Füle: 'I'm enjoying every minute of my work as commissioner'
By the end of his term in 2014, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle hopes to have achieved enough to end talk of "enlargement fatigue" and help EU citizens to see more clearly the benefits of an enlarged Europe.
You were in the region recently and visited Albania, a country that is somewhat invisible in mainstream international news. Since political elections last June, the opposition has boycotted parliament – something that does not augur well for the country's SAP. Albania has applied for EU membership but there are clearly problems. What is your message to Tirana?
My messages to Tirana were rather clear. Firstly, I expressed appreciation for the progress that has been made: Albania has become a member of NATO and the European Council has asked the Commission to prepare an opinion on the country.
But I also stressed the importance of the political Copenhagen criteria. I expressed concern about the stability of democratic institutions and the lack of political dialogue in the parliament. I stressed the importance of this: of course, all laws are adopted here, and there would be no reforms without appropriate legislation.
It is very much in the hands of the Albanians and I hope very much that they will make progress and show that they have a mature democracy. Responsibility lies with both political parties – both the ruling group and the opposition.
Albania has changed enormously: it was an autarchy during the communist period and was in a much worse situation than any other country. Can you evaluate the evolution of Albania in those twenty or so years? Yugoslavia was a very successful country at that time – its citizens enjoyed free movement and millions worked in the West, while no Albanian could imagine even leaving the country…
Obviously every country has its own history and the Western Balkan countries carry a lot of historical baggage. Conflict prevailed too often in the region and Albania in particular has a lot of baggage. So I agree – it is remarkable to see the progress they have made in the last twenty years.
The fact that the European Council asked the Commission to prepare an opinion is proof of the progress made in Albania. That does not mean, however, that the work is done and I think this is the most important message to all the Balkan countries – including Croatia, which still needs to open negotiating chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental freedoms.
This is one of the lessons to be learned from the previous enlargement: to put particular importance on the Copenhagen criteria – especially the political criteria – from the very beginning of the accession process until the very end. We need to ensure that countries not only have the legislation and institutions, but also a track record of implementation.