Europe Day in Tirana, Albania: Postscript

Balkans Animation 1800-2008

Balkans across time. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Esemono [Public domain].

There is Western Balkans accession wariness with close to a quarter of the population no longer believing to see it happen (Timsit 2019). They might just as well welcome yet more Chinese, Russian, Turkish and Saudi investment, even with strings attached. Outside international hotels, it seems you can no longer have a beer in Sarajevo.

Anyhow, is accession worth the trouble? A survey found a majority of EU citizens expecting its demise within the next twenty years (Boffey 2019), but Zielonka (2014) has found already years ago its demise to be an under-researched topic. At least Krastev (2017) and Kirchick (2017) have given thought to the matter. Anyhow, my topic is not the demise of the EU. In ‘The Poverty of Territorialism’ (Faludi 2018) I rather point out that the EU is, and likely will continue to be ever more like a neo-medieval empire. This as against the would-be federation as which – sometimes to their disgust – many see the EU.

Now, as readers of this blog know, on Europe Day I was speaking in Albania, a country hoping for accession negotiations to start imminently. Of course I stayed clear from commenting. Berisha (2018) is a source on accession of the whole of the Western Balkans. My concern was that at this crucial moment my message of a neo-medieval EU might confuse the audience. Not to worry: the discussion was lively. Towards the end, asking for my advice, the national planning director put me on the spot. On the spur of the moment I said: plan with your neighbours. Having emerging as late as 1912-1913, Albania is an object lesson of a nation-state as a modernist construct superimposed on organically grown allegiances, ethnicities and religions. The difference is that elsewhere press-ganging them into containers had set in earlier. What relations have survived the harsh, isolationist regime of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha – more than you think – could be built upon, creating vibrant cross-border networks.

The Western Balkans of course is a gaping hole in the EU, but so is Switzerland, a country which, if not functionally, then at least nominally is not a member. Like Switzerland, historically, linguistically and ethnically, Albania, too, is interwoven with its neighbours with, sometimes large Albanian minorities in Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Greece – not to speak of Kosovo, the existence of which is based on its Albanian identity. In addition, there is a small group in Serbia and, not to forget, in Italy where Albanians have been present since the Middle-Ages.

But there is also a Greek element in the south of Albania, until as recently as the early-1990s a source of tension. Putting what is sometimes called Northern Epiros in its broader historic and geographic context, a paper by Budina and Kain Hart (2010)makes interesting reading. In the 21st century, it would of course be foolish to suggest that all this should lead to reshuffling borders – as it would to propose Switzerland to be divided over its neighbours. The alternative is forming FOCJ – Functional Overlapping and Competing Jurisdictions, say Frey and Eichenberger (1999) from Switzerland. They point out also that non-EU member Switzerland has taken early steps to cooperate with its neighbours, with Greater Geneva and the Upper Rhine as examples. And in a later work, they suggest that, instead of the demanding – and increasingly controversial – enlargement process, EU members and non-member states should be encouraged to form FOCJ. This ‘…goes beyond the proposal for a multispeed integration of some “chosen” countries into a “core Europe”’ (Eichenberger, Frey 2006: 170). So on the one hand there would be national territories, each within recognised borders, and on the other overlapping spaces constituted, not by their borders, but by networks – precisely what my advice to Albania would entail. When appropriate, accession could, and maybe should follow.

References

Berisha (2018) ‘The evolution of spatial planning systems in the Western Balkan Region: Between international influences and domestic actors’, PhD, Politecnico di Torino, Turin.

Boffey, D. (2019) ‘Majority of Europeans expect end of EU within 20 years’, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/15/majority-of-europeans-expect-end-of-eu-within-20-years.

BudinaK., Kain HartL.(2010)‘Northern Epiros: The Greek Minority in Southern Albania’, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 19(2). Available at: https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/northern-epiros-greek-minority-southern-albania.

Eichenberger, R, Frey, B.S. (2006) ‘Functional overlapping and competing jurisdictions (FOIC): A complement and alternative to today’s federalism’, in: E. Ahmad, G. Brosssio (eds) Handbook of Fiscal Federalism, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK, 154-181.

Faludi, A. (2018) The Poverty of Territorialism: A Neo-medieval View of Europe and European Planning (Elgar Studies in Planning Theory, Policy and Practice), Edgar Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA.

Frey, B.S., Eichenberger, R. (1999) The New Democratic Federalism for Europe: Functional, Overlapping and Competing Jurisdictions. Cheltenham, Elgar.

Kirchick, J. (2017) The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, Yale University Press, New Haven, London.

Krastev, I. (2017) After Europe, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Timsit, A. (2019) ‘The European Union’s future members are losing patience’, Quartz, 13 May. Available at: https://www.msn.com/en-ie/news/indepth/the-european-union-e2-80-99s-future-members-are-losing-patience/ar-AABi65Z

 

 

 

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