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Albania skeptical of EU chief’s enlargement efforts – EURACTIV.fr

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As European Council chief Charles Michel called for a new deadline for European Union enlargement, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he appreciated the gesture, but it could take much longer that.

After years of stagnation and loss of confidence in the accession process on the part of several member states, enlargement has received some impetus from the EU in recent months. Particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also in the run-up to the European elections in the summer of 2024 and the American elections scheduled for next fall.

At the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, which took place on Monday, Michel called for setting a new deadline for EU enlargement, namely 2030.

“As we prepare the future EU agenda, we must also set clear objectives. I believe that we must be ready, on both sides, to develop in 2030. This means that the next multi-year budget should also include these objectives. It is very ambitious but necessary. This shows that we are serious. This will create momentum,” he said.

Michel added that it was time for the EU to deliver on its promises, referring to the years many countries spent languishing in the bloc’s waiting room.

He said enlargement would be a key topic at the next EU summit, particularly the return of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the agenda and the opening of negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.

Rama, however, was not so optimistic.

Thanking Michel for suggesting a new deadline, he explained that the process is not as simple as simply moving the EU’s goals, and he called for reform.

“We need not only the necessary reforms and criticism, but also the most constant support, and I am not only talking about the financial point of view, but also about the access of our companies to the market,” he said. declared.

Rama added that although the EU has been discussing infrastructure for many years, concrete investments in the region have come from China, the “Arabs” and the United States.

What has been happening all these years in these countries is that on the one hand, through the Berlin process, we have talked about infrastructure and how to finance projects, on the other hand, infrastructure is built by the Americans, the Chinese and the Arabs,” he added.

He then explained how, during 50 years of communist rule, Albania was completely cut off from the rest of the world. The country has become the most pro-European and pro-American in the world, but this is not enough for enlargement.

“I always knew that by working for free for 50 years against the West, Enver Hoxha made us more pro-European and more pro-American than anyone else. It will take another 50 years after the fall of communism for us to no longer be pro-European and pro-Western.”

We have 20 more years of Euro-optimism and I hope that by then you will have kept your promise,” Rama said.

His comments mark a slight change in tone from previous ones which called on the EU to deliver on its promises as soon as possible, but this is not the first time Rama has called for EU reform.

In an interview with EURACTIV in 2018, Rama said: “I don’t think it’s reasonable to set a deadline. I completely agree with Macron that we must first reform the EU before continuing with enlargement.”

He added: “Europe needs the Balkans to the same extent that the Balkans need Europe, to address the problems of security, territorial cohesion and border control. Leaving the Balkans aside would amount to creating a gray zone in the middle of Europe, which could find itself under foreign influence. And that would obviously not benefit Europe.”

Then, in July 2022, he said the EU was outdated and needed to be changed, and compared EU membership to a wife. “We wait for the bride to come from Brussels, but in a year, two years, three years, she has never come. If she comes to marry us without music and immediately in bed and having children, let her come.

“Of course I’m joking, but imagine you wanted to get married and the bride never showed up.”

He also told EURACTIV ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit in 2022 that enlargement is not a exam that can be cheated on and that countries must redouble their efforts to make progress.

“We must not forget that the integration process is an individual and merit-based process. We must complete the homework criteria, and this is not an exam for cheating. Even if the professors are very inclined to give you a way out. It is in your best interest to pass this exam,” Rama said.

He also criticized EU financial aid, saying it has become clear that the bloc no longer meets the region’s needs and that is why the Open Balkan initiative was launched.

“Today it is clear that the EU needs us as much as the EU… This is why we started moving in this direction by proactively cooperating with each other as as a country, and in particular with North Macedonia, to achieve this. common goal,” he said.

Michel, however, made it clear that reform had to come from both sides, but especially from the EU.

“Not reforming on our side before the next enlargement would be a fundamental error,” Michel said. “It makes sense for new member states to join a well-functioning and efficient Union,” he said.

But it should be done quickly, even if it is an ambitious project.

“It’s ambitious, but necessary. “It shows we’re serious,” adding a timetable would give the bloc more credibility.

Rama said he looked forward to Michel’s comments materializing “into real progress.”

(Alice Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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