As Kosovo commemorated its 13th anniversary of independence, its new prime minister Albin Kurti told Euronews that if a referendum were held on the unification of Albania and Kosovo, he would vote in favour.
“I believe that independence implies also independence from independence. So, we can join the federation, be that with Albania or [the] EU… Once we would have a strengthening of the state of Kosovo, once we can do it peacefully and democratically move in that I think I would vote yes (in the referendum),” Kurti said.
In response to these comments, Taulant Balla, general secretary of Albania's ruling Socialist party, told Euronews Albania that any unification with Kosovo will only come when these two countries begin on the path to EU membership.
“These sorts of concepts become part of the European integration processes. Albanians on this side of the border and on that side of the border will unite on the road towards Brussels,” Balla said.
Former Albanian prime minister Pandeli Majko, however, was unequivocal.
"Such stories need to end," he told Euronews Albania in an interview on Friday.
His message to Kurti was to look after his immediate priorities rather than igniting talking points that could be problematic.
"These discussions would create problems with international acts that ensure Kosovo’s stability, I am referring to acts that guarantee the presence of NATO in Kosovo and the Ahtisaari Package. Meanwhile, even more importantly, a prime minister cannot insinuate for a different status, because Kosovo is still in the process of being recognised by other states,” Majko said.
EU enlargement efforts
Albania’s efforts to join the bloc have been ongoing for two decades and the country is currently waiting to start membership talks. Whereas Kosovo’s journey in this process began in 2012 with the visa liberalisation dialogue, Kosovo remains the only country in the Western Balkans with such restrictions of movement in the EU.
The Albanian minister of state for relations with parliament, Elisa Spiropali, said this is an issue that requires an inclusive dialogue and cooperation.
"We have expressed our willingness for understanding as well as our disposition to dialogue, for rapprochement, not only of legislation but also of the memorandum of cooperation, starting from education, health and everything else, because one thing is clear: Albania and Kosovo must be brought closer at all levels and must cooperate as two countries that share one common goal,” said Spiropali.
During the socialist leadership, Albania has held at least six intergovernmental conferences with Kosovo and signed dozens of cooperation agreements, but, to date, these deals have not brought any radical change in relations between the two countries.
For the democrats, who have been leading the opposition since 2013, Kurti’s statement was not brushed off. Genc Pollo, a former deputy prime minister, said he mostly received the referendum declaration as “hypothetical”, as currently, neither country has plans to hold such a vote.
“Kurti said that 'in case' a referendum would be held -- he did not say that he will hold a referendum -- he would vote in favour and any Albanian could have very well said this. What I do know is that Albin Kurti has his main attention focused on internal issues of reforms and necessary measures. We wish him all the best in his endeavours,” Pollo concluded.
'Europe would face a nightmare if the Balkans go crazy'
When Albania was due to hold its parliamentary elections in 2017, the country’s Socialist prime minister Edi Rama, in an interview with Politico.eu, also brought to attention the topic of a national unification between Albania and Kosovo.
PM Rama said that a union between the two cannot be ruled out if EU membership prospects for the Western Balkans fade, further stating that “Europe would face a nightmare if the Balkans go crazy”.
Kosovo, which declared independence on February 17, 2008, after an armed conflict with Serbia, has its constitution prohibited from joining another country.
Serbia, on the other hand, does not recognise Kosovo's independence and has it sanctioned in its constitution as a territorial part of itself.
Kosovo analyst Jusuf Thaci says that Kurti does not see unification with Albania as a priority, at least not during his first mandate as head of the government.
“Firstly Kosovo has to face a number of internal problems, then it’s the dialogue with Serbia, and only after these issues are addressed, and after full sovereignty of Kosovo is achieved, then I believe that the unification could be a topic of discussion in coordination with Albania and partners, through democratic manners,” Thaci said.
But political analyst, Ermal Hasimja, said the key component is the elimination of customs. And this is something that would need to happen before any referendum and which is dependent on both Rama and Kurti.
“Albania and Kosovo will be of benefit to one another if they agree on [the] free circulation of goods. It’s ridiculous that countries like France and Germany, which have always been at war with one another throughout their history, to not have either a border or customs, and Albania and Kosovo, which are part of one nation to be separated by a border,” Hasimja told Euronews Albania.