From Stabilization to Consolidation: Albanian State Capacity and Adaptation to European Union Rules
O'Brennan, John and Gassie, Esmeralda (2009) From Stabilization to Consolidation: Albanian State Capacity and Adaptation to European Union Rules. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 11 (1). pp. 61-82. ISSN 1944-8953
Albania’s path from isolation and peripherality toward the mainstream (EU-centred) structures of European economic and political life has been amongst the most challenging among the former communist states of Central, Eastern, and South-eastern Europe. Almost two decades into a process of transition from Communism, Albania continues to be plagued by problems of chronic poverty, under-development, and corruption. The fragility of Albania’s political institutions combined with identifiable patterns of ‘state capture’ has meant that the state, for much of the period under review, has lacked the capacity to tackle the deep-seated problems encountered during transition. Notwithstanding those difficulties, however, Albania has gradually drawn closer to the European Union, and with more determined leadership begun to seriously tackle some of its most intransigent problems. This new stage in Albanian-EU relations was formally confirmed by the signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) on 12 June 2006, which effectively moved Albania on to an ‘accession track’; at the very least this gives the country a much clearer membership perspective than previously, and, in theory, should help to incentivise Albanian reformers as they engage in the transposition and implementation of the EU’s acquis communautaire into domestic law. If the signing of the SAA created a new context in which policy-makers could implement substantive and lasting reforms, it seems clear that Albania’s path toward Brussels will still prove a long and difficult one. The problem for Albania and other applicant states in the Western Balkans region is twofold. First, attitudes to further enlargement have hardened. In short the environment in which enlargement is debated and framed has become much more brutal for all applicant states. EU conditionality penetrates deeper and deeper into domestic politics and make more and more demands on local policy-makers to deliver reform in advance of membership. In many respects the EU constitutes a classic ‘regime-maker’ and candidate state and SAP states ‘regime-takers’ in a classical construct of asymmetrical power relations. The second problem is that all states in the Western Balkans region are contending with acute and fundamental difficulties in basic state building. In this article we review Albania’s relationship with the EU, and assess the degree of progress made by Albania within the SAA framework. Our main argument is that Albania constitutes a janus-faced applicant state - on the one hand legislators have accepted EU recommendations and sought to transpose and implement policy measures on the ground. On the other hand policy implementation has been clearly deficient, mainly because of recurring problems of inherent state capacity, political polarisation, and a distinct lack of political will. Some of this is familiar from the patterns exhibited earlier in the eastern enlargement of the EU and, especially, in the meandering paths to membership taken by Bulgaria and Romania. Albania’s EU debate has, for most of the period under review, been a prisoner of the fractious political divide between the Democratic Party (DP) and the Socialist Party (SP). The janus-faced approach to European integration has been especially evident in the failure to deliver on commitments made on EU-related reform, which have frequently been sacrificed on the altar of vicious local political squabbles, hindering the development of a rational and functional approach to policy. We argue that Albania will have to jettison this janus-faced approach if it wants to fully realise the benefits of the SAA and move forward toward an outright accession perspective. This will not be easy as so many of the leading actors in Albanian politics continue to be identified as close to, if not directly involved with, networks of corruption. Albania’s elevation to the SAA regime, however, demonstrated that the administration of Sali Berisha (mark 2) has clearly recognised the futility of pursuing this dualist approach to the EU, and set out the most sweeping reform agenda pursued in Albania to date. Central to it has been a new focus on rooting out corruption and a much more radical approach to economic development. Thus we use the article to examine the extent to which the SAA process (alongside more decisive local agency) has acted as a catalyst for substantive Albanian reform of economic and political institutions.
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