An atmosphere of optimism for Western Balkan countries

An atmosphere of optimism for Western Balkan countries
This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al

By ALFRED PEZA

This month, citizens of Kosovo are expecting to move freely in the Schengen area. The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn was more optimistic than Kosovars themselves when he said that the decision for the liberalization of the visa regime will come before the start of the holiday season.

Once this decision is taken, all Albanians living in the Balkans will be enjoying unrestricted freedom of movement. This decision which is expected to be formalized soon makes our freedom more complete.

A few days ago, Albania took an important step in the process of integration, when EU Foreign ministers in Luxembourg gave the green light to the country’s ambition for the opening of negotiations for accession in the European Union in 2019.

Despite the difficulties and ups and downs that they’ve encountered, the rights and liberties of the Albanians of Macedonia from the Ohrid Agreement until today have improved and consolidated.

Every bad thing has a positive side

Brussels’ officials have demanded Western Balkan countries (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina) to benefit from the continuous efforts that the European Union is making to show a different approach towards them. The Balkans is still considered a place with fragile democracies, where there is often a very fine line dividing normality and unrest. Past historical problems between neighboring countries continue to dictate the political agenda.

Russia’s influence in the region, China’s ambition to increase its presence through direct investments, Turkey’s tendency to slip toward authoritarianism and the aim to strengthen European integration following Britain’s departure from the Union in 2019, are some of the reasons which are forcing Brussels’ to keep the doors of enlargement open.

Before the start of the Western Balkan Summit in London, EU Commissioner Hahn said that “Western Balkan countries have marked real progress in the recent months in their path toward EU integration. The challenges that the region faces in the process of European integration sometimes relate to political will, determination and willingness to act”.

He said that the growth of cooperation in Western Balkans is proving to be fruitful. “But there’s still a lot to do. This is a good opportunity for the countries of the region to prepare for a European perspective”, said Hahn.

 Meanwhile, Albania’s PM, Edi Rama is also attending the London summit. He has announced that he will hold a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Tsipras, as part of the efforts and official negotiations between the two Balkan countries, to put an end to the bilateral issues which the two countries have had throughout history, starting from the first half of last century until the present days.

Athens also concluded a similar deal with Skopje, regarding the change of the name, agreeing for the neighboring country to be named Republic of North Macedonia. After this, Macedonia is expected to receive an invitation to become the youngest member of NATO during the summit that the alliance will hold this week in Brussels.

The London Summit

Voice of America reports that the London Summit is part of the so called Berlin Process, launched by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in 2014, to demonstrate the commitment of the European Union in promoting the aspirations of the region for accession. The process aims at encouraging economic cooperation between the countries of Western Balkans and requires the European Union to make a more favorable allocation of its funds for the region.

The British PM, Theresa May will preside the meeting that will focus on three areas: growth of economic stability, strengthening of regional cooperation in the area of security and facilitation of economic cooperation. A press release issued by the British government says that “the UK wants a strong, stable and prosperous Western Balkans. By hosting this summit in London, we demonstrate our constant interest and involvement in the stability of the region, despite our exit from the European Union”.

The London Summit is also expected to see the signing of three joint declarations which involve good neighboring relations, the issue of the investigation and criminal prosecution of war crimes and the issue of missing persons during the wars in Yugoslavia. Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a lot to give and take by fulfilling the public’s will which the spirit of the declaration is expected to convey.

Conclusion

The big changes that the integration process is bringing in the six countries of Western Balkans are not only coming as an internal and natural need for enlargement. The refractory positions demonstrated by France, the Netherlands and Denmark regarding the opening of negotiations for Albania and Macedonia, confirmed this. Had this been up to the political mood of several countries and the way they see the enlargement strategy, there would be no opening of negotiations even in June.

For us and for the other aspiring countries of Western Balkans, it doesn’t really matters what sort of reasons will one day give us access to the EU. What’s important for us is to deliver the required standards and finally be part of the great European family and its values.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy

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