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Albania and the EU membership Xhensila Gaba

Course: Composition II Time: Mondays 9.00 -12.00 Instructor: Dr. Adam Ehrlich Date: November 16, 2009 1

Albania is a post-communist country and now after more than 20 years from the Soviet Bloc secession, Albania is aspiring to enter the EU, which is one of the most democratic and developed unions, totally the contrary of what Albania belonged to the past. Albania has knocked on the doors of EU, starting her long and difficult journey towards the EU accession. However, only the willingness and the great dream of the Albanian people to be part of the most developed part of Europe is not enough for their wish to come true. Through these 20 years, many efforts and progressive steps have been done in fulfilling the standards of being a European country. But still there are some elements that hold Albania back from its final step. History has played unfairly with Albania and the consequences of such unfair decisions taken by the international community through years are still affecting Albania, making it difficult for her to overcome the impact that history marked. Nowadays the entrance to the EU is considered as the main goal, but also the most important and difficult challenge for Albania. The post-1990 political campaigns, after the monism, have never forgotten to mention the slogan “Albania into the EU,� emphasizing their political efforts in the accomplishment of all Albanians’ dream. Yet, after 20 years, the circumstances are not the same in many aspects. First, it is not the same enthusiasm that was in the early democratic years. Second, the EU has restricted its expansionist will recently. The EU was created in 1958, and now there are 27 member states in it. Albania and other countries in the Western Balkan have been left out from this union, even though they are 2

part of the European continent. Many factors have influenced this, mainly the irony of the destiny. The future of Albania is closely related with the membership into the EU, because many reforms in economy and politics are taken in convergence with the EU established standards. Albania has already made its first steps, for example, she officially applied for the membership in 2009, basing in the signing of the SAA (Stabilization and Association Agreement) in 2006. Moreover, Albania is encouraged by the EU in its further reforms in order to change its status from candidate to member (BBC News, 2009). Albania is one of the last countries in the European continent catching the train with the destination EU, even though Albanian people were among the first post-communist nations desiring it. This lead us in thinking that there are still some factors that make Albania distant from its final destination. The EU, even though there is a lower will between old members in welcoming new members, has decided to enlarge by deepening and not just widening the union. On 1 May 2004, the European Union welcomed 10 more Member States: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was the fifth time that the EU accepted new members, bringing the total from 15 to 25 Member States. On 1 January 2007, this latest step of enlargement came to its end with the accession of two more countries, Bulgaria and Romania (“Five years of�, 2009). This means that the doors of the EU are open even for South-Eastern Europe in order to complete the whole puzzle of European continent. The scope of this paper is analyzing the path of Albania towards the unavoidable future: membership in the EU. The analyses will focus first on what the European characteristics of Albania are, meaning to what extent can Albania be considered European. Then the paper will focus on the elements and factors holding back the membership, including political and economical reasons. Then, it will have an overall view to the advantages and also disadvantages 3

for Albania entering the EU, because it is the time for Albania to be more critical and selective on what she wants. What has Albania to lose if she joins the EU? Finally it will list some of the steps Albania has done towards its one-way journey to Europe. What are the current relations between EU and Albania? At the end, this paper will try to answer with arguments the question of when Albania will join the EU. First, let us try to analyze Albania from the European perspective. Can Albania be considered European? Does it deserve to enter this union? Geographically, Albania is located in the Balkan Peninsula, part of the European continent. But still the physical framework is the less important element in being part of the EU, because the values are those that make the borders. This leads us in the shift of our argument from the geography to political, economic and social values. What about the cultural identity? Albania owns the Indo-European linguistic features, meaning that Albania has the common linguistic heritage with European countries. However, Albania has a lot of differences compared with the European states’ norms and mentality. The reasons for such divergences can be grouped in two parts: history plus the Balkan dimension. History can be considered as the main actor deciding for fate of Albania. Albania has been separated from the European countries twice, first by the Turkish Empire six centuries ago, in whose possession Albania stayed for 500 years, and the second one after WWII, when Albania became part of the Soviet Bloc for almost 45 years (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.32). So Albania suffered the same fate as many others Western Balkan countries. But these detachments influenced the political and administrative organization of Albania, and moreover, it marked our mentality and norms from being different from the other part of Western Europe. We have to keep in mind that the cultural integration is the most difficult to be achieved compared to political (liberal democracy) and economic integration (market economy). This cultural gap 4

