Albanian Political Forces and the EU Integration Process

Following the publication of the latest EU progress report on Albania, an intense debate broke out over the country’s accession prospects. A first approximation of the political discourse expressed by Albanian parties – irrespective of size or ideology – would reveal that the issue ranks high at the political agenda.

First in order are the socialists of Alliance for a European Albania, the party in Government led by Edi Rama. This is in fact a coalition of 37 parties that came into office in 2013, after receiving 57.63% of the national vote. Its main view on the debated issue is that the country’s accession will take place in the first year of its government, provided that a wide range of reforms will carry through in the judiciary, the police and in state administration overhauling, thus, the miscarried policies of the previous government. Croatia operates as a raw model in this process of integration. It should be noted here that along with the process of European integration, Rama’s government seeks to expand the country’s economic relations to Asia, engaging in talks with China and India. Apart from the internal reforms, which according to the government are necessary to facilitate the process of integration, the latter seems to present a window of opportunity for a rapprochement with the newly created Republic of Kosovo. The government released a statement calling for cooperation between the two countries to assist one another in the integration process, which is the only way to ameliorate the living standards of the people living in them.

The Minority-Issue

Turning to the issue of minorities, Rama’s Government outspoken intention is to align with the provisions of international conventions. However this appears to be a thorny issue that might delay the whole integration process. One of the Alliance’s prominent MPs, Alfred Peza, well known journalist and news director at Vizion Plus TV station, stated in parliament, last September, that the integration process will be completed no earlier than 2020 and certainly not before the complete integration of women, national and cultural minorities as well as homosexuals into the country’s economic and social life. This pro-minority outlook is further enhanced by the party Unity for Human Rights participating in the Alliance.

The Centre-Right Opposition

At the opposite end stands the Centre-Right opposition running under the name Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration. This is comprised of 25 political parties and received 39,45% of the national vote in the last election. The Centre-Right Alliance holds that major steps towards integration were made under Berisha’s administration, some of them being the country’s accession to NATO and the lift of visa requirements for travelling inside the EU. According to the Centre-Right the socialist Alliance, now in government, must take blame for vetting the whole process of integration due to its abstainment from parliamentary sessions – a strategy endorsed then by Edi Rama who did not recognize the electoral result of 2009 and called for an election recount. Lulzim Basha, the new opposition’s chief spokesman and leader of the major party of the alliance, Democratic Party of Albania, states that contrary to Rama’s tactics when in opposition, he will hold the pledge of accelerating the integration process putting aside rent seeking behavior. He then proceeds to criticize strongly the incumbent government for driving away foreign investors due to the rise of corporate tax from 10% to 15%.

The Left Opposition

Another pro E.U political force is the Socialist Movement for Integration, formed by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta. This is a pivotal player in parliamentary politics since it managed its way through Government since 2009 with the Centre-Right and today with the socialists. Being the only party in Parliament that is self-positioned to the Left, managed against all-odds – due to its involvement in financial scandals – to rank third in the last election receiving 10,46% of the national vote. Being a partner in the last two governments, the party now claims to be the guarantor of a stable and uninterrupted integration process.

Turning now to examine the parties of the extra-parliamentary Left. Nearly all of them fully endorse the Government’s pro-European stance except for the New Albanian Party of Labour. A self-proclaimed successor of the Party of Labour of Albania that ruled the country from 1945 to 1991, this party is the only one cherishing Enver Hoxha’s political legacy and fights against the EU and NATO, considering them as institutions that promote foreign interests in the country. Be that as it may, this tiny political force – received 0.44% – calls for a different kind of cooperation with the EU, the nature of which remains unknown.

Apart from the outspoken support of all political forces, the people as well seem to be in favor of the European integration. The popular support remains strong despite of the economic turbulences worldwide and it is nurtured by the hope of  recovery.