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The EU – No heaven: A Savior from Hell? Case study of Albania on its path to Europeanization

Bushi, Enika (2017) The EU – No heaven: A Savior from Hell? Case study of Albania on its path to Europeanization. Advisor: Sinagra, Prof. Augusto. Coadvisor: Bruni, Dr. Domenico . pp. 308. [IMT PhD Thesis]

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In this study, the outcome of EU governance and thus Europeanization in Albania – in its path to accession - is to be analysed and its results explained. Albania, a candidate country to join the EU, has been praised for its constructive regional policy and, as a NATO member, is shielded from any security threat. Indeed, Albania has not historically had any inter-ethnic conflict, given the homogeneous population, nor has the country engaged in any direct war with neighbouring countries. Furthermore, its path to accession is not further restricted by unresolved bilateral issues with any countries in the region or an EU Member State. To a certain extent, it provides a clean slate for analysing the results of the double level game between the EU and gatekeeper elites. Thus, the study can be replicated to other candidate countries in the region, following any possible resolution of lingering bilateral conflicts. In Albania, as the EU has declared a halt to enlargement, has Europeanization too, hit the brake? I maintain that the domestic and international politics often entwine, and in the case of enlargement towards Albania I aim to elucidate when and how. The critical juncture and starting point of analysing EU Albania interactions was Albania obtaining EU candidate status in June 2014 when the politically lead European Commission was declaring a halt to enlargement. One main hypothesis is that in the presence of a vague commitment on the part of the EU, reforms will pay mere lip-service to Europeanization. I refer as well to other determinants of choice that inform the strategies of interaction between the EU and Albania. The candidate status sets the start of the analysis EU Albania interactions. The methodological approach I employ in this research is largely qualitative. I envisage a mechanism of intervening variables in a process which yields results of Europeanization in Albania, in order to offer an explanation of what happened and why. My resulting theory develops process tracing predictions and performs a root cause analysis dependent on a causal sequence and links between the contributing factors and the root cause(s). I perform this study by relying on historical and legal analysis as an inherent part of my argument. By explaining the development of EU institutions and EU modes of Europeanization vis-à-vis candidate countries, it is possible to infer causality through this type of analysis. Moreover, I supplement process tracing with other qualitative methods analysing official declarations, public speeches, political statements, and press releases of the main EU, Western Balkans’ and Albanian actors. I complete the analysis with semi-structured interviews with Albanian and EU Member States diplomats, along with insights from EU officials and experts both in Brussels and Tirana. My field research in Tirana has culminated in an original survey on Albanian public opinion, carried out from 5 to 19 November 2016, regarding the issues of concern for Albania and perceptions of the EU in the country. The study reveals only lip service is being paid to the concept of Europeanization. The domestic adaptation is not based on institutional compatibility or understood as ‘command’ and ‘compulsion’ that entail a hierarchical, asymmetric, top-down relation. Instead, the domestic adaptation is understood as a process to support mobilization for domestic reforms that have to be initiated from within, at the domestic level. The logic of Europeanization then becomes that of shaping beliefs at the domestic level. This study has confirmed that Europeanization, before a halt in enlargement, as a process, is dependent on socialization, a direct mode of Europeanization under the logic of appropriateness. These are largely shaped by their interactions where both parties come to have a clear understanding of the direction taken by their relation. The introduced causal mechanism is valid as there is a weaker relative dependence, in the presence of an inward-looking EU marred by internal challenges that has imposed a halt - a wait and see approach - on considering enlargement as a priority. The vague commitment on enlargement serves as an amplifier to strategic calculations on Level II, gatekeeper elites. At the same time, alternative flows of investments and/or money, coupled with the security shield of NATO, commands only a formal adoption of the acquis on the part of gatekeeper elites, but not its implementation. The EU on the other hand, will – within the limits of its toolbox – maintain a lenient policy to maintain gatekeeper elites on the negotiation table. Indeed, in Albania, reforms are adopted only nominally to get the country just ahead of the curve in its path to accession. Internally, Albanians struggle within a competitive authoritarianism where the sole concern of gatekeeper elites lies in gaining and keeping privileges by overtly resorting to political patronage. Democratic institutions are not enough to resist such practices. In fact, competitive authoritarianism flourishes in this paradox, where legislative loopholes, enforcement of patronage, co-option and corruption are all skilfully managed so as not to inspire a violent domestic dissent or external condemnation. The high leverage points to address Europeanization predicaments in the country remain to better the economic situation through international cooperation so that people are not concerned with making ends meet. Thus, setting the ground for better conditions to support a stronger and larger involvement of citizens in decision making processes. Empowering Civil Society remains a political imperative to answer the appeals of European citizens and to address the concerns of Albanians that yearn for progress in the path of Europeanization. The results of the public opinion survey I conducted in Tirana further underlines the bleak socio-economic and institutional situation in the country. Albanians struggle to make ends meet and harbour a deep mistrust toward their political system, both political parties and government. The exchanges and interactions between the EU and gatekeeper elites have largely resulted with the formal adoption of legislation but no effective implementation or track record. Arenas of contestation are largely corrupted and thus there is limited room for effective push back on competitive authoritarian practices that engulf public life. The EU may be entrenched in its internal dimensions and may have, for now, lost its appetite for enlargement, but the Albanians do still largely regard the EU positively both on political and economic levels and are optimistic about its future. Membership of Albania in the EU is still seen as beneficial for the country. Issues like Brexit or the purported weakening of EU influence in the world seem not to be a concern for Albanians. They are aware of the issues the EU is facing, like the migrant crisis and terrorism; Albanians have an understanding of the economic crisis the EU economy has undergone. The perception’s of Albanians on the challenges the EU is facing does not seem to be at odds with European results at the EU level. More should be done as the linkages of the EU in the region are ever weaker, the threat of democratic backsliding within the Union – with elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands - plus the vagueness of the accession perspective may put into question the EU’s role in championing democracy in the wider region. The EU has a large set of tools that can be used in the region, but they have to be used strategically, coherently and effectively, measuring steps towards the path of accession to be taken not too slowly, nor too fast. Postponing accession sine die, may undermine achievements in these past two decades and threaten stability in the region. The high leverage points – international economic cooperation and empowering civil society are good starting points. Moreover, the enlargement process should be renewed and rethought for the EU to be fully accountable to public opinion, but as well, to inspire progress in issues of concern to Albanians, and those concerning the wider Western Balkans’ region. In doing so, clarity of policy steps is necessary for to make any headway. The EU should set short and medium term goals to afford local and national politicians the opportunity to confront their constituency with results. The evaluation of the progress attained should aim for full transparency, moving away from a technical exercise to a politically accountable one. This is attainable by putting in place a diligent credible process which by setting and holding its ground inspires those reforms domestically and, most importantly, inspires their application for the concrete progress of society.

Item Type: IMT PhD Thesis
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
PhD Course: Political History
Identification Number: 10.6092/imtlucca/e-theses/227
NBN Number: urn:nbn:it:imtlucca-27254
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2017 12:47
URI: http://e-theses.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/227

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