Friday 22 January 2016, the College of Europe, Brugge Campus, welcomed Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, in what was the first high official visit from Albania. The College of Europe in the past 75 years has critically nurtured the European elites. Its two campuses, the oldest in Brugge and in Natolin (Warsaw) offers post-graduate studies in European Affairs to a pool of international students coming from more than 50 different countries. The College of Europe has a longstanding tradition in offering scholarships to students coming from the Western Balkans and already Albanian students have had the opportunity to study in the known institution.
Edi Rama has been, since 2013, the Prime Minister of Albania. His government has embarked on shock reforms, from that of energy, where the loss or theft equaled 5% of the small nation GDP, to the reform on pensions that was threatening the microeconomic stability of the country, the reforms of law enforcement, education, healthcare and territorial and administrative reform that brought upon significant improvements to the functioning of the second level government.
PM Rama presented his remarks on the dream of an open Europe and the optimism of Albania, one day, to become a member. He as well, expressed his concerns that the failure to keep the open door policy from the EU could foment nationalist politics and religious radicalism in the region of Western Balkans. The 'clash of civilizations', to PM Rama, is to be attributed to the lack of knowledge of young generations of the culture and history of other's religions. Hence, he stressed, that Albania's efforts have been ongoing to increase inter-religious understanding among youth. Indeed Albania has been known of its inter-religious peaceful coexistence.
The European Commission, in the last November progress reports made clear for all the candidates and potential candidates from the Western Balkans the return to fundamentals. Albania has been praised to have a steady progress across all five key priorities, notably strengthening of fundamental rights, fighting organized crime, eradicate corruption and complete reform of judiciary and public administration. However, the judiciary reform is a thorny issue between the government majority and the opposition. It seems that the political parties cannot agree on the draft to be submitted to the ad-hoc committee of the Albanian Parliament on Justice Reform.
On its part, the opposition, Democratic Party, has voiced its concerns that the government is, allegedly, interested in strengthening its control on the judiciary. The bone of contention seems to be the votes required to elect, for instance, the representatives of the chamber of notaries. The opposition, Democratic Party, is proposing a 2/3 parliamentary majority (93 votes) while the government is suggesting 3/5 presently held by the governing majority. These coupled with the constitutional amendments included in the revised draft of the reform, would give a veto power to the government on the eight institutions established and shaped by the justice reform.
It is clear, that this atmosphere of political obstructionism and lack of political dialogue is harming the process and considering the new and clearer approach of the EC, delaying Albania in starting negotiations like the neighbors Montenegro and Serbia. The Venice Commission has provided its interim opinion on the draft of the Justice Reform with annexed 11 recommendations. The United States, through the Ambassador Donald Lu, have been vocal on the social and institutional difficulties created in the country due to the delay in forcefully taking steps in the right direction.
Indeed, it seems as when it comes to the European future of Albania, the battle of wishes persists. On one hand, the international community stresses the urgency for reforms. On the other, government's official underline that real reforms need years and sacrifices and the opening of negotiations would be extremely valuable to motivate all the parties in the reform process. PM Rama added, that more often than not, the enlargement process has been other than technical with specified EC conditionality, a political one where EU member states have added additional requests to cater to their national political agenda.
While, it could be agreed that years of solidified state capture by elites, and results of an unfortunate path dependency of nearly five decades of isolation cannot be erased overnight. It cannot be denied that in the past 20 years, have been the Albanians to pay the price: from brain drain, to loss of investment and unemployment, to fostering an utter distrust in state institutions.
I agree with the Prime Minister, that Albania can bring some joy to the EU, as Albanians seem to be strong believers in EU integration and view the return to Europe as the answer to all evils. A refreshing moment for a skepticism infected Europe from Hungary, Poland and the threat of Brexit. However, as in all relationships, in order to be loved one has to be in the position to love oneself. The Albanian and the European future, is then a continuing battle of wishes and a question of will.