The year 2022 was loaded much more than its antecedent with major and epochal worldwide events in all areas, affecting Europe and our region. Undoubtedly, the prevailing highlight is the Russian aggression against Ukraine, together with multiple acts, actions and decisions by the largest world, European and regional political & diplomatic headquarters.
The Council of Albanian Ambassadors (CAA) has followed these events attentively and with special interest. It has issued statements for each of these developments, by organizing and attending numerous events; it has also made official visits to USA, Prishtina, Skopje and elsewhere; it has hosted meetings in various formats with most of foreign Ambassadors accredited in Albania; it has also signed Memoranda of Understanding with its US, Italian, North Macedonia and Kosovo counterparts as well as with other diplomatic and security organizations in Slovenia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, making also efforts to extend this cooperation to other states.
On this basis, we are briefly dwelling below on the major international events and highlights with some “flash” insights on their effects and outcome, laying the emphasis on our region and Albania, in particular. Given their large number, to facilitate the readers’ job and avoid the repetition of issues, except for Albania where we shall stop particularly by the end of this analysis, the events are presented together, in their natural dependency and relevance.
On 24 February 2022 Russia launched its wide – scale military aggression against Ukraine, its southern neighbor, as a continuation of its attack and annexation of Crimea and its Eastern side in 2014. Russian President signed treaties that include the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhe into the Russian Federation.
This aggression with Ukraine’s occupation as its target, the largest armed conflict in Europa after the end of World War II has produced incalculable human, material and financial damages and effects; apart from thousands of civil and military victims, over 15.7 million of Ukrainians have been displaced (8 Million within the country and 7.7 million as refugees). According to the preliminary data, the material damages in the Ukrainian infrastructure are estimated to 300 billion Euro but they may be much larger; its GDP has fallen 45 per cent. It has also led to international sanctions and condemnations, nuclear threats, withdrawal of hundreds of investing companies from Russia and its ban from major political, economic, cultural and sport events.
There is a wide – reaching international consensus, including Russia’s allies that the latter launched an unjustified and unprovoked aggression and war against a neighboring state, which aspires the Euro – Atlantic integration; the latter goal is a sovereign decision by Ukraine itself and the relevant organizations.
As to the alleged NATO threat, it is common knowledge that NATO is a political-military alliance with a defensive character and never in its 73 year old history has it threatened, alluded or attacked any other state. Moreover, NATO and Russia have had military cooperation and even a Joint Committee, entrusted with treating and settling peacefully the arising problems and disagreements.
It is also widely accepted that by attacking militarily Ukraine, Russia wanted to teach a lesson and send intimidation messages to the western political, military and economic Alliance and with the goal to split it from within.
The Russian aggression provoked a true tsunami, shaking from its very foundations the World Order, the international law and relations. Besides seriously impairing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of an independent state, member of the UN, OSCE, the Council of Europe and others, Russia has put at stake peace, order, security and stability all over Europe and beyond. Because the aggressor this time is a huge state, with a considerable military and economic might, member of the UN Permanent Security Council, one of the largest world producers and exporters of crude oil, gas, grains and other products.
This aggression endangers seriously the return to the notorious Cold War period. Regretfully, the Russian leaders ignored all appeals and demarches by western top leaders; instead of diplomatic channels, they spoke with the tongue of force, tanks, missiles and nuclear intimidation. However, Russia failed in its goal for a rapid victory; actually, it has failed in all aspects – military, political, economic and security.
The Ukrainian people, army and its political leadership, thanks to their heroic resistance and the vigorous western support are winning over in the military fronts as well.
Russia has also lost immensely in the diplomatic area and in its international image. UN has condemned this aggression with a series of resolutions, going that far as to demand its prosecution for genocide and war crimes; the prevailing part of UN Member States have imposed hard economic sanctions against Russia; even China, Russia’s ally has opposed the Russian nuclear war threats and its Ukrainian annexation.
Russia and Putin have made wrong political and military calculations; unlike what Putin hoped for the split in the West, the USA, Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand put aside their previous disagreements and united into a solid political and military cohesion, similar only to their alliance during World War II.
