Published on: 12 February 2014

Albania and the Mediterranean strategy of the region

Situated at the intersection of the Balkan Peninsula, Central Europe and the Mediterranean, the Adriatic-Ionian basin has a geostrategic position. Historically, the separated spaces of national sovereignty on one hand and the further regional integration on the other have exerted centrifugal and centripetal forces, which are still active. Despite fundamental improvements in terms of democratic stability, today our region faces two different geopolitical dynamics: progress, in terms of the European integration, and strengthening of the Mediterranean dimension of the EU.

Since June 2013, Albania holds the one-year Chairmanship of the Adriatic - Ionian Initiative (AII), an initiative of regional cooperation among eight states, four of which are EU member states (Italy, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia) and four "not yet " (Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia - Herzegovina). Under this initiative, cooperation between these eight states is developed and deepened by touching key areas such as tourism, culture, cooperation at university level, small and medium enterprises, transport, cooperation in the maritime field and environmental protection.

But this cooperation has encountered several obstacles, among which the most prominent is the variety of administrative and organizational practices at local and regional level. Moreover, regardless of geographic affiliation, the lack of close ties that have hitherto existed between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean basins, reflects the lack of a common geopolitical approach of the Adriatic countries to the Mediterranean, in general.

Taking impetus from previous successful practices as the strategies for macro - regions of the Danube and Baltic countries, the EU has responded to these challenges by strengthening its Mediterranean dimension. This dimension is embedded in the strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian macro - region (EUSAIR), expected to be adopted by the EU in 2014.

In accordance to obligations arising from this strategy and macro - regional approach of the EU, Albania drafted the priorities of the Adriatic Ionian Initiative, which are the improval of the economic situation of the region, promotion of the touristic dimension and cooperation in order to enhance the quality of living conditions.

In this context, we have undertaken numerous consultations with the European Union and other regional actors, with the ultimate goal of creating a synergy between the program of the AII Chairmanship and the EU Strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian macro -region. Albania worked to provide full support from the European Commission in order to organize the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (AIC), at the same time as the conference on the Strategy of the European Union, which took place on 6-7 February 2014 in Athens, during the Greek Presidency of the EU.

The outcome of this meeting was the "Athens Declaration", confirming the full commitment of eight states to the approval and implementation of the EU strategy for the macro - region, as the right instrument to create favorable conditions for economic development and social - territorial cohesion in our region. This instrument is the embodiment of a joint work of EU and regional countries to create an integrated development package that combines infrastructure, energy, coast management and transport.

The “Athens Declaration", proposed during the Albanian Chairmanship, set before us new responsibilities related to the drafting of specific projects as well as the harmonization of administrative practices for a long-term and sustainable development, taking advantage of the interaction of public and private actors through financial support by EU programs.

All this relates utterly to the orientation of Albania's foreign policy in the region. Strengthening and improving the regional infrastructure network, according to the main axis of movement and exchange, and connecting it to the European and Eurasian energy network infrastructure, will have a positive impact on the region. It will make the region safer, increase its geopolitical dimension, expand its market and give impetus to the interest for foreign investments in the region.

Albania believes that this strategy can be implemented in the most efficient way through existing instruments. The strategy has a direct impact on the economy of the country, thus enabling the achievement of required standards for EU membership. This approach is clearly expressed in the motto of the Albanian Chairmanship of the Adriatic - Ionian Initiative, “Closer to each other, closer to the EU.”

Ditmir Bushati