National Resource Center for Civil Society in Albania: Albania’s European Integration Process: Opportunities for Civil Society involvement in the negotiation process regarding education, science, and youth, 24 October 2023, Elbasan

Workshop in cooperation with the “National Resource Center for Civil Society” took place in Elbasan on October 24th, 2023. It was organized by the “European Movement Albania” in partnership with the University of Elbasan “Aleksander Xhuvani” under the National Resource Center for Civil Society in Albania. The workshop brought together the academic staff of the university, students, youth activists, and representatives from the civil society sector to discuss and share experiences related to the enlargement process of the EU, the negotiation process, and opportunities for involvement in chapters 25 and 26 of the EU Acquis, covering education, science, and research.

The National Resource Center for Civil Society in Albania is supported by the European Union and is implemented by Partners in Albania for Development and Cooperation, in cooperation with European Movement Albania and the Albanian Center for Population Development.

The workshop was welcomed by the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Science of the University of Elbasan, Dr. Ardian Lami, who noted that these kinds of events are not only of interest for gaining personal information but also for sharing experiences between interest groups, academic staff, and youth. They are important because they offer opportunities for gaining more knowledge and for interest groups to have the chance to be more engaged and inclusive not only from the side of interest groups but from the whole society and community. Participation in these initiatives offers new students the opportunity to be part of the process and, more importantly, the chance to contribute and improve it. He emphasized the importance of continuing this cooperation in the future as crucial spaces for sharing experiences and building capacities through discussion and communication.

Anila Dollani, an expert on European Integration, conducted two sessions of this workshop. The first session concentrated on the enlargement process of the European Union. She focused mainly on the history and evolution of EU enlargement up to the approval of the New Enlargement Methodology in 2020. Dollani pointed out that the new methodology came as a requirement to revive the EU enlargement process, but on the other hand, it has made the process more complex and political by giving more competences and an active role to the member states of the EU. Furthermore, the methodology has made the process reversible or suspendable, where she mentioned 3 cases: 1) serious and continuous violation of EU values from the candidate country, 2) lack of progress for a considerable time on the clusters/chapters, or a regression on already achieved standards, and 3) slow progress on the first cluster compared to other clusters.

During the second session, Dollani focused on the negotiation process between Albania and the EU, which officially started on July 19th, 2022, and has already begun work on the first cluster – Fundamentals. She clarified the screening process and how it is progressing in the case of Albania. According to her, the screening process allows candidate states to familiarize themselves with EU legislation and standards, examine action plans, and provide preliminary indications of issues that may be faced during negotiations. She also explained the main structure of the negotiating institutions and some of the most relevant documents being prepared by Albania at this stage.

Nirvana Deliu, an EU Policy Researcher at European Movement Albania (EMA), specifically explained the topics covered in 2 chapters of the EU Acquis – Chapter 25 – Science and Research, and Chapter 26 – Education and Culture. University representatives and students are particularly interested in these chapters, as are civil society organizations engaged in improving education quality, culture, or scientific research. Both chapters do not have a lot of Acquis, and most of it is left in the competence of the member states to fulfill policies. However, reaching the standards is required to be part of European initiatives and structures such as the European Education Area (EEA) or the European Research Area (ERA). Regarding the negotiations process for these chapters, the screening process for both of these chapters has been completed (Explanatory Meetings October-November 2022 and Bilateral Meetings 26th-27th April 2023). The Ministry of Education and Sports is the negotiating authority for both chapters and is also the leading institution responsible for setting up discussion and consultation tables under the Partnership Platform for European Integration. Deliu pointed out this platform as the only structure that allows the inclusion of non-governmental actors in the negotiation process and gives civil society actors the opportunity to participate by gathering information, consulting, and monitoring the process. The platform’s tables have been established for Chapters 25 and 26, even though finding information related to these topics is challenging.

The discussion with the participants focused on tangible steps to be included in the negotiation process within the framework of the Partnership Platform and Albania’s path towards the EU, along with the requirements that should be fulfilled to continue to the next phases of the process.