Intervention of Hon. Mimi Kodheli at the April 2022 Balkans Leadership Conference

The Importance of Peace and Security in the Balkans in the Light of Current Developments

Talking about the importance of peace and security is like talking about the importance of air and water – one can just not live without them – no matter what the epoch.

However, since the end of the Second World War, the issue of peace and security in Europe and worldwide have never been as complicated as it is now, because there has never been as much at stake as now. We have to admit that unfortunately some of us, or indeed many of us, in the west somehow have taken them for granted. We have to admit sadly that what is happening now in Europe, the invasion of Ukraine and all the tragic consequences, the tremendous and global threat caused by the Russian aggression and of its belligerent policy, the same as the Nazi offensive, did not happen out of the blue.

We have seen hundreds of symposiums, forums and experts debating and examining this issue from hundreds of angles, but what clear is that through its oligarchs from Russia and elsewhere it has bought part of us long before today. In the long run, gradually and systematically they have bought not only huge leisure properties, strategic economic assets, businesses, media and so on, but also politicians and political parties. And while the West was tolerating its acquisition, accepting this “mild” intrusion, Putin was preparing his vicious offensive.

As far as our region is concerned, we are insisting on the fact that the threats and instability that marks the eastern and southern boundaries of Europe, Russia’s aggressive policy, its violation of international laws and order, as well as such other global trends as the waves of extremism and terrorism, are seriously endangering the entire European security and jeopardizing the prosperity and common values upon which the EU is founded.

The Balkan region is, without any doubt, the most vulnerable part of the European structure. This area is still not organically included in the European security architecture, and since in geostrategic policy no empty space is left out, it remains a factor of strategic ambiguity, as well as a territory where third parties see vulnerabilities and opportunities for penetration.

We share the great concern of the European Union and our Western allies regarding the ongoing efforts of the Russian Federation to destabilize the countries of the Western Balkans by interfering in their internal affairs and by opposing democratic processes and the Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Three years ago, in response to the European Parliament resolution of 10 October 2019 on foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European democratic processes (2019/2810(RSP)), the Albanian Parliament adopted a resolution in which it express its concern on the issue of electoral interference, that constitutes a major challenge, as it poses serious risks to European democratic societies and institutions, fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law, security, economic wellbeing and, ultimately, Europe’s sovereignty. It has strongly condemned the increasingly aggressive actions of state and non-state actors from third countries seeking to undermine or suspend the normative foundations and principles of European democracies and the sovereignty of all EU accession countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries.

In the light of current developments, we stress the importance of strengthening cooperation and unifying our positions in order to consolidate democracy and intensify the Euro-Atlantic integration processes, as a necessity for maintaining security and stability in the Western Balkans, especially in the current moment when it appears too complicated and fragile due to Russia's aggressive policy.

All of the countries of our region, with no exception, must realize that they cannot and should not become "the salmons of Europe" - the fish that swims in the opposite sense of the stream, ignoring the laws of the river, to end at the mouth of the “bear”.

In this context, we have rightly expressed strong concern and regret for Serbia's non-engagement with EU sanctions against Russia and its dissociation from EU policies and attitudes, although it has formally opened membership negotiations, which harms the European integration process, not only for itself, but for all the region too.

It is paramount that the attitudes of those aspiring to EU membership must necessarily be in line, not only with the EU acquis, but also with the EU's common foreign and security policy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Euro–Atlantic integration is the guarantee for peace and the future in the Western Balkans.

As Euro-Atlantic integration incudes two components, namely EU integration and NATO membership, I would like to try to make some remarks on both and their impact and importance to our security, peace and prosperity.

The EU is the most successful peace project in world history, having put an end to the spiral of endless bloody conflicts between its member states, which have been involved in two world wars (both started in the Balkans) and divided by a cold one.

The union of forces, efforts, resources and collaboration created in Europe a synergy that no individual could generate on his or her own and gave birth to the new Europe we know today.

Each time new countries have joined the European Union, the sphere of peace and stability has also been extended, while economic prosperity and social standards have drastically increased. This has been a powerful incentive for many countries to opt and work for opening accession negotiations.

This is the case for Albania and other countries in the Western Balkans, where the perspective of European integration has been the driving power to build up and consolidate democratic institutions, prosperous and well-functioning democratic societies, as well as in finding peaceful solutions to unresolved issues, thereby contributing to enhanced stability.

Another important incentive that European integration provides as a guarantee for security and a peaceful future is the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP). Designed to resolve conflicts and foster international understanding, it is based on diplomacy and respect for international rules. The CFSP seeks to preserve peace, strengthen international security, promote international cooperation, develop and consolidate democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It enables the Member States to speak and act as one in world affairs, allowing them to tackle challenges they cannot solve alone and helping ensure security and prosperity for their citizens.

While not being yet an EU member country, Albania has consistently aligned with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy declarations and statements. Meanwhile it plays a proactive role in promoting regional cooperation and good neighborly relations. Regional co-operation, being complementary to European integration, is a priority of Albania's foreign policy.

As you know, the driving and transforming power of the EU and of the European integration process, we talked about so far, is also called “soft power”.

However, soft power without strong weapons is not enough to guarantee peace and security in Europe, including that of our country and region. Therefore, the EU’s CFSP sees the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the hard power responsible for the territorial defense of Europe and reconciliation.

NATO was founded on the principle of collective defense and, according to Article 5 of the Treaty, it plays the main role in the security of its member states. As such, for Albania as well as for all the WB countries, which are or aspire to be NATO members, the Alliance is a guarantee against the current and potential threats which place at risk the security and values we commonly share.

NATO membership can also have an extraordinary positive impact on the modernization and strengthening of the military capacities and on the consolidation of democracy, stability and peace prospects of a country. Albania is a brilliant example of this influence which has transformed it from a consumer to a serious contributor to the promotion of NATO’s principles and to the fulfillment of its goals.

As a NATO member country, Albania participates actively in the decision-taking process of the Alliance, contributing to the elaboration of defense policies and to the solution of issues concerning the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and especially of the Balkans region. In this context, one of Albania's main responsibilities in NATO is to contribute to transforming the fragile and problematic Balkan region into a region of peace, democracy, stability and prosperity.

Actually, NATO’s regional map of the Balkans is lacking Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Meanwhile, a wave of anti-Atlantic inspiration has affected some of its countries. Therefore, we strongly believe that only the political and ideological cohesion of the NATO member countries, mainly of those which are also EU members, and their serious commitment to the full Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans countries remaining outside, could guarantee the economic progress, democratic achievements, common culture and values of our region, in order to reinvigorate the security and prosperity of Europe as a whole and of the Euro–Atlantic Alliance itself.

The Balkan countries, which have suffered most from the divisions and schisms, distrust and hatred, conflict and lack of clear perspectives, are asked to follow the same stream and trends experienced by all EU countries. In this way, they must mutually support themselves, join forces and promote the principle of all-inclusiveness, as one of the basic principles of the regional cooperation process.

Today, in the light of the latest developments, more than ever, we should implement an active and constructive regional foreign policy, respecting the same principles, sharing the same democratic values and using wisely the converging points and momentums between our strategic interests, aiming at the security, peace and prosperity of our nations.

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