Brussels’ rosy picture of gov’t performance questioned

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 8, 2017 10:28

Brussels’ rosy picture of gov’t performance questioned

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  • Rama and Basha have set contrasting tones as to the mood they saw in Brussels when discussing Albania’s chances of opening EU talks next year.

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TIRANA, Dec. 6 – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and the country’s opposition leader, Lulzim Basha, visited Brussels at the same time this week, a time of year when EU leaders increase their focus on the Western Balkans and EU enlargement in the region.

Rama met various EU officials, including the head of EU’s executive branch, Donald Tusk, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. Rama also gave interviews and participated at a think-tank event to discuss Albania’s progress towards the opening of accession negotiations.

“The six months ahead will be very important to have the opportunity to enter a new phase, which will be difficult but absolutely necessary — of that membership negotiations,” Rama said in a joint press conference with Junker. “I am very proud to come to Brussels today with real tangible results, and … I am certain there will be more in the future.”

Juncker said he considered Rama “a friend” and that he knew since first meeting the then Mayor of Tirana that Rama was headed “for great things.”
“We are, as far as the commission is concerned, impressed by the progress of Albania is making in different fields, in different domains — reform of the judiciary system being one of them,” Juncker said at the press conference on Wednesday.

Rama said on Tuesday that there had been positive feedback from the meeting with Tusk and other officials. According to the Albanian premier, the EU appreciates the country’s progress in reforming existing legal and state structures and that Albania’s reforms have become an example for the whole region.

Tusk said on Twitter that he had had a good meeting with Rama, but indicated that the country needs to do more in terms of fighting crime.

“The same rhythm should be maintained in reforming the rule of the law in order to advance in the road towards the EU,” Tusk’s statement noted.

The rosy picture and repeated praise for Albania’s government at a time when it is mired in several scandals, including alleged ties between former government officials and organized crime and continued problems with cannabis cultivation and trafficking, has raised questions in Tirana over whether EU representatives are out of touch with Albanian realities.

Experts with the Albanian Institute for International Studies said there is a risk that such disconnect risks to cause of loss of trust in international institutions like the European Union among common Albanians, many of whom are increasingly angry with the government. Recent opinion polls show Albania’s government has lost at least 10 percent of its support following several scandals.

However, the vast majority of Albanian continue to support EU integration, and every Albanian political force supports EU integration.

Several Albanian officials and political actors have paid visits to Brussels in recent weeks, as Albania expects to open negotiations by May 2018, when a major Western Balkans summit is to take place in the Bulgarian capital as part of that country’s EU presidency. The summit will set the region’s tone for years to come, several commentators said this week.

However, Rama and Basha have set contrasting tones as to the mood they saw in Brussels when discussing Albania’s chances of opening EU talks next year, with Rama seeing it as positive, while Basha as negative.

In Brussels to meet with representatives of the European People’s Party and other partner center-right parties, Basha released a statement that contradicts that of Rama in terms of the public opinion of EU officials concerning the country’s fight against organized crime and corruption.

“Unfortunately, a big retreat of European leaders when it comes to Albania’s accession was very noticeable. In particular, they were greatly concerned about the legal state, the fight against crime and corruption,” Basha’s statement said. “The disadvantage is that the largest part of member states has become acutely aware of these problems. This may damage Albania’s European pathway by punishing its citizens.”

Basha said the criminal ties allegations against former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri and what Basha said was the political protection afforded to him by the prime minister have been ill-received in Brussels.

According to the opposition leader, the Democratic Party’s policies and proposals are the right way to guide Albania to the EU, which is the top interest of both the government and the opposition.

In previous years, there has been a debate in Albania as to who is to blame for what is seen by many as Albania’s stalled bid to join the European Union, with the opposition pointing to the government’s failures and the prime minister saying membership negotiations should have already opened, and that the delay is due to internal politics in the EU and its member states.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 8, 2017 10:28