The author is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo
For two weeks now and counting, the Balkans have been preoccupied with a two-page unsigned document. The non-paper, attributed to Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa, has raised the specter of altering borders in the region. The document essentially calls for or raises the possibility of Bosnia being partitioned along ethnic lines, with the Serb and Croat-populated regions joining the neighboring countries. What the document also foresees is the unification of Kosovo and Albania. And, as a result, the notion of a “Greater Albania” has reemerged as a topic in the news.
A “Greater Albania” is usually defined as the unification of Albania proper and the lands inhabited by the Albanian populations in Kosovo, North Macedonia and, to a lesser degree, Montenegro, and has long been a dream of some Albanian nationalists. The notion was invoked frequently by the Belgrade regime to crack down on Albanian dissent in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s, as well as during the 1990s repression in Kosovo.
Kosovo became the second Albanian state after declaring independence in February 2008. The Ohrid Agreement of 2001, which ended the brief war in Macedonia (officially, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM), increased Albanian political influence in the country. In essence, Albanians now have two and a half states: Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia, all three of which are linked geographically. Albanian political clout in other Balkan countries, however, is marginal.
With two and a half states now, how real is the decades-old myth of a “Greater Albania”, which resurfaced two weeks ago? Anything is possible in international politics, but a “Greater Albania” may not be in the best interest of Albanians.
The process of integration of Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia into the European Union and NATO has changed the strategic calculus in the region. Albania and North Macedonia are NATO members with aspirations to join the EU. Kosovo, similarly, aspires to join the two clubs. Assuming that (i) the EU continues to exist in its current form and (ii) follows through on its 2003 Thessaloniki commitment to give the Balkans an EU perspective and then proceeds with enlargement to include the region, a new calculus emerges.
The eventual EU membership of the three countries would translate into two-and-a-half Albanian votes and potential vetoes in key decision-making structures, with half a vote being the Albanian influence on how North Macedonia votes. This is important in terms of bargaining leverage. By contrast, a hypothetical “Greater Albania” scenario would translate into a single vote in the EU.
Assuming political solidarity between Albanian leaders in these three states, more votes would bring more leverage and more bargaining chips. Based on the current mechanism of national government representation in the EU and assuming institutional adjustments to accommodate new members, this calculus is particularly relevant as it applies to the European Council. Voting in the European Council, which sets the EU’s political priorities, is mostly by consensus and more votes equal more leverage. In the Council of the EU, the key decision-maker in the club, unanimity is required for crucial issues, including common foreign and security policy and EU finances. In the case of the European Commission, at least two Commissioners would be from Albanian states, each with the possibility of a third from North Macedonia.
Similarly, with Albania and North Macedonia in NATO, future membership of Kosovo in the Atlantic Alliance would amplify the voice of political representatives of Albanian populations in the three states in the North Atlantic Council’s decision-making processes. As things stand now, however, this logic of bargaining advantage would be more applicable in the EU than in NATO.
As has been the case for the past three decades, when the future of the Balkans is debated, the question of a “Greater Albania” surfaces, as it did two weeks ago, only to fade and resurface. The irony of the many debates about a “Greater Albania” is that it largely ignores a crucial factor: Albanians’ redefined interests. In other words, as long as the EU exists and assuming that it will follow through with its regional enlargement plans in the Balkans, a “Greater Albania” is not in the best interest of Albanians. It is not uniting that pays off in terms of bargaining leverage and institutional representation. Hence, the new strategic calculus can be reassuring to scaremongers of a “Greater Albania” while also serving as a policy guide for Albanian political leaders.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
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