Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha told EURACTIV in an interview that his country was now one of the safest in Europe following a crackdown on organised crime, and economic growth had remained steady despite the global crisis.
On a visit to Brussels yesterday (14 April), Berisha delivered the answers to an EU questionnaire about the country's readiness to join the European Union (EURACTIV 17/12/09).
Berisha has been at the centre of Albania's political life for the last twenty years, first as president, then as leader of the opposition and now as prime minister, a position to which he was re-elected in 2009.
Speaking at an event in the European Parliament organised by the Robert Schuman Foundation, Berisha pleaded the case for his country's EU accession and provided numerous examples of tough measures to crack down on organised crime and corruption.
Civil servants will no longer drive in official cars, for example.
Until recently, Albania's 30,000 civil servants used official cars at an annual cost of 19,000 dollars for every chauffeur-driven limousine. Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe.
On his initiative, this system was scrapped, and now there are only 30 official cars in Albania, he said. He also claimed that corruption had been eradicated and that foreign investors enjoyed simple procedures for starting businesses at an attractive flat tax rate of 10%.
Berisha blamed the Socialist opposition for boycotting parliament. Ever since national elections were held in June 2009, the ruling Democratic Party led by Berisha – which is affiliated to the European People's Party – and the Socialist Party of opposition leader Edi Rama have kept accusing each other of fraud.
Albanians present at the public event claimed Berisha had presented "too rosy" a picture of his country.
Speaking to EURACTIV in an exclusive interview, Berisha said the Albanian mafia was now a thing of the past, as arrests had been conducted in a number of Western European countries and more than 1,000 criminals had been sentenced and sent to jail.
The Albanian prime minister said he did not expect that a recent massive wave of ethnic Albanian asylum-seekers to Western European countries would constitute an obstacle to the EU lifting visa requirements for his nationals.
Last year, the European Commission offered to lift visa obligations for the citizens of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina travelling to the EU. The visa liberalisation scheme was accompanied by an exodus of ethnic Albanian and Roma asylum seekers from Macedonia and Serbia (EURACTIV 12/03/10).
Berisha said Albania was going to build a nuclear power plant, and that frequent power shortages were now history.
Asked to explain his political longevity, he said the reason for this was that he was "a workhorse" working to transform his country, which was a dictatorship until 1990.