There can hardly be any serious forum or international organization that has not condemned this aggression and has not expressed its solidarity with Ukraine. G – 7, G-20, IMF and the World Bank in their summits during 2022 imposed hard economic sanctions against Russia. Meanwhile, they have pledged dozens of billions of Euro as multifaceted aids for Ukraine to make up for the negative energy and food crisis effects.
Certainly, the USA is rendering the largest contribution in this respect; they have pledged over 52 billion of financial aids, apart from other several food, military and technical assistance. Likewise, besides bilateral aids from its Member States, the EU pledged 38 billion Euro financial aids and adopted 9 packages of hard economic sanctions against Russia, i.e. one for each month.
The Russian aggression changed the entire planetary geopolitical trend, the programs, strategies and forums of each state and international organization; accordingly, they reviewed their relevant agendas for a better response to the war dynamics in Ukraine and to the great challenges that the Russian aggression has posed. Likewise, the political, diplomatic, economic and military operations have undergone a fundamental change.
In this context, the West is going through a comprehensive analysis on its doctrines and schools of political and economic thought and action. The war in Ukraine put an end to the speculations on the naive globalism, according to which disaccords and even violent conflicts could be appeased and put on the course of settlement through economic and trade cooperation, or “change through trade”, benefiting from the free Russian and Chinese tariffs, especially in the cases of gas, crude oil and energy. Now, it is the political aspect, reliability and guarantees that stand on the top of priorities also in this field, reducing to a considerable extent economic cooperation with authoritarian states.
Nonetheless, EU Member States, as Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary and others, despite instant measures in these areas will continue to suffer for years from the effects of their policies of gas and energy dependency from Russia and China. Thus, the EU to date has satisfied as much as 40% of its gas and energy needs from Russia, whereas Germany and others countries even more. Naturally, NATO has been and remains at the head of the military efforts and measures to successfully cope with the Russian aggression.
Here it should be emphasized the Summit in Madrid on 29 – 30 June, which defined its New Security Strategy 2030, with particular emphasis on the attitude towards Russia and China, now considered as threatening rivals. The new Strategy reflects the epochal changes in its Member States in the defense and security area.
Thus, on 27 February Germany announced the “Zeitenwende”, i.e. the historic change in its defense and security strategy; it includes the special guarantee defense fund of 100 billion Euro, or twice as big as the previous one, providing over 2 per cent of its GDP for NATO, delivery of armaments and military equipment for Ukraine, which was previously banned, due to the traditional German pacifism and so on.
Meanwhile, NATO is making all precautions to increase and modernize its military defense capacities in the former Central and Eastern Europe, establishing and dislocating military units and high alert commands in the border with Russia, the cyber sophistication and others. It will also increase the number of its troops and its presence in the various military exercises in Eastern Europe, which does also include our country. Another highlight was the not- easy- to -reach consensus due to the Turkish opposition of NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.
Together with NATO, the EU is also strongly committed to all these areas; it decided on 17 June to offer the candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, a geopolitical response and a political& moral support for Ukraine and other states threatened by Russia.
The EU made a comprehensive revision of is foreign policy and security, it has imposed sanctions against Russia, spearheaded against its political and economic pillars that support its war machine and to keep alive the anti-European and anti-western propaganda. The EU did also agree on some support packages for Ukraine, plus multiple efforts to establish the necessary domestic consensus, for a united and invincible front against Russian aggression.
The French President Macron proposed the founding of a new European Political Community (EPC) aimed at expanding the format of the dialogue with the states involved in its program of good-neighborly and in the Enlargement Package, as a political space sharing common goals for peace, stability and promotion of liberal democracy.
Both President Macron and the European Council dispersed through a direct response the reasonable suspicions that this Community could alienate the EU Enlargement agenda; he emphasized that there would be no change in the enlargement process and that the relevant negotiations would continue on the basis of reform implementation.
Albania and Northern Macedonia move ahead by opening accession negotiations.
On 18 July 2022, the EU decided to open the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, by adopting the Negotiation Frame for each of the two. This decision postponed in time, was taken after hard negotiations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, following some hard disagreements due to Bulgaria’s claims on some of its elements on the identity, language and history.