influences even the other reforms as far as the reforms are supported by the will of the people. However, the cultural gap is narrowing because of globalization, which in fact seems to be an advantage for Albania in fulfilling its purposes. The young generation seems to be more open to the European culture. Albania shares some common features with other Balkan countries, such as Greece, or even some Mediterranean features, such as southern Italy, Spain, and Portugal (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.32). If these countries have been successfully integrated into the EU, then Albania can claim to be part of it as well as its siblings. Now I would like to focus more on the religious feature of Albania. Albania has the majority of population Muslims with almost 70 % belonging to this religion (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.33). As far as the EU is considered to be a Christian club, the religious part has been the most debated one among the other members in order to expand so much the union and embrace even Muslim countries. The strong rejection that intellectual and elite countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Britain made to the membership of Turkey into the EU mainly for it being 99% Muslim, made Albania think and analyze if she deserves the same fate as Turkey for being in majority Muslim. Now it is appropriate to draw a parallel line between Albania and Turkey in order to compare religiously these two states. Officially, Albania together with Bosnia has one of the two largest Muslim populations. However, Albania has a small population, and in absolute terms, the number of Muslim community is about 70% of total, almost 2.4 million, which is less than the Muslim population of France with approximately 5.98 million (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.33). Now most of the European countries fear that if they open the doors for Muslim countries, they will impose their demands on the law. Thus the law will be influenced by the Sharia. In the case of Turkey, it is a secular state, but a Muslim society. For Albania the secularism if found both in the state and the society. During the Ottoman Empire 5

invasion, Albanians have been forced to change their religion from Christians to Muslims, which shows that the Muslim religion is not a tradition in Albania. Moreover, during the communist regime, Albanians were prohibited to practice their religion. Churches and mosques were destroyed. Thus, 50 years of communism made Albanians more tolerant towards religion. Moreover, most of the Albanian Muslims belong to the Sunni branch, which is considered as the most liberal one, more open to mentality or dress and way of living, so the Islam in Albania has never been strict. We cannot talk neither for Islamization nor fundamentalism. The most important value of Albania is considered to be the religious tolerance. People are open to collaboration with other religions and respect and celebrate them all. Now another important difference between Turkey and Albania lies in their neighbors. Turkey is surrounded (meaning not just sharing the borders) with states such as Syria, Iran, or other places that can be a threat to the EU, but on the other hand Albania is neighbor to Italy and Greece, which are already EU members. So Albania is not the same case as Turkey and the members have reasons why not to strictly object to the entrance of Albania because of its religion. However, the EU has to give more importance and support the values that a country with the candidate status offers, instead of paying too much attention to the historic, geographical or political aspect. Now moving on to the other point and try to identify the factors that are holding back the EU membership of Albania. I would like to focus on two aspects, which are the economic and political conditions of Albania. After 20 years of transition, until the time joining the democratic governance, still Albania looks far from the Copenhagen criteria, and unfortunately the main reason has been the lacking of the political will to open for reforms. Now what is the political situation of Albania? The Copenhagen criteria require that the countries wishing to join the EU should first guarantee democracy through the stability of institutions and the rule of law 6

(Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.40). Up to now, Albania has successfully built a democratic infrastructure in terms of procedural democracy, but the political climate seems to hold back the complete political democratization by many political conflicts and crises. If we want to analyze how close Albania is to the liberal democracy, it is necessary to take a look to some of the institutions. First, elections are the most important event in measuring the level of democracy in a country. The elections have to be free and fair. Sadly, Albania does not remember any truly democratic elections since 1992, when there was a high participation and the Democratic Party won the elections. Since then, the elections had been highly contested, full of technical and political problems. As Miranda Vickers points out, “Elections are one of the ever-present obstacles to normality in post-communist Albania” (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.41). Many international organizations such as OSCE or ODHIR, have observed the elections in Albania, and according to their reports, Albania has never conducted free and fair elections. First problems are faced in the pre-election period, where the campaigns of the political party create a very tense situation. They are filled with empty rhetoric and personal attacks, rather than focusing on the goals or intensions. Then on the day of the election many incidents happen, such as ballot box stuffing, fictitious voters’ registrations, incidents at polling stations, as well as pressure on voters, candidates and party supporters. After elections, the losing parties or coalitions refuse to recognize the results and apply to boycotts of the parliament, risking the legitimacy of the government (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.42). Another problem is the selection of the candidates. I would like to analyze the class of politicians, because they represent the people who are supposed to work for the reforms and further integration of Albania. The statement of Doris Pack, member of the European parliament, served me as an incentive to analyze the political class in Albania. Here is what she says, “There are some very important 7

people at the top of Albanian government, who are simply not interested in getting Albania closer to Europe. Politicians should understand that it’s up to them and only to them to ensure integration of their country into Europe� (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.241). The candidates for representative in the parliament are not selected through a fair and competitive process, and the persons who run the offices do not enjoy the respect of their community and often do not represent values and integrity. The selection of candidates is degenerating into a dirty business between the candidates and the party chairman. Money seems to be the most important criteria for choosing the candidates. Those who can fund their own campaign are given priority. Also there is even the possibility that many persons with suspicious economic and morally dubious pasts come forward to run in elections. Their victory can ensure that the organized crime becomes part of the majority in parliament and it can be institutionalized within the state leadership. This will favor the conditions for Albania to produce and export much more crime. Another factor that is influencing the elections negatively are the Albanian citizens. Free participation is an essential element in democracy, but Albanians are not totally free in doing that. Because of high levels of poverty, and lack of economic security, and because of the level of understanding the voting process, there must be a manipulation of the citizens. The vote of a poor person can be bought, the vote of a criminal goes to a corrupted politician, and an ignorant person can be easily misled by the propaganda machine or brainwashed. So we face the problems of manipulation of masses by elites and blackmail of these elites by the criminal organizations. Also, some other factors slowing down the integration of Albania into the EU are corruption and organized crime, which can be considered as serious barriers for Albania. In Albania, corruption has became an indispensable way for obtaining things, contaminating all levels of state administration, public services, taxation agencies, judicial, health care and 8

educational system. It is a widespread phenomenon, because, even though bribery is defined as a crime by the penal code, still corrupted individuals are rarely investigated and condemned. Thus, because the corruption is not punished morally or legally enough, Albania will still face a high development of bribery (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.153). According to an international survey that included data from the World Bank, 77% of Albanian companies bribe officials (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.152). The reasons for the widespread nature and the depth of organized crime in Albania are the absence of the rule of law, the absence of an effective police force and a functioning judiciary system, scarcity of jobs, the lack of opportunities to make a honest living. In the report of the task force of the stability pact, Albania is positioned first with 46 % of all human trafficking from South-Eastern Europe (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.136). Now I would like to focus on the economic situation. How far is the Albanian economy from the Copenhagen criteria? The economy is a prerequisite for a political stability. The second Copenhagen criteria is related to the existence of a functioning market economy, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the union. The centralized planned economy collapsed in1991, so the challenge to Albania was practically to build a competitive market economy starting from nothing. Doing that requires the incorporation of the principles of market liberalism, such as free and open markets, liberalization, privatization, free competition, labor market flexibility and minimal intervention from the state. To transform the system, the government must give importance to the privatization and trade liberation (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.60). Thus, the policy choice for Albania is more a western model of capitalist economy rather than a mixed mode, such as market socialism. This is challenging and 9

