Albanian Prime Minister Obstructs Country’s EU Integration
Will Edi Rama end his arrogance and allow his long-suffering people to hold free and fair elections and reach their European destiny?
Albania is one of the most pro-western countries on the Balkans peninsula. For the last thirty years, Albanians have aspired to fully integrate into the European Community but extremely polarized and divisive politics have delayed their wishes to be a member of the European Union.
Support for Albania has increased since the collapse of the Communist regime but in recent years, under the governance of Edi Rama, the small Balkans county has undertaken regressive steps away from any European Union ambitions.
The ‘Colombia of Europe’
News from Albania has occupied the world media for the last six years, but sadly it is mostly bad news. Albania has repeatedly garnered headlines for being the ‘Colombia of Europe’ and the entry point for Europe’s drug trafficking.
Drug cultivation and trafficking brought about many concerns from Italian, Greek, Dutch and British authorities, as well as from other countries. The income of the cannabis in Albania during the period 2013-2016 was estimated to be in the billions of Euros, seriously making a foray into the country’s GDP. The money is often laundered through construction in the main cities of Albania, such as Tirana, Durres, Vlora and Elbasan, as well as through other means.
The Albanian prime minister is also alleged to be involved with organized crime, not only to control and manipulate elections but also to create a network of illegal business and political influence. Many alleged and verified criminals with involvement in international organized crime, even alleged rapists, were appointed as mayors, members of parliament, or other high government positions by the prime minister.
After harsh reaction and a boycott by the country’s political opposition, and after intense pressure from the U.S. and E.U., the Albanian parliament passed a law calling for the vetting and removal of many drug and human traffickers from parliament. The law forced many criminals and aides to Prime Minister Rama out of parliament.
Presently there are two investigative cases called File 184 and File 339, which involve the taping of ministers, mayors, and the Prime Minister himself. The cases relate to election fraud and the usage of illegal means to influence elections. In one instance, on September 11, 2016, Rama called the head of a regional election commission asking whether the elections had gone as discussed. He replied: Yes, Chief, All went well as we have discussed.
The prosecutors have dragged out the cases due to pressure and intimidation. But, public opinion is angry and opposition parties are protesting in the streets of Tirana, as well as surrounding cities. People are protesting in the thousands, calling for a transitory government and free and fair elections. Rama’s response has been brutal – ordering the state police to use uncontrolled gas in the vicinity of dwelling houses, arresting dozens of protestors, and manipulating the media.
Albania’s Relationship with the EU and Europe
The crisis in Albania is intensifying. The European Commission (E.C.) just gave the recommendation to begin the E.U. membership process. In a very bureaucratic way, the E.C. has given Albania a positive recommendation for the last three years. Although the E.C. is presently acting the same, it is playing the old game of the carrot and the stick, because despite the positive recommendation from the E.C., member states will turn down the proposition for the opening of negotiations.
Rama is aware of the situation, and with the help of a few remaining personal friends in the E.U., he is hoping to use the positive recommendation, (the carrot from E.C.), for political credit and blame the opposition for the stick that will ultimately come from the E.U. member states. Due to his irresponsible political ambitions, the stick will fall on the Albanians.
On April 12, 2019, the Parliament of Netherlands voted to reinstate visa requirements for Albanian nationals due to an increase of Albanian criminal activities in the Netherlands and an increase of asylum seekers coming from Albania. This could have a domino effect. Other countries may follow the Netherlands and undertake the same measure.
Under such foreign and domestic circumstances, the Albanian prime minister is pretending to offer talks with opposition leaders but they refuse and seem determined to ask for his resignation.
The entire country is expecting the prime minister to resign in order to open a new path for E.U. integration. The level of corruption under his government has reached a new high. Albanians are facing great difficulties and the country is controlled by the mafia and organized crime.
Rama’s Hold on Albania’s Future
Rama has tried to reform the judicial system in order to usurp and control it. The country has no Constitutional Court, allowing the prime minister to act as a supreme ruler. He has appointed his people to the top of every justice and vetting institution. He is tailoring the judiciary system according to his interests. He claims that the judicial reform in Albania is the best in the world, but Albanians know that it is a dangerous experiment which ensures the prime minister more and more power.
Primary sectors such as education, healthcare, social services and more are also tangled and in a big mess. The youth is fleeing the country in an unprecedented exodus. The economy is weak and Albanians are poorer than ever. Being the second poorest country in Europe, Albania’s only hope is E.U. integration but the rule of Prime Minister Rama is the main hindrance of such aspiration.
“Cannabis-land,” “Mafia-land,” and “Corruption-land” have been the headlines of world media during the Rama years. With him gone, Albania may have a chance to recover and pursue its European dream.
Albania is dwelling in political, institutional and social chaos. The country is on the brink of a civil conflict. The June 30th elections are approaching. Opposition parties have boycotted and will not participate in the elections. The prime minister is determined to enter the elections alone. He is pretending to be soft and dedicated to dialogue but is still committed to entering the forthcoming elections alone – an unprecedented and dictatorial decision.
Election day is a deadline for either a conflict solution or an escalation into a civil conflict. June 30th is to Rama even higher than the Chinese wall. It is a test of his future as prime minister and for the Socialist Party on which he has authoritarian control. It is obvious that if Rama participates alone in the elections itwill bring the end of his political career as well as that of any positive heritage that his Socialist Party, formerly the Communist Party of Albania, might still have.
The country’s future and its European integration are at a demise unless Prime Minister Rama reflects and acts like a statesman and not a dictator. If the prime minister decides to ignore the opposition in the forthcoming election the country will collapse in anarchy. Violence and chaos will spread, while Rama himself will be taking an airplane to somewhere abroad where he can watch his country burn from a safe distance.
To prevent such a scenario, opposition parties and thousands of Albanians have held many massive protests in the streets of Tirana. Other protests will follow. Will Edi Rama end his arrogance and allow his long-suffering people to hold free and fair elections and reach their European destiny? Or will one man continue to enchain Albania’s future, as it was for half a century under the Communist regime?