‘The idea of an inclusive regional Schengen and co-operation among the six Western Balkan countries, relying on the four freedoms of the European Union, is not a replacement, but it is the best way to prepare for EU membership,’ writes Edi Rama for Euroactive.
Next Monday (17 February), the European Commission will hold the International Donors’ Conference to assist Albania in the process of reconstruction following the November earthquake that has caused so much pain in our country. Immediately responding to our great need for help in coping with the effects of a natural disaster, the EU is again generously supporting us. They are doing more than just lend a hand to a country in need, a country that, having faced a great challenge, will nevertheless find the strength and determination to succeed.
Moreover, this is not just about rebuilding and reconstruction, though we need to move forward swiftly to make sure that people receive the support they need and that 17,000 Albanians who are temporarily displaced can return as soon as possible to safe houses.
The EU requires not only stability in the Western Balkans, but also reconciliation. The idea of an inclusive regional Schengen as well as cooperation between our six countries based on the four freedoms of movement in the European Union (free movement of goods, capital, services and labor) is not Plan B for us, nor is it a consolation prize for us to tell a disappointed audience that we can produce results. We are united by the goal of European integration, and the best way forward is to prepare for it by actively opening our economies and borders inspired by the very foundations of the European project itself. A Western Balkans with good links between countries in the region will integrate faster and more successfully into the EU. As I prepare for next week’s conference, I remain hopeful that this year will bring a major breakthrough on our path to Europe. However, we insist on our belief that nothing prevents us from joining the great family of European democracies as soon as possible, a membership that our citizens will benefit as much as the EU citizens.