Newsletter 7/2010 - Our South East Europe

INTERVIEW with Jozefina Çoba Topalli, Speaker of Albanian Parliament

European Union integration is possible only if the future EU members show they are willing and able to interact with their neighbours

Madame Speaker, how important, in your opinion, is parliamentary cooperation for the Western Balkans' EU future?

Parliamentary cooperation of the Western Balkan countries is on many accounts crucial both for the European Union (EU) future of each individual country of the region and for the region at large.

Parliaments of the Western Balkan countries, as the representatives of the people and as the highest law-making bodies, play a central role in promoting and implementing reforms required for the EU integration as well as in increasing the transparency and the accountability of the government in this process.   

Parliamentary cooperation in Western Balkans encourages and promotes parliamentary dialogue among the countries of the region, which in turn contributes to reconciliation and good neighbourly relations among them. Moreover, various initiatives and mechanisms of the parliamentary dimension of regional cooperation offer our parliaments the possibility to share experiences and to exchange the best practices in all issues of common regional interest, especially in relation to the implementation of the EU standards into national legislation.

Given the importance of parliamentary cooperation in Western Balkans, the mechanisms of the regionally-led initiatives have to be strengthened in particular in the area of European integration, but they also need to streamline their objectives and activities in order to ensure complimentarity and an adequate level of coordination.

How can regional cooperation contribute to EU reforms in individual countries, especially in terms of deepening relations but also in light of European integration?

European Union provides a model for peace-building which is valid for any region in the world, particularly for the Western Balkan countries which aim at integration into the EU. European experience has proved that peace, stability and economic prosperity can be achieved through the process of regional cooperation, despite differences that exist between different countries and peoples.

The EU is built on the foundation of regional cooperation. The experience of the founding states of the EU and other countries which have joined later shows that political consensus, economic and social prosperity depend on close cooperation with neighboring countries. The EU serves as an example of how people can overcome hatred and divisions and unite around a common cause.

This is the reason why regional cooperation is at the heart of the EU policies towards the Western Balkans region as well as one of the conditions for the EU membership.

EU integration is only possible if future members can show they are willing and able to interact with their neighbors. Western Balkan countries face a number of common threats and problems of development, which they can solve only by working together with each other, with the EU and other neighboring countries.

Therefore, the Balkan states should accept the EU experience of regional cooperation and integration not only as a good thing in itself but also as one of the conditions for joining the EU.

What are the main challenges for Albania and other prospective EU member countries from South East Europe in the context of EU reforms? How could they be overcome?

Albania has made significant progress in aligning its legislation, policies, institutions and capacity with European standards. The Western Balkans as a whole has also changed dramatically since 1999. Stabilization has achieved a point of no return and all the countries of the region have made progress in meeting established conditions and have moved closer to EU membership.

However, many challenges lie ahead for the Western Balkan countries, which have still substantial work ahead in meeting the conditions for EU integration.

Challenges are both internal and regional. The internal challenge is to do the difficult EU homework by accelerating the pace of reforms in the area of rule of law, judiciary, fight against corruption and organized crimes and sustainable economic development.

Many challenges are also regional. The past conflicts have left some outstanding bilateral issues unresolved in the Balkans. Therefore, resolving the bilateral issues in the region as well as strengthening the regional cooperation is currently among the challenges that the region has to deal with.     

To overcome these challenges, Western Balkan countries have to intensify the pace of reform with a view to meet the EU accession criteria and to leave the past behind with a view to engage in a European future. 

How do activities of the Regional Cooperation Council contribute to individual countries' European agenda?

Taking into consideration the fact that regional cooperation is one of the EU accession conditions of the Western Balkan countries, the RCC as a regional initiative established to promote regional cooperation, contributes to the individual countries’ endeavor to meet these criteria.

The RCC is well placed to exert the needed leadership in promoting regional cooperation. The Regional Cooperation Council plays a key role in exerting strategic leadership in the framework of regional cooperation. It develops a coherent regional approach and carries out activities in priority areas of European integration such as the economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, building human capital and parliamentary cooperation. Moreover, RCC helps to find solutions to possible issues in regional cooperation arising from the different status of member states with respect to the EU.

Jozefina Çoba Topalli is the first woman Speaker of Parliament in the Albanian parliamentary history.  She was elected to this position in September 2005 and was re-elected for a second four-year mandate in September 2009. She also served as deputy speaker of Parliament for two mandates. Prior to that, she worked at the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Shkodra and from 1995-1996 she was chancellor and lecturer at “Luigj Gurakuqi” University. Topalli graduated from the Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Law School of the “Luigj Gurakuqi” University and holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Tirana University. She is an active member of the Council of Europe since 2002.


Josefina Topalli, Speaker of Parliament of Albania (Photo:

Josefina Topalli, Speaker of Parliament of Albania (Photo: