Polish FM: No obstacles for Albania to catch up with EU bid frontrunners

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 4, 2018 10:11

Polish FM: No obstacles for Albania to catch up with EU bid frontrunners

Story Highlights

  • “All Western Balkan countries have a lot of reforms ahead of them. Our experience tells us that in such a case time runs fast. Much depends on determination, however there are no obstacles for Albania to catch up with today’s frontrunners or even overtake them,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz has told Tirana Times ahead of his visit to Tirana on Monday, May 7

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Interview by Ben Andoni

 

Your Excellency, Welcome to Albania! How do you see relations between the two countries so far?

After the collapse of communism in Europe, we gained the freedom to develop our bilateral relations. I can say with all certainty that today our relations are very good. Since 2009, we have been NATO allies. Poland appreciates Albania’s engagement in strengthening the Eastern flank and fight against terrorism. We are a steady supporter of Albania’s European aspirations. Therefore, we are very glad that last month the European Commission in its progress report recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania. Our bilateral economic cooperation is also developing well. Later this month the third Polish-Albanian Business Forum will be held in Tirana.

 

Poland is very connected with the Balkans. The proof of this are your Embassies in every single capital in the Balkans. How you see specifically the role of Albania in the Balkans?

Poland appreciates the role of Albania as a country which – thanks to good relations with all countries in the region – contributes significantly to stability and security in the Western Balkans. I would also like to underscore that we are both NATO allies which implies closer military cooperation. I had an opportunity to speak to FM Ditmir Bushati at the recent NATO meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs held on April 27 in Brussels. At the meeting we decided on maintaining NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities, which are important for both: Central and Eastern, as well as Southern Europe.

 

Brussels has forecast that the earliest the Western Balkans can join the European Union is 2025. Does this harm the hope of people who see their common future in Europe?

The year 2025 is indeed presented in the European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans published in February as an indicative date of EU accession for the frontrunners (now Montenegro and Serbia) and potentially other candidate countries. Indicating a specific date is a positive sign because it makes the European perspective tangible and realistic for the public opinion. The strategy provides as well for beginning negotiations with Albania and Macedonia, which should happen this year. All Western Balkan countries have a lot of reforms ahead of them. Our experience tells us that in such a case time runs fast. Much depends on determination, however there are no obstacles for Albania to catch up with today’s frontrunners or even overtake them. Of course we are ready to share our experience in introducing necessary reforms of public administration required by the Commission.

 

What are Poland’s views regarding the EU’s Balkan enlargement?

Poland strongly supports the open door policy of the EU. Enlargement is one of the most powerful and successful EU policies. It contributes to the security and prosperity of the whole continent. It encourages long-term political stability, economic development, security and good neighbourly relations in countries aspiring to join the EU. Most importantly, in our opinion Albanians and the citizens of other Western Balkan countries are fully entitled to choose their own development path. They are Europeans and the EU has got an obligation to accept them, of course if they meet the obligatory criteria. Enlargement is about high-level political meetings, setting benchmarks and opening chapters. But first and foremost, it is about changing people’s lives for the better thanks to reforms, modernisation, good governance, bringing economies and people together.

 

You’ve said: “We have to find the criteria how to elect the body that’s going to rule a federal Europe,” adding EU needs reforms. Does this mean that nowadays the European Union does not function properly?

Indeed, the EU requires reforms. The European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. We advocate enhancing the role of national parliaments. Further deepening of European integration is possible insofar as it is accepted by the states and peoples that participate in the process. The European Union can be strong only thanks to the real support of its citizens, who are able to confer a democratic mandate on their elected governments. In our opinion the European Commission should return to its technocratic role instead of making attempts towards a more political one. The role of the European Council, which is composed of state leaders chosen in democratic elections, should be decisive.

The issue of EU reform is being discussed among its members nowadays. We actively participate in this debate and present our position. However, we are open to the arguments put forward by other countries. Together we can reform the EU so that it best suits its citizens.

 

The Albanian public is very curious about your tensions with European Union. Could you explain them to us more clearly, please?