difficult, however, in a country with a strong tradition of state centralism and interventionism. Despite the fact that Albania has made progress by improving all its macro-economic indicators, still, there are many problems, such as the budget depends greatly on external financing, the private sector is weak and foreign direct investments are low. The weak functioning of market mechanisms has led to the prevalence of an ultra-free market economy, similar to anarchy, known as anarchic-capitalism, which is far from being a functional market economy. Part of the Albanian economy is even the informal economy. Its size is considered to be about 40-50%, whose main outputs are criminal activity, human trafficking, drug, smuggling and massive tax evasion; most of the businesses do not declare their real profit, because of taxation (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.61). Activating market mechanisms and institutions and the reduction of the informal sector are the current economic challenges. Other features influencing negatively the economy is the possession and control of the national wealth and the economic activity by a privileged minority through their political power. The economy is highly monopolized and the majority of the monopolies are linked with the politics. Albania collects less in tax revenue and social security contributions per capita compared to other countries in the region, even though its value added tax and contribution rates are among the highest. Also tax evasion and tax avoidance are a matter of concern. Then the financial sector is still a remote part of the Albanian economy, because the Albanian economy remains largely cash-driven and the majority of transaction and payments are done outside the banking system. According to the U.S. Department of State, “Banks do not yet play a central role in the Albanian economy, as most business cannot rely on banks for financing" (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.63). Now let us analyze what are some advantages of Albania entering the EU. The first benefit is the unification of the Albanian nation. The historical conditions have unfairly separated 10

the Albanians into different political states. Because of its strategic position in the Balkans, Albania has been a target for most of the other countries and their greedy policies. Actually Albanians were forced to live in divided states. From the Ottoman period to now, Albanians became citizens of five different states. The Albanians have not been able to live within one nation. Although England, France, Russia, Germany, Austria and the U.S. have at times changed their policies toward Albania, they have all either wished for the dissolution of Albania or approved rearrangements to that end. The speech of Bismarck is very significant, “Albania is just a geographical expression”. The only way of making possible the dream of all Albanians for living together within one state, is through their mutual membership to the EU. This organization will finally provide for the Albanians their coexistence without being constrained to borders. The idea of Greater Albania, meaning the unification of the entire Albanian nation, in response to the unjust decisions taken by the superpowers through years, is not possible, because it would destabilize the whole region generating further conflicts. Neighboring countries, such as Greece and Serbia fear the idea of Greater Albania, because they don’t want to lose their territories, which are strategic points in the peninsula. Nor do the great powers support the idea of a greater Albania because as it was mentioned above it would put in risk the balance of power in the whole continent and probably it would generate further conflicts in the Balkan. Kosovo now is declared independent, but yet The US, England, Germany, France and Italy recognize the limited sovereignty of Kosovo (Arslan, 2007). In this way they can both “manipulate” this small nation by keeping the appearance of helping, avoiding a forced unification with Albania. That is why all national symbols signifying Albanian reunification, including the previous Kosovan flag, have been replaced. This means that the greater Albania can be provisioned only in the light of a mutual accession in the EU. 11

The second advantage of EU membership is the free movement of people and capital. Regarding the movement of people, Albania migratory flows towards Europe and North America remain high. To ensure the free movement of people, Albania has undertaken the process of visa liberalization, which is supported by the EU. People in Albania would be free to move to other European countries, to decide in which place they want to live, to go abroad and visit their relatives without worrying about getting a visa. The free movement of capital will favor the trade between Albania and other countries because many of the taxes will be omitted. Thus, it will be easier for us to import goods with lower prices. The EU is Albania’s main trade partner representing about 74% of Albania’s total imports and around 85% of total export (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.67). From these percentages, we can judge that Albania is one of the countries that highly depend on the EU trade. The EU imports mainly manufactured products from Albania: textiles 28 % and agriculture products 8% (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.67). The EU member states are also important trading partners of Albania. Italy is the most important of Albania’s partner in terms of trade and FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) with an amount of 32.2% and Greece is the second with about 13.1% of total imports (CIA, 2008). Thus, the establishment of a network of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) between the countries of the regions on trade liberalization represents a major goal, because it will ease the mutual commercial relations between them. Albania has signed the agreements of a FTA with Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo. Albania’s conditions for the movement of goods, services and capital are relatively open to the foreign market. However, the lack of adequate administrative efficiency and wide spread corruption continue to have a negative impact on the implementations of these freedoms. Albania has large trade deficit (21, 5 % of GDP in 2004) as a result of increased imports and limited exports (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.67). 12

