Greek, Italian FMs carry out joint visit to Albania

Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis on Monday concluded a joint visit to Tirana with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, where they represented the European Union.
In meetings with Albania's state and political leadership, including the country's president, prime minister, foreign ministery and main opposition party leader, Frattini and Lambrinidis reaffirmed the support of the EU and their own countries for Albania's EU accession prospects.
They stressed the need to accelerate reforms in order for Albania to make progress in its accession course, adding that valuable time had already been lost.
The visit is taking place at a particularly critical time for Albania, which is awaiting for the European Commission's recommendation on its application to be given the status of an EU candidate-state.
Addressing reporters, the Greek Foreign Minister Lambrinidis said that "Greece has to play and is playing a strong role in the region of the Balkans."
Referring to the content of his meetings with Albania's political and state leadership, he stressed that both he and his Italian counterpart sent a double message, of support to the European prospects of the neighbouring country, as well as the need to speed up reforms, so that it can respond to the criteria set by the European Union.
As he said, during his contacts in Tirana, he ascertained the support of the two major Albanian parties for their country's European prospects, stressing that the cooperation of the political forces is in Albania's interest.
During the joint press conference with Frattini, following their meetings in the Albanian capital, the Greek Foreign minister underlined that the current visit took place in a very crucial period for Albania and stressed the interest of both the European partners and of Greece and Italy, as friends and neighbours, on developments in the country.
He also expressed the view that Albania has the possibilities to receive a status of a candidate country for accession to the EU, but intense reforms are necessary and cooperation by the political forces for the fulfilment of the European criteria.
He reminded, however, that the criteria for accession in the EU are the same for all candidate countries and noted that Albania will be judged by them as well, while making special reference to respect for human rigthts, as well as the rights of minorities living in the neighbouring country.
In parallel, he stressed that valuable time has been lost for Albania and underlined that Greece will stand by its side.
The joint visit to Tirana by Lambrinidis and Frattini and their contacts with President Bamir Topi, Prime Minister Sali Berisha, alternate prime minister and Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto, as well as main opposition party leader Edi Rama attracted the interest of the Albanian media in their entirety that gave extensive coverage to the meetings.
The visit by the two ministers was based on a relevant proposal submitted by Lambrinidis during the General Affairs Council last June and concerned the activation of the EU in the direction of assisting the lifting of the deadlock in Albania.

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