May 20 2018

Albania must decide between EU and Turkey - analysis

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tries to coopt Balkan countries into his sphere of influence, these countries, Albania in particular, must realize that their prospects for economic growth, prosperity, freedom and sustainable democracy will come with a close association to the EU, not Turkey, says Alon Ben-Meir in an article he penned for online magazine globalist.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s has been vocal in its dream of expanding the country’s influence across states that were formerly Ottoman territories; this foreign policy doctrine known as “Neo-Ottomanism.” Albania has been one of Turkey’s prime areas of interest.

‘’If Albania continues to cozy up to Erdoğan, the door to EU membership will close,’’ Ben-Meir argues.

The article notes that Erdoğan, under the guise of cultural cooperation, is determined to coopt Balkan countries into his sphere of influence by spreading his Islamic agenda.  Erdogan is investing heavily in these countries’ infrastructure and religious institutions.

Recalling that Erdoğan in an interview for the Albanian TV station “Top Channel” said that Turkey has invested three billion euros in Albania, the author underlines that Balkan states must realize the ‘’trade-offs’’ involved.

In the new enlargement package recommended by the European Commission, Albania will be the first of those countries to start accession talks with the EU.

‘’That move only hardens Turkey’s determination to flex its economic muscles to lure Albania and other Balkan states into its own geostrategic orbit. Turkey’s investments in Albania are selective and strategically calculated. They include ownership of the country’s second-largest bank, hydropower plants, an iron smelting plant, as well as the former state-owned telecom operator “Albtelecom” and the mobile operator “Eagle Mobile.”’ Ben-Meir notes.

So while Erdoğan hopes to provide Albania small doses of economic development until the country finally succumbs to his charms, the country must be careful what it wishes for and not allow Erdoğan to dominate, the article says.

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama has close relations with Erdoğan, which has helped facilitate Turkish investments. The latest deal appears to be the construction of a tourist airport in Vlora, 140km south of the capital Tirana.

Meanwhile, dozens of new mosques, financed by Turkey, are now operating in Albania.

Ben-Meir quotes Xhemal Ahmeti, a historian and philosopher, who points to a lack of open criticism of Turkey in the Albanian media.

‘’As it stands, Erdogan’s instructors, emissaries and ideologues infiltrate political parties, academic associations and mosques in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and other Balkan states,’’ Ben-Meir argues.