EWB Interview: Majlinda Bregu, Chairwoman of European Integration Committe of the Parliamnet of Albania

This time, European Western Balkans, spoke with Majlinda Bregu (FB), Member of the Parliament of Republic of Albania and Chairwomen of European Integration Committee

Majlinda Bregu obtained a bachelor’s degree in social sciences at the University of Tirana in 1996. She held a master’s degree in social policy at the University of Tirana in 2003. She then received a PhD at Urbino University in Italy with the thesis, entitled “Sociology of cultural phenomena’s and normative process”. Bregu is member of Democratic Party (EPP observer party). From 2005 to 2007 she served as the head of Albanian Parliamentary Delegation to European Parliament. Bregu was appointed Minister of European Integration in 2009, and after the Parliamentary Elections 2013 she become Chairwomen of the European Integration Committee (EIC) of the Parliament of Republic of Albania.

European Western Balkans met Ms. Bregu in Belgrade, on 10th Conference of the European Integration/Affairs Committees of States Participating in the Stabilisation and Association Process of the South-East Europe (COSAP), when we agree on this interview. 

European Western Balkans: Thank you Ms. Bregu to find time for us. Can you tell us at the beginning what is your personal opinion about the European Union and the importance of integration of Albania into the EU?

Majlinda Bregu: For us Europe is passion. Is an eternal love affair. Is our never conflicted and never doubted identity, an these do not depend on Eu membership date.If the European Identity would have been understood equally by the regional countries, the efforts would have been more sustainable and the European integration would be the single most valuable instrument to transform the western Balkans region and look fwd together.

European integration for Albania means first and foremost democracy consolidation. The democratic consolidation is always endangered for as long as the oligarchy and political polarization tend to appear from time to time. In technical terms, the process of European Integration will focus Albania’s efforts in sustainable and adequate reforms that allow to act decisively in the prevention and fight against corruption, create stable and professional administrative and judicial structures and push forthe establishment and respect of the rule of law. Successful completion of the EUI process is possible only if concerted, dynamic and all inclusive reforms are accomplished. As the former minister of EU Integration, I m pretty aware of how difficult it is to move reforms ahead, but still it is us to play that ball. Said that EU should continue to perform on enlargemet, by taking political actions, to keep alive the passion that founded politicians of EU project had. As Richard Nixon once said: To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.

EWB: The role of the European Integration Committee in the coordination of harmonization of Albanian legislation with the EU legislation has a role. Can you explain in what ways the Committee contributes to the integration?

MB: The European Integration Committee has a very important role in the EU integration process, as it is permanent body of the Parliament responsible for the legal approximation in order to achieve full compatibility of the national laws with acquis.  However as the lessons learned from the other WB countries that are ahead of us in the EU integration process have shown, there is a need to define and strengthen the role of the Parliament by transforming the parliamentary structures and preparing them for meeting the challenges of the EU accession.In this respect, recently the Committee and I personally have been involved in an all inclusive process to ensure a more adequate oversight of the Government’s activities as well as to ensure a more frequent use of the available parliamentary control mechanisms in the accession processThe role of the European Integration Committee was revised in order to shift the discussion from daily and sometimes futile politics to concrete recommendations and tangible contribution to the accession process and adjust and improve the role of the committee as a strategic consultative body that will assist the advancement of the European agenda and of the respective reforms

EWB: You’re the one that led to Albania to candidate status, what is your relationship as Committee with Ministry of European Integration, and your personally to Klajda Gjosha?

MB: As former minister I know that the process of a country’s accession to European Union is mostly the task of the executive. Nevertheless, considering the importance of the check and balance system, the exercise from the Parliament of the political oversight on the process of European Integration is of crucial importance. The improved and strengthened role of the EIC not only as the body responsible for legal approximation but as well the monitoring of the implementation of the obligations that derive from the SAA and the monitoring of financial assistance of the European Union for Albania, enables the Committee to exercise a dynamic political oversight over the Government and the responsible ministry. As a minister, I have worked very closely with the EIC by including this committee in all the most important reforms undertaken which paved the way for granting the candidate status. EUI process is not a two side’s process but a national and all inclusive process. It does not come as a surprise that 87% of the Albanians are in favor of country integration in EU. And motivation behind that are the values encountered with the EU-freedom, prosperity and respecting human rights, principles we have fought and suffered for years. That is why in Albania there are not any anti-European political parties, but regrettably there are is no EU related rhetoric from the government side, but instead in the recent years, we are faced with a Government that blames the EU Member States for the slow pace of country performance, albeit in nearly two years, no substantial reform has taken place. Personally, I believe that there is no need for political ownership of the process. EU representative have been very clear on continuously conveying the message that if we don’t work together nothing counts.However, I wouldn’t spotlight the following issues, if I would not truly believed that hiding or ignoring them would hurt more. We are in right timing to change the things, and make the difference for our own sake, and make “Albania file” interesting for EU Members, in this hot international political atmosphere. When it comes to the EU integration process, a smart government should and would take advantage on the constructive opposition and its expertise, because the European agenda is a national rather than Governmental priority.Personally, I am the first person to understand the daily difficulties, Klajda should pass through.