Despite the fact that the EU represents for Albania many benefits and provides solution to most of her problems, it will be necessary for the future of Albania not to neglect some of the disadvantages in being part of the Union. The most obvious disadvantage has to do with the structure of the Albanian economy itself and its integration into the EU economy. If Albania enters the EU, it will have to compete in the European and global market. But the economy of Albania is not yet ready to face the high speed of development in the European markets. Albania is a country that almost does not produce industrial goods and is characterized by low performance in agricultural sector. As a result, Albania has high levels of importing. Is Albania ready to compete in the European market? Is Albania ready to be part of the Euro-zone? Albania is in the path of transition to a more modern open-market economy. Economic growth has averaged around 5% over the last five years and inflation has been in the moderate terms (CIA, 2009). These figures show that the macroeconomic indicators have experienced desired levels, but still the real economy indicators show the contrary, which means high unemployment, high prices, and tax evasion. The main reason for this contradiction is because the growth of economy is backed up mostly by remittances (about 15% of the GDP) and criminal activity. Albania has an informal, and unreported, sector that may be as large as 50% of official GDP. The international crisis group ICG, claims that, “50 per cent of GDP is generated from illegal activities, such as trafficking and smuggling” (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.62). The government has taken measures to constraint violent crime by adopting a fiscal reform package with the purpose of reducing the large “gray” economy and attracting foreign investment. However, the inefficiency of the energetic infrastructure and the lack of ensuring security to private businesses cause foreign companies not to invest in Albania. The agricultural sector accounts for over half of employment, but represents only about one-fifth of GDP (CIA, 2009). 13

Lack of modern equipment, unclear property rights and the old-fashioned technology, make this sector not efficient in fulfilling the internal needs and moreover in competing in the EU market. Also, with help from EU funds, the government is taking steps to improve the poor national road and rail network, a long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth. Moreover, Albania does not have a stability exchange rate between lek and euro, thus if Albania enters the European market it will be very difficult in establishing exchanges in foreign currency, as far as the prices in Albania will be high and the standard of living will be the same as in Africa (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.74). Agriculture is the most import sector of the economy for Albania. Half of the population still makes their living from agriculture, which represents around 24 % of the country’ GDP, helping to reduce poverty and unemployment (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p.69). Albanian agriculture, however, remains underdeveloped and inefficient, physical infrastructure is poor and not yet able to respond adequately to the internal needs of the country. Land is being left uncultivated, because of the lack of the younger labor force. Despite its rich agricultural land and favorable climate, Albania imports most of its food, including fruits and vegetables from its neighbors. Serious effort and reforms in this field are necessary if Albania wants to develop an efficient agricultural sector. It will be necessary to use more modern production technologies and to improve productivity and the quality of production, in order to promote exports and use the opportunities given by EU trade preferences. These efforts are necessary not only to satisfy the internal market, but also to compete in the EU market economy. Despite all the problems and barriers keeping Albania out of the EU, still it is appropriate to recognize that Albania has made progressive steps since she opened up to the world in 1991. 14

