Albania and Macedonia, under social democrat governments, are now as well-placed as other new EU member statesby Denis MacShane / August 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the midst of this miserable time for the once-dominant socialist and social democratic parties in Europe there is one shining exception: the West Balkans.
Without anyone paying much attention, Albania and Macedonia have got themselves social democratic governments this summer. Having narrowly won office in 2013, Edi Rama, the Albanian social democratic prime minister, scored a clear victory and four more years running his country in June.
Talking to me in his basketball shorts and black t-shirt at the prime minister’s summer residence on the beach at Durres, Rama exudes confidence about remaking Albania. He is a 1990s graduate of Europe’s most prestigious art school, Paris’s Ecole des Beaux Arts and his already made friends with Emmanuel Macron.
“Albania has always been a nation. Now we have to become a functioning state,” he says.
Rama has stopped subsidising the state electricity company and made users pay their bills, instead of promising free electricity like the old conservative government. 400 municipalities have been reduced to 61, with reform in each aided by an EU project to support local governance.
The police service, too, has been reformed. Rama inherited a force open to corruption; now, old police chiefs have been retired, and a new police academy is producing many more women officers. The murder rate in Albania has dropped radically, according to the World Bank which noted half the level of homicides under the Rama government than the former rightist administration. Teachers were invited to reform the curriculum and removed 600 text-books school children were previously expected to master. Half of Rama’s cabinet are women. Smoking in public is now illegal.
In a statement that would make Jeremy Corbyn choke on his home-grown veg, Rama blithely explains, “Our is a very New Labour programme. Modernise the state. Sound market economy. Increase pay for low-paid workers.”
Above all, Europe. When he became EU Commission president in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker announced there would be no more enlargement until after 2019. As a result, those Western Balkan states like Albania that have made genuine progress in terms of economic reform—retiring dodgy judges, and de-corrupting the state—are well ahead of East European states who joined in 2004 and 2007, and have been left in limbo. EU Baltic states have twice as many murders per capita as Albania.