As of July 2022 the Negotiation Frame has become effective, a sort of roadmap for Albania’s accession negotiations, including the major guiding principles, procedures and conditions through which this process goes through. As of September, Albania is subject to the legislation scanning process, and when that is over, a full and detailed balance – sheet would follow on the number of laws fully and partially aligned and those that will need to be aligned with the EU Acquis until the moment of accession.
As specified in this Frame, the start of the negotiations for the first cluster of chapters out 6 clusters all together will depend on the fulfilment of the opening benchmarks. Likewise, the first cluster will be the first to open and the last to be closed. It means that Albania should attach absolute priority to this cluster of chapters and show ongoing progress if it wishes that the accession process moves rapidly on.
The opening of negotiations is an historic opportunity for Albania to regain the lost time, now that their progress would be related to no other country in the region, but exclusively on the task performance and domestic reform implementation.
Another important moment in the relations with the EU is the serious warning by the EU Commission for the possible re-introduction of the visa regime with Albania, as reflected in the Report for the Visa Suspension Mechanism of 6 December.
Albania has to refrain itself from the adoption of “citizenship for foreign investors”, it should align its visa policy with that of the EU and take all measures to refrain illicit migration and Albanian asylum seekers as soon as possible. The warning by the EU Commission to penalize Albania in case of not retreating from the enactment of this law is very serious, especially given a previous demand filed by the Netherlands for visa suspension.
The political dialogue among the Western Balkan countries and the EU has witnessed intensive developments during 2022 with two special EU – Western Balkan Summits in June and in December 2022. Tirana hosted for the first time the Summit EU- Western Balkans on 6 December, the first to be held outside EU Member States.
This Summit gave a clear message by choosing Albania, as the country which has marked progress with the opening of negotiations, with the largest pro-European support and that has fully aligned its policy of sanctions against Russia in the context of the continuation of war in Ukraine.
At the end of this Summit, a large number of common actions were undertaken by the countries in the region and the EU, although the 32 Point Declaration did not have Serbia’s consensus.
During this year, Tirana was also visited by a large number of top European leaders – President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, and President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the German President and Chancellor, the Italian President, the Prime Ministers of Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and others.
During their encounters with Albanian counterparts, clear and direct support messages for Albania and its Euro-Atlantic prospect were extended, including the alignment of its foreign and security policy with that of the EU. Besides, these tours and summits were coupled with significant political processes with our region at the focus of their attention.
On 3 November, the Summit of Berlin Process took place in Berlin, with the attendance of the 6 leaders of our region, as well as from 10 EU Member States, Mme Von der Leyen and Mr. Charles Michel. In this context, three important agreements were signed related to the Regional Common Market, recognition of diplomas & professional vocation and roaming tariffs.
In November, the EU Parliament adopted a Resolution in the framework of the Enlargement Package for Western Balkan states, supporting the EU prospects for its six states. Specific elements in this Resolution were the demand on Serbia to join the EU in its sanctions against Russia, its clear separation from double-standard attitudes and objection to “Open Balkans”, as an initiative that does not serve the regional all-inclusive approach, since three states do not participate there.
Furthermore, “Open Balkans” continues to be a case of grievances in the region, whereby Kosovo is also joined in its refusal by the Montenegrin and Macedonian Presidents as well as some leaders in Bosnia – Hercegovina, showing in this way an asymmetry of attitudes within each country by and large.
The EU, in close cooperation with the USA is intensifying its efforts for stability on Bosnia–Herzegovina, against splitting attempts by the pro- Serbian nationalists of Dodik and to bring it closer to the EU. In December, the EU Council decided to offer it the “Candidate” status.
Then, on 14 December, the EU Council at last decided on the visa liberalization with Kosovo, not later than the 1st of January 2024. Meanwhile, on 15 December, Kosovo submitted to the Czech EU Presidency in Prague its formal application for EU membership. A clear message of its Euro-Atlantic track.
In Podgorica, the coalition government of the outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic fell after a motion of confidence by the Parliament in August, following political grudges within the coalition on a controversial agreement that the government signed with the Serbian Orthodox Church. A few months ago, its Parliament enacted a law that reduces the presidential powers, which triggered and added to opposition tensions and manifestations.
