“European integration process is a “vital national objective” for Albania. We are working very hard to fulfill the Copenhagen Criteria and other instruments, ensuring the achievement of the required European standards.” Said in an interview Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lulzim Basha[i]
This is a story that goes on for a long time in Albania, which since 1992, began its goal to access to fundings of the EU PHARE program, initially created, after the fall of totalitarian regimes, to help Hungary and Poland.
In 1996, Albania was close to signing a new contractual agreement with the EU. This agreement would pave the way for a classical association agreement, but contested the parliamentary elections of May 1996, along with the deep financial and social crisis in early 1997, which was caused by the fall of the pyramid schemes and led to the failure of any initiative in this direction[ii].The political developments during this period in different countries of the region, such as the dissolution of former Yugoslavia and the creation of a set of new states whose parameters differed from those of Central Europe, led the European Union to adopt a Balkan policy called “Regional Approach” in 1996[iii].
The European Commission (EC) launched the Stability and Association Process (SAP) in 2000, after a communiqué in 1999 envisioning a new, ambitious agenda for the region. The EU simultaneously launched the Stability Pact (SP), adopted in Cologne in June 1999, following events in Kosovo. Unlike the SAP, which came into existence as a fully European initiative, the Stability Pact became an international instrument designed “to replace the previous, reactive crisis intervention policy in South-Eastern Europe with a comprehensive, long-term conflict prevention strategy”[iv]. The launch of the Stability and Association Process (SAP) represented an attempt to apply a more coherent, comprehensive policy framework in the region by both looking into the process of European membership in EEC and simultaneously promoting stabilization, a transition to a market economy, and regional cooperation. The aim of the offer was to establish contractual relations with the EU through the signing of Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA), the end-goal of the SAP, along with the prospect of EU membership in the future.[v]
In November of 2000, a meeting of the countries involved in the Stabilization and Association Process was held in Zagreb, where it was decided to create the High Profile Taskforce for Albania, and after three meetings in Tirana, the European Commission drew up an evaluation report:
“Albania is not yet in the position to meet the obligations of a Stabilization and Association Agreement. However, if the current pace of change is sustained and if sufficient priority is given to strengthening administrative capacity during the negotiating and transition periods, considerable improvements can be made in the areas highlighted in this report. The Commission believes that the perspective of opening SAA negotiations is the best way to help for maintaining the momentum of recent political and economic reforms, and of encouraging Albania to continue its constructive and moderating influence in the region. The Commission therefore considers it appropriate to proceed with a SAA with Albania, and it will in due course submit a recommendation for a Council decision to initiate negotiations, which can, of course, only be concluded when all appropriate conditions have been met.”[vi]
The General Affairs Council of the EU, in its meeting on October 21, 2002, decided to open negotiations with Albania. Negotiations were officially initiated by the President of the European Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, on January 31, 2003[vii].
Mr. Prodi noted:
“Europe is at a turning point of its history. We have today a bigger, stronger European Union,
but we have many challenges ahead after this enlargement. I hope Albania can face this challenge. All Albanians and especially the young generation should have the perspective of a
better future, of a better political and social environment they live in. I personally believe that the Albanian people and state institutions will carefully face this challenge and will guarantee the European standards in their country. The commitment, firmness, patience and accomplishment represent the basis of the strategy. Europe will be on your side through help, support, advice and encouragement.”
Albania was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in June 2003[viii], which was the first step towards its European dream. The excellent relations between Italy and Albania are seen immediately, in supporting towards European integration. Even today, Italy for Albania is his “right arm”. The words of Mr. Prodi are very significant for the Albanians who have turned their eyes to Europe.
About relationship between NATO and Albania, they cooperate in a range of areas, with a particular emphasis on defense and security sector reform, as well as support for wider democratic and institutional reforms. In April 2008, Albania was invited to start negotiation for becoming a member of the Alliance. The accession protocols were signed on 9 July of 2008. Albania officially became a NATO member on 1 April 2009 (NATO’s relations with Albania, 2012). This “New-entry” indicates a leadership vision for the future of the country in a wider context.
