(Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)
Thank you all for accepting our invitation to celebrate with us the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty is eighty-seven years old this year and has devoted herself to the service of the British people for longer than my lifetime. Her Majesty is also Head of State of fifteen other countries as well as of the United Kingdom, Head of the Commonwealth of 54 member states, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She has undertaken these heavy responsibilities through good times and bad times, inspired by ideals of patriotism, service to the people and devotion to duty.
Her Majesty’s birthday is normally celebrated in the middle of June. Due to current developments in Albania, we have received permission from the Palace to hold our celebrations three weeks earlier. This has also enabled us to arrange for the provision of British weather to remind us all of London.
Since the fall of the dictatorship, Albania and the United Kingdom have enjoyed friendly and cooperative relations. These have been strengthened still further by Albania’s accession to NATO, and the participation of both our armed forces in operations in the struggle against terrorism and extremism. Over the last year, bilateral military relations have become stronger, with a series of major bilateral land and naval exercises. Exercise “Albanian Lion” in November last year, visited by the President himself, was the largest British naval deployment in the Adriatic for twenty years.
In the last year we have also worked hard to improve cooperation in the field of justice, in practical projects with the Ministry of Justice, High Court, Magistrates School, Bar Association, Prisons Department and Probation Service. Joint operations between British law enforcement services and the Albanian State Police, Prosecutor General’s office and other security organisations have enabled us to arrest numerous criminals in the United Kingdom and Albania, in the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking. Further strengthening of the rule of law in Albania will not only protect public safety both inside Albania and abroad, but will also increase confidence in the economy and accelerate Albania’s path towards integration into the European Union.
In the diplomatic field, our foreign policies remain closely aligned, based on our shared values of democracy, human rights and the free economy. We cooperate effectively in international organisations such as theUnited Nations, OSCE and Council of Europe with the objective of promoting peace and stability in the region and more widely. While the British business community in Albania is still smaller than we would like, we are seeing increased British interest in the Albanian market, inspired by the success of our top local investor, Vodafone. On the cultural side, we have organised a major art exhibition at the National Gallery, “Made in Britain”, and our British Council team continue to work hard with the Ministry of Education and the universities in our suport for English language teaching and examinations.
Despite the economic problems of Europe and the internal debates in Britain about our relationship with the institutions of the European Union, the British Government remains committed to the objective of enlargement of the EU to include the states of the Western Balkans. The campaign for the general election formally begins tomorrow, although my impression is that it has ben going on since I arrived in this country last year. The elections will undoubtedly be an exciting contest that diplomats, the media and the electorate will follow very closely. But they are also an opportunity to demonstrate the country’s democratic values and take Albania forward to the next stage in the EU integration process. The government in London looks forward to contributing positively to that process.
In my career I have listened to more than twenty speeches in honour of Her Majesty’s birthday and this is the fifth one I have given myself. I have noticed that the shortest speeches are always the most popular. So I will conclude by wishing you a pleasant evening, by thanking our sponsors for their support, and by inviting you to join me in a toast to Her Majesty.