Thus, a political and institutional crisis was provoked, with serious consequences for the country’s security, stability and its European prospects. Actually, there are several confrontations there between the pro-Euro – Atlantic and pro-Serbian forces. The only remaining alternative now is the early parliamentary elections, objected by the pro-Serbian forces, which are in favor of establishing a new governmental coalition without the support of the party of the President of Montenegro and the postponing elections in 2024.
The Dialogue Prishtina–Belgrade remains the most fragile, delayed and difficult process for regional peace and security and on a wider scale. Unfortunately, this is the bitter reality of such dialogue 11 years after its launch. With glamour, fuss, promises, oaths, but the political outcome is almost nil! It is proceeding with very slow rates, accompanied with Serbian provocations, inventing problems and then trying to solve them! Par consequence, doubts, skepticism and pessimism persist. Neither has the Franco-German, or alias European model add to hopefulness and chances for success, largely due to the Serbian refractory policies and attitudes.
Although, after the “long honeymoon period” with the EU and the USA, Belgrade is now urged with the pressing demand to be seriously committed to the dialogue with Kosovo; not any more with controversial statements and wows, but with concrete commitment to the undelay recognition of Kosovo’s state, ending the campaign for de-recognitions and hindrances to its membership to international organizations, with clear – cut stances on Russia, full-fledged alignment with the EU foreign policy and particularly in its sanctions and finally preventing illicit migration through the “Balkan route”.
The Euro-Atlantic bells are ringing loudly for Belgrade, so that it would finally define clearly its strategic line, i.e. with the East or the West, with the EU and USA or with Russia and China.
Despite the deep appreciation for the current US and EU demarches, there is a wide – spread opinion that it is political naivete to trust on the success of this dialogue, which is taking place in a poisoned climate, environment and atmosphere. Accordingly, even any promise or pledge is rapidly washed away, making way to violence, tensed situations and threats for armed conflicts, as it occurred most recently in Northern part of Kosovo. However, “disinfecting and demining” this climate and environment, in order to finally have the minimum understanding requires political will, energy and diplomatic efforts; the latter take a lot of time and patience which seemingly are exhausted.
Unfortunately, due to indeed “historic delays”, even the EU and NATO Membership, which until recently seemed to be the magic key to progress, cooperation and reconciliation in the Balkans has lost their attraction and inspiration. Well, the EU has its own part of blame in this respect, for having pursued strategies and actions much more relevant to stability but to the detriment of democracy and also by treating Serbia much more favorably.
The Summit EU – Western Balkans in Tirana on 6 December, the first in the region and in Tirana was very important and symbolic for the region and Albania, in particular; 36 EU Presidents and Prime Ministers “ landed” led by the Presidents of the EU Commission and Council and the 6 regional leaders landed in Tirana.
As it was underlined in the Council of Albanian Ambassadors relevant statement, this Summit marked the first serious step of inviting the Western Balkan countries in important European decision- making tables, where the discussion exceeds our domestic politics. It evoked the special significance of keeping the doors open for the European prospect and for speeding up the Enlargement Process with Western Balkan states.
The EU leaders sent a series of telling messages during this Summit, highlighting the unreserved support for the Ukrainian people and the escalation of sanctions against Russia; likewise, they increased the attention and solicitude for countries with fragile democracy in Western Balkans to avoid any danger and threat to peace, regional security and in other areas.
The decisions of Tirana Summit did also return the attention to the escalation of economic and energy crisis, as an outcome of Russian aggression against Ukraine and support for these vital sectors.
The continued implementation of joint projects in the framework of Berlin Process, offering opportunities to the youth in Western Balkans to pursue studies at European universities with lower tariffs was another promising news for their integration into the European education and values.
Emigration and combating illicit asylum which are causing depopulation is another issue of great significance, especially for states like Albania; therefore, the cooperation with the EU to align our legislation to that of EU “Acquis Communitaire” and to benefit from the best European expertize has become more than ever a “Must”!
Likewise, our alignment with the EU visa policy and particularly, the management of migration are a priority necessity, since they require rapid action plans and comprehensive reforms, both by the government and the relevant authorities.
Then, the Summit reconfirmed the support for the EU and US diplomatic efforts in view of reaching a final agreement on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and the visa liberalization for the latter.
