Western European countries have complained about overstay and other breaches by Albanian nationals and are seeking the suspension of visa liberalization. Which means that Albania’s biggest and most tangible achievement this decade, visa-free travel to Europe, is being seriously jeopardized.
1- Plus ça change with Brussels
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Albania and other Western Balkan countries. Her main political message was that the future of our countries is within the European Union. Regarding Tirana and Skopje, she said that she was personally determined that the EU intergovernmental conference for the opening of accession negotiations should be convened as soon as possible, preferably within this year.
The President of the Commission promised that the path towards this common future will be outlined at the Brdo summit, where leaders of the European Union will get together with their peers from the Balkans.
In parallel with these statements, Reuters reported that EU member states had not agreed to guarantee to the Western Balkan countries the prospect of membership at the Brdo summit.
The two-page letter of invitation to the summit, signed by the President of the European Council Charles Michel, in its last paragraphs informs that on the second day, October 6, they will talk about the Balkans, the need for stability in the region, its social-economic development after the pandemic, strategic cooperation, etc. But no word on EU enlargement, or the future membership of our countries. Meanwhile, for Slovenian Prime Minister Janša (Slovenia currently holds the six-month Presidency of the Union), EU enlargement in the Balkans was the first and only objective of this summit initiated by him.
Ultimately, the word enlargement made it into the declaration of the summit.
The Albanian public, not widely familiar with the institutional architecture and decision-making powers within the EU, has been seeing confusion in the attitudes of European politicians for several years. But even the Albanian government, which is supposed to be well-informed about these things, looked ridiculous when in June 2018, it celebrated precisely the opening of negotiations with champagne and by handing out medals to its own officials.
For years, we have seen from the European Commission, part of the European Parliament and part of the member states a positive, but essentially lavish and embellished assessment of the criteria of democracy and the rule of law. The rest is more objective in assessment and more rigorous in attitude.
And for years, I have been arguing that an objective assessment and a rigorous but correct and fair attitude would help a European Albania (and a European Balkans) more with regards to the Copenhagen Criteria: freedom, rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The lavish approach is easily turned to propaganda, the problems remain unresolved and certainly reappear later, even more aggravated (as has happened with post-Milosevic Serbia, which has regressed especially in these seven years of negotiations with Brussels or even with some EU member states).
All of these issues will continue to be discussed in the coming months and years regardless of whether the intergovernmental conference manages to be held before Christmas. Which is desirable anyway.
2- The Risk from Albanians’ unrestrained emigration
In addition to the EU members’ reluctance to ensure enlargement in the Balkans, another piece of news drew attention: a good number of member states, including those that are traditionally pro-enlargement, had raised concerns about the abuse of free movement by Balkan citizens. According to Germany’s reporting to the European authorities the problem (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being very bad and 10 least bad) was Albania and Serbia ranked respectively 2 and 7.
Other Western European countries have also complained about overstay and other breaches by Albanian nationals and are seeking the suspension of visa liberalization. When the Netherlands in April 2019 demanded exactly this for Albania, it was rejected, because it was the lone voice. This is now being demanded by a considerable number of member states; which means that Albania’s biggest and most tangible EU achievement of the last decade, namely visa-free travel to Europe, is being seriously jeopardized.
In 2014, four years after the visa liberalization, the wave of mass emigration from Albania to Germany, France, began.
At that time, the then Interior Minister (and currently defendant for drug dealing) Saimir Tahiri and Prime Minister Edi Rama “explained” to us in Parliament that it was the Albanian emigrants settled for years in Greece, who after the financial crisis there, started this second exile.
Rama has never apologized for this sordid lie. But later he justified emigration from Albania as an irresistible social need; even in the face of reprimands from Europeans. It continued like this even when the numbers of Albanian emigrants exceeded is absolute and relative values of every other European country, from the Baltics to Bulgaria. In fact, the EU approved the abolition of visas only on guarantees that there would be no avalanche of migrants, while satisfying the needs of the labor market legally.
It is likely that the Rama government does not have the will to create hope for a good future in the homeland through good governance. Maybe the government does not care that society is losing professionals and the middle class. It may even have calculated its electoral advantage. But maybe Albanians also need a good shaking to react to the devastating hemorrhage.
3- …and of the Bangladeshis
The visit of the Minister of Interior of Austria Karl Nehammer to Tirana, simultaneously with Mrs. Von der Leyen, was perceived as a routine. It was about cooperation in the fight against crime and illegal immigration, especially from the Middle East and Central Asia.
But the Austrian media revealed another interesting detail: the problem in Albania is that masses of people from these areas come legally into Albania as they don’t need a visa. And then, according to the Austrian Police investigating their cell phone data, they reappear illegally in Austria. And some of them bring concerns about public safety, crime and terrorism. Two years ago, Rama claimed that he would solve the lack of labor force in the country with hard-working “Bangladeshis”.
Meanwhile, there is local evidence that those Arabs or Asians who legally set foot here and were initially employed disappeared after a few months; most probably because they headed for rich Europe. Perhaps Rama did this influenced by the globalist ideas of his mentor in New York, who fights for a world without borders and migration without obstacles; perhaps Rama was invested in a genuine human trafficking scheme with “businessmen” around him willing to make quick money.
In any case, it is a failure of the “working Bangladeshis” initiative. And one more problem that Europe gets from our government. As well as a risk that Albanians will start queuing for visas like Albanians from Kosovo are currently doing. The latter one for those who have forgotten what it was like before 2010.