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Marie Antoinette in Albania

From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

On Tuesday, the European Commission published its 2020 report on Albania, popularly called “Progress Report” even though “Progress” has not been part of the name for years.

The report was published within an increasingly precarious geopolitical context. The United States, no matter who will win the elections, appears stuck in a spiral of institutional and social decline and division from which it seems difficult to recover in the short term; Turkey has become a newly destabilizing power on the borders of the EU, involved in the Syrian quagmire, Libyan civil war, and the renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Belarus is on the brink of instability. Also internally, the EU remains in the thralls of the Covid-19 pandemic and the plausible collapse of EU–UK trade negotiations. Paralyzed by the veto power of its member states, an undemocratic Commission whose President was “elected” in a backroom deal, and a Parliament unable to make a real difference, the EU has been unable to respond adequately.

What does “enlargement” mean in a geopolitical context when at stake is not the glorious ascent of liberal democracy across the planet while ushering in the “end of history,” but a massive reorganization of political balance on a global scale? What does “enlargement” mean when violations of its main export products – democracy and the rule of law – are tolerated by both European institutions and the member states? What do “human rights” mean when the EU stands idly by as concentration camps blossom in Xinjiang? What does “democracy” mean when our supposed allies in the United States are backsliding it a rapid pace?

Shouldn’t we send some type of election monitoring mission, as we do to Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine?

When we look at the enlargement process in the Western Balkans, the aim has always been to align the region with the EU both politically and economically before starting actual accession negotiations. That’s why successive European Commissions and Parliaments imposed “conditions” such as the Justice Reform and Electoral Reform.

We are now in the ironic situation where it is not only the limited progress of Albania, but also the backsliding of the EU that has brought this alignment in sight. Albania may have become a bit more like the EU, but the EU has certainly become a bit more like Albania.

Apparently, it is ok in the EU to stifle the media, as in Hungary.
Apparently, it is ok in the EU to intervene directly into the judiciary, as in Poland.
Apparently, it is ok in the EU to tolerate the murder of journalists, as in Malta.
Apparently, it is ok in the EU to have a mafia government, as in Bulgaria.
Apparently, it is ok in the EU to deny the human right to self-determination, as in Spain.
Apparently, it is ok in the EU to indulge in massive human rights violations of refugees, as along all of its borders.

None of these countries have been penalized, all continue to receive massive EU subsidies, and all of them are represented with a Commissioner at the level of the European Commission, such as Hungary’s EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi.

Among the numerous other EU absurdities are having a High Representative, Josep Borell, and a special envoy, Miroslav Lajčák, whose respective countries don’t recognize Kosovo. Who comes up with such unbearable idiocy? So when you think of it, Albania is just about to be ready to start accession negotiations – not because Albania has significantly improved, but because the EU is on the way down.

In the past I have argued that strict adherence to the rule of law, democracy, and the conditions imposed by the European Parliament are the only way in which to secure a credible enlargement process, both for Albania and the EU. I did so because I truly believed, and truly want to believe, that the EU stands for these principles.

The reality, however, is that after decades of incompetence and stagnation at the executive level, the eurocrats and member states have lost sight of what is the most important aspect of the EU: its union of values. And indeed, what is a “union of values” worth in a geopolitical context where any debate on value system seems like a precious luxury from a nearly forgotten past?

Time and time again, the opposition, both inside and outside of Parliament, has shown itself to be as incapable and unprincipled as the curent Rama government.

Despite the countless breaks and opportunities they had to formulate a true alternative, they failed to do so. There is absolutely no guarantee that waiting with negotiations until the next government, if there ever will be one, will make any significant difference. Opening accession negotiations will pave the way to further alignment with EU legislation and thus perhaps some improvement of the lives of Albanians, it’s as simple as that.

So let us say, with the same gesture as Marie Antoinette, “let them open accession negotiations!” The guillotine awaits.

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