Albania blog

13th January, 2014

My first Ministerial visit of this year took me to Albania. I’ll admit it’s not a country I have encountered much but coming home I’ve learned that we do have some important things in common.

For a start, we are both similar in size and, with around 3.2 million people resident in Albania, its population matches that of Ireland around the time we were looking to join the European Union, as is currently the case with Albania.

IMG_8926 (1) The reason for making Albania my first trip of 2014 stems from an appreciation for the disappointment that might be felt in Tirana that Albania had not been granted candidate status (a step along the road to full membership) in December. The EU decided to give the new Albanian Government more time to develop a track record in continuing the progress in reforms already achieved in its first few months in office (since September) and consolidate the reforms that had been successfully progressed by the previous administration.

Ireland has always been committed to enlargement of the EU and is supportive of Albania’s ambition to join. This was demonstrated through a letter which was co-signed last December by An Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, in which he emphasised ‘our full support for a positive decision on granting candidate status to Albania’.

One of the things that struck me most following a number of meetings I held with Prime Minister Rama, Foreign Minister Bushati, members of the Opposition, the Parliament, the Speaker of the House and civil society groups is that, irrespective of the decision taken by the Council, there is an overriding desire to improve life for the Albanian people. For the people’s part, there is a strong desire to avail of the opportunities they see EU Member States benefitting from (their neighbour, Croatia, became the 28th Member State in July last year), with the latest poll last October registering an 87% support for entering the Union.


While in Tirana, I highlighted the need to focus on reform so that the standards that reflect the values of the EU, such as equality and fairness, can be delivered. I outlined the important role that NGOs, trades unions and employer groups have played in positively developing Ireland’s membership of the Union.  I encouraged the involvement of civil society groups in the Albanian process, so that the needs and concerns of the people, in whose names decisions are being taken, can be properly expressed.  Finally, I stressed the need for all sides to continue to work together towards a positive outcome.

The people I met expressed keen interest in learning about the practicalities of joining the EU from Ireland’s experience. The desire to learn how we so successfully developed Foreign Direct Investment at home and how best to manage public administration was also articulated, as Albania continues to fight against corruption, organised crime and shortfalls within the judicial system. Developing closer trade links, in terms of encouraging Albanian companies to set up in Ireland and vice versa, was also a topic of much discussion.

Like Ireland, Albania has maintained a strong cultural heritage since its independence just 100 years ago. I spent my time travelling to and from Tirana engrossed in Misha Glenny’s The Balkans; Nationalism, War and the great powers 1804-2012, is a fascinating read, illustrating, as it does, the distinctive identity Albania has maintained in the face of vast forces from the Ottoman Empire to the Soviet Union.

The people of Albania know that the accession process is a long one that will not happen overnight.  My visit was designed to underline the support of the Irish Government for their journey towards a more secure and prosperous future. Given the range and depth of my discussions, the level of participation in my address to the EU Information Centre and the media attention that was generated, this is something that was clearly understood.