Blair Turns To The Balkans

Tony Blair, former UK prime minister from 1997 – 2007 and current UN Middle East envoy has spoken out in favour of Albania joining the European Union. He released a statement from the Albanian capital, Tirana, saying, ‘personally I’d love to see this country join the family of European nations.’

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Albania first sought membership to the EU in 2009, but the request was postponed by the European Commission as a result of misgivings over the country’s democratic maturity and deeply entrenched organised crime.

With ongoing economic hardship within the Eurozone, and continued debates over whether Greece should be allowed to retain its membership; the timing of Blair’s endorsement for Albania is noteworthy. The logic behind enlarging the European Union at a time when member states are beleaguered and exhausted, seems somewhat flawed and it’s worth raising the question: Is it likely Albania could join the European Union at a time when debate continues over the effectiveness of the organisation? And if Albania does join, what would this actually mean?

In reality, Albania has been making positive advances towards European accession. The elections in June 2013 in which Rama ascended to power, were commended by the European body as being in accordance with European and International standards. Furthermore, recent study groups have shed light on the fact the ‘EU represents the countries main aspiration and personal hope for a better future’. Participants view the EU as a mechanism to mitigate all existing problems in the country through its ‘strict monitoring and supervisory role.’ The hope that the EU can eradicate corruption overlooks the reality that the EU is not free of corruption itself.

This optimistic ambition overlooks the repercussions of Albania having to join the Eurozone. In contrast to its Balkan neighbours, Albania has largely avoided recession, however the economy is in slowdown due to the effects of reduced remittances from migrants workers in Greece and Italy where the crisis is more severe. Concerns are particularly focused over rising public debt and the government’s budget deficit. Albania must carefully analyse the cases of Ireland and Portugal, to recognise the dangers of their vulnerable economy being swallowed up into the current quagmire, which is the Eurozone.While Albania’s commitment to European membership is undoubtedly laudable and their advances indeed commendable, the rosy-tinted image of the EU as a quick fix problem-solver needs to be deconstructed; Albania must recognise the long-term consequences and obligations of membership to become a successful EU state and not simply another mouth for Merkel to feed.

Blair’s perhaps surprising contribution to the debate – straying outside his assigned area of expertise in the the Middle East, provokes one simple question, what does Albanian membership to the EU mean for Britain? First and foremost, the move could enable a further 3 million Albanian migrants to settle in Britain. Secondly, it would ensure the 1.1 billion of UK taxpayers money which contributed to the fund to help countries such as Albania and Turkey join the EU will have served its purpose. While, it is a duty for the European countries to support and assist poverty-stricken countries, co-opting them into the EU is not a beneficial solution. It is not a beneficial solution for the impoverished people of Albania or for the debt-laden people of Britain, but an accomplishment for politicians who view success in terms of the breadth of their political power.

Riley Maxwell

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