albanian border guards with equipment and staff at crucial sections of the border with Greece.
This is a historical step: it will be the first time that European Border and Coast Guard Teams are deployed in a non-EU country and can assist a partner country directly on the ground.
When it comes to protecting our borders, ensuring our security and managing migration, the challenges we face are common indeed, and so must be our response.
This is why we are working together, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing, and this is why the EU negotiated together with Albania a status agreement allowing for European Border and Coast Guard deployments in Albania.
Let me make this clear: Albania remains ultimately responsible for the protection of its borders, and all activities by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will be conducted in agreement with of course the Albanian authorities, but also with the neighbouring EU Member State Greece.
What European Border and Coast Guard teams will do is lending their full assistance and support, in a spirit of mutual cooperation.
This is in our interest, in the interest of Albania and also in the interest of the whole Western Balkan region.
The deployments of European Border and Coast Guard teams are a game changer in the way we manage our common borders. European Border and Coast Guard teams will for instance be able to support Albanian border guards in performing border checks at crossing points.
While the overall situation along the Western Balkans route remains stable with continuously low levels of arrivals, this closer cooperation will allow for us to respond quickly if neededand will help us to jointly address migratory movements. It will also bring significant added value in combating cross-border crime and smuggling of migrants throughout the region.
To the EU, Albania is more than a neighbour. Albania is part of the European family, and this new chapter in our cooperation is a turning point in the way we manage migration and borders together.
I wish to personally thank Prime Minister Rama and the Albanian authorities for this achievement.
Let me extend my thanks also to each and every one of the staff members deployed under European Border and Coast Guard teams and those Member States that have contributed with personnel.
Today is an important day for Albania and for the EU. This paves the way for closer cooperation with the whole Western Balkan region. Similar agreements with the European Border and Coast Guard have in the meantime also been successfully negotiated with the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro and I look forward to their swift finalisation. Step by step we are bringing the Western Balkan region closer to the EU and the whole region to a permanent stable and peaceful geopolitical environment. Today is one such step forward.
Thank you for your attention.