EU signals opening of accession talks with #Albania likely to start by the summer

| March 20, 2018

EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini has signalled that accession talks with Albania could start as soon as this summer, writes Martin Banks.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday (20 March), the Italian official said she expects European commission to give an “unconditional recommendation” for accession negotiations to start in the next “two to three months”.

She told a meeting this would pave the way for council, the body representing EU member states, toformally commence talks “by June”.

The EU High Representative was addressing a meeting on the reform efforts undertaken by Albania as part of its accession bid.

Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania, also spoke at the packed hearing, telling the audience it was “ridiculous” to label his country as a regional “crime capital”.

He conceded that there were still problems to be addressed concerning organized crime, corruption and institution-building but that the country was now ready to start EU accession talks.

Rama said: “We are not saying we are ready for accession today  and nor are we asking for any gifts or pleasures that are undeserved.

“We are just saying that the time has come to open talks because we deserve it. One by one we have done things by the book, not because it was asked of us by Brussels but because it is good for the country and the next generation.”

Speaking passionately of Albania’s accession credentials, he said: “I know that, to some extent, I am preaching to the converted in this parliament but  I believe we can really make this happen.

“The sceptics must realise that opening talks will not create potential new problems and that the EU needs the Balkans just as the Balkans needs the EU.”

Mogherini, in her address,  also spoke enthusiastically about the progress made so far, citing judicial reform and foreign affairs policy as prime examples.

Accession would be beneficial not just for economic reasons but also for the “reconciliation” of the Balkans region, she said, adding that while Albania may “not yet be ready” to join the 28-member bloc,  it had done “incredible things” in its reform process in the past year or so.

She told the meeting, “This is not just a box ticking exercise but a process. What I see, though, is a great determination and dedidication, a feeling of ‘being European.

“It is this desire and aspiration to be part of the EU, this energy that we here in Europe need so much, particularly in light of current political trends. It reminds us what the EU is all about.”

She told Rama: “In terms of the results it has achieved in the reform process, particularly on justice reform and foreign policy, Albania has done incredible things in the past year and is moving in the right direction.

“This is not an irrelevance. We are 100% on the same side.”

She also cautioned on the need to continue to reform, saying: “This is like riding a bike. You run the risk of falling off if you stand still.  That would not be in the interests of either Albania or the EU.”

Her comments were endorsed by another speaker, Antonio Tajani, the president of the Parliament.

Albania has been an official candidate for accession to the EU since June 2014 and is on the current agenda for future enlargement. Albania applied for membership on 28 April 2009.

In October 2012, the Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status, subject to completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform and revision of the parliamentary rules of procedures.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also voiced optimism about the reform process, saying recently that the Commission will soon recommend, most likely by the summer, that member states begin accession negotiations with Albania.

MEPs have also welcomed Albania’s progress on EU-related reforms and “good progress” in fighting organised crime, saying this could prove to be a key to advancing the EU accession process and starting negotiations.

MEPs were also due to debate the European Union’s new Western Balkans Strategy with the EU foreign policy chief on Tuesday.

The six countries – Albania, FYROM, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo have aspirations to join the EU and each one is at a different stage of the process.

An EPP spokesman said: “The region is one of the EPP Group’s priorities and we want all of them to join the EU, based on their merit and once they fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria.”

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Category: A Frontpage, Accession, Albania, EU