Croatia will continue to strongly advocate Albania's integration into the European Union and thinks that the European Council has made "a big mistake" by refusing to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Tuesday after meeting with her Albanian counterpart Ilir Meta.
Meta arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday for a two-day return state visit.
Noting that Croatia strongly supported the opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania, Grabar-Kitarovic said: "I express my deep regret that the European Council failed to reach a consensus on opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. I consider it a mistake and hope that this process will be reversed soon, including during the Croatian presidency of the EU."
Speaking at a joint press conference, Grabar-Kitarovic said that Croatia and Albania have a common interest in promoting stability and prosperity in southeastern Europe and that they closely cooperate as NATO members and as part of the US-Adriatic Charter, the Berlin Process and the Brdo-Brijuni Process. She added that Zagreb remained committed to working on Albania joining the EU.
"Croatian provides full political and technical support to Albania on its European journey and we will continue to assist Albania by sharing our experience and knowledge, as we have so far," Grabar-Kitarovic said.
She said that the failure by the European Council to reach a consensus on the opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia was "a big mistake and a wrong message" and that the decision was "an invitation to third powers that are not interested in our neighbours, who so wish, joining the EU and NATO."
"I hope that this process, including during the Croatian presidency of the Union in the first half of 2020, will be reversed," the Croatian president said, adding that the two countries deserved the opening of accession negotiations.
"The focus of our presidency will be on enlargement, among other things, because we believe that only in that way can we reach lasting peace, friendship, security and prosperity in this region," Grabar-Kitarovic said.
Speaking of migration, the Croatian president said that it presented a challenge to both Croatia and Albania. "We must seek sustainable and lasting solutions to conflicts and crises and dedicate our efforts to stability. Also, state borders in southeastern Europe should be guarded and safe, while illegal migration must be curbed."
Meta said that his country appreciated what Croatia was doing, along with Bulgaria and Greece, so that the EU would reach a consensus on opening accession negotiations. "We are glad that Croatia takes over the EU presidency on 1 January 2020 and that enlargement is one of its priorities," he added.
Thanking Croatia for advocating the EU integration of the Western Balkans, Meta said that Albania would "double and treble" its efforts to improve the prospects of opening negotiations and convince the countries that had expressed their reservations that Tirana was working on the necessary reforms.
Meta expressed confidence that Zagreb would also work on liberalising the visa regime for Albanian nationals.
He agreed with Grabar-Kitarovic that the December 2018 declaration on strategic partnership between Croatia and Albania was yet another confirmation of strong and strategic relations between the two countries. "It gave wings to our overall relations and our economies," Meta said.
The presidents seek cooperation in protecting Adriatic Sea
Speaking of economic ties between Croatia and Albania, Grabar-Kitarovic said that the memorandum of understanding signed at the Croatian-Albanian economic forum in July provided an excellent framework for further expanding their economic cooperation.
"Our cooperation should be expanded, especially in the IT industry, construction and the food industry," the Croatian president said.
She said that the Ionian-Adriatic gas pipeline and its connection to the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline was of strategic importance to Croatia and Albania. "The Ionian-Adriatic gas pipeline is an important step towards energy security and diversification, and Croatia will continue strongly supporting this project," she added.
The two presidents agreed to continue cooperation in protecting the Adriatic Sea and said they wanted to include Montenegro and Monaco in the Adriatic protection project. They said that Prince Albert of Monaco was very interested in the project, and Meta said that Albania had stepped up measures against the pollution of the Adriatic with plastic waste.
"We strongly support the Adriatic Trilateral mechanism. The Adriatic Sea is of great importance to Croatia and Albania, which is why the protection and prevention of the pollution of the Adriatic Sea and coast is of strategic significance to Croatia and Albania," Grabar-Kitarovic said.
The Croatian president expressed her satisfaction with a UNDP project aimed at dealing with the sea pollution and preventing accidents that might have negative consequences for the Adriatic Sea.
The two presidents also emphasised the great friendship between Croatia and Albania and increasing cooperation in science and culture.
Grabar-Kitarovic presented Meta with the highest state medal - Grand Order of King Tomislav with Sash and Great Morning Star.