“Rome has been very supportive for both our entry into NATO, but also in facilitating our relationship with Brussels. For example, providing for us in dialogue for visa liberalization with the EU”[ix].
In September 2007 the EU and Albania signed a visa facilitation agreement and the visa liberalization dialogue was launched in March 2008. Three months later the European Commission presented a road map identifying the specific requirement for visa liberalization with Albania[x].
“Today is a great day for Albanians, inside and outside the country, because two decades after the fall of the isolating wall of the communist regime, a new wall has fallen, which restricted our right to travel in the European family to which we belong,” said President Bamir Topi in a public address[xi].
Visa liberalization was a very important step for Albania and Albanians, perhaps even more important to accession into the European Union. With the fall of the communist system in 1990, many Albanians, have illegally emigrated to other countries, and especially in Italy. Therefore liberalization means UNION.
There were those who worried, instead of doing jumps for joy:
But behind the easy enthusiasm, the Schengen visa liberalization has also sparked a wave of fears and concerns. Many issues remain unresolved, “What should expect Europe?” “Everything will remain as before or migration to EU member states will increase?”, “The asylum seekers will remain stable or will there be a surge?[xii]”
However, there should be no place for worrying, Europe has thought about everything:
“As a result, the European Commission has established a post-visa monitoring process that aims to prevent the risk of abuse with the procedures of the asylum”. A process as regards monitoring, which in case of abuses and massive flows could oblige the Commission to propose the suspension of freedom of movement for citizens of both countries[xiii]”
In 2009 Albania submitted its formal application for EU membership (European Commission, 2010). In its Opinion on Albania’s application (in 2010), the Commission assessed that before accession negotiations could be formally opened, Albania still had to achieve a necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria and in particular, to meet the 12 key priorities identified in the Opinion.
Step by step, the integration of Albania began to take shape. The preparation of the Albanian people to join the European Union was great but as they had also the difficulties to get there. The Progress Report on Albania is part of the 2011 Enlargement Package adopted by the European Commission on October 12. The European Commission concluded that, following the European Union membership application, the conditions for opening the accession negotiation shave not yet been met[xiv].
One year after this negative evaluation, in October 2012 the Commission recommended that Albania be granted the EU candidate status, subject to completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform and revision of the parliamentary rules of procedures are revised. In this case Commission expressed that the conduct of the 2013 parliamentary elections will be a crucial test in this regard and a pre-condition for any recommendation to open negotiation. Also important will be the sustainment of political dialogue for a successful reform process[xv].
As Mr. Füle says: “If I were to name one thing that many EU politicians would envy their counterparts in Albania that would certainly be the unshakable support for integration into the EU among Albanian citizens. For years now this support across the Albanian society has consistently exceeded 80%, a record that would be difficult to beat! This clearly shows that people in Albania know what they want. They want Albania to advance decisively towards EU membership. They want their politicians to reach a political consensus that will make this goal achievable. They want reforms to bring Albania closer to EU standards and, by doing so, to improve the quality of their life. They simply want their European dream to come true[xvi].
That’s what Albanians want, they want Europe and they believe that this day will come early. According to the last Progress Report presented by the European Commission, on October 10, 2013, Albania made good progress on its path towards EU integration, notably by adopting measures identified as essential for granting the candidate country status. The 2013 parliamentary elections were conducted in an overall smooth and orderly manner. In view of this, the European Commission recommended that Albania be granted the EU candidate status on the understanding that Albania continues to take action in the fight against organized crime and corruption[xvii].
Štefan Füle said: “Enlargement is a process in the making and despite the economic crisis it is a good policy – it constitutes a part of the solution. Enlargement continues to be one of the most effective EU policies. By addressing ‘fundamentals’ first, such as the fight against corruption, sound economic governance, freedom of expression and media, human rights and protection of minorities, it strengthens political and economic stability in the aspiring countries and the EU as a whole”[xviii].
From this statement of Mr. Füle it is important to understand that the hope and the strength to go forward, to look to the future are crucial, even, in them iddle of economic crisis that is affecting the whole world. A positive and encouraging message that of the Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighborhood Policy.
Prime Minister Edi Rama said that the move encouraged Albanians to carry forward reforms.
