The European Union must say ‘Yes’ to #Albania

| June 27, 2018

I’m in Brussels, and its early morning. I’m standing on the sidewalk at the Rue de la Loi, between two large buildings. On my left is the European Commission, in the building that erects stately on my right is located the European Council. Two of the most important bodies leading the Union of over 507 million people living from the Iberian Peninsula up to Finland, are just here before me, in this street, facing each other as if they were talking, writes Blendi Salaj.

The buildings project power, especially when you see people rushing towards them on Monday morning. It is the beginning of an important week. The Council Summit that will discuss issues that have shaken the solidarity of the Union. Things have changed and these days are not exactly the continuation of good times. There are security concerns; Brexit is going on alongside a crisis of millions of migrants from Syria and other countries in conflict, aiming for new lives in the European Union. Member countries are not as happy as they used to be with the prosperity that comes along with being into the EU; populist forces with nationalist platforms have gained ground and are now raising their voices higher.

Germany calls for a joint migration policy. Refugees entering the EU must be distributed fairly around the continent, Germany cannot welcome them all on its own. Salvini’s Italy wants to close its borders. France wants to reform the entire Union. The Netherlands is sceptical about enlargement. The agenda includes the giant issues of migration, terrorism, economy and the monetary union reform. Enlargement will also be discussed this week and it will be decided on whether there will be a ‘Yes’ for Albania and Macedonia for the opening of the negotiations or a rejection, generated perhaps from the need to focus on all these other issues.

It’s been weeks that the news editions in Tirana are opening every evening with news from Brussels and other chancelleries, but here nothing has yet been decided. A ‘Yes’ for Albania and Macedonia would be an extraordinarily positive signal for the citizens of both countries. The European Commission has expressed its support with the positive recommendation it gave a few months ago, now all it takes is the vote of the Council. Most of the countries in the Council are in favour of the opening of the negotiations, especially those countries that have gone through this very same process a few years ago, perhaps because they know better than any other the transforming character of this journey.

Albania still has a lot of troubles, of course, and the justice reform has just begun to give the first results. Most of the people who belong to jail are still roaming free (just a little longer), but even ordinary citizens find that they have lost their smiles and feel threatened by the burden of the faults they have committed. Those who “did the law” yesterday, today are short of breath, resigning and wanting to leave Albania, the country that until yesterday was under their thumb. A new system is rising and the Albanian model is being seen as something that must be replicated elsewhere too.

The effects of the reform can be noticed. The scoundrel opponents of the reform are not calm. Whether with the majority or with the opposition, corrupt politicians equally hate the reform. They voted for it unwillingly, hoping to find a way out, but now that they cannot stop the reform, they feel the panic. The reform was achieved only with the support of and pressure from the international community; therefore this support should continue and take it to the end. There are many who do not want Albania to follow this path, but they are very few compared to millions of citizens waiting patiently for its results and for the integration of the country. Politicians don’t, but the Albanian citizens certainly deserve this new start. There are gangsters in Albania, as anywhere, but few people are as friendly as Albanians. The country is full of wonderful people, passionate artists, cities and towns preserved like jewels for thousands of years. Albania is not the gangs. Albania is each of our households. It is our grandparents, our parents and our children.

The opening of negotiations means stricter monitoring for Albania, leaving less and less room for politicians of the kind that our citizens repulse. There will be fewer opportunities for abuse and corruption by officials, and more opportunities for a dignified life for the Albanian people; higher standards of education, healthcare, employment and business. It will not happen overnight, but through deeper reforms the country will change. Albanian citizens love the kind of life they live in the European Union, and that’s why many have made their homes and raised their families somewhere within the EU.

That’s why Albania needs a ‘Yes’ this week, here in Brussels. There should be no refusal, however polite, such as a ‘Not now’ or ‘Perhaps later’, as we say to a child that hinders us from working. Because a ‘No’ is a ‘No’ whatever you call it and it hurts a lot. Albanian citizens are European from their birth, and they want the EU integration probably more than anyone else. Rejection means frustration and avoidance. Albanians would remain behind their neighbours, and unjustly so, opening the doors to nationalist opportunists. It would be a crazy bet with the work that has been done so far.

I imagine Albania like a man on the platform of a railway station, with a suitcase in hand, waiting for a train to Brussels. It has been waiting for years, therefore it is important to take that train tonight and start the journey. It will take years to reach the destination, but luckily, the passenger will always be in motion, leaving the last station forever behind. On the way he will be filled by the images of new cities on the way. He will discover his own in them and change the way a traveler is changed by his experiences. Years later, when he steps off that train, he will be unrecognizable to some, this is how much he will change. A strong ‘Yes’ is needed this week for Albania and Macedonia. Not to satisfy the inner balances in these small countries, but because a ‘Yes’ for the Western Balkans is a ‘Yes’ for the entire union.

Blendi Salaj is a journalist and radio talk show host from Tirana, Albania.



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Category: A Frontpage, Albania, EU, Politics

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