Bushati: US should stay engaged in the Western Balkans

Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council, and Ditmir Bushati; Photo: Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania

WASHINGTON – “It is important to ensure that there is US engagement in the region. The United States is instrumental for providing security in Southeast Europe… It is also important to ensure a division of labor between the United States and the EU”, said Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, Ditmir Bushati, in his interview for Atlantic Council.

According to Bushati, Western Balkans is imoprtant to the United States because of its geographic location – between EU and the Middle East. US has played an important role in encouraging reapproachment between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as Macedonia and Greece. Bushati also expressed hope that Skopje will soon join Croatia, Albania and Montenegro as NATO’s 30th member.

Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs also reflected on his country’s EU acession process and region’s most pressing challenges.

“The screening process has been launched officially, a couple of days ago. In September, the experts from the European Commission and the Albanian government will sit down and will come to a deeper understanding [on Albania’s progress in fulfilling] the relevant chapters of the acquis communautaire”, he said.

“We believe that this screening process will help us. First, it will save time, and second, it will help us to be better prepared for the accession negotiation process. There is nothing we can directly negotiate with the EU on, it is a process more of adaptation. We will use this period time in a very efficient way with the help of the European Commission.”

During his visit to the United States, Bushati participated in the US Department of State’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. He was therefore asked is the fact that Albania is a Muslim-majority country affecting its pathway towards EU.

“We are a secular society. We are European, and, in this respect, there is a strong determination across the political and social spectrum to join the EU. It is the second-highest national objective after joining and supporting NATO. The reform process is going quite well. Certainly, there are also some negative stereotypes [in Europe] trying to associate us with Islam, which are unfounded because the way public life is conducted [in Albania] is in an European way”, answered Bushati.

“This should not be a challenge for Albania, because otherwise it would set a negative precedent, not only for developments in the region, but also the European project as a whole. You have more Muslims in Germany or France right now than in Albania”, he added.

Bushati also identified the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and the upcomming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina as the toughest questions in the region.

“Now it is time for both Serbia and Kosovo to make more painful concessions and hopefully reach a mutually-beneficial agreement, which could also be legally binding. It is quite clear that for Serbia there is no EU accession without a recognition of Kosovo. For Kosovo, there is no EU or NATO path without addressing the issues related to Serbia or its Serbian minority in Kosovo”, he emphasised.

Asked about the possibility of territorial swaps, Minister said that it “would go against the spirits of all the efforts made in the Balkans in the last three decades. It would go against the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act and other internationally legally binding documents. We have to be very cautious not to open a Pandora’s box for other cases in the region”.

Assesing the situation in Bosnia, Bushati said that a lot depends on the results of the October elections. “We say that the Dayton Agreement saved Bosnia, but now it seems that it does not offer a real platform for allowing Bosnia to make some the necessary substantial steps to achieve NATO and European Union membership”, he concluded.