Albanian and EU: The Tumultuous Journey towards Integration and Accession

On 27 March 2007, AGENDA Institute and MJAFT Foundation jointly organized the lecture on “Albanian and EU: The Tumultuous Journey towards Integration and Accession”, in the framework of EU Lecture Series.

The guest speaker was Mrs. Mirela Bogdani, who has been Associate Lecturer of “Politics and Policies of the EU & European Integration” at the School of European Studies, Cardiff University, UK. Currently she is reading for an MPhil in “European Politics” at Oxford University, St. Antony’s College, Department of Politics and International Relations. Previously she has undertaken postgraduate studies and has been a fellow at “Boston University” (USA), “George Washington University” (USA), University of London-UCL (UK) and Cardiff University (MSc).

The panel was composed by Mr. Arbjan Mazniku the Director of the Policy Department at the Mjaft! Movement together with Mr. Ditmir Bushati Research Director at the AGENDA Institute. The debate after the presentation of Ms. Mirela Bogdani was very vivid and full of questions, due to a long and interesting presentation made by Ms. Bogdani. Mr. Mazniku which was the first one to open the debate reminded the audience the importance of this project, the EU Lectures series. Its importance lies in the variety of lecturers and the subjects that they have approached, bringing with them all their personal experiences. Than, Mr. Ditmir Bushati stated the importance of the presence of Ms Bogdani for this project, she was there to present her book also, which was written in collaboration with another Oxford professor.

She started with the Albanian and Europeanization concept, will the integration of Albania within the EU help it progress and take successful reforms, bring stability and peace? Since 1999 the EU committed to change the negative image of the Balkans as “an island of instability in the heart of Europe, exporting migrants and importing peacekeepers”. The unification of Europe will not be complete until it includes its South- eastern part. Why this new interest of Europe towards the Western Balkans: security, economic and political reasons. Development of this ‘marginalized and troubled ghetto’ in the midst of Europe is important not just for the region, but also for the EU itself. However no short cut to membership: “Membership must be earned: hard work and political will of those in power”. “We do not work for a date, we are working to perform” (R. Prodi). We have to keep in mind that in order to be members the important teller will be the fulfillment of the Copenhagen Criteria: political criteria, economic criteria, administrative- technical criteria, the adoption of the acquis- communautaire.

The Government of Albania in fact has only survived she said, without governing she said. This led to the possession of unstable and ineffective government. These last elections she mentioned there was a failure in keeping electoral promises, by also failing in organizing free and fair elections as the milestone of a free democracy. A political culture has survived in years where the manipulation of elections has become a norm, which nobody contests. Another important point to be strongly stressed especially when talking about the Albanian reality is the phenomenon of corruption. (Corruption means, the manipulation of state institutions in the interest of people in power, arbitrary exercise of power and supply of goods and services not sanctioned by law). Corruption in Albania is also accepted as a norm, systemic and routine. This is translated in thread for the economy and the political stability of the country, so much needed. Also she said it is noticed an insufficient commitment of all governments to tackle corruption. It always interested to all parties, governments and kinds of politicians. Albania has failed to fight this phenomenon and all anti- corruption mechanisms and measures employed so far have been found ineffective.

The organized crime is another problem struggling Albania. Organized crime has been growing as a major force in Albania after the end of communism, and for the truth sake it must be said that this is a phenomenon spread in all territory of the Balkans. Trafficking of human beings, money laundering, drugs and smuggling are only some of the elements composing the Albanian organized crime. The reasons of its existence are several starting with the absence of rule of law and of an effective police force, also a functioning judicial system. Poverty plays an important role in transforming people in wolves trying being rich in a morning. Scarcity of jobs and the lack of opportunities make difficult the honest living. The connections of the organized crime also make it hard to be fair when mafia is asking for favors in recompense of material goods. Though, in absence of strong state institutions and the corrupted one protected by politicians, Albania has become a “safe heaven” for criminals and mafia.

The economic situation of Albania does not really favor a stable development. The economy depending on political stability at the moment has no chances to see the long durable development. The transformation from a centrally planned economy to an open market one was not controlled as it should and the privatization process went so wrong that we are still today facing the consequences. Even though the macro- economic indicators are good, the real economy is in crises: economic growth still comes mainly from remittances (14%) and criminal activity. High percentage of grey economy meets with the problem of the budget depending mostly on external financing, while the private sector is weak and fiscal burden high. Market mechanisms are weak also, and market institutions not yet established, and the public procurement still problematic. At this point it comes natural the question on how far away are we from the meeting of the Copenhagen criteria? Ms. Mirela Bogdani said that a long way remains still to Albania from the fulfillment of the criteria.

It must be still accepted that some obstacles come from outside, though from the EU itself. It seems that the EU is facing some “absorption problems” at the moment, this also coming from some institutional difficulties, because after the enlargement with Bulgaria and Romania, the treaty of Nice cannot provide room for other invitees. On the other hand the new position that countries like France are taking towards new enlargements, the choice of France to go through referendum in order to decide if another country must be accepted, makes things even more difficult for countries with a contestable image like Albania.

As mentioned above many questions discussions followed. Discussions on how the Albanian image is a problem in Europe and how can we arrange, what shall we do, and how can we proceed with the amelioration of the whole set that needs to be fixed up. As a member of the conservative party, one of the questions was on what did the other British members of the party thought about Albania? Ms. Mirela Bogdani answered that they as the rest of the public opinion, in Britain, are waiting for amelioration to happen in Albania and not pretend it from abroad. The EU might become very welcoming, if good will and hard work is shown to rise in Albania. Than, other suggestions that were proposed had to do with the compilation of the book that Ms Bogdani was presenting that day, and from which some slides were provided.

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