Monday, March 7, 2016

Albania Aims to Open EU Talks this Year

Officials in Tirana hope that if judicial reforms are duly adopted by June, the country may be able to start membership talks with the EU by year's end

Fatjona Mejdini

Prime Minister Edi Rama and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini in Tirana | Photo: LSA/Gent Shkullaku

Albanian officials hope the country can open accession talks with the European Union by the end of this year, once parliament has adopted a package of EU-mandated judicial reforms.

Albanian officials have asked the European Commission to issue an intermediate progress report once the package of changes has passed through parliament.

Officials in Tirana believe a good report from the Commission will prompt the Council of the European Union to back accessions talks on full membership.

Gledis Gjipali, director of the European Movement in Albania, EMA, said Albania stands a good chance of opening accession talks by December, although he warns that simply passing the judicial reform package might not be enough.

"Approval of the package is just the beginning of the work on reforming justice," he said.

"It also has to be seen and assessed - the impact that it has on cleaning up corruption in the administration and getting politics out of the justice system."

Gjipali also warns that Albania must convince every EU member state of its seriousness in implementing justice reforms because every one of these states will have to approve the opening of accession talks.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on Thursday in a speech to Albanian MPs that justice reform was the most important reform that the EU required of the country at this point.

"This reform is going to open the path for a European Commission recommendation to open accession talks and for EU member countries to give Albania a positive decision on this issue," Mogherini said.

A commission of ruling and opposition party MPs and experts is still reflecting on the last set of recommendations that the Venice Commission issued on Albanian judicial reform.

Meanwhile, pressure is growing from US and EU representatives in Albania to get on with the passage of reform legislation.

Although it is a key condition, judicial reform is not the only reform that Albania has to undertake in order to move forward on the EU path.

The creation of an impartial and professional public administration, curbing corruption at every level, repressing organized crime and protecting human rights are other priorities that the country has to show improvement on before it can open accession talks.

In the Western Balkan region, Slovenia and Croatia are already EU members while Serbia and Montenegro have both opened accession talks.

Bosnia and Herzegovina recently filed a formal application to join. Macedonia's EU talks are on hold until it has resolved its dispute with Greece over its name.

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