During a speech at the European Summer School, organized by the EU Delegation in Tirana, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati stated that 2018 will be the “decisive year” for the opening of EU accession negotiations:
In spring 2018 the EU will discuss the enlargement package and in case of a decision for us, which we hope will be positive as regards the opening of accession negotiations. The period of one and half years ahead of us will be decisive.
2018 is particularly important in the face of the reshuffle of the European Commission in 2019, when a new European Commission will be installed. Though the current European Commission had stated that no enlargement will take place during its mandate, it is still unclear whether the mandate of a future EC will comprise further enlargement:
This is a critical moment, especially the next 2–3 years, to understand what the vision of the EU will be regarding the Western Balkans, as it is the beginning of a new EU budget cycle. […]
It is now clear that the ball is in our court and we need to further reinforce the national consensus and political dialogue in a way that European integration is not merely rhetoric, but is also what we want to consider to be our only national project.
Recently, the EU has urged the establishment of the Western Balkans Economic Area in the context of the so-called “Berlin Process,” which would accelerate economic integration between the different countries as a preliminary to EU membership. Minister Bushati explicitly stated that this Economic Area, however, can never substitute for EU membership.
None of [the Balkan] countries has considered the Berlin Process as an alternative for EU membership and have not considered any form of regional cooperation to be an alternative to the EU accession process. […]
The dynamics of regional collaboration and especially the Serbian–Albanian relations have developed and if there were no Berlin Process it would be difficult to have that type of political collaboration.