Integration or isolation for the EU?

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Albania and other Western Balkan countries. Her main political message was that the future of our countries is within the European Union. Regarding Tirana and Skopje, she said that she was personally determined that the EU intergovernmental conference for the opening of accession negotiations should be convened as soon as possible, preferably within this year. She promised that the path towards a common future would be outlined at the Ljubljana summit with the leaders of the European Union together with their peers from the Balkans. 

In parallel with these statements, the new agency Reuters reported that the EU had not agreed to guarantee to the Western Balkan countries the prospect of membership at the Ljubljana summit.

The two-page letter of invitation to the summit, signed by European Council President Charles Michel in the last paragraphs said that on the second day, October 6, there will talk about the Balkans, the need to stabilize the region, the current social-economic developments after the pandemic, strategic cooperation, etc. No word on EU enlargement, the future membership of our countries. Meanwhile, for Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa (Slovenia currently holds the six-month presidency of the European Union), EU enlargement in the Balkans was the first and only objective of this summit, which was initiated by him. 

The latest from Ljubljana is, in the end, the word ‘enlargement made it to the summit declaration. 

The Albanian public, which is not widely familiar with the institutional architecture and decision-making powers within the EU, has been seeing only confusion in the attitudes of European politicians for several years. But even the Albanian government, which is supposed to be well informed about these things, became ridiculous when in June 2018 it celebrated the opening of negotiations with and champagne and medals for its own officials. For years, we have seen from the European Commission, part of the European Parliament and a part of the EU’s 27 members, a positive, but essentially lavish and embellished, assessment of the criteria of democracy and the rule of law. The rest is more objective in assessment and more rigorous in attitude.

For years I have been arguing that an objective assessment and a rigorous, but correct and fair attitude would help a European Albania (and a European Balkans) more in terms of the Copenhagen Criteria as the basic values – freedom, rule of law, democracy and human rights. The lavish approach erects propaganda facades, the problems remain unresolved and certainly reappear later even more aggravated, as has happened in post-Slobodan Milosevic Serbia, which has regressed especially in these seven years of negotiations with Brussels. All of these issues will continue to be discussed in the coming months and years regardless of whether an intergovernmental conference manages to be held before Christmas.

In addition to the news of EU enlargement in the Balkans, another piece of news drew attention – a large number of EU members, including those that are traditionally pro-enlargement, have raised concerns about the abuse of free movement by Balkan citizens.

According to Germany’s own reporting to EU authorities, the problem – with the scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 as the least bad – was that Albania and Serbia ranked 2 and 7. Western European countries have also complained about visa overstays and other violations by Albanian nationals. As a result, they are looking at suspending the visa liberalization program. In April 2019, the Netherlands demanded that the visa-free travel regimen needed to be cancelled for Albania. The proposal was rejected because the Dutch were the only EU members who had proposed such a measure. Today, however, this is now being demanded by a considerable number of Europe’s core members. This means that Albania’s biggest and most tangible EU achievement of the last decade, namely visa-free travel to Europe, is being seriously jeopardized.

In 2014, four years after the visa liberalization, mass emigration from Albania to Germany, France and across the began.

At that time, the then-Interior Minister (and current defendant in a drug dealing case), Saimir Tahiri, and Prime Minister Edi Rama “explained” to us in the parliament that it was the Albanian emigrants who have been settled in Greece for years, and who after the financial crisis there, started the second exile. Rama has never apologized for this sordid lie. But later he justified emigration from Albania as an irresistible social need; even in the face of reprimands from Europe.

This continued like this even when the numbers of Albanian emigrants exceeded, in absolute and relative terms, every other country from the Baltics to Bulgaria. In fact, the EU approved the abolition of visas only on guarantees that there wouldn’t be an avalanche of Albanian migrants, but that for those coming into Europe, they would still legally satisfy the needs of the local labor markets.

It is likely that the Rama government does not have the will to create hope for a good future through good governance. Maybe the government does not care that society is losing professionals and the middle class, but this may even have been calculated for its electoral advantage. But maybe Albanians also need a shake to react to this devastating hemorrhaging of people.

The visit by Austra’s Minister of Interior Karl Nehammer to Tirana simultaneously with Ms. Von der Leyen was perceived as a routine. It was about cooperation in the fight against crime and illegal immigration, especially from the Middle East and Central Asia. But the Austrian media revealed another interesting detail – the problem in Albania is that masses of people from these areas come legally into Albania as they don’t need a visa. According to the Austrian police investigating their cell phone data, they reappear illegally in Austria. Some of them bring concerns about public safety, crime and terrorism. Two years ago, Rama claimed that he would solve the lack of a labor force in the country with hard-working “Bangladeshis”. 

Meanwhile, there is local evidence that those Arabs or Asians who legally set foot here and were initially employed, disappeared after a few months. This was most likely because they headed for rich Europe. Perhaps Rama did this after being influenced by the globalist ideas of his mentor in New York, who fights for a world without borders and migration without obstacles. Perhaps Rama was invested in a genuine human trafficking scheme with  “businessmen” around him who were willing to make quick money.

In any case, it is a failure of the “working Bangladeshis” initiative, which is one more problem that Europe gets from our government, as well as a risk that Albanians will start queuing for visas like the Kosovars are currently doing. The latter of which have forgotten what it was like before 2010.


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