Albania could struggle in its bid to join the European Union due to "internal issues" within the bloc, the country's Prime Minister Edi Rama told Euronews Albania.
Rama who is seeking re-election in a parliamentary poll on Sunday said he feared that North Macedonia's difficulties in joining the EU could spell trouble for his own country's bid.
With Bulgaria "blocking North Macedonia" from joining the EU amid tensions between the two countries, Rama said he believed the Netherlands and other members of the bloc could delay Albania's accession.
Last March, Brussels gave the green light to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, saying they had met all the conditions for joining. But the start of negotiations is subject to EU countries agreeing.
'Europe works with consensus'
"Europe works with consensus. Countries have different choices," Rama said.
"Now, another problem has come up which is Bulgaria blocking North Macedonia, and we don’t know what the Netherlands will decide, and the other countries as well," he said. "Maybe they’ll say: 'Since they [North Macedonia and Bulgaria] are having a dispute, Albania should also stay in place."
Ultimately, Rama insisted, "they don’t really have any problems with us, they have their own internal problems."
Asked whether he felt the current stage of Albania's EU integration, which he had vowed to push forward when he came into office, represented a "failure", Rama appeared to suggest that the coronavirus pandemic had also played a role in accession delays.
Asserting that the "crisis" had made Europe "confused," Rama said: "Europe today isn't the same Europe as the one I was talking about back then".
No timeline for EU integration
But in today's Europe, he said he could not provide any timeline for Albania's accession to the EU.
"I do not have any dates," he said. "But, we have formally taken the decision ... to open negotiations. Now, all countries must agree."
As Albania awaits news from the EU, Rama said his nation would continue to "build the European Albania here".
"We must continue to do our duty," he said.
The 'path towards improvement'
Determined to push forward with or without the EU, Rama has long sought to make Albania a "champion of tourism".
However, the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on that effort, as well as on the country's economy in general, has become a key issue in his re-election bid.
Prior to the pandemic, Albania had attracted more than 6 million tourists, bringing about 9% of GDP in 2019.
The government had hoped to raise that to 10 per cent the next year, but in the midst of the pandemic, preliminary figures on 2020 from the Tourism Ministry showed at least a 40% drop.
Albania further saw a 3.31% drop in GDP in 2020 due to the pandemic, as well due to a fatal magnitude 6.4 earthquake in November 2019, which caused significant damage.
Unification with Kosovo?
Asked whether he would vote "yes" in a referendum on Kosovo unifying with Albania, Rama refused to comment.
In a previous interview with Euronews English, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, an ethnic-Albanian along with the vast majority of the Kosovar population, said he would vote yes in such a referendum.
In the years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, the possibility of unifying with Albania has often been floated as a political response to strained relations with Brussels or Washington.
While unifying with Albania could provide security for Kosovo against Serbia, such a move would likely be opposed by all of Kosovo's international allies.
Asked for his own sentiments on unification, Rama said he would not comment on anything to do with Kurti - at least not until Sunday's election is over.
"I have no comments as regards Albin Kurti, until April 26. Then we can talk. Right now, I will not say anything," he said.
Commenting on anything to do with Kosovo's prime minister, Rama said "is a trap that I will not fall into".