Koenders discusses elections and asylum seekers during Albania visit

Albania and Montenegro are making progress towards EU membership, but both countries still have a long way to go before they can actually join the Union. That was the message of the Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, during his visit to the Western Balkans, where he met with Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and foreign minister Ditmir Bushati,. He also has meetings scheduled with Montenegro’s foreign minister Srdjan Darmanović  and European affairs minister Aleksandar Pejović. Topics for discussion include migration, European integration and the upcoming parliamentary elections in Albania. 

Mr Koenders announced that the Netherlands would very shortly be launching an information campaign in Albania to make clear to would-be asylum seekers that it is pointless to travel to the Netherlands and the wider EU, as their applications will not be granted. ‘The aim is to deter Albanians from this hopeless undertaking, and to make them realise that Albanian asylum seekers have no future in the Netherlands.’ In addition, the Netherlands and Belgium are chartering flights from Europe to Albania, to return asylum seekers to their country of origin.  

The Dutch foreign minister emphasised the importance of stability in the Western Balkans from the EU’s point of view. ‘And that includes the Netherlands,’ he said. ‘Instability affects us directly. For instance through migration, cross-border crime and terrorism. Stability, on the other hand, provides opportunities for the Dutch business sector.’ Dutch businesses are showing increasing interest in investing in Albania; this month saw the first trade mission by representatives of the Dutch textile and fashion sectors. The accession process plays an important role in stabilising countries in the Western Balkans. This is due to the reforms candidate countries must undertake in such areas as the rule of law, governance and the economy.  

‘Albania and Montenegro have made good progress towards the necessary reforms. They should be congratulated on this achievement. At the same time, though, both countries still have many hurdles to clear,’ Mr Koenders concluded. ‘Albania needs to make serious efforts to reform the judiciary and public administration, combat corruption and organised crime, and protect human rights. Otherwise the Netherlands will not be able to approve the formal opening of the accession negotiations. At present, Montenegro is leading the field in the accession process. In recent years, the country has adopted many new laws to bring its legislation into line with EU regulations. The challenge now is to build up a track record. ‘From paper to practice,’ as the minister put it. When it comes to EU enlargement, the Netherlands is ‘strict but fair,’ according to Mr Koenders. ‘That’s what I’ll be discussing with Albania and Montenegro during this visit.’  

Mr Koenders stressed the importance of staging a dialogue between all of Albania’s political parties before the parliamentary elections this June. ‘Willingness to compromise on the part of all involved is crucial to fair and inclusive elections. Much is at stake in terms of Albania’s relationship with Europe,’ he said.

Mr Koenders’ visit to Albania coincided with that of German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel.