2nd Place

Albania’s integration in EU- Opportunities and challenges

       “We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe”, used in the student protests which overthrew the communist regime in 1991. More than 20 years after, Albania is not like the rest of Europe. Today our democracy is fragile and the rule of law lacks behind. Today we have ahead of us an EU perspective and a roadmap with tasks to fill before making our dream come true. Today we listen every day to our political leaders claiming that EU integration remains a priority. We tend to believe that joining the EU would be a solution to most of our problems, but in this rather naïve belief rests the optimism of a nation for a better future.

         Often, as a high school student that I am, I struggle to understand how much of this tasks are with our government and how much of it rests with the political decision of EU institutions.  It is every day that I try to understand what could I do or what could a high school student do to help our accession efforts. I like everybody else, find myself trapped in the trumpeting of EU integration slogans that are part of the everyday political language. I wonder if our leaders found an easy refuge into this subject and that’s all. Such slogans are repeated over and over throughout my childhood and now in my adolescence years. It is only lately that I enquired myself how this process is looking like and below I will try to present my findings.

         There have been years of waiting, years of promises and yet nothing new nor positive on the horizon. Albania started the negotiations on Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2003. In 2009, we applied for EU membership. Following the submission, the Council asked the European Commission (EC) to prepare a detailed assessment of Albania. In 2012, EC concluded that 4 out of 12 priorities were met. On 23rd June 2013, Albania held general elections mainly regarded as free and fair. The EU ambassador to Albania said on July 17th that we, Albania might be an official candidate by December 2013. Yet, Albania to date has not been yet granted the status. All this pending confirmation brings up to the question: What is wrong with us? It seems that criteria are stronger than wishes.

         No other country has suffered such as ours. Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro surpassed us in an initiative we firstly took. There is no certitude when we’re getting a firm confirmation, even though we’re famous for being the most pro-European country. So, politicians I regret to say it’s your mistake, you’re the ones who failed. EU integration is a group mission. We, as citizens have completed our duties. We, ourselves want and know to live as Europeans. On the contrary, politicians’ unjustified behavior on the parliament embodies nothing else but chaos. Maybe in another moment, they may play their theatrical role: like there really is compromise, by shaking hands in front of cameras, and… For a moment, everything is better than ever and then our European dream, who knows, may become true. But… Can we fake it to the end? Can the EU really be deceived?

        It’s not a matter of good looking than it’s of content: Fulfilling our homework which will be checked by EU. The process requires realism and pragmatism by sharply pointing out our objectives and opportunities. Whoever thinks Albania won’t develop, then it won’t. Whoever truly believes, truly will contribute. This means that whenever we get a “NO”, we shouldn’t focus on finding the guilty than on working harder. Because when we aren’t a united family within ourselves, how do we pretend to survive in EU? We shouldn’t see it as a problem solver, not as the need of a small country to stay under a larger umbrella.

       Just by constructing the right vision of democracy, Albania avoids the danger of remaining out of EU. Meanwhile, it avoids another danger, the one of being left behind without fulfilling the responsibilities after membership. Let’s have a look at the gist meaning of being an EU member. Let’s start by their quote: “So similar, so different, so European”, which belongs to a system so widely known “a sui generis-of its own kind”. Rightfully, it suggests a union that constantly changes. The EU made that brotherhood, took advantages over each country’s own patriotism. But… Albanians are best known for their cultural values and their strong feeling of patriotism. Are we willing to give up some of our uniqueness for the sake of EU’s goods? Are we ready to change our multiyear identity, the real us?

       The youth are embracing the so called Western culture and consequently forgetting theirs. There are efforts in EU to reinforce the sentiment of a common tradition such as: the European flag and hymn, Eurovision song contest, etc. Nevertheless, Zhan Mone, the creator of EU, said later that if given the opportunity, would have given more importance to culture than to economy. Thus, “So similar, so different, so European” means that there are countries which serve both as good or bad examples.

       When it comes to a social state, will we resemble the countries of northern Europe or Mediterranean ones? When it comes to rights, Albania will be as liberal as Spain to allow marriages of the same sex or a conservator like Malta which didn’t allow divorce? To put it differently, EU holds a number of good and bad examples. Yes, we may reach standards superficially and convince Brussels one day. We choose to follow good or bad models. However, completing something superficially, brings superficial products, too. Integration in EU is an outcome of democracy, not a democratization ready formula. Moreover, Albania has and is benefiting from a number of EU instruments of assistance. On the one hand, in 1999 benefited from Autonomous Trade preferences and in 2000 duty-free access to EU market was granted, too. On the other hand, in 2007 the visa facilitation agreement was signed.

       All of these convince us on worshiping the EU as an admirable safe haven. When Greece was in crisis EU helped, but being constantly dependent on others enslaves a person, enslaves people. I wish membership comes in the right moment when we see EU once and for all as an opportunity to develop democratically. Beyond contradicts, beyond insecurities, I believe we have worked hard so far and shouldn’t give up. It’s not politicians’ challenge only , it’s everyone’s challenge, everyone’s future. We are all in a feverish anticipation of legitimizing victory to embrace and enjoy once and for all our European dream.

      Immediately, deep in the soul and in my youthful hopes, something flourishes, that by breaking me away from the current time, it brings me closer to a brighter future. Something that, I know for sure will give me the validity to declare with pride: “I’m European, I live European, I think European”. Our closest duty is to do what we see clearly in the present, not what appears vaguely in the distance. “We are one and the change comes a little from all to reach good for all”.

Zoela Dimo.

“Mehmet Akif” Girls' High School