The EU objective in Western Balkans is to promote peace, stability, and economic development that would enable the future European integration. In order to support the step-by-step integration of the Western Balkans, the EU has developed a certain policy. Among the seven countries, Croatia was the first country to become a member of EU, while Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania are official candidates. One the other hand Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.
In 1999, the EU started the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), which is a framework for the relations between the EU and countries in the region. SAP consists of: contractual relations, financial assistance, political dialogue, trade relations and regional cooperation.
The countries that apply for becoming EU members must complete the so-called Copenhagen political criteria. Both candidate and potential candidate countries get economic help in order to implement the essential reforms. At the same time, both candidate and potential candidate countries can get engaged in EU programms.
Albania first applied to become a EU member on the 28th of April in 2009. In June 2014, Albania received the status of candidate country. Based on the country reports that showed progress in terms of implementation of reforms, in 2016 and 2018, European Commission suggested the opening of accession negotiations with Albania. In June 2018, the Council agreed to the possible opening of accession negotiations with Albania in June 2019, assuming the necessary conditions would be fulfilled. By so far the accession negotiations with Albania are still not opened.
Strengths & Weaknesses of the Region 2
The six nations are working on boosting the regional cooperation while working to close the economic gap with Western Europe. The countries of Western Balkans have experienced a constant economic growth during the past two decades. Though the unemployment rate remains high (in double digits), during the first half of 2019, the unemployment rate fell historically. The unemployment is particularly high among women with only 18% of women in the workforce.
Based on the data from the Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report it can be argued that there have been improvements in terms of the facility of doing business in the region. Even though business leaders point out that they are concerned about the slow adoption of the leading technologies. While Montenegro is rated as the country with the most excellent technology advancement, Albania, has shown some improvement in terms of the cooperation between industry and academia on R&D, but there is still room for advancement. Another issue pointed out by business leaders as a weakness is related high prices of energy.
Strengths & Weaknesses of Albania 3
It can be said that the status of Albania as a candidate country for EU membership it is considered as one of the strengths that the country has. Moreover, Albania is rich in minerals (oil, chromium, copper, iron-nickel, silicates, coal) as well as it is a hydroelectric power. In addition, the country has a long coastline with several ports and it is characterized by abundant and cheap labour.
In terms of weaknesses among the most important ones we can mention about the large informal economy that goes up to 30% to 40%. Another important weakness is related to poverty, GDP per capita is 30% of the European average. In addition to that the low priority given to education is considered as another weakness, as data shows only 3% of GDP is invested in education. Furthermore, Albania is dependent on rainfall that impacts agriculture that makes up 25% of GDP for 45% of jobs and also hydropower from where 95% of the electricity comes from. In terms of political weaknesses, we can mention about inefficient judiciary system and administration and high levels of corruption and organized crimes, sometimes linked to drug trafficking.
EU Contributions in the Region 4
The means by which European Union helps the reforms in candidate and potential candidate countries is called the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). The current states that benefit from these funds are: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. For the period 2007-2013 IPA had a budget of € 11.5 billion, while for the period 2014-2020 IPA II has a budget of € 11.7 billion. These funds are supposed to help the countries that benefit in terms of implementation of political and economic reforms, while introducing them to the privileges and responsibilities that follow EU membership. The reforms are supposed to grant the citizens of the beneficiary countries with better opportunities. At the same time the IPA funds are supposed to support EU in terms of achieving goals regarding sustainable economic recovery, energy supply, transport, the environment and climate change, etc. Pre-accession funds are allocated to the reforms in pre-defined sectors. These are: public administration reform; rule of law; sustainable economy, people & agriculture and rural development.
EU Contributions in Albania 5
Under the IPA II, the funding allocated to Albania for the period 2014-2020 is €639.5 million. The priority is put in these sectors:
- Democracy & Governance (€7 million);
- Rule of Law & Fundamental Rights (€8 million);
- Environment & Climate Action (€30.2 million);
- Transport (€2 million);
- Competitiveness & Innovation plus Agriculture & Rural Development (€182.2 million);
- Education, Employment & Social Policies (€0million).
It can be said that the EU’s aid is mainly concentrated in advancing democracy and good governance by: strengthening democratic institutions; reforming the civil service and public service delivery; improving economic governance & public financial management; empowering civil society.
EU funding for projects in Albania is provided in the form of grants, contracts and budget support. Albania as candidate country is part of different European programms and agencies.6
As we mentioned earlier strengthening of good governance in Albania is on the focus of European Union. At the same time it is one of the crucial goals of the Inter-Sectorial Strategy for Decentralization and Local Governance 2015 – 2020 (ISSDLG). The specific objectives of this goal are capacity building, enhancing the accountability and transparency, as well as community engagement in local government decision-making process. They are supposed to serve to country’s EU integration process. Following these objectives an EU funded project called Municipalities for Europe was developed.
The aim of this project is to enhance the governing capacities of municipalities on EU-related topics, as well as to inform Albanian citizens and local administrations in Albania about EU, its policies and programs. The Project is applied in all 61 municipalities of Albania. This project has the approval of both central and local authorities as assigned in Memorandum of Understanding signed in Durres on 5 December 2016.
The project “Municipalities for Europe” has various goals:
- Support the consolidation and empowerment of the local government in Albania;
- Assist all the Municipalities of Albania in establishing EU Corners in each Municipality in Albania;
- Increase awareness on the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) and other major EU funds;
- Increase and improve the capacities of stakeholders/interested parties that want to benefit from IPA funds or other EU funds and programs;
- Offer training in writing project proposals and filing applications;
- Raise awareness on the policies, objectives, priorities, institutions, programs and perspectives of the European Union;
- Increase the capacities of local government in acquiring, understanding and disseminating information regarding the EU.
More specifically the project consists of three main components.
The first component: EU local offices/ EU corners for strengthening local institutions and training
- Establishment of EU Local Offices in all municipalities of Albania;
- Conduct training on policies, objectives, priorities, institutions, programs and EU prospects;
- Deliver trainings to all EU local offices/EU Corners throughout the project implementation.
The second component: Networking and online communication
- Establishing interaction between municipalities and transferring knowledge and best practices through an on-line communication platform;
- Evaluating the progress of the indicators related to the implementation of the political and economic criteria of European integration.
The third component: Visibility and events
- Dissemination of information regarding the instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) as well as other relevant EU funds and programs eligible for the Albanian Municipalities or citizens;
- Ensuring the distribution of EU information products;
- Providing support to the EU Delegation and the European Union Information Network in Albania regarding the implementation of information and communication activities, including various campaigns and events.