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

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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.”

Accession

Accession talks with #Albania and #NorthMacedonia sharpens focus on EU solidarity

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Whilst public policy news continues to be dominated by the social and economic effects of the Chinese Covid 19 virus – the Council has found time to make great progress  in respect of the enlargement of the EU to embrace the countries of Albania and North Macedonia – writes Dr. Vladimir Krulj

EU Member states agreed earlier this week to give the green light to open EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania. The way they did it was also exceptional, by written procedure having regard to the present health situation affecting Europe and the rest of the world.

It is interesting to note that Northern Macedonia started discussions with EU before Croatia did. However complications with the dispute with Greece over the country’s name caused endless delays, until finally an unprecedented move in 2018 by the then Prime Minister to change the country’s name opened the door for progress with talks.

In the case of Albania there were difficulties with the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, criminality, freedom speech and protection of human rights which led Denmark and the Netherlands to block the opening of accession talks last November – against the recommendations of the European Commission.

On the other hand Croatia did its best to lobby for those two countries to open negotiations with the EU. This was important not only for the Euroatlantic movement now spreading among the majority of the countries in the region but also to counter the influence from Russia, China and Turkey.

It is extremely important and encouraging to see how other neighbouring countries from the Region, Serbia and Montenegro who are already candidate countries supported the efforts of Croatia and other EU countries to open accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania.

President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania have already held discussions about the idea of a “mini Schengen” which will enable an easier exchange of goods, people, services and capital, hence making the economy and everyday living of the people from the region easer. Despite being heavily criticised by some analysts this initiative at least also demonstrates the good intention to put bad memories from the past firmly behind them and to look to the future of constructive regional cooperation.

It is imperative that all societies in candidate countries for EU membership truly embrace the core values of the EU. But the challenge this presents should not be underestimated. The situation regarding the rule of law, freedom of the press, respect for human rights and civil liberties today presents serious obstacles to the majority if not all candidate countries on their path towards the EU.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that for the EU it seems that acceptance of core values represents just one side of the problem. Another more challenging part of the equation is how to embed those values in society and maintain respect for them.

Examples of how democratic institutions operate today in Hungary, Poland and to a certain extent even in Croatia is, rather worrying if not to say deplorable. It seems that the EU must focus on strengthening the role of democratic institutions and implement mechanisms to remove obstacles to their efficient operation.

One may think that President Macron referred to this point in particular when he was addressing the future of the EU. Today more than ever the key issue is solidarity. Giving Northern Macedonia and Albania the chance to open EU accession talks offers a promising new starting point.

The author, Dr. Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London.

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Majority of people in non-eurozone member states say #Euro is good for economy

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A majority of respondents in the EU member states that have yet to adopt the euro thinks that the common currency has had a positive impact on those countries that already use it, the latest Flash Eurobarometer shows.

In total, 56% of respondents across the seven member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden) share this view, up one percentage point over the past year and up a total of four percentage points since 2016.

This view is strongest in Hungary (70%), Romania (62%), Poland (54%) and Bulgaria (53%). Almost half also believe that introducing the euro would have positive consequences for their own country (45%, -1) and for them personally (47%, no change).

In total, 55% would like the euro to become their currency as soon as possible or after some time (+2), vs. 42% who would prefer this to take place as late as possible or never (-2). A majority of respondents in Hungary (66%), Romania (61%) and Croatia (49%) are in favour of introducing the euro.

77% of the population in these seven member states has already used euro banknotes or coins (+1 percentage point since last year). 49% feel well informed about the single currency (+1) and 81% think that they would personally manage to adapt to the replacement of the national currency by the euro (+2).

A Standard Eurobarometer released in December 2018 shows that 75% of the population in the euro area are now in favour of the euro, the highest level since the introduction of the single currency. This Flash Eurobarometer was conducted in the seven eurozone ember states that are legally committed to adopting the euro: Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

The Flash Eurobaromemter is available here.

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Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with #Turkey

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Following years of severe political and democratic backsliding, the European Parliament has recommended suspending EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

The European Parliament remains seriously concerned about Turkey’s poor track record in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption, as well as its all-powerful presidential system.

In a resolution adopted last week by 370 votes in favour, 109 against with 143 abstentions, MEPs welcome Turkey’s decision, last year, to lift the state of emergency introduced after the failed coup attempt in 2016. However, they regret that many of the powers granted to the President and executive following the coup attempt remain in place, and continue to limit freedom and basic human rights in the country. MEPs express great concern about the shrinking space for civil society in the country, as a large number of activists, journalists and human rights defenders are currently in jail.

Taking into account the human rights situation and the new Turkish constitution, the European Parliament recommends that the current EU accession negotiations with Turkey be formally suspended.

Parliament stands behind Turkish citizens

Despite the serious situation, MEPs express their will to stand behind Turkish citizens, and keep the political and democratic dialogue open. EU funds must be made available - not via Ankara, but to Turkish civil society - for human rights defenders, students and journalists to promote and protect democratic values and principles.

Modernising the EU-Turkey Customs Union

MEPs believe that to keep Turkey economically anchored to the EU, the possibility to upgrade the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union to include, for example, agriculture and public procurement, must remain an option, but only if there are concrete improvements in the field of democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Visa liberalization

Further, MEPs encourage Turkey to fulfil all 72 benchmarks for EU visa liberalisation, to benefit Turkish citizens, particularly students, academics, business representatives and people with family ties in EU countries.

Turkey’s role in the migration crisis

Finally, regarding the war in Syria, the resolution recalls Turkey’s important role in responding to the migration crisis and the government’s efforts to grant refugees temporary protection. The EP takes the view that the country and its population have shown great hospitality by offering shelter to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, but at the same time urges them to respect the non-refoulement principle. Member states, on the other hand, need to keep their promises regarding large-scale resettlement.

Rapporteur Kati Piri (S&D, NL) said: “If the EU takes its own values seriously, no other conclusion is possible than to formally suspend the talks on EU integration. Our repeated calls to respect fundamental rights have fallen on deaf ears in Ankara. On top of the severe human rights violations, the dismantling of the rule of law and the fact that Turkey holds the world record for the number of journalists in jail, the recently amended constitution consolidates Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.”

“I realize that stopping the accession talks is not a step which will help Turkey’s democrats. For that, the EU leaders must use all possible tools to exert more pressure on the Turkish government. The Parliament, therefore, calls for dedicated funds to be made available to support civil society, journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey. In addition, modernizing the customs union must remain conditional on clear improvements in the field of human rights. And more efforts must be put into people-to-people exchange programmes.”

Background

The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner, while two thirds of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Turkey comes from EU member states. Negotiations on its EU accession started in 2005.

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