France has finally “realized the strategic importance” of the Western Balkans, Albania’s prime minister says –

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV on Monday (December 5th) that the Western Balkans’ EU accession process is not a test to deceive. “The strategic importance of the region” By Emmanuel Macron.

On Tuesday (December 6), Albania will host the EU-Western Balkans Summit, which will bring together the leaders of the 27 EU member states and six Western Balkan countries, as well as officials from the European Commission and the Council.

Ahead of the summit, Mr Rama spoke about enlargement, regional tensions and the need for reforms to ensure the authenticity of the enlargement process.

“We must not forget that the integration process is an individual, merit-based process. We have to do our job, which is to meet the criteria and this is not an exam you can cheat. Even if the teachers are very inclined to give you a chance to pass. It is in your interest to pass this exam”said Mr. Rama.

The prime minister of Albania added that it is very important to have institutions in place to “not commit fraud as some neighboring countries have done in the past”, citing Greece as an example.

Albania finally opened its membership negotiations in June 2022 and is ready to begin the process of aligning its laws with the EU. However, reforms are needed in many areas, including the rule of law, the fight against corruption and media freedom, according to the European Commission’s latest monitoring report published in October.

Asked if he believed his government was responsible for slow progress in key areas, Rama admitted mistakes had been made.

“In hindsight, there are always things that could have been done better and issues that could have been handled better, for sure,”, he declared. He added that initiatives to improve media freedom are being continued.

The summit will be held on Tuesday (December 6) against the backdrop of protests by former Prime Minister and President Sali Berisha. He accuses Rama’s government of corruption and of doing nothing to prevent mass emigration.

Enlargement is no longer a one-way street for the EU

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the changing geopolitical landscape have raised awareness that the EU’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in its immediate neighborhood must go beyond the question of who will be the next member.

The Tirana summit is a real commitment

As for the summit, Mr Rama believes that it being held outside Brussels and in a non-EU country says a lot about the current situation in Europe and the renewed interest in enlargement.

“The fact that we are holding a summit in Tirana is just a fact – who could have imagined that only a few years ago the EU would go beyond its perimeter and the Council would go to a non-EU country to hold the mountain top. And this is not just a demonstration, an event, but something more. It is a commitment, a message.he said.

According to him, the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and later Russia’s war in Ukraine have prompted the EU to better understand the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Western Balkans.

“It shocked Europe… I see more interest, more awareness, they know very well that the region is vulnerable. They know very well that this is the region on the continent [Vladimir] Putin has the most influence, i.e. Serbian territories, Serbia and Republika Srpska, etc. »

Franco-German support

For all these reasons, while the EU is more committed to the concept of enlargement, Mr. Rama is less certain when it comes to concrete integration.

“I don’t think it’s just nice words, [c’est le reflet d’un] real interest now, but will this common interest translate into action? And will the action be enough? I do not know. »

Mr. Rama further said that Germany’s support was not as surprising as it was in Berlin “long, very long, very loyal”he said France’s final support position was in the meantime “surprise”.

“France is a surprise because it has never been in the past. He suddenly realized the strategic importance of the region. And from the beginning until now, it is the service of the French president that has been very advanced in terms of understanding this region.”he declared.

Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a European Political Union, bringing together member states, EU candidate countries and potential candidates. The first meeting of this Community took place in early October.

“Now this is something completely new and everything needs to be seen and tested… We need to come together outside the perimeter of the European Union. Because these other countries may not be part of our union and may not have the right to be part of this union for various reasons, but they are Europeans.said Mr. Rama.

Be aware of the danger

Regarding regional stability and Russia’s influence, Rama said it is important not to alienate anyone in the region, including pro-Russian countries like Serbia with different histories and contexts.

“We must be aware of the danger… We must not contribute to the alienation of Serbia in any way, we must ensure Serbia’s commitment. »

“It’s about stories and contexts and different ways of seeing the world and looking at each other. And all this makes things very difficult.”added Mr. Rama.

Amid rising tensions, dialogue between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo is expected to be high on the agenda of the summit. Last week, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić canceled his visit, but has since confirmed his attendance.

After 11 years of EU-led dialogue and little progress, all eyes are on the US-EU-led effort, backed by Paris and Berlin. Moreover, recently there has been tension between Pristina and Brussels due to EU “mistakes” and even allegations of favoritism towards Serbia.

But it won’t be easy, Rama said, pointing out that Serbia was the aggressor in Kosovo during the repression in 1998-99 and nothing can change that reality.

“The only way to solve a problem is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue… The solution is to talk tirelessly from one side to the other until we solve the problem one way or another. »

Agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on license plates

Belgrade and Pristina reached an EU-brokered deal on Wednesday to end a dangerous row over license plates in northern Kosovo, after the West previously warned the row could spark ethnic violence.

Apart from the current political differences, the wounds of the past are still fresh, the conflict ended in 1999 and Kosovo was declared independent 9 years later.

“I think more and more that this generation may still be too close to the heat of blood, murder and rebellion. It is not easy to overcome all this and be rational and cool to sign a contract.said Mr. Rama.

Therefore, he believes that the recent Franco-German plan, which provides for the acceptance of independence without mutual recognition, is a good compromise.

“He’s not looking for a final solution in terms of mutual recognition that will come one day, but he’s looking for a path towards it, so we’ll see.” »

In Albania, Mr. Rama has a close relationship with the President of Serbia, Mr. Vučić, especially “Open BalkanHowever, Rama said that they will never reach an agreement on the Kosovo issue, but they have found a way of cooperation that is important for the region.

“We found a way to be very open and very honest with each other. We realized that there is only one chance to continue the relationship – to agree not to fall out over Kosovo, because so far there is no way to agree … it is better than turning our backs. »

As for his relationship with his Kosovar counterpart, Albin Kurti, which some consider frosty at best, Mr. Rama said they had their differences, but the similarities brought them closer.

“Albino [Kurti] different – he is naturally closer, because he is the leader of Albania, the prime minister, but we also have our differences.”– said the prime minister of Albania.

As for the conference, although Mr. Rama is not sure that it will lead to concrete results, he emphasizes that the symbolism of its holding in the region is one of the most important elements.

“The summit can bring a lot of good things. But at the end of the day, none of these will be as important as holding the summit in Tirana.”he concluded.

[Édité par Anne-Sophie Gayet/Charles Szumski]

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