– When I said I no longer believed in expansion, I meant it. This process cannot be brought to life, it will take generations, says Jerji Formo, as we gather at a fish restaurant in Tirana, the capital of Albania.
It smells of fried garlic, squid salad dishes, and seafood pasta. Prices are measured by European standards, very low.
Jerji Formo is Director of Programs at the IDM think tank, Institute for Democracy and Mediation, which has just released a report in which all possibilities for Western Balkan countries’ membership in the European Union are written off for the foreseeable future. Jerji Formo says the summit in Ljubljana won’t change anything.
– I do not expect anything new from that summit or any other summit organized by any of the European Union countries. Do you know why?
Two years ago it was France And it was the Netherlands that impeded the process, and now it was Bulgaria that put an end to it, and even if Bulgaria changed, says Formo, any country could, at any time, have the opportunity to object to it.
– For even if Bulgaria suddenly said to forgive the men, it was our fault, and we should not do it again, a green light for negotiations, there is nothing on this earth that could convince me that no other country would go mad when it would be better.
– I couldn’t have chosen a better start to my tour through the Western Balkans than Albania and starting with the opening of Kurb Muca Nursery and here, the school.
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen toured the Western Balkans. Here in Albania, she opened an EU-funded nursery and assured Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama that Albania’s future is in the EU.
– And let me be clear, Albania’s future is within the European Union. We are friends and partners and, as Eddie said, we want this cooperation.
But Jerji Formo sees this as hypocrisy. The crises that the European Union has experienced in recent years with Brexit, and quarrels with Poland, Hungary and others, mean that the desire for enlargement is small. Despite this, the European Union has consistently told Western Balkan countries that enlargement is a priority issue. The result is what he calls in his report a parody of membership negotiations with the Western Balkans, where development is already declining in many areas. They are becoming less democratic and more corrupt, and the EU is not doing much about it.
– In the Western Balkans, you have the majority of countries falling behind in terms of corruption, freedom of information, freedom of media, and independent institutions. But the European Union is ignoring this, says Georges Formo.
in Transparency International Corruption index, where Sweden ranks third, you’ll find Serbia at 94, Albania at 104, and North Macedonia at 111 out of 180 countries. Serbian President Vucic fell into an iron fist, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic was among the names in the massive leak of the Pandora Papers, and recently the Union of Six Journalists in the Western Balkans wrote a letter to the EU Commissioner for Enlargement warning of the decline in media freedom in Albania under Edi Rama. .
– I don’t think we should blame our failure in the field of democracy in the European Union. Jerji Formo says we failed.
But he believes that EU leaders also bear a responsibility. They have a high level of trust here, legitimizing with visits like von der Leyens, the leaders of the Western Balkans and helping them retain power.
– But if you take into account that the European Union, some member states, and the West in general have a degree of confidence, if you then decide to take beautiful pictures with Vucic, Rama and Djukanovic, this will have an effect on people’s perception.
According to Jerji Formo, the idea of the EU’s transformative power, that is, countries hoping to join the EU to become more democratic in the process, does not work. On the contrary, it generated a vicious circle, as negative development in the Western Balkans generated the EU’s unwillingness to include new members – and vice versa.
It’s a vicious cycle – one failure leads to another failure.
In general, Albanians are positive As for EU membership, but the percentage who think it could become a reality is declining, not only here but across the region. Jerji Formo points out that he is a staunch advocate of EU membership, but now is the time for the EU and the Western Balkans to be more honest with each other. There won’t be any — so let’s look for alternatives, he says.
– I mean, I’m a huge fan, and I’ve been a fan of expansion for over 20 years, and now I absolutely don’t trust the process. And I’d say it’s a lot better for us, and maybe even better for the EU, if we start to be more honest with each other. There is life outside the EU, no one will die, neither we nor you, let’s be honest, let’s look for an alternative.
For a country like Serbia, there really is such. It could be alliances with Russia and China. But Albania does not have a Plan B. Perhaps it would be better to invest in the kind of linked status that Norway has with the European Union.
But I don’t know, says Gerge Formo. This is what we need to discuss. Because it is clear that we will not become members.
– I don’t know what it could be instead, it could be something between the EA, or something like the Norwegian model, or something in between that model and some kind of correlation case. I don’t know, let’s talk about it! Because it is clear that we will not become members.
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