Despite the immense problems with organized crime, corruption, and the rule of law, Prime Minister Edi Rama has once again tried to shift the blame to the EU for not opening the accession negotiations with Albania.
In an interview with journalist Jack Parrock of Euronews, Prime Minister Rama trotted out several last-resort arguments, asking rhetorically whether “you need a conflict to be rewarded” by being admitted to the EU.
He also stated that not opening accession negotiations with Albania would be “harmful” to the region, and create a “grey zone” in the Western Balkans where “other agendas can prevail out of disarray, out of disenchantment, out of disillusion.”
These arguments are nothing new. In July 2015, Rama stated that “if the EU is not able to show up in the way that is expected, there will be a huge space for radical Islam.”
In 2016, the Russians were added to the mix:
If we want to have a secure and stable European Union and with it a secure Europe, it’s not good if there are holes. In addition, we shouldn’t forget that there are also other, third, actors, who are playing their game and who could profit if the EU leaves a vacuum there. I’m talking about Russia, but I’m also talking about radical Islam.
Prime Minister Rama is pandering here to rightwing populist discourse in the EU, hoping they will rise to his cause. When those same right-wing forces started to argue against opening accession negotiations with Albania, he shifted the blame for his lack of success precisely to the “internal problem” of rightwing populism in the EU.
This position is inherently contradictory: if you count on the EU’s fear for Russia, Islamophobia, and racism, you cannot at the same time accuse the EU of anti-Albanian racism.
All of these threats and warnings were made, however, under the assumption that the EU would admit the Western Balkans, in particular, North Macedonia and Albania “en bloc,” that is, at the same time. However, over the last few months, the EU’s resolve to do so has weakened, as North Macedonia has provided the necessary “tangible results” through the name-change agreement with Greece and the implementation of the Prespa Agreement.
Meanwhile, Albania has lagged behind with the justice reform, which has devolved into a sad caricature of ad hoc, sui generis legislative fixes, while the country has been thrown into a deep Constitutional crisis involving illegal local elections, a parliamentary boycott, a fully collapsed justice system, and an attempt by the government to fire the President.
At the same time, organized crime and cannabis production are still on the rise, leading to serious concerns in several EU countries, including the Netherlands.
As a result, there seems to be a growing consensus among EU countries that North Macedonia has made more progress and stands a better chance to have accession negotiations opened in October during the European Council summit.
This threatens the foundations of Rama’s propaganda, which seeks all causes for Albania’s stymied integration path outside his own government. He is also clearly aware of this. In June, North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski tweeted that “The biggest problem now [for opening EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia] is the decoupling with Albania,” to which Rama immediately responded:
President [Stevo Pendarovski] implicitly favours “decoupling from Albania”? Strange to hear this, especially when one considers the key contribution of Albania and Albanians in our friendly neighbour’s state democratic developments and European path. Doesn’t sound right nor practical frankly!
The problem for Prime Minister Rama is that at the moment the EU will decide to open negotiations with North Macedonia and not with Albania, he will no longer have the possibility of blaming the “internal” problems or supposed “anti-Albanianism” of the EU.
North Macedonia has a large Albanian minority, and recent constitutional changes made Albanian an official language next to Macedonian. Once Albanian is decoupled from North Macedonia (the chances of which are not at all that clear), Rama will be faced with the reality of the mafia state he has created, deprived of any geostrategic of “EU-internal” excuse.
He will then also have to face the fact that whereas his predecessors (and political enemies) accomplished NATO membership, EU candidacy, and integration into the Schengen Zone, he has nothing to show for.
This does not mean that the EU is making the right decision by not opening the negotiations. As I have argued elsewhere, the EU faces no good options, mainly due to its own failed enlargement policies of the Juncker Commission, while a coherent geostrategic outlook is sorely lacking.
Perhaps the new European Commission will prove wiser in its approach, but until then the isolation of Albania within the enlargement process will only increase, and at some point, Rama will run out of excuses.