In 1992, Albania signed the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU. In 1999, Albania benefited from Autonomous Trade Preferences with the EU. In 2001, the Commission recommended to start the negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Albania. On 12 June, 2006, the SAA was signed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg (“Five years of”, 2009). Albania participates in the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP), which is the EU's overall policy framework for Western Balkan countries. The SAP is based on a progressive partnership, in which Albania benefits from regional and financial assistance under the CARDS program and the new Instrument for PreAccession Assistance (IPA) and a far-reaching contractual relationship with the EU, including trade preferences, through the SAA. Regional dialogue and cooperation are also important elements of this process (“Five years of”, 2009). In January 2009, the SAA ratification process by all the member states is completed. On 9 November 2009, the European Commission decided to start visa facilitation negotiations with Albania. On 28 April 2009, Albania formally applies for membership in the European Union (“Accession of”, 2009). Another important step was the membership in NATO on April 4th 2009. Membership in NATO is thought to contribute to regional stability, improve the security of western Balkan countries and to support them in reforming their security sector. NATO is seen as the most important instrument in demilitarizing the most militarized part of Europe. Accession to EU and NATO share some common features, one of them is that accession to both is merit-driven processes. In conclusion, Albania has already started its journey towards the EU. Even though it is one of the most challenging and difficult journeys, the end of which is still unknown, yet the 15

most important thing is that this journey has already started. Albania has always aspired to be part of the Europe, although history and political conditions have separated her from the other part of the continent. However, in some features Albania is similar to the members of EU. Globalization is helping Albania to be more open to the European culture and mentality, so Albania is trying to integrate completely in the EU: politically, economically and socially. Albania owns the most important value, religious tolerance. But still Albania remains in the group of Western Balkan countries who are left outside the union, while others such as Rumania and Bulgaria are within the Union. What is deterring Albania from entering the EU? First, it the political situation and the not completely democratized institutions, such as elections. Moreover, there exist corruption and organized crime, heritage from the communist era, which are holding Albania back. The EU is seen as a boon for the Albanian, because it has many advantages. The EU is the only way of fulfilling the dream of Albanians for the Greater Albania, meaning the entire nation living within one state. The members of EU are supporting Albania in catching up with the other state as in a sign of correcting the mistakes done in the past to Albania. Moreover, another advantage would be the free movement of people and capital. The visa liberalization will enable Albanians to move freely in other parts of the continent, and also there will be facilitation in the trade, while the taxes on imports will be reduced. However there exist even some disadvantages joined with the membership of EU, which are linked with the capability of Albania in competing in the EU economy. Still the economy of Albania is not considered to reach the Copenhagen criteria and yet the growth of GDP is supported mainly by remittances and illegal activity. The agricultural sector is much undeveloped with old-fashioned technology. Albania is not ready to join the euro zone and compete in a foreign currency as far as the exchange rate of euro with lek is not stable. The wages of the Albanian people are not high 16

enough to afford the high prices of the market, thus the poverty will worsen. However, the EU has approved some aid programs that will help the Albanian economy be at the levels of the EU economy. Lastly, Albania has made progressive steps toward the membership in EU. The final one and the most important is the membership in NATO, an organization contributing to stability and security. The accession to NATO is merit-driven, the same as the accession to EU, which means that Albania is in the right track for being a member of EU. However, the question when Albania will enter the EU is still difficult to answer, because it depends on the further progress and reforms that Albania will undertake. It depends mostly on the domestic actors, the politicians’ class and their willingness and responsibility in fulfilling the Copenhagen standards. Here is what Romano Prodi said on the day of opening the SAA negotiations, in accordance with the question above, “The answer to that question [when will Albania join the EU] lies in your hands, in your determination and commitment to completing the catalogue of reforms we have drawn up together: ownership and responsibility are the key words…there are no short cuts, all the other countries have travelled down this road” (Bogdani & Loughlin, 2007, p. 237).





Accession of Albania to the European Union. (2008) Retrieved December 22, 2009 from Wikipedia: Arslan, A., (2007). Disintegration of Albanians by force: Dividing Albanians into different countries and forcing them to live there. Retrieved December 22, 2009 from 18

BBC News. (2009, November 25). Retrieved December 22, 2009 from Bogdani, M., & Loughlin, J. (2007). Albania and the European Union: The tumultuous journey towards integration and accession. London: I.B. Tauris. Central Intelligence Agency. (2009). The world fact-book. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Five years of an enlarged EU. (2009, November 25). Retrieved December 22, 2009 from European Commission:


Albania and EU membership  

advantages and disadvantages for entering the EU, is Albania ready to get there?