Albania 2018: Preparing for a breakthrough

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Ditmir Bushati on 15 November 2017. [Council]

Albania looks to the EU to show that it recognises its potential as a partner, by starting accession negotiations in the spring of 2018. Ditmir Bushati explains why the next six months, under Bulgaria’s presidency, will be of crucial importance.

Ditmir Bushati is the minister of foreign affairs of Albania.

As we approach the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU due to start in the New Year, and take stock of the increased interaction between the Western Balkans countries and the EU over the past two years, it is clear that this will be a crucial year for Western Balkan hopes for accession. 

In Albania we have successfully built considerable domestic momentum in 2017. We passed unanimously in the Albanian parliament an unprecedented reform of the justice system which radically changed our constitution and established a new vetting procedure for the judiciary. 

Despite many hurdles and stubborn resistance, we started implementing our judicial reforms and we established the vetting commissions, with the help and support of the EU and the US. I believe that what we have achieved so far gives us a strong platform for further work to be carried out in the framework of the accession negotiations on chapters 23 and 24 with the Union, and that we are ready now to progress Albania’s EU integration. This reform of the judiciary will also have a direct impact on our performance in other areas, such as the fight against corruption and organized crime.  

Such deep reforms are often met with resistance and disbelief. But, against all odds, we also know that there is no alternative. Albania has shown time and again strategic clarity and consistency in its Euro-Atlantic orientation. Losing the strategic view would be a fatal mistake and is simply not an option. 

The EU Global Strategy, published one year ago, recognizes that a credible enlargement policy is a strategic investment in Europe’s security and prosperity. It has already contributed to peace, stability and progress in the Western Balkans. 

It is not idealism that makes the citizens of Albania enthusiastic about the EU. It is realism, the recognition of mutual interests, the prospect of sustainable prosperity, peace, security and good governance. Closer cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans is the safeguard for security and peace in this part of Europe. 

For Albania we look to the EU to show that it recognizes our potential as a partner, by starting accession negotiations in the spring of 2018. 

We are aware that the opening of negotiations is just the beginning of a long and challenging learning process. We know very well that it will take time; and we want to use this time to further transform our country in every sense and bring our citizens closer to Europe. It will be hard to persuade our young people about the benefits of EU integration; realistically it will take more than five decades for all the countries of the Western Balkans to rise to the standard of living in Western Europe and our youth isunderstandably impatient. 

But there is good news from Brussels and the region itself, which give grounds for optimism. For the past four years, driven by the energies invested in the Berlin process, all countries of the Western Balkans have been working to bring down every barrier to free tradeby encouraging transnational economies. In July this year, we agreed in Trieste to establish a Regional Economic Area. We expect it will boost trade, unleash suppressed energies and benefit all of our economies. 

We welcome the fact that Bulgaria has made Western Balkans a key priority for its Council Presidency and we believe that the next 6 months will be of crucial importance for us. The European Commission will present their Enlargement Strategy in February 2018, and we expect a document with a clear vision and we want to see the Western Balkans and Albania, in particular part of that visionWe also hope to receive

an unconditional recommendation to open accession talks in the April report of the European Commission, and we look to the EU Council next June to adopt a decision to open negotiations. Anything short of this would be a lost opportunity.     

A few months ago, President Junker stated in his annual address on the “State of the Union” that there is need for a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans in order to secure more stability in the EU’s neighbourhood. A few weeks later, President Macron echoed the same belief. We have welcomed this, as we remain convinced that the revitalisation of enlargement policy will act as a catalyst for development and will also be a powerful deterrent to counter the disintegration narrative fuelled by populist ideas and propaganda by third party anti-European states. We have always maintained that each country should be able to move at its own speed on its path to EU accession, in accordance with its capacity, the pace of reforms, and consistency in delivering on its commitments.  So I urge our European partners to look at the progress that Albania has made, and give us now a clear perspective and road map towards EU accession.