Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Albania

Delivered in Plenary - 15th February 2011

Mr President

If Albania is to make progress towards its eventual goal of EU accession, its political leaders need to engage in a more constructive, democratic and mature way. Last month’s violence was a reminder of the inherent instability of Albanian politics.

I also wonder whether the Council and Commission have considered revisiting last year’s decision to grant Albanians visa-free travel to the EU in the light of the bloodshed, which may of course generate more economic emigration to the Schengen area if foreign direct investment dries up.

Such a step would certainly underline the fact that Albania continues to fall well short of the EU’s expectations. Organised crime and corruption still flourish and the judiciary is too often manipulated by politicians. Prime Minister Berisha even interfered with the arrest, ordered by the Prosecutor-General, of guardsmen who had shot protestors, claiming that a coup d’état was imminent. Democratic institutions are weak and press freedom is scarce.

The decision by Edi Rama’s Socialist Party to boycott the parliament on the basis of alleged electoral fraud has compounded Albania’s instability. There is no way Albania can even begin to enact the reforms necessary to regain the EU’s confidence in the current political environment of instability. This instability may also now cause NATO to reconsider its own enlargement policy, Albania having joined the alliance less than two years ago. NATO leaders must now question whether Albanian membership was granted too soon.

Aside from my own concerns about Albania’s political instability and how it will impact on the country’s EU aspirations, I am also sceptical about Albania’s strategic priorities. Albania is a full member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an increasingly powerful and influential lobby in the UN promoting the interests of its members and voting as a bloc on human rights and foreign policy matters. OIC members include Albania and Turkey, both of whom are signatories to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which cites sharia as the basis for human rights in Muslim countries.

Albania, like Turkey, must now decide between embracing western values, or whether to give primacy to those of sharia law which the European Court of Human Rights here in Strasbourg has deemed incompatible with European values, though so far in my view Albania’s membership of the OIC, in fairness, seems only nominal. Albania is, after all, a secular country in practice. It seems to have been designed by the Albanian leadership that they join the OIC in order to attract Middle Eastern money, rather than based on any strong religious convictions, but of course this could all change in the future.