Rama: Mini-Schengen is not a ‘plan B’ for the Western Balkans

Edi Rama; Photo: Prime Minister's Office

BRUSSELS – The idea of an inclusive regional Schengen and cooperation among the six Western Balkan countries, based on the four freedoms of the European Union, is not a replacement but the best way to prepare for EU accession, wrote the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama in an op-ed for EURACTIV.

“We all share the goal of European integration and the best way to move forward is to actively prepare for it by opening our economies and borders in a way directly inspired by the essential principles behind the European project”, Rama wrote.

According to him, a better-connected region of Western Balkans will faster and more successfully integrate into the EU.

“As I am preparing for our conference next week, I remain hopeful that this year will bring about a breakthrough for Albania in its European pursuits”, wrote Rama, referring to the Donors’ Conference aimed to help Albania’s reconstruction efforts after last year’s earthquakes.

The Conference is organised by the European Commission and will be held on 17 February.

“Nevertheless, we are stubbornly confident that there is nothing to prevent us from joining in due time the great family of European democracies, and our people’s gain will also be EU’s”, Rama stressed.

In his op-ed, Prime Minister of Albania also reflected on the decision not to open accession negotiation with his country and the newly proposed enlargement methodology.

“Some have described last year’s decision of the EU to postpone the opening of the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as an end of an era and advised us to plan our reform plans beyond the mantra of integration and enlargement. Others have jumped into portraying the lack of agreement between the EU member states as a historical mistake, one that opens the door to fierce great – and middle – power competition in Western Balkans”, he reminded.

However, according to Rama, it is easy for some to mistake a bump in the road for an earthquake, but the Albanians, having only recently gone through this shattering experience, can make the difference.

“If we are to stay true to our democratic values and quest for inclusive and shared prosperity, there is no alternative for Albania”, he underlined.

He wrote that he shares the assessment that the enlargement procedure needs an overhaul and welcomes the proposal put forward last week by the European Commission for a more credible and predictable accession process.

“My hope is that the member states will be able to coalesce around this well-designed plan and we will have to structure our cooperation around these new benchmarks. I especially welcome the idea of progressively rewarding success and of giving the candidate countries the opportunity to engage more thoroughly with the EU on issues on which they are closer to the common standards”, Rama wrote.

He emphasised that his government will continue to work closely with the EU partners and address all their concerns, starting with the ones related to the quality of democracy and rule of law.

“At times, Albanian politics can become nasty and the bickering can affect our international credibility, but I am sure that – in a society where EU’s support is above 90% and there is no anti-European political party – we have the resources to move on incessantly towards the greater objective that is European integration”, wrote the Prime Minister.