European integration: Searching for the enemy
- The EU is faced now with very crucial challenges for a number of interrelated factors and issues: Brexit, the march of populist movements, the rise of support for the parties of the extreme right, the rise of terrorist threats, the ebbs of the immigrants crisis without forgetting to mention here the economic stagnation and in some member states an outright economic crisis still to overcome. These might be actually the biggest and most substantial crises that the Union has ever faced. In this scenario, every negative development would have an incremental negative impact on the hopes and aspirations of Albanians to see their country inside of or closer to the European Union. We could be faced even with an existential question for the very first time: is a European future possible for Albania without the European Union? Or in other words: Is it possible to construct and develop a democratic society, a functioning and just state based on respecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of its citizens and an effective economy without the European Union?
By Albert Rakipi
The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that it would never happen in 2017. According to the best possible scenario on this issue, the opening of negotiations, could be discussed in the first half of 2018, while within the same scenario a specific date for the opening of the negotiations could be set in the end of 2018. That would position the actual start of the negotiations process in the spring of 2019. It has been also made clear that during 2017 there shall be no country report (formerly known as progress report), which has been the usual annual instrument of the European Union to assess, monitor, support and finally urge the necessary reforms in Albania and the other aspiring and candidate countries. Things look actually worse than they are due to the great expectations that the government, but also some local European representatives, set out for Albania’s public opinion.
However, other less positive scenarios are possible and even likely, and they are primary related to domestic developments in Albania, including:
The political stability and security of the country will see challenges which must be faced with a full respect for international standards in the next general elections, shielding them from criminal influences, shady funds, intimidation and using the resources of the state to influence the elections as well as to buy votes and control the media.
With the scope of functioning rule of law, we expect to see the practical implications from the start of the implementation of the justice reform. This is another area where expectations are high. The determining factor in this situation is whether the degradation of the democratic standards in governance shall halt, whether the rules of the democratic and electoral game shall be followed through, whether there shall be sustainable economic development and finally whether the influence of drugs and other criminal economic activities in the governing policies and decisions can be stopped.
The effect of other external developments concerning the EU itself, and some key member states, shall be no less important for the less positive scenarios than what is described above.
The EU is faced now with very crucial challenges for a number of interrelated factors and issues: Brexit, the march of populist movements, the rise of support for the parties of the extreme right, the rise of terrorist threats, the ebbs of the immigrants crisis without forgetting to mention here the economic stagnation and in some member states an outright economic crisis still to overcome. These might be actually the biggest and most substantial crises that the Union has ever faced.
In this scenario, every negative development would have an incremental negative impact on the hopes and aspirations of Albanians to see their country inside of or closer to the European Union. We could be faced even with an existential question for the very first time: is a European future possible for Albania without the European Union? Or in other words: Is it possible to construct and develop a democratic society, a functioning and just state based on respecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of its citizens and an effective economy without the European Union?
This question is hypothetical and might be premature but it touches the essence of European integration.
Albania can be a member of the EU only if it is a democracy and a state where laws, values and human rights are fully respected. It is not accession to the EU that magically transforms the country into such a democratic, rule-of-law state that cherishes human rights and values. The opposite is true.
Albania, and other similar countries, do not have the possibility to influence the developments and even less the future of the European Union, but the Albanian society and the leading elites have the power not only to influence but also resolve the challenges that their country is facing now that the process of integration has been hardly hit. Would it be possible for a process of reflection to start? The reflection is primarily needed for the political leaders to accept the fact that despite circumstances not very favorable in the Union and in member states, the real progress that Albania has made is not enough to open negotiations for accession. For those who really want to read and understand, beyond the dry, bureaucratic and subtle language that the Commission uses in its reports, the message was clear: the country is yet to realize the progress asked by the EU. However, instead of this necessary deep reflection what seems to be happening is a quest to try to find the enemy, to blame the others. In the philosophical realm it is a well-known constant that the existence of an enemy gives us the key to understand the nature and core of political activity.
There is a fundamental question in this context: Is Albania building democratic policies and does Albania’s governance resemble a democratic regime? There is certainly no ‘Albanian dream’ per se, but there is an ‘American dream,’ the dream of the West – it certainly exists. And dream of the West is unrivaled, but it does not explain the reason of why Albanians do not want to build the future of their children in this country. This year alone, at least 13 percent of the population, the young and vital part, either left the country or is trying to legally leave it.
There is an immediate and simple answer: The dying desperate hope of transforming Albania into a place that follows the model of European countries. Said differently, European integration is not progressing. And instead of reflecting on this, the political elite is involved in a fierce and divisive conflicts – searching for enemies.
In the case of backward and frightened societies, where democracy is a façade the enemy serves to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’, the enemy.
The government rushed to claim that the conditional recommendation of the Commission to open accession negotiations was “historic” by reducing the conditioning, which is key, to the approval of one of the laws connected to the justice reform. This is the so called vetting law which according to the official rhetoric the opposition is sabotaging. During this entire year and in particular during the political debates about the justice reform “the enemy” was clearly projected in the dual equation: on one side the government, the US and the EU and on the other side the opposition as an enemy of the West. The silence of the representatives of the local EU institutions regarding this laughable equation, obviously does not make the opposition an enemy of the West, but it does lower the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the Albanian public.
In the official communications from the EU officials, including the country report, the political consensus for the justice reform was acclaimed and even described as progress to avoid deep polarization. The truth is that there is no progress in addressing the deep polarization, on the contrary political polarization in Albania has reached another apex. The 100 percent approval voting in the parliament of the justice reform did not result from consensus. Hiding the deep political conflict, divisions and class warfare based on a Stalinist philosophy that demonstrates itself occasionally even violently in the same parliament resembles a mission impossible.
Once again, Albania has made no progress whatsoever in reducing polarization and conflict in politics. Claiming progress would be a blatant lie while the very opposite is true.
Just as in “the good old times of communism” the enemy was not only from within but definitely also from outside. The opposition is not alone in its ‘battle against integration’, against the west. Enemy groups were also identified in Europe such as important Members of the German Parliament. Even member states of the Union were spotted and projected in public as enemies of Albania’s integration. Therefore Greece resulted as a key enemy for the perspective of the European integration of Albania. (Greece has all the power needed to be an enemy of Albania’s EU integration, therefore, why should Greece not be faulted?)
Last but not least the enemy is now being projected in the geopolitical sphere as well. That goes along the lines: if the EU does not accept Albania or the Western Balkans as a whole, than Russia or other competing powers shall replace it.
The argument and the idiotic hope in this case is to blackmail EU and some member states. Who can believe this? The ultimate irony is that in this country, with each passing day, Albanians are building a regime that is increasingly resembles Kremlin Inc. – all this while we ring the alarm bells for the threat of Russian imperialism in the Balkans to scare the rest of Europe to take us in.