The Next EU Enlargement “Wave” in the Western Balkans: The case of Albania

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The better part of the last two years has made a case for the return of the ‘Balkan question’ on top of the European Union’s agenda. The Western Balkans (WB) countries’ - Albania included – difficult road towards the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law for the scope of accession to the European Union (hereinafter the EU) has been constantly burdened with difficulties. Opposed to a region always associated with instability and autocratic pasts, a huge part of the European Union’s foreign policy has aimed at nurturing a regional and global image of a stable, positive and consolidated set of values.  In present times however, mainly due to crises such as the rising populism in EU member states, terrorism threats, the ongoing Russian influence and the Islamic-authoritarian Turkish model - different from NATO’s guaranteed rule of law and democracy model - the image of the EU as a global player appears to have been put to the test. In this condition, the EU needs evidence that it is capable of solving the major problems our continent now faces and reclaiming its position as a prominent global player. On the other hand, the WB’ countries may perceive this as the most appropriate time to overcome the so-called enlargement fatigue, which for Albania would mean officially opening accession negotiations with the EU. But does the fact that the Union seems to recently have (more or less) abandoned its past “business as usual” approach towards a more pragmatic and encompassing enlargement strategy, guarantee a credible acceleration in the process of Albania’s future EU membership? Moreover, what other strategic tools should the EU use, in order to further promote Albania’s integration agenda? The main scope of this article is to provide an analysis on Albania’s current state of play regarding potential EU membership, by reviewing its current achievements and remaining challenges, as well Europe’s political conditionality in the Western Balkans region.

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