“The novelty this time is that the report speaks of the real possibility of opening talks for membership if we meet some key conditions, which we agree with 100 percent”[xix].
Is only recently that Mr. Rama took the appointment of Albanian Prime Minister, who although happy about positive assessment of the Commission, wants commit a lot to successfully complete all the requirements for membership.
The country must address five key priorities[xx]:
1. Continue reforms in public administration
2. The independence and transparency of the judiciary
3. Measure evident in the fight against corruption
4. Deepening the fight against organized crime
5. Measures to protect human rights
About Füle “The European Commission is ready to assist Albania in meeting these requirements. This is a way to provide incentives Albania instrument to address five key priorities and hope that this experience will be used for a platform to solve them” Füle said[xxi].
The former UK prime minister said he would “love” the former Communist nation, one of the poorest in Europe, to be accepted[xxii].
From the point of view of some international newspapers about the Progress Report Albania 2013:
A positive impact on the EU executive’s report card, the test of the last general election in Tirana, according to international observers, were conducted on a “regular and orderly”, the “good progress” in the path of reforms outlined from Brussels and the first steps to improve the efficiency of the fight against corruption and organized crime[xxiii].
Certainly, the positive opinion of the Commission has had a good impact everywhere, except at the international newspapers. ANSA use double quotes in the case of regular elections and good progress. Why?
Patience for the candidate. Despite the debt crisis, the European Union has launched an appeal for the Balkans. All countries want to join[xxiv].
An analytical overview of Artan Fuga (European Journalism Observatory):
“I read with great attention the progress report and the overall first impression is that in Albania does not change anything in relation to a year before in terms of parameters, whereas in my view, has a new perception of the European Union for the Albanian reality. According to me, the first factor is the balance that our foreign strategic partners seek to keep in the Balkans. Public opinion, wants to see a positive project, otherwise the situation will become more difficult. But, I am of those who do not see EU integration as a gift. I say this because, being a small country, we often create the idea that we do not make history, but only suffer it. Can create the stereotype of “Albania-baby and Europe-Mom”, as our task is only to find skewed side of the story to take that route. No, it is not. European project requires a involvement and participation in the common history of Europe. If we are not able to afford, may well fail. We cannot continue with the utopian image of Europe ’90, as a true luxury”[xxv].
The demand of the country had already been rejected three times and at the end good news comes. At the General Affairs Council meeting on 24 of June 2014 in Luxembourg, Ministers from the EU Member States have agreed – based on the recommendation by the European Commission to grant EU candidate status to Albania.
The decision on the future of Albania comes after a long and tortuous political and administrative drawing. Great Britain, Germany, France had expressed doubt over the country’s ability to deal with the process of approaching the EU. For strong economic ties with Albania, Italy it has instead promoted the candidacy.
It is important that Albania’s systematic reform approach (in the fight against corruption, in the fight against organized crime, in the reform of the judicial system and re-invigorated and in a consolidated political dialogue between government and opposition) be continued as sustainable results for its further EU integration[xxvi].
Commissioner Štefan Füle welcomed the decision and said the following:
“Today is a good day for enlargement and a great day for Albania’s EU integration. Albania is one step closer to the European Union, another important milestone on EU path has been reached. I really welcome the decision of the General Affairs Council to grant candidate status to Albania. The Albanian government has continued to implement and consolidate reform measures in judicial reform, in the fight against corruption and organized crime… To conclude, the granting of candidate status to Albania is a clear testimony that the enlargement process is credible and dynamic, and that the EU sticks to its promises and commitments once the partners deliver on their reform homework.”[xxvii]
“This decision brings more hope and opens a new future for the Albanians. But this is not the end of our road to full membership, but a very important step along the way,” Rama told a news conference after the decision was announced[xxviii].
So, Albania did the last homework to be part of a huge European future. Every one of us is optimistic about the official candidate status and is working hard for the progress.
[i] Sami N. 2008.The process of European integration is a “vital national objective” for Albania, Tirana, Southern, European Times
[ii] Bello M. 2002. Negotium, Publication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Tirana. pp. 8-11.