Furthermore, the Summit reconfirmed the all-inclusive Berlin Process, as entirely EU supported, which cannot be replaced or overshadowed by any other initiative.
During 2022, important parliamentary and presidential elections were held in France, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Bulgaria and the mid-term elections in USA, with great surprises and unexpected results.
In the mid – term elections in USA on 8 November, the Republicans retook the Congress but with a very slim difference, whereas the Democrats won the Senate with a single vote difference only. Former President Trump and republicans failed to score their claimed glamorous victory or the “ red wave” However, the job becomes more difficult for the democrats and President Biden with regard to the implementation of major reforms, which requires a large majority in the Congress.
In France, President Macron won the second term, but by losing the absolute majority in both chambers, which weakens his power and ability to apply important reforms at home and particularly abroad, in the fields of EU and NATO reforms and in other areas. His success during this term would be decisive to avoid the strengthening of the far right of Le Pen.
In the early parliamentary elections in Italy on 25 September, Georgia MELONI, the charismatic 45 year leader of ”Fratelli d’Italia” scored a sounding victory that marked an historic turning point in the Italian and European political landscape. For the first time after 1945, a coalition of the right and far right won a shining victory there led by this post – fascist party, with the participation of ”Lega“ of Matteo Salvini and ”Forza Italia” of Silvio Berlusconi. ”Italy’s Brothers” gained 25,5 per cent of the ballots, from only 4 per cent in 2018, winning the absolute majority in both chambers. Meloni will be the first Italian woman ever at the head of the Italian government. However, unlike the prejudicing rhetoric, Meloni has made some good steps for the approachment and reconciliation with the EU and NATO, which she showed also during her first visit in Brussels, instantly after her land sliding victory.
In Denmark, the socialist leader Mrs. Frederisken won again and established a coalition with two liberal parties.
The biggest surprise occurred in Sweden. For the first time there it was a far right party that won, which however is “suffering a lot” to form a coalition government.
In Bulgaria, yet no party is succeeding to form a government, a failure which could lead to new early elections, the fifth within the last two years.
The scandal of corruption, money laundering and criminal activity in the heart of Brussels, in the EU Parliament, with one of its Vice Presidents, Mrs. Eva Kaili as its protagonist and other high level associates shook the highest EU institutions and its credibility. The inquiries continue and it is widely thought that this is only the “tip of the iceberg”.
This scandal brought to light several commissions and commissions in the EU Parliament concerning the lack of control and implementation of rules to avoid corruption and criminal activity related to lobbying amidst the Euro parliamentarians. Now, as it is strongly demanded, wide – reaching reforms are starting in all respects, especially in that of managing and checking lobbying in the EU.
In the area of climate, environmental protection and combating global warming, the most important event of the year was the Climate Summit COP 27 in Charm el Sheikh in Egypt on 17 – 28 November, with the presence of 30.000 experts, senior officials, ministers, Heads of States and Government from 140 countries. The most important decision reached through a broad consensus, although without specifying the necessary technical details was on a large fund to cover the «costs & damages» caused by global warming. Albeit that, there are many disappointments from COP 27, since almost nothing was done on the other important issues, especially for alternative energy, several expectations to avoid global warming with 1,5 grade Celsius and the reduction of carbonic gas emissions.
Apart from the above-mentioned, the election for the first time ever as a UN Non – Permanent Member of the Security Council (2022 – 2023) was a remarkable diplomatic achievement for Albania. It is the product of numerous efforts and diplomatic efforts, both in the bilateral and multilateral respect during the last two decades. It is undoubtedly an achievement with a significant geo-political impact, for it makes our country widely known in the international arena. This membership, our Presidency in June 2022 and in September 2023 are also testimonies of the diplomatic capacities we have produced in the last 30 years.
The significance of this membership grew up further after the Russian aggression to Ukraine, due to all these acts & facts, as well as the political, diplomatic, military and economic actions undertaken on a global, European and regional scale, including the important resolutions condemning Russian aggression, as a flagrant violation of international law. This responsibility in the field of international relations and the partnership with the USA was confirmed and strengthened further, including the co-penmanship with USA for the Ukrainian issue in the UN Security Council.
