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Albania: Optimism Versus Skepticism

Albania:  Optimism Versus Skepticism
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The post European Commission report situation in Albania is chaotic. While the position is enjoying the positive effect of recommendations for opening EU negotiations this June, the opposition is behaving quite awkwardly, so Albanians seem to be at a permanent crossroads, not knowing which side to take. The logic directs most of them towards hopeful optimism; the interests of the country at this crucial moment ask for embracing the road towards the EU, whatever leadership is on top. This seems easier for leftist supporters, who acknowledge the current progress towards the EU as the handiwork of their socialist government. But those who support the right party, DP, are really confused regarding the latest events and do not know whether to rejoice or grieve.

This week, it is highly speculated in the media that the leader of DP, Lulzim Basha, on the same day when Mogherini arrived in Tirana to deliver the EC report, paid a visit to Germany to meet a few German exponents, who are lobbing against Albania’s accession to the European Union. It is said that Basha criticised the EC report, stating it was too soft and did not show the significant problematics of the Albanian reality and that the country can not start negotiations under the current government.

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Most Albanians, even DP supporters, consider such statements as against the national interest. Even former DP important figures criticised Basha’s declarations, considering them not only immature, but also to the detriment of DP.

But more facts emerged later. The person he met in Germany is Gunther Kirchbaum, Merkel’s party MP and also the Head of the Commission for Europe in the German Bundestag. Whenever in Albania there is a debate on EU negotiations, his name appears for sure. He is considered by most Albanians as having always an open scepticism regarding Albania’s EU accession. Some go further; they label him as lobbing against Albania intentionally. There have been two to three cases lately, in which Kirchbaum has had the same attitude. In 2016, on the verge of EU discussions with Albania, he expressed against Albania becoming a member, mentioning drug and election problems. In 2017, he paid a visit to the DP tent, set up in Tirana main boulevard to protest the government, meeting Basha and supporting him to continue blocking the election process. Last week, immediately after Mogherini’s arrival in Tirana with a good report, he stated in an interview for DW radio that the EC recommendation is not sufficient for opening EU negotiations. The German Parliament will take into consideration reports from other international organizations. According to him, only if there have been essential improvements, will German MPs approve Albania to open negotiations.

Such statements increased debate and tensions in Tirana. Some media went further saying Kirchbaum is paid by Basha regularly as a counsellor; they say they both have the same common Russian financial source. A full profile of the German MP is published on various online newspapers, showing his dark past, in regard to the scandal of orphans being trafficked in Germania from Romania. Also the fact that he has had contradictory attitudes regarding Russia, adds to speculation. Some time ago, he declared to DW radio that the EU should be careful with the extension process, not to impinge the natural interests of Russia in the Western Balkans. All this makes him a suspicious figure, though a few think he is trying not to be euphoric about Albania’s near future in EU.

Currently, there are signals that the final decision on opening negotiations will be made based on who will be arrested among “big fish”. Such notorious condemnations, demanded by international entities, aim at high level politicians, like former PMs, ministers, or MPs. They also demand their property seizure. There has been a lot of information in the media regarding specific names, who still lead or hold important posts.

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The story of the EU has shown that the only way to enter the European family is to fight corruption at high levels. Countries like Romania and Croatia have had the same problem with corruption as Albania before joining EU. And it was up to internationals to intervene, making essential reforms, by establishing special anti-corruption units. Both Romania and Croatia joined the EU only after they arrested their former prime-ministers. In Croatia, Ivo Sanader was arrested and that convinced Brussels that Croatia was really fighting corruption at high levels. And it all started through proactive, constant information in the media. The EU and the US have warned that the same scenario is to be followed in Albania. Very soon, we will see who the “big fish” are…

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