H.E. Roland Bimo, Ambassador of Albania to Austria, spoke with SOCIETY about the Austrian-Albanian ties, the highlights of his diplomatic service in Austria and Albania’s lengthy EU-accession procedure.
Firstly, I would like to thank you very much for this opportunity. I am indeed very grateful to SOCIETY Magazine for the initiative. Your readers are of great value for me and I am grateful of this opportunity to communicate. Albania is not so often in the Austrian media and that makes your contribution even more important – and usually, the Albanian story is told by foreigners.
The rapid advance of communication technologies and globalization in general have a profound and direct impact on diplomacy and its role, function, and instruments. The COVID-19 pandemic deprived diplomacy from its most essential element: human exchange. All of us at the Embassy of Albania continue to underline the importance of political contacts at the highest level, in order to identify common political and security interests and make sure that business interests are served as good as possible so we can promote economic exchange.
Public diplomacy and social media is getting closer to the center of our attention at the expense of political issues that are now directly taken up by top leadership.
During all those years of diplomatic service in Austria, which moments were the most memorable to you?
I have been very lucky to witness high level visits of former Federal President Heinz Fischer to Albania and Albanian President Mr. Ilir Meta to Austria, following the invitation of President Alexander Van der Bellen. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has visited Vienna a few times, at a bilateral level but also in the framework of international events and he has met former Chancellors Werner Faymann, Christian Kern and Sebastian Kurz. Furthermore, I wish to see the day that Alexander Schallenberg will be the first Austrian Chancellor to pay an official visit to Albania.
The Western Balkans Summit Vienna, held in August 2015 as a part of the Berlin Process, was indeed a breakthrough and confirmed once more Austria’s role in supporting the Western Balkans in their efforts towards European Union Membership.
How much value do you attribute to the cultural relations between Austria and Albania, next to the political and diplomatic ones?
The most important highlight of my nearly eight years as Ambassador of Albania to Austria was the Cultural Year Austria-Albania 2018: Hundreds of cultural activities were organized throughout Albania and Austria and thanks to the help from the Department of Culture of the Albanian Foreign Ministry led by Ambassador Teresa Indjein, the Austrian public got to know more about Albanian cinematography, music, paintings, theater and artists. Here, I may add something to your first question: Culture has become one of the most important channels of communication for the Embassy as a diplomatic institution, especially here in Austria. The historical and political relations between Austria and Albania are marked by common interests and they lead to a very close cultural exchange between the two countries. Also, the best scientists in the field of Albanian Studies are from Austria and they are the most numerous too.
Since June 24, 2014, Albania is an official candidate for the accession to the European Union. What are the central challenges Albania needs to address in that process?
At the moment, Albania is expecting a decision from the European Council on the date for holding the first Intragovernmental Conference between Albania and the EU and a time frame for conducting accession negotiations.
Accession will come at the end of a long and – as it transpires – unpredictable process. The length of negotiations vary from country to country. What Albania is now calling for is the start of negotiations. Austria is continuously pointing out that, if EU would like to help Albania and the region to leave their troubled past behind and join a democratic and free world, the time is now. Otherwise, we may see situations similar to the one in North Macedonia, where the gains of courageous and European value-based policies of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev are being endangered, as the result of the last local elections in North Macedonia showed.
As Prime Minister Edi Rama said, we will continue to build a Europe in Albania – for the benefit of our citizens and regardless of the decisions of the European Council. Right now, it looks as if the EU enlargement process is being taken hostage by the individual agenda of some member states. The fact that the EU Commission technically concludes that Albania and North Macedonia fulfill the conditions for starting negotiations but the European Council doesn’t agree, demonstrates the political nature of the problem.
Your area of expertise is foreign and security policy and you have also published quite a large body of literature on that topic. Based on your judgement, what significance will foreign and security policy hold regarding the future relationship between Albania and the EU?
Many thanks for the compliment. One must work very hard to earn that. I do not think that security of the EU can be significantly threatened by Albania in any way but for sure, the EU will be much safer in certain dimensions of security if Albania is involved in a closer cooperation. We have demonstrated our good will by signing agreements with Frontex and successfully working together protecting outside borders of the EU. While Albania is not a threat, she can be a valuable small ally in the fight against illegal migration, human and drug trafficking and organized crime that may have links to terrorism. Naturally, opening accession negotiations will boost our confidence and encourage progressive forces to stay on the course regarding reforms.