[iii] Moschella M. 2004. “European Union’s Regional Approach Towards Its Neighbors: The European Neighborhood Policy Vıs-À-Vıs Euro-Mediterranean Partnership”. University of Catania.
[iv] See: Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe
[v]The prospect of EU membership was offered explicitly for the first time at the European Council in Feira in June 2000. “The European Council confirms that its objective remains the fullest possible integration of the countries of the region into the political and economic mainstream of Europe through the Stabilization and Association process. All the countries concerned are potential candidates for EU membership”
[vi] Report from the Commission to the Council, 2001, On the work of the EU/Albania High Level Steering Group, in preparation for the negotiation of a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Albania, Brussels.
[vii] European Commission. 2003. President Prodi to visit Albania and open negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement on 31st January. Brussels.
[viii] European Council.2003.Eu-Western Balkans Summit Thessaloniki, Brussels.
[ix] Ademi, 2013
[x] Youth of European People’s Party. 2010. White paper on European integration of the western Balkans.
[xi] Likmeta B. 2010. Albania Welcomes ‘Historic’ Visa Liberalization Decision.
[xii] Manzana M. 2010. Liberalizzazione dei visti, processo non irreversibile. Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso
[xiii] Rruplli C. 2010. The European Council: yes visa liberalization
[xiv] European Commission. 2011. Key findings of the 2011 Progress Report on Albania. Brussels, October 12.
[xv] European Commission, 2012 European Commission, 2012. Key findings of the 2012 Progress Report on Albania. Brussels, October 10.
[xvi] Füle Š. 2012. Crunch time for consensus and reforms, This article is published on the occasion of the publication by the European Commission of its progress report on Albania, on October 10.
[xvii] European Commission, 2013. Key findings of the 2013 Progress Report on Albania, Brussels, October 16.
[xviii] European Enlargement: Priorities for 2014:
[xix] Xinhua. 2013. Albania hails EU over candidate status, prospect of membership talks.
[xx] Gazeta Shqip. 2013, October 17. EU: Albania be given the status with consensus. Conditions for opening negotiations
[xxi] Gazeta Shqip. 2013, October 16. EC: Albania be granted candidate status. Fule: Five criteria for membership.
[xxii] BBC. 2013. October 3: Tony Blair joins Albania’s campaign to join European Union.
[xxiii] ANSA. 2013October 16. Albania, green light from EC to status of candidate country.
[xxiv] Riegert B. 2013. Patience forcandidate.
[xxv] Hasani H. 2013. EU-Albania, the nightmares of a Pro-Europeanist.
[xxvi] European Commission, 2014. Report from the commission to the council and the European
Parliament. On Albania’s progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime and in the Judicial reform. (Brussels, 4.6.2014, COM(2014) 331 final)
Bello M. 2002. Negotium, Publication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Tirana. pp. 8-11.
Moschella M. 2004. “European Union’s Regional Approach Towards Its Neighbors: The European Neighborhood Policy Vıs-À-Vıs Euro-Mediterranean Partnership”. University of Catania.
European Commission. 2003. President Prodi to visit Albania and open negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement on 31st January. Brussels.
European Commission. 2010. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Commission Opinion on Albania’s application for membership of the European Union.Brussels. See Stern U. and Wohlfeld S.Albania’s Long Road into the European Union.Internal political power struggleblockscentralreforms, Prof. Dr. Eberhard Sandschneider (Hrsg.) Otto Wolff-Direktor des Forschungsinstituts der DGAP e. V.
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European Commission, 2012. Key findings of the 2012 Progress Report on Albania. Brussels, October 10.
European Commission, 2013. Key findings of the 2013 Progress Report on Albania, Brussels, October 16.
European Commission, 2014. Report from the commission to the council and the European
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Youth of European People’s Party. 2010. White paper on European integration of the western Balkans. (youthepp.eu)
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BBC, Tony Blair joins Albania’s campaign to join European Union. 3 October 2013. (viewed on 23/09/2014)
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Xinhua, Albania welcomes EU’s move to grant candidate status to join the bloc., xinhuanet.com, (viewed on 23/09/2014)