'It's High Time to Start Delivering'
By Alqi Koçiko
Albanian Daily News
Published February 9, 2018
Italy is supporting Albania in its struggle against criminals and smugglers and will continue to do so, but the main task is in Albanian hands, especially when it comes to the arrest of corrupt people and criminals, says the Ambassador of Italy to Albania, Mr. Alberto Cutillo, adding that "the track record is still very low: it is no longer time for promises and anticipation of future results, now it is time to deliver".
In this exclusive interview for Albanian Daily News, Mr.Cutillo elaborates on messages stemming from the latest EU document on enlargement toward the Western Balkans, pointing out the need for the Albanian authorities to finally put into practice the judicial reform and produce concrete results, in particular "by getting rid of corrupted judges and arresting, prosecuting and sentencing high-level criminals".
On the other hand, the Ambassador announces the latest initiative promoted by the Italian government, an important Business Mission with around 250 Italian companies and associations from different sectors, who will come to study investment opportunities and collaboration with Albanian partners.
"This kind of large, official delegations is usually oriented to much larger economies; that's why this means that Italy believes in the economic potential of Albania and sees profitable investments for both parties. The challenge of Albania is therefore to fully embrace this extraordinary opportunity," Mr Cutillo underlines.
-Mr. Ambassador, thank You for this interview. In Your third year of assignment in Tirana, could You tell us how difficult (or easy) is to represent Italy in Albania?
The work of an Ambassador is always challenging, however, the genuine friendship that most Albanians extend to my country and, as a reflection, to my person, make my life and work here much easier. At the same time, there is great expectation from Italy, and therefore from me, which can be challenging, at times.
-Mr. Ambassador, Albania and the Western Balkans region have entered a very important year in terms of the concrete steps for accelerating the EU integration process. Italy has been a staunch advocate of Albania in this journey. Nevertheless, we are reaching to a point when decisions need to be made. Are you optimistic that Albania will achieve the opening of accession negotiations?
The European Commission has presented, on February 6, a key communication concerning EU perspectives for all Western Balkan countries, where it states its readiness to prepare a recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania. Considering the important and ambitious reforms adopted so far, Italy shares this evaluation and fully supports opening of accession negotiations. Now it is up to Tirana to convince all Member States to endorse this recommendation, which is expected by this spring. The Albania Government is actively campaigning to gather the required unanimous support of all EU Member States. It relies on Italy's support to make the case for opening of negotiations. But only Albania can make the difference, by showing that it is implementing the much awaited reforms, in particular by getting rid of corrupted judges and arresting, prosecuting and sentencing to jail high-level criminals.
-Albania must meet five priorities to get a date for opening talks, including the fight against organized crime. Minister of Interior, Mr.Minniti, on his visit a short time ago emphasized that cooperation in this field has increased and is producing results, but stressed that "no one should be untouchable". You yourself have highlighted the same message, too. Could we say that things are moving in the right direction?
Comparing to the past, today there is a major awareness of the magnitude of this problem and the realization that it represents an obstacle to the development of the Country. Albanian Government is devoting remarkable energy in restructuring police forces in order to fight organized crime, including through the adoption of new mechanisms and strategies. Italy is supporting Albania in its struggle against criminals and smugglers and will continue to do so, but, again, the main task is in Albanian hands, especially when it comes to the arrest of corrupt people and criminals. The track record is still very low: it is no longer time for promises and anticipation of future results, now it is time to deliver, and I am confident that Albania will deliver.
- The judicial reform, carried out under international observation and assistance, is getting the utmost attention. Italy is definitely a key partner in this regard; Minister (of Justice) Orlando was in Tirana and a couple of weeks ago you met the new general prosecutor. Meanwhile, the opposition raises concerns about this reform being deliberately mismanaged by the majority. Do you have any suggestions or suggestions in this regard?
I have one main advice and it regards both majority and opposition: we expect all parties to show full, unshaking support to the reform. They share the responsibility to allow the judiciary reform to be effective and deliver results as soon as possible, as Albanian citizens deserve and look forward to.
-Italy goes a long way back as a strategic economic and trade partner for Albania. Efforts to promote Italian investments in the country has also made Prime Minister Rama himself, even by inviting investors to come to a "labor market without trade unions". Undoubtedly, first and outmost, enterprises and investors require rule of law and a positive business climate. How would you describe the current situation?
Italy is an essential reference for the Albanian economic development and is firmly the first trading partner with exchanges that in 2016 exceeded 2.2 billion euros, representing 36.77% of the total volume of trade of Albania. Provisional data for 2017 show an encouraging + 7.1%, confirming a growing trend.
Despite this excellent relationship, the ambition is to be able to do even more. In this perspective, next 18-19-20 February a very important Business Mission, promoted by the Italian government, will be held in Albania. The Mission will be led by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade, Ivan Scalfarotto and will include the President of the Italian Trade Agency, the Chairman of Confindustria, and senior officials from the Italian Banking Association and a number of other associations and institutions, including of course the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Around 250 Italian companies and associations have registered so far, operating in the infrastructure, energy and agribusiness fields.
I would like to underline that this kind of large, official delegations are usually oriented to much larger economies; the fact that, for the first time, a similar mission will take place in Albania means that Italy believes in the economic potential of Albania and sees profitable investments for both parties. The challenge of Albania is therefore to fully embrace this extraordinary opportunity. It is a challenge for Albanian companies, who need to show maturity and solidity required to enter into industrial partnerships with foreign companies; and it is a challenge for the Albanian authorities who have the responsibility to improve the current business climate, starting from efficiency, fairness and transparency of the Public Administration. To further strengthen our economic relations, there needs to be zero tolerance for informality and non-compliance with the law, from both the Albanian and the Italian operators.
-In the framework of ongoing talks on resolving some issues with neighboring Greece, Albania is reaching some deals, including searching for the wartime remains of Greek soldiers (from the Greco-Italian war of 1940). It is understandable, as it has already happened in one case, that remains of Italian soldiers could be found as well. Is Your embassy or will Italy be involved in this process, and how; in order to avoid any misunderstandings?
As the procedure may reasonably lead to the discovery of Italian soldiers, we have asked both sides to be involved in the joint mechanism, and we have received ample guarantees in this respect. Moreover, we have highlighted that Italy can also contribute to the research, as an Italian mission was deployed in the 1960s, allowing to the recovery of the remains of about 27.000 Italian soldiers.
- Mr. Ambassador, besides people of business who are familiar with Abanian environment, Italian media are recently highlighting the fact that more and more Italians prefer to come to Albania; some of them for living, some others for studies and a third part for tourism. We don't have concrete figures on this; bot of course you are aware on the other hand that many Albanians still want to leave the country. Do you see a paradox here?
Migration, or rather, human mobility is a natural component of modern life. Considering the increasing interest towards Albania in my Country, I am not surprised that we see a growing number of Italians coming to Albania, while, at the same time, Albanians still decide to move to Italy to study or to work there. Nevertheless, I take the opportunity to note that Italians living in Albania are not as many as some media sources are reporting. The number of those registered in our Consular Offices - 2.710 as of today-might be lower than the actual number, but we have other indicators, which tell us that the figure is well below the 20-25 thousands figure which is often reported in local media.
-Thank You Mr. Ambassador.