The visit of Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders to Albania

Albania is making good progress towards EU membership but it still has a long way to go. This was the most important message of Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders during his visit to Tirana on Monday.

Koenders had meetings with prime minister Edi Rama, minister of Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati, speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta and a delegation of the opposition led by Lulzim Basha. They discussed migration, European integration and the upcoming general elections. The minister attended a roundtable with journalists about press freedom and paid a visit to the Marubi Museum in Shkodër.

The minister stressed at length the importance of a dialogue between all political parties before the general elections of June. “The willingness of all stakeholders to make compromises is necessary for honest and inclusive elections. There is a lot at stake for the relationship with the EU”, Koenders commented.
Koenders stresses the importance of stability in the Western Balkans for the EU. “It is important for the Netherlands too. Instability affects us directly. We have to face the consequences of migration, transnational crime and terrorism. Stability on the other hand creates more opportunities for the private sector”. Dutch companies are showing more interest in investing in Albania; e.g. this month a first trade mission of Dutch textile and fashion businesses came to Albania. The EU accession process is important for the stabilization of the Western Balkans. This is due to the reforms in the fields of rule of law, economy, governance that countries have to make before they can join the EU.

“Albania has made good progress in the reform process. That is worthy of a compliment. However, there are many hurdles left on the path toward membership”, Koenders remarked. “Albania really has to step up its efforts in the reform of justice and governance, the fight against corruption and organized crime and the protection of human rights. If these issues are not properly addressed, the Netherlands will not agree to the formal opening of the accession talks.” Regarding the enlargement of the European Union the Netherlands is ‘strict but fair’, Koenders stated. “That is what I have discussed with my Albanian counterparts.”

Koenders announced that the Netherlands will shortly start an information campaign to convince Albanians that applying for asylum in the Netherlands and Europe is useless. “The purpose is to make them realize that there is no future for Albanian asylum seekers in Europe”. The Netherlands organizes, jointly with Belgium, charter flights from Europe to bring back Albanian asylum seekers.
Koenders’ visit coincided with that of his German counterpart Gabriel.