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The beginning of negotiations and the road with many unknowns
Many saw the start of negotiations for EU membership as the beginning of a path that will soon lead us to the European Union. I see it as the beginning of a road that does not know where it will take us.
The beginning of the negotiations is the end of the pressure or the political obligation of the EU to "give" us something, with the aim of keeping the hope of membership alive, without making us a member, but enough to keep us "satellites" of the West.
In the EU, they think that the negotiations with Albania will be a long process, 15, 20, 25 years. There are quite a few in the EU who think or want Albania to never become a part - this also explains the occasional initiatives or efforts to find another formula, "approach without membership", for Albania and the remaining countries.
However, one thing is clear: the EU no longer has the pressure to "give" us something to show that they want us around. If their commitment is to be questioned, they cite the negotiations as proof that they want us in the EU, but making it clear that the progress of the negotiations is not in their hands, but in ours.
One thing the EU knows well, we will learn now: our social, economic and political reality is far from the reality and standards of the EU. This distance, until today, we have not clearly perceived, perhaps blinded by our hope or ardent desire, or influenced by political propaganda with 'European integration'.
In fact, in the last three decades, although in objective terms, we are closer to the EU, in their eyes we have been moving away. We have never reflected on why it took us more than 30 years just to start negotiations, while countries that started like us, such as Poland or Slovakia, have been members of the EU for almost two decades. . At first we had the same perspective as them, at least in theory.
Few people know today, but at the beginning of the 1990s, Albania was seen by the international community as the ideal country to implement a quick and successful transition to democracy and a market economy, as it presented theoretical advantages over other countries: it was a country with a small and homogeneous population, no ethnic problems, no problems of aggressive nationalism, no conflicts with other countries, with an excellent geographical position, with great natural resources, and with the youngest population in Europe.
In fact, since 1991, Albania was included in the same group with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic countries in the treatment by the EU, and part, like them, of the same assistance program for restructuring and membership (PHARE Program ).
The rapid successes of the first economic liberalization reforms and the trumpeting of Albania at the time by the IMF as a successful model of economic transformation—it was the time when Albania recorded the highest economic growth in Europe for several years, in some years with double digits—e reinforced this expectation.
Meanwhile, Albania's strong desire to join Western alliances—Albania was, for example, the first ex-communist country to apply to become a member of NATO in 1992—was seen as a political guarantee that Albania would not stop on its journey towards Europe and the West.
But the subsequent progress showed that the expectations for Albania were exaggerated. Albania began to fall in the scale of EU enlargement priorities. Initially, it broke away from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, regrouping with the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in the EU treatment. When these countries advanced, it was grouped with the two Balkan countries that advanced immediately after breaking away from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia and Croatia.
After they also moved forward and became candidate countries, Albania was included under a new grouping—with a name made up just to look nice, the Western Balkans—with Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bosnia- Herzegovina. Even in this grouping, Albania is in the second row, as Serbia and Montenegro are years ahead in negotiations, while North Macedonia was kept in place by Greece for several years. Practically, we leave behind Kosovo and Bosnia as the last countries on the list of EU enlargement priorities.
This backwardness in the accession process, paradoxically, will come and become more visible now that we are negotiating accession. There may be many explanations and theories for our delays in European integration, but despite them I think there is one essential thing that has held us back: we have not yet created the right political and social culture to be part of the EU. Indeed, for us, European integration has been motivated by 'instrumental rationalism' rather than being driven by values: we have seen the EU pragmatically, as an instrument to achieve prosperity by a short path and the standards we cannot achieve, or do not want to achieve on our own. In other words, we love the EU to benefit, but not because we share the same social or political values with it.
Basically, the European Union is a community of values and laws, at the foundation of which are human rights and dignity, freedom, justice, pluralistic democracy, tolerance.
To embrace these values and achieve these social standards, there is no need to be part of the EU. Not being in the EU has not prevented us from achieving these values. The absence of the EU is not the source of the violation of human rights, especially the right to property, just as it is not the cause of the autocracy and the decline of democracy, the ubiquitous corruption, the inequality before the law that rule in Albania.
We do not want to work to achieve these values, we ask that the EU bypass them, and make us part of it, and thus we will benefit from the material and personal well-being that we think comes from membership. Meanwhile, the EU requires us to progress in embracing these values so that it can then join us.
There are those who think that the EU should become less strict in these standards, as it has done for other Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, from which we do not differ so much. But, ironically, because the EU was less strict in these cases and disappointed, it is now even stricter than before in its demands on political and social standards and criteria.
Therefore, I think that our negotiation process will be more European imposition than European-Albanian negotiation. For the first time we will have to behave like Europeans to become politically European. If we do not behave like Europeans, the membership negotiations will simply be a road that leads nowhere.
*This article is part of the series of articles "Media and European Integration", of the
Albanian Media Institute, in the framework of the Transition Promotion Program of the Czech Republic.