Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Opinion

See no evil - EU approach is failing the Albanian people

They say his "emergency" luggage was packed.

Someone from enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele's close entourage remarked that if he had gone to Tirana the next day as planned he would have yelled at Prime Minister Sali Berisha: "Enough - you have to retreat!"

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  • Albanian protests - four people were shot dead. Nobody has been found guilty from the government side (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

It was 21 January 2011 and the republican guard had just shot dead on live TV four unarmed protesters in an anti-government and anti-corruption rally in the capital city of Albania.

Fuele never took that flight. Instead Catherine Ashton, in need of some kind of success for her newborn European External Action Service, sent her special envoy Miroslav Lajcak.

The Albanian leader, in his first meeting with the Slovak former foreign minister said "Please tell me what to do and I will do as you say." But Lajcak, during three rounds of talks, said nothing and did nothing of substance and went home.

He returned to Brussels with the same idea that eurocrats had about Albania all along - that both Berisha and the leader of the opposition, Edi Rama, are not credible and that the EU should leave them to it.

Or, as Fuele recently said in the EU parliament: "The door remains open ... It is your choice. It is absolutely your choice. It is not me who wants to enter the EU."

What is the current political situation in Albania like? A few examples tell the story.

In 2008, 26 people died in a blast at an ammunition depot. After three years of work, a judicial enquiry has not found anybody guilty. The then minister of defence, responsible for military facilities, is now minister of environment.

A few weeks before the 21 January shootings, our deputy prime minister was captured on camera offering €700,000 in a dodgy deal to our minister of economy.

The minister of interior - in office at the time of the killings and implicated in the vanishing of €220 million back when he was minister of transport - is the new mayor of Tirana. Just one person - a protestor - has so far been found guilty for his part in the events. The international community has long forgotten about calls for justice.

And the election? The incumbent stole Rama's narrow victory - in full sight of the EU and the US.

There is more to Albania than this - just look at the European Commission's progress reports on the massive change taking place here in the past few years.

But during this whole turbulent period the only things to come out of the EU institutions are "we have taken note" and "we are following closely ... [sometimes] with concern".

I hope never again to hear these expressions.

Brussels still has time to speak the truth on Albania and to put pressure on the ruling elite to do its job.

Nobody is asking for French jets to fire missiles at Berisha's degraded regime. But - and I choose my words carefully - we should not let him become a mini-Gaddafi in Europe by closing our eyes to abuses in the name of fake stability.

A regime which shoots protesters, rigs elections, neglects reforms and allows politicians to merrily steal the country's money is not in our national interest and not in the EU's interest either.

It is a regime destined to create a black hole in the western Balkans and to leave the people of Albania on the crossroads of EU integration for decades to come.

The author is the Brussels correspondent for Albanian and Macedonian national TV, Alsat M

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