-A note on the last Western Balkans and European Union summit-
The meeting of the EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, 23 June, took place against the backdrop of Putin’s bloody aggression war. They were right showing solidarity with Ukraine, the current victim and Moldova the next potential one by granting both of them the status of candidate for membership in the Union. But a wartime European Council would necessarily have dealt with closing ranks in front of the enemy.
The only wayward state within the EU orbit that has rejected the sanctions against Putin’s Russia and has reconfirmed her friendship with the aggressor has been Serbia; the country has been negotiating EU membership since eight years and has closed several chapters; it is already treaty bound to align herself with the EU’s foreign and security policy. The country’s president Mr. Vučić however hasn’t also adopted any EU measures against Putin’s past transgressions.
Strangely there wasn’t much fuss about this in the Council meeting or in the preceding summit of EU leaders and their Western Balkans counterparts. And Vučić got help from someone who wouldn’t generally be expected to be an ally on this: the Prime Minister of Albania.
First in an attention deflecting move Vučić proposed to the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia to boycott the upcoming summit as that there was little chance for the latter countries to get a date for the start of EU membership talks. This EU decision has been due in the last two years was still blocked by a Bulgarian veto unrelated to the EU membership process. How such a boycott would be helpful to find a solution to the problem remains a mystery. And why Serbia should propose such a course of action to her neighbours needs explaining.
However Rama, the Albanian PM, was quick to announce that he would agree with the boycott. Such an unprecedented gesture became the talk of the day in the mainstream media; it continued to make an echo even after the boycott was called off the day after. Along with the Bulgarian veto it sharpened the sense of drama in Brussels and left little room to discuss the pressing issue of a possible fifth column in their midst.
Than in the Western Balkans summit Rama, according to his published speech, and in the following press conference with Vučić, went to great lengths to justify the Serbian position towards Russia. Referring overstretched interpretation of historical and economic facts Rama went further in criticizing the West for its pressure on Serbia on this matter.
Such a stance is a novelty in post Communist Albania, where leaders, supported by public opinion, have always aligned themselves with the EU and the West in security matters. It comes in the wake of the controversial Open Balkans initiative championed by Belgrade and Tirana but disowned by the other three states of the Western Balkans. The initiative that is considered an “unhealthy competition to the EU integration” by European Commission officials has received recently the rhetorical support of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Both Rama and Vučić have been consolidating their personal power over the last decade dismantling the constitutional checks, muzzling the media and politicizing the state bureaucracy. Scandals of grand corruption and collusion with the underworld have abounded. The latest twist adds, at least for Albania, an additional concern that needs to be tackled. The re energized political opposition in Tirana has been denouncing the suspect rapprochement with Belgrade as they saw it being done at the expense of Kosovo. There will be more on their plate for the weeks and months to come.
Genc Pollo is the former Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Media and also of European Integration, former Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Minister of Telecom & IT.