EWB: How the adoption of European standards, regardless of the integration of Albania into the EU, is important for the citizens of your state?

MB: Since the beginning, the enlargement of the European Union was one of its most successful projects and a significant objective in successfully accomplishing the process of unifying Europe. Enlargement have proven to bring benefits to the citizens not only of the new member states but to all the citizens throughout the Union. It has led to increased living standards and created export and investment opportunities. The whole process, although very long and demanding, is gradually translated in a stable democracy, capability of taking on the obligations of European Union membership and of adhering to European Union standards.

In the period I served as Minister of European Integration, I was focused that the Albanian integration process would be well structured process, a moving forward process based on real progress achieved on the ground, and agreed by all the relevant actors, and thus credible and to the benefit of the Albanian citizens. European Integration is never an easy ride. It is not easy from the aspirant country’s perspective considering the challenges to be met and how difficult it is to move reforms ahead, but it is not easy for the European side as well that should monitor and guide the whole process through clear and objective benchmarks. However, during these years this process has brought its effects in terms of establishing and strengthening the standards which create facilities for the businesses and the free movement of citizens. It made possible the development and the increase of the trade between the EU and Albania; it repealed the customs duties on imports and exports with the EU; facilitated the access to employment for the Albanian citizens;increased and encouraged the foreign direct investments; it improved the transport infrastructure in Albania, thus improving the free movement and expanding the opportunities for the markets. What it is important is that in the end of this process the citizens will benefit from the improved standards but from the other side the EU will benefit too. As acknowledged, the integration of WB countries, in EU will make European Union not only bigger, but also be stronger and culturally richer.

EWB: What you expect in next Resolution for Progress Report on Albania of the European Parliament Rapporteur Knut Fleckenstein?

MB: I would except and wish for the recommendation of opening the accession negotiations. Shifting to the next phase of the process, i.e the accession negotiations, will above all help for maintaining the focus of the Government, speeding up the pace of delivering reforms as well as increasing the motivation of the public administration toward the EUI process. I would propose on that regard since key reforms in chapters 23 and 24, are already undertaken, I would invite the European Parliament and the EU commission to introduce the screening of those chapters at this moment. This approach would make possible a sustainable progress in addressing the reforms and challenges lying ahead and would definitively easy the negotiations process in the future.  I firmly believe that Albania’s future is within the EU and I remain strongly convinced that this approach will enhance Albania’s capacity to continue with reforms in all-encompassing and irreversible way. 

EWB: National Assembly of Republic of Serbia and Sobranje of Republic of Macedonia have already developed a relationship with the European Parliament. Do you have consultations with your colleagues from other parliaments in the process of enlargement? If you do, which are areas in which you cooperate?

MB: With the entry into force of the SAA, joint institutions among Albania and EU were established in order to assist and monitor the pace of reforms undertaken in fulfilling the SAA commitments. In this respect a Parliamentary Stabilisation and Association Committee was established since 2009 as a joint body of the Albanian and the European Parliament. This Committee serves as a political forum where the MPs express their views on the progress achieved on the EU integration process of Albania and advocate for sustainable reforms that establish, strengthen and enforce the European standards and best practices. Furthermore as former Minister of EU integration and the head of EIC, I have a continuous and very fruitful cooperation with the members of the European Parliament, members of the national parliaments of EU Member States and with colleagues from the national parliaments of other acceding countries in order to exchange views, expertise and valuable experience that can be applied in the Albanian case. Still I think that dspite all the crisis Western Balkans faced as a reflection of EU crisis during last years, SECURITY is the new test of Europe for the Balkans.

EWB: Again thank you Ms. Bregu for your time. European Western Balkans wishes you very best in your future life and work, and process of integration of Albania into European Union.

Authors: Nikola S. Ristić and N. T. Štiplija