First of all let me stress that the European Union should be founded on universal rules that are equally applied to all. We are concerned that unclear criteria could lead to the arbitrary limitation of Member States’ rights. Due to the European Commission’s concerns about the independence of Poland’s judiciary system, it decided to launch the procedure set forth in Art. 7 of the Treaty on the European Union. In the framework of Poland’s dialogue with the Commission in this respect, we outlined our position in a White Paper, in which we present our arguments explaining the necessity of having launched the reform of the judiciary.

We defend our right to carry out reforms, as they respond to the expectations of Poles voiced in the latest elections. In our opinion they do not violate the principles of a democratic rule of law. On the contrary, they strengthen them. However, Poland remains open to a dialogue based on the merits with the European Commission and other EU Member States. We exchange opinions hoping that we will find a compromise.

 

Why does Poland not want to take in refugees?

Anybody who appears at the Polish border has a right – in accordance with international law – ­to apply for refugee status. However we oppose to a mandatory refugee relocation to countries they do not want to go. The problem is that for most refugees Poland is solely a transitory country: they prefer to go further to Western European countries, those with higher living standards.

In our opinion we should focus first on the root causes of migration. We are engaged in border protection efforts and participate in initiatives such as the European Union’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. Mandatory redistribution of migrants can be considered as a pull factor to deepen the crisis.

We have to remember as well that there are over one million Ukrainians in Poland and some of them come from regions touched by war.

 

Despite your good efforts, collaboration between our two countries is not high. Where you see real interest of Poland in Albania with respect to the economy and tourism?

With regard to the economy, I agree that the trade turnover between Poland and Albania, although on the increase, does not yet match the potential of our countries. In order to boost economic cooperation a Polish – Albanian Business Forum was established. Over 130 Polish and Albanian companies participated in the first two meetings, accompanying the Polish Prime Minister’s visit to Tirana in 2016 and the Albanian Prime Minister’s visit to Warsaw in 2017. The next Forum will take place in Tirana later this month. I hope that such frequent meetings of Polish and Albanian entrepreneurs will contribute to the increase of economic cooperation between our countries.

I am aware that tourism is an important sector of the economy. Albania is a beautiful country and Poles appreciate it, which is confirmed by an increasing number of my compatriots among tourists visiting your country.

 

You are one of the very active and respected ministers of the current Poland government. You are very connected with art too. You often speak very clearly and hard. Should you explain more about your point of view for the future of the European Union after Brexit? What doesn’t work in the Balkans?

Western Balkan countries are confronted with a number of challenges in different areas which have to be tackled through reforms. From our perspective, it is equally important that the EU maintains its political will to continue the enlargement process. We cannot miss this perfect moment. Poland has also experienced a challenging process of economic and political transformation – from communism to democracy, and from a controlled economy to a free market economy. I am very glad about Albania’s steady progress in the implementation of key reforms. We need Albania in the EU, as it certainly would enrich our community. And of course we will continue our close cooperation with the UK after Brexit, although in a different form.

 

Your Embassy is working hard to promote Poland in Albania. Your huge culture is very common in Albania, translated from the original but also from second languages? Will you continue to support your culture in Albania?

Cultural ties between our countries are just as important as cooperation in the political and economic sphere. I am very glad that Polish literature is so well-known in Albania, thanks to brilliant translators. I would like to single out Mr. Astrit Beqiraj who has established himself as a translator of contemporary Polish literature. I was really happy to learn that on the Albanian book market in the last 15 years Polish literature has gained first place among literature from Central and Eastern Europe. And now, with the Polish Language Studies recently re-established at the University of Tirana we may soon expect more readers reaching for Polish authors in the original version. I would also like to remind you here that Poles have also got an opportunity to learn the Albanian language in our country as two renowned Polish universities: in Toruń and in Poznań offer Albanian in their curricula.

 

What can the Albanian public expect from your visit?

It will confirm that Poland supports Albanians’ European aspirations and is ready to share its experience as regards the preparation process on the way to the EU. We cannot miss this opportunity for the EU’s enlargement.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 4, 2018 10:11