2022 was the Centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the USA and United Kingdom. This jubilee was commemorated and celebrated with several political, economic, military and diplomatic, cultural and other events in both our counties. In November, in Washington was also held the Dialogue on Strategic Cooperation.
In this context, apart from articles and memoirs from some of its members, Council of Albanian Ambassadors hosted the Conference “The first visit of a US President in office, George W. Bush” with the attendance of many high level local and foreign personalities.
Nevertheless, despite the above-mentioned successes and achievements, our foreign policy is not free from concerns and even serious ones in some cases.
Thus, the dossier on Ionian Sea is in danger of having a disadvantageous solution for our side. The difficulty becomes even larger since it is also included in the Negotiation Frame with the EU, as an obligation with repercussions for us. Likewise, the lack of public transparency in dealing with this issue of national importance is also problematic.
The initiative “Open Balkans” considered almost as a “paradigm shift”, it has proved to be overlapping and an attempt to replace the Berlin Process and the EU Western Balkans Common Market. As problematic is also viewed the shift by official Tirana of its political and diplomatic emphasis to Belgrade to Pristina’s detriment.
On the other hand, the Government has caused a huge deadlock and is in great need to change the corps of our ambassadors abroad. For the first time in the history of our diplomacy, over 70 per cent of our ambassadors and General Consuls abroad have exceeded their legal terms, staying in the same post over 2 times longer, whereas many others have also surpassed long ago the retirement age. We have clearly denounced this diplomatic scandal with a special Statement also in December, urging the immediate change of this situation.
Besides the above-mentioned, the next serious concern is the asymmetry and sharp contrast between our foreign policy, generally speaking successful, with our domestic performance, full of problems and obstacles.
Thus, we rank first for high prices and costs and especially for corruption, losing 27 places during 2022! We are also the last regarding the incomes, the salary level, expenses for education, health, culture and the youth. A research conducted by the EU Commission in December revealed that we rank last in Europe, with 69 per cent of the population that cannot afford the most minimal needs! The prospects seem to be gloomy, when the youth until 30 years old have 3 times less chances for training and employment than their mates in the EU!
This gloomy catalogue continues with the illicit asylum, which due to its dreadful proportions is leading to “depopulation” and has grown up to 160 per cent as against last year, whereas the Government has surrendered without conditions! The EU and the UK in particular have sounded notes of alarm, because only during the most recent weeks, over 2 per cent of our population have entered there illegally and the “storms”’ in”La Mansch” go on. According to Eurostat, we are the first in Europe for asylum demands per capita with 5/1000 inhabitants, at a time when 57 per cent of our population lives abroad.
Another failure was the alleged cyber sophistication, despite the amounts in Million Euros spent to update and maintain it. The attacks from Iranian hackers pulled down the whole governmental edifice and almost nothing has remained without being exposed to the general public.
Among others, these alarming occurrences, associated with affairs and scandals affect the EU accession pace. True, there is a strong persistence that it should be necessarily done by the EU in the geopolitical plane; yet, it should not be forgotten that whatever Brussels, Paris, Berlin and other EU capitals do to help us, the defining factor remains us, Albanians, not with words and oaths only, but primarily through laws and by implementing reforms in full compliance with the EU legislation and spirit.
Together with other concerns mentioned in the Progress Report by the EU Commission and that of the US State Department, including the attitude to the critical media, they can also slow down the dynamics of the accession negotiations. These and other democratic deficits and concerns cannot be solved solely or mainly by the foreign policy, neither by our strategic allies, the USA and the EU alone! Decisive to this end remain our domestic policies, actors and factors. Otherwise, this weak domestic performance could seriously impair the image and the creditability of our geopolitics, which could end up with a backlash for us.
Last, but not the least, these problematics crying out for solution are well-known. Therefore, it is high time to put aside our approach pursued to date, when we only demand, criticize and demonize others, including the EU for our failures and deficits. This requires a new political spirit within the country, among the opposition, governing majority and a total mobilization for the rapid and qualitative implementation of the major objectives defined in the above-mentioned fora; certainly reinforced with diplomatic efforts in all dimensions and in all important decision- making centers.