Leaders: Jozefina Topalli, Speaker of the Albanian Parliament, Explains Why Her Country Should Be Part of the European Union, How Her Government Is Trying to Push through Economic Reforms, and Why There Are Still So Few Senior Female Politicians in Europe

European Business Forum, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Leaders: Jozefina Topalli, Speaker of the Albanian Parliament, Explains Why Her Country Should Be Part of the European Union, How Her Government Is Trying to Push through Economic Reforms, and Why There Are Still So Few Senior Female Politicians in Europe


EBF: You once said: "It has never been easy to lead in Albanian politics". Why do you believe that?

JT: I believe that it is never easy to lead. Leading requires making decisions, and decision-making is always difficult. As far as Albania is concerned, I believe that it takes more than 15 years for a culture of negotiation and compromise to mature. At the end of the day, this is a process, and every process takes its own time. What is important is to dare to lead, and to undertake the reforms that are urgently needed in the country.

EBF: Albania has had a very difficult history. How would you describe the country's position now?

JT: Yes, it is true that Albania has had a difficult and painful history, and not through any faults of her own. Albania was ruled by a much more "orthodox" dictatorship, different from the other dictatorships of Eastern Europe under the old regime. Today, after 15 years of pluralism, I believe that Albania is at a transition stage, and not an easy transition at that. Last year, Albania embarked on major reforms. We are already seeing very good results from these reforms, particularly with regard to the combating of organised crime.

One very important step in our transition occurred on 12 June 2006, when Albania signed the EU Association and Stabilisation Agreement. This is an historic landmark for us. We Albanians have always considered ourselves to be part of Europe. We are not just tucked away in some corner of Europe-we are Europeans. Our history, our thinking, our souls are all a living testimony to this. Perhaps not everyone perceives our European nature in the way that we do. However, I think that recently other people's perceptions have begun to change.

EBF: What contribution do you think Albania has to make to Europe, now and in the future?

JT: Albania is already playing a major constructive role at the regional level, with our efforts being appreciated by the Greeks and Italians in particular, but also further afield. Albania's role and influence across the region is a positive one. But we need to make it clear to people that we are ready and willing to make a positive contribution to all of Europe, too.

In 2005, all of us became aware of the differences within the European Union over expansion. We understand the pains that growth can bring. But how are the decisions to be made? Is admission to the EU to be based on who is, and who is not, a European? But Albania is European. Albania is European and European alone!

If you ask me, where do you see the borders of Europe? I would reply that these borders have already been pushed much further beyond Albania. If you ask me, what about the costs to the existing member states? I would answer, leaving Albania and the Balkans outside of Europe would cost Europe much more. At the moment, the whole of the Balkans sucks up an insignificant percentage of EU spending.

EBF: What are the most important problems and challenges that you and other Albanian leaders face?

JT: As I said, the signing of the Association and Stabilisation Agreement in June, and its ratification by the European Parliament in early September, were very crucial moments for Albania. Compliance with this contract is a challenge for us. In my opinion, one of the most important challenges is to make Albania as attractive as possible to bring in the largest possible number of foreign investors. Albania is already a country of extraordinary beauty, and it is rich in resources. Now, improving the infrastructure is one of our top priorities.

We are also making reforms to fight corruption, and we are enhancing the effectiveness of state institutions. There has been a drastic decline in incidents of corruption, and public perception of corruption is changing too. Government operating expenses have been reduced by 40 per cent. Tax evasion and smuggling have been considerably reduced, and revenues from customs duties and taxes have gone up by 32 per cent, even though we have cut taxes. …

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