3rd Place

We want Albania like the rest of Europe
It is one of the most heard slogans between the people who eradicated the old dictatorial regime in Albania; a slogan that symbolized in just a few words the dream that Albanians had in those historical and decisive moments for the country, and that somehow became Albania’s motto for the years to come. For nearly half a century, Albania underwent one of the most terrifying communist regimes in history. After the first pluralist elections were held in the country on March 11, 1991, finally the long-awaited aspirations of the people for democracy, freedom and free movement were seen as more real and realizable. The fact that the idea of a great change was immediately related with the integration in the European family has special significance. The EU at that time was one of the first outside bodies to contribute to Albania’s democratization and warming relations with the West.  And here does our journey  towards Europe begin… 
Over the past 20 years, numerous statistics and opinion polls results point to a strong desire of Albanians for the integration of Albania into the European family. In a recent survey, 92 percent of Albanians want the membership of Albania in the European Union. Unlike other countries of the region, no political grouping in Albania, even a peripheral one, rejects the Euro-Atlantic integration process. Albanians are people who have always been pro-European and pro-change.  But, is this enough to bring to life the European dream of Albanians?  Without neglecting the major challenges that lie ahead and that I will analyze below, I think that the the pro-European and emancipated behavior of the Albanian citizen needs to be taken in consideration when trying to give a response to the above question. 
Firstly, Albanian society is a solid one in some aspects.  We are part of a society that is not divided neither in the religious nor in the ethnic plan, as it happens with some Balkan countries and beyond, where hostile and isolated communities exist in large numbers. Moreover, the tolerance between different religious beliefs is a value with which the Albanian society can contribute to the countries of the European family. 
Second, Albanian citizens are a factor of peace in the region and in the whole continent. The Albanian state has always agreed unanimously to recruit peacekeeping troops and send them to hotspots in support of the Allied strategic actions. Furthermore, boundaries are respected and Albanian people have been sang-froid, without falling prone to the injustices that were done towards Albanians communities in the borders. Also, when you see the spectrum of political parties in Albania you will notice how little ground for ultranationalist and chauvinistic political parties has.  
Lastly, the Albanian citizen political behavior has been exemplary.  Everyone can complain about the level of the electoral process in Albania, especially during recent years . But no one can deny that the citizen has voted regularly , quietly and in peace. The Albanian citizen has embraced the process of political democratization without any excess. One strong indication that Albanians sincerely supporting EU integration is the maturity they have shown after the liberalization of the visa in December 2010. Cases of violations of the rules and conditions imposed by the EU for the free movement of Albanians in the Schengen area have been few and insignificant. Unlike the incidents that occurred with citizens of neighboring countries, where the liberalization of the visa was granted earlier, Albanians have been very careful in this regard.  All these factors show that we are in the right track. 
It has been talked a lot about Albania joining  the European Union, but I think that we already are part of Europe and slogans are formulated in a way that is a proactive, inaccurate and somehow ugly. We, Albanians, should formulate in a simpler way and in a more realistic way our slogans that we choose to integrate us. We should reach European standards; this is the essence of our involvement in the European structures. Europe may criticize our political class. I totally agree with that. But, let us seek to support the pro-European citizen, beyond criticism and political institutions. 
Let’s jump to another point of our discussion, the part that we like to procrastinate and neglect: the challenges! Europe is at a turning point of its history. We have today a bigger, stronger European Union but we have many challenges ahead after this enlargement. Even though I fear the enlargement fatigue of the European countries, I personally believe that the Albanian people and its state institutions will carefully face this challenges and will guarantee the European standards in their country. 
In my opinion, the biggest problem that Albania faces is corruption. Majorities in Albania, report that using personal contacts, small gifts or envelopes to get things done, is more harmful than useful. Several officials  with  inadequate  experience  and  bureaucratic  skills  currently  hold  positions  in  central institutions and in higher administrative and police structures. This situation confirms that appointments in Albania are guided by politics rather than professional qualifications. Even though we can see a positive progress, corruption continues being a big problem in Albania. Most of the institutions are still highly politicized and often used as a tool for fighting opposition leaders rather than actual corruption. 
Furthermore, the lack of separation of the legislative and executive branches of the government in particular has held back the fight against corruption. Constructive and sustainable political dialogue will remain  essential  for  a  successful  reform  process.  Sustained  efforts  are  needed  to  strengthen administrative  capacity  for  the  implementation  and  enforcement  of  legislation  and  to  improve transparency and accountability. 
Even though 20 years have passed since the fall of the monist regime, Albanians still think the difference between Albania and the European Union has to do with the level of democracy. Thirty-nine percent of Albanians believe that democracy and human rights is the main problem in Albania that differentiates it from the European Union. Almost the same percentage of Albanians—38 percent think that the biggest difference or issue between Albania and the EU is in the area of the economy. All these data are taken from a survey of Agenda Institute. 
But, what can be done to accomplish the European dream? First, it is significantly important to insure the independence, transparency and efficiency of judicial institutions. Second, considerable efforts are needed  to  establish  an  independent,  effective,  impartial  and  merit-based  civil  service.  Finally, strengthening regional collaboration in combating organized crime and drug trafficking, and deepening economic cooperation with neighbors will be another real route to national, as well as regional stability and growth. The key to success is building the political will to support institutional development and to protect the public’s interest instead of the interest of the politicians.  
All Albanians and especially the young generation should have the perspective of a better future, of a better political and social environment they live in. We have all the chances to be part of the European  family.  Albania  is  an  amazing  country  with  great  natural  potentials  and  talented  people.  The commitment, firmness, patience and accomplishment represent the basis of the strategy and Europe will be on our side through help, support, advice and encouragement. But, it all depends on us. Let’s make the dream of those who sacrificed for liberty and democracy come true! Let’s turn Albania in a developed country, so that our children can live better than we did!  Let’s glorify the name of great Albanians around the world!  Let’s work hard in in the eyes of the world, Europe, Balkans and Albanians themselves, to show that we can! We have no time to lose.  Let’s do it! Europe is waiting for us… 
Prepared by: Kevin Shani - “Gjergj Kastrioti” High School Durres