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Albania: EU Still Divided On Action--An Analysis

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 25 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The European Union is still divided over what course of action it should pursue collectively in responding to the on-going crisis in Albania.

At a meeting in Brussels yesterday, the EU's 15 foreign ministers again failed to agree on dispatching a military intervention force to help restore order to Albania, where chaotic disorder has prevailed for the past three weeks. They were not even able to reach the necessary consensus on sending a small force of military police to provide security to convoys of EU aid workers who will bring $2.3 million of humanitarian aid into the country.

Apart from the aid grant, the ministers were only able to agree on sending a team of about 25 civilian and military experts to help in the rebuilding of Albania's disintegrating infrastructure. Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo of the Netherlands, whose country currently presides over the EU, said that "this will be primarily an advisory mission." This will also be the second EU advisory group sent to Albania. Last week, Dutch diplomat Jan D'Ansembourg led a fact-finding mission to Tirana that recommended the EU concentrate on security, financial and humanitarian aid

Today, the EU ministers were due to meet in Rome with interim Albanian Premier Bashkim Fino. The ministers traveled to the Italian capital to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Economic Community that later became the EU. In Tirana yesterday, Fino said he was "convinced (the EU) is going to help Albania."

After the events of the past fortnight, Fino may be one of the few high officials in Europe still evincing that conviction. Ten days ago, at a weekend "informal" meeting in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn, the EU's foreign ministers were conspicuously unable to speak with a single voice on Albania. Their disunity was particularly flagrant for two important reasons: Two days before they met, Albania's feuding political leads had themselves united in issuing a call for EU military intervention to restore order in their country. And the EU's -- and the United Nations' -- envoy in Bosnia, former Swedish Premier Carl Bildt, had called military intervention in Albania "essential" if the Union was to avoid another foreign-policy humiliation similar to the one it suffered in Yugoslavia.

Yesterday's Brussels meeting echoed the pronounced chorus of EU dissonance heard in Apeldoorn. Austria and Italy -- the EU state most directly affected by the crisis in its near neighbor -- made proposals for getting food, medicine and other aid into Albania, where supplies are running short after three weeks of virtual anarchy. Italy, Greece and France repeated offers they had previously made to provide troops for a military force.

French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette was particularly emphatic in insisting that "this is Europe's responsibility -- the EU must take charge." But he nonetheless added that a EU military force should "not be tasked to restore order in Albania, which is up to the Albanians to do." In a newspaper interview published today, however, Albanian President Sali Berisha said he could not guarantee the safety of aid convoys coming into his country.

De Charette's British and German counterparts were far more negative about EU military intervention. Britain's Malcolm Rifkind reiterated his opposition to sending any EU military force to Albania until, he said, ""there has been some improvement on the ground....It is still a very difficult and dangerous situation." Klaus Kinkel of Germany said the EU should collectively provide aid, but that security problems should be handled by individual member states on a voluntary basis. Kinkel added that the 54-state OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), not the EU, should coordinate any military operation.

Several Western analysts have compared what they call the EU's "collective impotence" and "dithering" over Albania to its earlier disunity over the former Yugoslavia's problems. Even those who emphasize the differences between the violent crises in Albania and ex-Yugoslavia say that EU history seems to be repeating itself. It was Communism's founder Karl Marx, it has been recalled, who remarked that history repeats itself "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." But in the cases of the EU's behavior on Yugoslavia and Albania, Marx seems to have been wrong again. They are both tragedies.