By Ditmir Bushati
The decision of the Dutch parliament to launch the necessary procedures which aim at restoring the visa regime for Albanian nationals is bad news for all of us. The procedures in case The Netherlands decides to go ahead with the request, are clear. The European Commission will reply to the request (supposed request) made by The Netherlands regarding the criteria that Albania has delivered. Meanwhile, any decision that will be taken will need to be voted by individual countries.
Last year, the European Commission maintained that Albania delivered the criteria and none of the EU member countries, including The Netherlands, had any objections about this. What changed in a few months? Why is such move being made now that Albania is expected to launch accession talks with the EU?
It’s almost impossible for such initiative to have any impact in practice. Therefore, there’s no room for panic. Although Albania faces many challenges in the battle against organized crime and corruption, the country has met all the criteria set out by the European Commission. Nevertheless, there’s no room for negligence here. On the contrary, we need to preserve the integrity of public debate surrounding this issue. It’s within our right to despise any negative stereotype which attempts to draw us as people and a society that generates only crime and illegal emigration. But would we make a mistake if we draw The Netherlands, a country which makes a key contribution in the EU and which supports Albania’s European aspirations, as a country which is behaving in a racist manner towards us? Nevertheless, we would be naïve to ignore the message that this decision taken by the Dutch parliament conveys?
We need to prove that we’re right by achieving tangible results in the fight against organized crime and corruption, by expanding international cooperation with specialized institutions, with the European Commission and EU member countries, because it’s us who’s knocking on the EU’s doors and not the opposite.
The decision taken by the Dutch parliament should not come as surprise to us. Last year, the Dutch Parliament adopted a resolution where it requested its government to block accession talks with Albania. It’s well known that France and The Netherlands were the reasons why Albania and North Macedonia failed to launch accession talks with the EU. This led to the decision to launch accession talks after June 2019.
The history of the Dutch position regarding issues that affect European policies and standards which have to do with the enlargement process, do not start and do not end with Albania. If we look into this history, we would explain the unexplainable and also the difficulties that our European path is facing.
In 2016, The Netherlands was the only EU member country that held a referendum regarding the agreement between EU and Ukraine, despite the fact it was criticized for lack of a strategic vision, given the situation that Ukraine was facing following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the urgent need for the EU to position itself as a credible player in relation to Ukraine’s ambition to come closer to the EU. As a result of this referendum, the agreement between the EU and Ukraine also includes extra guarantees which do not permit for the agreement to be interpreted as an agreement that paves Ukraine’s European integration path.
The Netherlands is also part of those countries that were against the enlargement of the Schengen area with Bulgaria and Romania, despite the assessment of the European Commission that these two countries had met the necessary criteria. We also know about The Netherlands’ objections to Croatia’s and Serbia’s EU accession due to their refusal to collaborate with the International Criminal Court for former Yugoslavia.
During the crisis in the Eurozone, The Netherlands was very strict toward countries in the south of Europe, reflecting the principles and the philosophy of a country which is a key contributor in the EU’s financial mechanism and a country which is cautious with every penny it spends. The Netherlands is a big critic of Poland, Hungary and Romania regarding their reforms in the rule of law.
Contrary to its stance on Turkey’s accession in the EU, The Netherlands sees Western Balkans as a natural part of the EU, offering no concessions in terms of the conditions that these countries should deliver.
Even in 2013, despite the adoption of the three famous laws, the smooth transfer of power and the clear recommendation that was issued by the European Commission to grant our country the candidate status, The Netherlands was part of those countries which requested more convincing proof.
While there are only a few weeks remaining until EU member countries decide on the issue of accession negotiations, the history above tells us that we should demonstrate political and social cohesion and a renewed focus on the reforms. However, we must not allow historic achievements to be compromised. This would be the necessary prophylaxis which would determine Albania’s path in the coming decade.