European Western Balkans

Rama: Western Balkan countries should do their homework and “not cheat on the exam”

Photo: European Union

TIRANA — It’s in the Western Balkans countries’ best interest to do their homework by fulfilling the EU accession criteria, and not to cheat on the exam, said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in an interview to EURACTIV ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Tirana on 6 December. 

Rama emphasized the importance of the Summit being held for the first time in one of the Western Balkans countries. The EU-Western Balkans Summit brings together leaders from the region, representatives of the EU institutions, as well as EU Member States.

“Just the fact that we have a summit in Tirana – who could imagine just a few years ago, that the EU would get out of its perimeter, and the Council would move in a non-EU country to have a summit. And it’s not just a manifestation, an event, it’s more than that. It’s a commitment, it’s a message,” Rama told EURACTIV.

Prime Minister of Albania pointed out that the current geopolitical situation, together with threats of pandemic and climate change, made the EU more aware of the importance, but also vulnerability of the region. This can also be seen in the shift of France’s attitude towards enlargement, whose support for the Western Balkans EU perspective came as a surprise for Rama.

However, the extent of this renewed interest could still be questioned. “I believe it’s more than just nice words, in terms of the genuine interest now, but will the general interest transform into action? And will the action be sufficient? I don’t know,” as Rama said.  

Sharing his thoughts on the geopolitical situation in the region heavily influenced by the war in Ukraine, Rama acknowledged Russian influence in the Western Balkans, mainly in “Serbian territories,” but warned against the alienation of Serbia, which received a lot of backlash for not aligning with the EU restrictive measures towards Russia amid the war in Ukraine.

“We must be aware of the danger…We should not contribute in any shape or form to alienating Serbia, we need to get Serbia engaged,” as Rama emphasized.

Rama also stressed the importance of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, even though he understands the difficulties of finding a solution since the war happened not so long ago. He praised the Franco-German proposal which calls for independence without mutual recognition, and he considers it a path towards a final solution.

Speaking about his relationship with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Rama explained that regional cooperation in initiatives such as the Open Balkans doesn’t necessarily imply agreeing on all issues, but that this cooperation is important for the region.

“We have found a way to be very open and very blunt with each other. We have understood that there is only one chance to have a relation – to agree to disagree on Kosovo because there is no way we can agree on that so far… It’s much better this way then to turn the back,” as Rama said in the interview. 

He reflected upon the accession negotiation process, which Albania began in June 2022, and stressed the importance of integration process being merit-based and resulting in working institutions. According to Rama, it isn’t in the interest of the Western Balkans countries to cheat on this exam as Greece did, “even if the professors are very inclined to give you a way out.”

Rama acknowledged that his government might be responsible for certain shortcomings in the accession process and that some things could have been done better. 

According to the EC Report for 2022, Albania still has a lot of progress to do on its path towards the EU, mainly in areas such as media freedom, rule of law and corruption, with the latter being the main motivation for protests organized during the Summit in Tirana, as stated by the opposition leader Sali Berisha.

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