After a majority in Dutch Parliament yesterday approved a motion filed by four MPs from four different political parties from the middle, left, and right of the political spectrum to ask the Dutch government to request the European Commission to apply the “emergency break” procedure to temporarily halt visa-free travel of Albanians to the Schengen zone, the Albanian government has launched a broad and frontal attack on the Dutch Parliament.
According to MP Taulant Balla, Chief Whip of the Socialist Majority in Parliament, one of the Dutch MPs who filed the motion, Madeleine van Toorenburg (Christian Democrats), was a “close friend” of opposition leader Lulzim Basha.
“First of all we have to understand that the Parliament of Holland functions different from ours; each MP has their own ideas. The MP who proposed the motion is a close friend of Lulzim Basha. The populists use every means to denigrate the Albanian nation.”
The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs released a statement with a similar argument:
“Unfortunately the electoral climate in the Netherlands has had its own impact and although we regret the insertion of Albania into domestic party agendas, there is no doubt that beyond the European elections horizon the facts will prevail over electoral cliches.”
Acting Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Gent Cakaj reiterated the same claim in an interview: “The decision taken by the Dutch Parliament is politically motivated.” Even though it is true that in Dutch Parliament any MP can file a motion, it was adopted by the majority of Parliament with broad support from five parties: CDA, VVD, CU, SP, and PVV, who hold 91 out of 150 seats. So even if this is a “politically motivated” decision, the great majority of Parliament approved it.
MP Balla also made a second claim, related to the actual crime rates of Albanians in the Netherlands, namely that the Polish were “20 times” more criminal than the Albanians:
“As regards this motion: It’s not the Albanians who are the problematic criminal group in the Netherlands. The criminality of the Albanians who live in Holland is 20 times less than of the Poles.”
This argument was echoed by government-aligned media outlet Top Channel, which speaks of the “unfound [sic] prejudice” of Dutch Parliament against Albanians. Of course, this completely depends on how you wish to interpret the statistics. According to the Central Statistics Bureau (CBS) in the Netherlands, in 2018 470 Albanians were arrested against 10,320 Poles. This, however, includes all kinds of crime, from drunk driving and vandalism to murder and international drug trafficking. The main concern expressed by Dutch Parliament related to the growth in Albanian-linked drug trafficking, a segment of crime that not only is very violent, but also has a much great social and economic impact than, for example, drunk driving.
If we look at the numbers from this perspective, 28% of Albanians arrested were involved in drug trafficking, whereas only 5% of the Poles was. This is a significant difference, and shows you cannot just “cherry-pick” the number to suit your discourse, as the government is currently doing.
What is worse, is that the government chooses to completely ignore any of the concerns voiced by the Dutch Parliament. The MPs who filed the motion were very well aware of the fact that their action would not lead to the actual suspension of the visa exemption, but could provide a “powerful signal” to the Albanian political class to take the issues of international drug trafficking more seriously. For example, the government has consistently tried to obstruct investigations into the drug-trafficking connections of high-level Socialist politicians.
Instead, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has decided to not only ignore the worries expressed by Dutch Parliament, but to hide behind the European Commission:
“[I]t is the European Commission that will examine the request and provide a response. Based on objective facts and according to official figures, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania is confident that this resolution cannot find support in the European Commission since, in the case of Albania, none of the criteria that would lead to the application of the temporary suspension mechanism are fulfilled.
First of all, this is factually incorrect. A simple majority of EU states can force the European Commission to enact the emergency break without prior examination by the Commission. Furthermore, this argument fails to take into account the fact that there is an already rising Euro-skepticism in the Netherlands. The fascist party that recently won the provincial elections is openly Euro-skeptic. Expressing the hope that the European Commission can override the “prejudiced” Dutch Parliament that tries to protect Dutch security is a severe tactical error, playing into the hands of precisely those that want Albania not to be part of the EU.
The Albanian government also fails to understand that this will only exacerbate the attitude of Dutch Parliament against the opening of EU accession negotiations in June. The arrogance displayed by MP Balla, Minister Cakaj, and, in fact, the entire government, only shows their incapability of understanding the basics of international diplomacy.
Not only have they considerably increased the chances of Dutch Parliament vetoing the opening of accession negotiations in June, as it did in 2018. They also fail to realize that after the EU elections in May, the entire policy of the European Commission toward the Balkans might change. Indeed, it may become much less eager to open negotiations than the current one. By showing no respect for the opinions and concerns of other Parliaments in Europe – much like the way in which Eurocrats often denigrate Albanian Parliament – the government of Edi Rama has shown itself to be unfit to be welcomed into the EU.