The EU’s favorite university is in for a Balkan enlargement.
The Commission’s neighborhood czar Olivér Várhelyi announced that the College of Europe — the training ground for aspiring Eurocrats — will open a new campus in Tirana, Albania, in a sign that the Balkan country is edging closer toward EU membership. This move is seen by regional experts as an attempt by the bloc to increase its soft power in a key geopolitical region.
Albania is an EU candidate country and is in the process of aligning with the EU’s rules and carrying out reforms to meet the bloc’s accession criteria.
The new campus will be funded by the Commission and applications for students will open in September 2023, according to Várhelyi. He added: “The only thing we need now is a building, a nice site [for the college].”
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed the news as a “great gift” and something “exceptionally important and significant for us” in a joint news conference in Tirana with the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Várhelyi.
“After the Bruges college opened a campus in Poland in the 1990s to support those countries becoming members of the European Union, it is now going to open a campus in Albania,’’ said Rama, a reference to the opening of a second college campus in Natolin, Poland, in 1992 as the region committed to European integration after the fall of communism.
The symbolic meaning of the Tirana move was not lost on Várhelyi, who described it as a “clear signal that [Albania’s] accession is around the corner, this is how it happened in Poland.”
In a written statement to POLITICO, the Rector of the College of Europe — and former EU foreign policy chief — Federica Mogherini “welcomed the announced intention of the Commission to finance a new College of Europe campus in Tirana.”
She added: “We are starting the preliminary work in view of submitting a detailed proposal.”
The presidents of the European Commission and European Council — Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel — backed Albania’s calls to set up a new campus during an EU leaders’ summit in Tirana last December.
Rama on Thursday declined to set a firm deadline for Albania’s EU entry but indicated that his country might join the club “within the next decade,” something he admitted would have been considered unthinkable until a few years ago.
The university is the most represented alma mater among the EU’s civil servants, according to a POLITICO ranking, and its alumni include current Commissioner Margaritīs Schinas as well as the former prime ministers of Denmark and Finland, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Alexander Stubb.
The university is partly funded by the EU and other national governments, according to its own records. (Politico)