Will the EU take on its responsibility of stable development and peace in Kosovo? The international troops are now withdrawing , but many problems remain. Poverty, corruption and organized crime are some factors, but also it is a fact that this is an area that has recently been part in a conflict with religious/ethnical attributes. While Kosovo may have only recently won its independence, the idea of joining a Greater Albania is backed by a growing number of people – underlining the importance of the EU’s role in the region.
When visiting the center of Kosovo’s capital Pristina last year, it is impossible not to notice the many references to Albania. The six-starred, European Union-like flag adopted by Kosovo in 2008 is rarely seen, while the double-headed eagle of the Albanian banner is displayed proudly at every corner. The souvenir stalls in the main tourist streets sell t-shirts evoking Albania rather than Kosovo. The EU´s role in the region is of great importance – yes Kosovo has recently got its independence, but the idea of joining the Greater Albania is supported by an increasing number of people. This is not a new idea, actually it was created in the Kosovar town Prizren in the 19th century in order to advance Albanian independence from the then ruling Ottoman Empire. After the long battle for independence from Serbia, the youngest state in Europe is already tempted by the idea of giving away its sovereignty to enter a new marriage with its neighbor Albania. But the poor economic state of the landlocked country – devastated by corruption and frequent ethnic clashes with Serbian minorities – has gradually erased the will to join its bigger neighbor.
But it looks like Albania is at least not openly, not showing so much will to join such a project that will be of interest both in Washington DC as well as in Brussels. It takes two to tango.
It is of great importance for the region that the EU continues to give Kosovo a clear EU perspective. The Stabilization and Association Agreement, currency, national laws available in English, favoring harmonization with EU rules and foreign investors’ understanding of the country’s legal environment – some examples of what could be of importance. But the ride will be bumpy. Only 22 of the 27 EU member states have so far recognized the new country. Some of them, Cyprus and Greece, having done so out of a fear of a Greater Albania.
One way to calm the potential for a Greater Albania is for Brussels to keep alive the EU perspective for Albania proper – this needs to be done even if the country still falls seriously short of meeting basic requirements. The warm hug of the EU has prevented the breakup of many European countries for years – including Belgium and Spain. For Albanians this embrace needs to work in the opposite way, to avoid a marriage that would be unpopular with too many parties. The question is, will the prospect of a common house convince those in favor of marriage to refrain from union?