Marjo Brakaj

For over two years now, the Albanian government has been promising and expecting the holding of the First Intergovernmental Conference, which would give a significant impetus to the negotiations for EU membership. Failing to meet such deadlines, Prime Minister Rama has repeatedly warned seeking the ‘secession’ from North Macedonia in this process if the roundtable shall not be organized by June 2022. But, is the Bulgarian veto on North Macedonia the real postponement reason of the First Intergovernmental meeting?

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“Once this does not happen, we will completely change the course. Our new course we will seek the absolute separation from the North Macedonia and we will seek it in every instance, with every government of the European Union and with Brussels. Albania cannot wait until two neighbours (with whom we have very good relations and not an issue at all) settle their disputes between each other to sit at the conference table” said  Prime Minister Rama on 7 April this year, or one month before the upcoming deadline for the holding the first Intergovernmental Conference on EU integration.

Prime Minister Rama based such argument even in the output obtained by the “National Counselling” where citizens were asked to answer the question of whether Albania should continue the integration process separated by RNM, and 343,420 citizens had answered in favour of the integration, while 96,910 of them were against it.

Prime Minister Rama, but also other officials of the majority have been holding it for more than two years, whenever the next deadline for the development of a key activity in the progress of the negotiations for the integration of Albania in the European Union fails.

At the end of 2021, the Prime Minister warned that if the First Intergovernmental Conference is not held within the first half of this year, Albania shall ask the European Commission to ‘secede’ from North Macedonia on the road to EU accession.

However, as for the political scientist Mr. Afrim Krasniqi, these attitudes are more excuses than convincing arguments. According to him, the country is still lagging behind in meeting several conditions.

“Issues such as investigations of electoral crime, investigations of the most notorious criminal and corrupt groups, and the package related to media freedom are still below the required standards. “Under such circumstances, Albania has not been penalized neither by the internal EU problems, nor by the Bulgarian conditionality on North Macedonia, but mainly by the fact that Albania itself does not have strong positive results to convince sceptical countries for a pro-negotiation vote.”– argued Krasniqi.

Krasniqi said that even in case of resolving the deadlock created between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, it is very likely that Albania shall anyway not be able to hold the Intergovernmental Conference.

“Veto against North Macedonia is more of an alibi for Tirana than an argument. EU Important countries keep being critical as regards the state of democracy and the rule of law in Albania. Some of them have warned that resolving the crisis with North Macedonia is insufficient for significant progress regarding Albania.” – adds Krasniqi.

Gjergji Vurmo, of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation, shares another opinion as regards this issue.

“Are we ready to sit down? I think, yes, we are. Negotiations will be a long process and as they unfold, the country needs to strengthen its capacity to respond to challenges. Thus, we have to be consistent about such efforts, moreover, that pursuant to the new methodology, the process can be reversed.said Vurmo.

In a joint press conference with the High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Deputy President of the European Commission, Mr. Josep Borrell on 15 March this year, Rama recalled June 2022 as the deadline of holding the First Intergovernmental Conference.

“It is up to the European Council, the sooner they do, the more it is in their honour, as a lot of time is being spent by promising and not keeping promises. However, we understand that it’s no longer a matter of a common will of the European Council, because all countries are now ready to launch such talking; is a matter of a stalemate between the other two countries, i.e. Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria. The French presidency can do this in June” – said  Rama.

As for the political scientists Mr. Gjergji Vurmo and Mr. Afrim Krasniqi, the intergovernmental meeting in June will most likely not be held.

“The chances for this to happen are slim. “Especially at a time when all the attention is focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine.” – said Vurmo.

The conference is not expected to be held in June, but in September or October, as the practice showed that it takes several months of time and negotiations from the decision up to the implementation. Albania must also get through the test of electing the president. However, I think that the date does not matter, as long as the conference takes place this year and Albania is prepared for the progress of the talks’ – argued Krasniqi.

How many times did the holding of the first Intergovernmental Conference with the EU fail?

“If it does not happen at the end of this year, it will certainly happen next year”. This is how Prime Minister Edi Rama answered to the question: “When do you think the first intergovernmental conference will start?” – of the German media “Deutche Welle” in Albanian on 19 September 2020 or 6 month following the conditional opening of Albania’s negotiations by the European Union.

The First Intergovernmental Roundtable was not held in 2020.

In a joint conference with the Minister for the European Union and Constitution, Karoline Edstadler in early May last year , the Albania’s Chief Negotiator for the integration process, Zef Mazi expressed  optimism that the Intergovernmental Conference would be held within that year.

We are ahead of very important decisions of the Union, where among others is the First Intergovernmental Conference. We are working from Albania and EU countries to close it as soon as possible within 6 months.” – said Mazi.

The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Olta Xhaçka, reiterated her conviction that the conference would be held in June last year in another statement on 23 May.

“We highly expect that Council will agree to approve the negotiating framework and to hold the first Intergovernmental Conference with Albania, within the first half of the year,” stated  Xhaçka.

However, the First Intergovernmental Conference was not held even in the first half of 2021.

Taulant Balla, Head of the Social Parliamentary Group, said  in a statement in October that he hoped the conference would be held within Christmas.

I hope that such conference will be held within Christmas and it is up to the European Union to keep its word.” – said Balla.

Even this time, optimistic hopes and statements did not lead to the holding of the intergovernmental meeting. Since the opening of negotiations from European Commission two years ago, Albania has not held its first intergovernmental Conference yet.

Albania’s accession membership negotiations were opened on 24 March 2020, and along with North Macedonia, the First Intergovernmental Roundtable was then to be organized in which the negotiating framework would be defined. This would also mark the formal factual step towards integration. With the Bulgaria’s veto on the opening of negotiations of Northern Macedonia with the Union.