This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
By Plator Nesturi
The Sofia conference, where 30 heads of EU states met, caused a little disappointment about the expectations of Balkan countries. Busy with internal problems of the global crisis and the process of transformation that the EU is going through, it looks like the enlargement of the Union has been put aside for the moment. However, there still remains hope until June. Despite the efforts of the majority leader to lobby and convince sceptic countries to change their opinion, this could not be achieved through a simple campaign done in the last minute. What we needed to do for a long time is to prove that we were more dynamic and we should have avoided many of the problems that Albanian society is facing today. And the signs that we could not simply rely on luck, but we needed to carry out reforms and reflect credibility, had long been given. The decision that Brussels made at the end of last year to establish a time frame for the involvement of Western Balkan countries in the EU was good news for the region. Up until a while ago, EU senior officials had declared that no new members would be admitted in the Union until the mid century. At least two Balkan countries, Serbia and Montenegro, are looking to become EU members by 2025.
The bad news for Albanians relates to the fact that the country was not qualified for round 1 of the accession process. Instead, it was in the same group that included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo. This delay is becoming quite exhausting. If we go back a decade ago, when the EU enlargement map had not yet included many Balkan countries, Albania was in the same group as Croatia, the two countries with the best chances of being the first ones to be integrated. Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, with its problems, countries which had just come out of the war in former Yugoslavia, were far from aspiring this process and they were more focused on healing their wounds caused from war rather than democratize themselves based on EU principles. Albania missed the EU bound train that Croatia boarded. The country lost a number of opportunities to become a new pole of reflection of EU policies in the Balkans and a number of other opportunities which would help the country’s economic development and further democratization of society. Tirana managed to go as far as becoming a NATO member and benefit the visa-free regime for its citizens.
Now, it looks like we’ve even missed the second train bound for EU. The train for which Serbia and Montenegro are the only countries to have secured tickets. 10 years ago, these countries could not even dream of becoming EU members before Albania. We remain in a waiting list with countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, which still doesn’t have a functional state throughout the territory, due to differences between the different communities which make up this country. We’re in the same position as Macedonia, which, besides the problem of the name contest with Greece, is often affected by internal conflicts. We’re also in the same position as Kosovo, which is a young state unable to be fully recognized internationally. This is the group that we’ve placed ourselves in, always remaining a third league team which cannot be promoted to a higher league.
The EU has always defined a set of tasks to be delivered in order for Albania to advance in the path of integration and when no efforts were made to deliver these tasks, they turned into criteria. In every milestone of the process, starting with the application for accession, the granting of the status, etc, Albania has managed to advance not thanks to the delivery of the EU criteria, but thanks to the EU’s political will to encourage the country to follow the path of democratization. Now, while we’re waiting a date for the launch of accession talks, the criteria remain the same. They still remain unfulfilled. Instead of fighting corruption in the administration, corruption has affected all sectors. The fact that the report on Albania points out the concern that exists about the high level of corruption within police, we can all understand what the direction of the curve of corruption in other institutions is. This is happening at a time when we’ve pledged that we will carry out the judicial reform. The issue of the freedom of vote and free and fair elections, still remains a standard which we don’t seem to be achieving. On the contrary, we remain happy when the international community certifies our elections as acceptable. The same goes for other criteria that the EU has set out for a while now, such as those concerning human rights and property rights. The latter still remains a big problem, which, not only it is causing serious social problems, but it is also acting as an obstacle for a normal development of the economy and the attraction of foreign investments. We can say that these issues have become more problematic than before. We just need to take a look at the expensive bill coming from the courts of Strasbourg for all violations of property rights and other liberties, which will be paid by the state through the taxpayers’ money. Therefore, it looks like demagogy when those who have governed and govern this country, still declare that they remain determined to pursue the path toward the EU. Which EU are we planning to reach with this sort of performance? Albania is slipping toward other shores where the EU seems more and more distant.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy