In Albania, the decision taken by the Dutch parliament on Tuesday to demand from the European Commission to suspend Albanians’ visa-free regime for the Netherlands has caused intense domestic debates.
Albanian President Ilir Meta spoke of “an alarm bell,” while the opposition’s Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha described it as “a pure act of distrust towards the government.”
The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on its side, stressed that the Dutch request “does not meet any of the criteria laid down by European Union legislation leading to the implementation of the temporary suspension mechanism,” while valuing the decision as influenced by the Netherlands’ own electorate climate.
The House of Representatives in the Netherlands approved on Tuesday through a majority of votes, 92 out of 150, a proposal submitted by 5 political forces, 3 of which part of the ruling coalition, according to which the government of this country will have to ask the European Union Commission to suspend the visa-free regime.
The demand was motivated by the increased activity of Albanian criminal organizations operating in this country. During the discussions, it was reported that Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Justice and Home Affairs Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus had rejected the request.
Grapperhaus, who only a few weeks ago was in Tirana, spoke with positive tones about Albania’s progress in the European integration process during a press conference with Albanian Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj, as well as about the cooperation with Albanian police authorities.
On Tuesday, the Dutch government released an official statement regarding the parliament’s decision to propose a termination of the visa-free regime for Albanians.
“The government is thinking about the next steps it will take. For the time being, the visa regime will be the same for Albanian citizens: all Albanians with a biometric passport can travel to the Schengen area without a visa for a maximum of 90 days, within a period of 180 days,” said the statement released by the Dutch government.
Nonetheless, the development in the Netherlands caused strong debates in Tirana.
In an interview on Albania’s National Broadcaster “Opposite” TV-show, Meta said that “the act of the Dutch parliament is unprecedented. Because in my knowledge, it hasn’t so far happened for such a motion to be suggested for another country, at least in the Western Balkans or our region, and of course it is an alarm bell for us all to reflect in order to give out stronger, more consistent messages in the fight against organized crime, which is a concern not only for the Netherlands, but for some other European Union countries.”
According to Meta, “this step reminds us that there are some achievements which are not granted once and for all, which may be violated if we fail to respect our obligations and I hope that this will not further proceed towards other acts that could threaten visa liberalization, whether in the Schengen area or even for our citizens in the Netherlands, but also requires reflection and a strong commitment.”
Basha spoke with similar strong tones during the TV show “Tempora” at OraNews.
According to him, “this is not an act of racism against the Albanian people. This is a pure act of distrust of the current government, as we have a state that is completely caught up in crime.”
Basha said the Dutch parliament’s decision is completely fueled by the domestic developments and that it is unprecedented for a country that once had its visas removed.
Further on, Basha considered the decision a very bad sign for the possibility of opening accession talks in June.
“What do you expect, that a state whose parliament wants visas to return will vote for the opening of negotiations? Absolutely not. Neither the Netherlands, nor Germany nor other states,” Basha said.
The Albanian MFA released in the evening a long statement explaining that “an EU member state may ask the European Commission to open the procedure for the suspension of visa-free travel only on the basis of conditions well-defined in EU legislation and none the condition is not met for submitting this request from the Netherlands to Albania.”
The statement further said that “judging objectively, based on official facts and figures,” it is “confident that the resolution can not find support in the European Commission, since none of the criteria that would lead to the application of the suspension mechanism provisional is fulfilled in Albania’s case” and pointed out that “the illegal migration of Albanian citizens to the Netherlands has fallen continuously, while the suspension applies in case of an increase of more than 50 percent.”
According to the MFA, the Dutch decision has been affected by the upcoming European elections in May.
“The electoral climate in the Netherlands undoubtedly has its own influence, and although we are sorry for Albania’s involvement into the party agenda, there is no doubt that beyond the horizon of European elections the facts will prevail over electoral clichés,” the statement concluded.
Of a similar note were the words of Prime Minister Edi Rama, who said during Thursday’s parliamentary session that Albania found itself amid the Dutch domestic political fight and that the proposal is simply a consequence of the general anti-migration policy.
“The people of Albania were chosen by some parties in Netherlands to be used for their aggressive anti-emigration policy and against the EU enlargement. It is a political decision during an electoral process. It is an internal game, with internal dynamics that doesn’t affect us and our free movement at all”, Rama said.