Negotiations must start - now!

EU credibility is at stake!

- Denmark has no reason to keep Albania out.

 

On April 17, 2018, the EU Commission presented its annual report on the state of enlargement of the EU, and the Commissions statement is very clear:

 "The European Commission recommends that the Council of Ministers decide, in the light of the progress achieved, to open membership negotiations with Albania, maintaining and deepening the current reform course."

The Commission justifies its recommendation as follows: "For Albania, it is crucial that progress be made on the important area of ​​the rule of law, especially about the five key reform priorities and that the country continues to deliver tangible results regarding the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors (investigation). To support this, the Commission will apply a reinforced approach to the negotiating chapters on judicial and fundamental rights and on justice, freedom and security. This step forward in a long process is in line with the merit-based approach and strict conditionality, as last confirmed in the Commission's Western Balkan Strategy "- adding the following requirements to EU decision makers:

"As stated in the Western Balkans Strategy, the EU itself has to be ready to receive new members of the family - when they meet the conditions - including from an institutional and financial perspective. The Union must be stronger, more robust and more efficient before it can be bigger. "

Disregarding the special EU jargon, the message from the commission to members of the Council of Ministers is not to be mistaken: We have now done a thorough process based on the Copenhagen criteria of 1993, so agree, live up to our own common ideals, think big and let your “little Hassan’s” stay home.

The road towards the EU the Commission's clear recommendation started in 2000 with the Zagreb Summit, followed by the 2003 Thessaloniki Conference with positive signals, the SAA agreement with Albania in 2006, NATO membership in 2009 and finally with Albania's candidate status in 2014.

It can thus be concluded that the progress reports can at least celebrate the 18th anniversary of this year.

In connection with the EU Western Balkans Summit on May 17, 2018 in Sofia, the Danish Prime Minister had reservations regarding an enlargement of the EU - at present. The Danish government wants apparently to see even more progress before proceeding.

But how is the political and economic situation and last not least the attitude towards the EU in Albania?

When one, like the EU Commission, are closely following the developments in the Western Balkans, and especially in Albania, it becomes clear that about 90% of Albanians see EU membership as the main objective. Not so much because of the useful EU funds - they already receive them - but because of the wish to be recognized as a part of the European family.

Albania is a young democracy that, with an economy that already has good growth rates (3.6% in 2017 versus 3.4% in 2016 according to the World Bank), needs the Council of Ministers' recognition to increase foreign investment and thereby increase employment for the country's 2.9 million inhabitants, especially for the youth.

Albania has since 2013 had a one-party centre-left majority government led by Edi Rama, who with solid support in the population has worked hard to meet the demands of both the EU and the US.

The struggle for cleansing the prosecution and the courts for corrupt people is in full swing, the fight against cannabis cultivation, etc. shows great results. The task is somewhat bigger than managing the pusher street in Copenhagen - and the fight against organized crime is certainly no less extensive than in many EU countries.

It is therefore important that EU decision-makers at the EU summit at the end of June remember the promises and principles adopted in 1993, called the Copenhagen criteria.

Albania, of course, as emphasized by the Commission, still must work to meet the 1993 requirements in full. As the membership negotiations probably will take 5 years or more, Albanians have time to live up to the rest of the EU. Who knows, maybe even surpass a number and thus strengthen the EU's somewhat weakened cohesion.

A decision to open membership negotiations will, as discreetly but clearly pointed out by the Commission, be a pure win-win situation.

Introduction of real negotiations for membership of the Western Balkans countries will strengthen these countries, while at the same time putting the EU's current members under pressure to get their own house in order.

The consequences of a defensive policy will not only disappoint legitimate expectations in the Western Balkans, but also clearly draw a picture of the EU as a seriously weakened player.

In this case, Russia, China and Turkey will intensify their political and economic efforts in the Balkans. There is hardly any doubt.

The future of the EU depends on a dynamic policy and trust in the applicants. The Commission's people have clearly acknowledged this, so now we just need all the politicians backing up. The Danish Prime Minister's announcement in May on Europe Day 2018 should fill us all with optimism.

 

Hellerup, June 14, 2018

Hans-Georg Nielsen

Albanian honorary consul.