Bruxelles je t'aime

This past week saw me wrap up my Albania research and leave the Netherlands for the first time since I arrived.

I spent most of the week continuing my research on Albania’s constitutional development, with particular focus on the current challenges facing the Western Balkan nation. Although Albania continues to move closer to fulfilling the requirements of accession to the European Union, the nation still struggles with political polarization and entrenched corruption, which prolong the implementation of reforms and further strain the country’s government. An important constitutional reform package passed in 2016, for instance, sought to combat corruption in the judiciary and enjoyed the support of key European supranational institutions. However, the new vetting process for judges caused many top judges to resign or be removed for bad behavior, depriving the Constitutional Court and the High Court of quorums in the midst of an unrelated parliamentary political crisis. The recent election of a new President by the Assembly promises an end to the hostility between the two organs of government which have characterized Albanian politics for the past three years – twice, the Assembly attempted to remove the former President from office, though neither attempt succeeded – but the opposition boycotted the vote and immediately accused the ruling party of electing the new President in violation of the Constitution.

Although Albania has been working toward joining the EU since 2006, the challenges of this process highlight the difficulty of joining the world’s largest single-market area as well as the immense political and diplomatic power such an economic bloc wields. Were the United States in the position of a small country trying to join the EU, I doubt we’d be let in for a long time.

After completing my report on Albania, Madeleine and I had the exciting opportunity of attending a conference in Brussels, Belgium. Hosted by International IDEA’s Europe Program, the conference featured scholars and political leaders from Ukraine (or involved in Ukraine) and focused on the progress of democratic reforms in Ukraine in recent years. Speakers emphasized Ukraine’s ambition to join the European Union, and, while some were more bullish on the country’s chances than others, all agreed joining the EU is a natural goal which would strengthen Ukrainian democracy and the Ukrainian economy. The war was discussed, of course, but mostly as an example of how Ukrainian democracy has persevered in the face of Russian aggression – the Ukrainian parliament, for instance, has continued to hold meetings in Kyiv, despite the dangers of being so close to the front lines.

Once the conference ended, I spent the rest of the day enjoying one of my favorite cities. I had not been to Brussels since I studied abroad in Belgium in 2020, and it felt great to see the city at the height of summer. I even had the chance to meet up with some Belgian friends and have some delicious authentic Italian pizza (thanks to Brussels’ history of Italian immigration) before catching the train back to the Netherlands.