Monday, December 4, 2017

Albania awaits belated opening of accession talks with growing dismay

New Europe

Dec 4, 2017

Despite a positive assessment of Albania’s progression regarding reforms and its clear commitment to joining the EU in the near future, the EU’s delay in the opening of negotiations on accession is serving only to alienate this Western Balkan country
By Violetta Rusheva
Violetta Rusheva is a journalist at New Europe.
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At the conference on Albania’s EU integration process, which was organised by the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Brussels, the Albanian Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati, made it clear that his country is expecting the European Council to adopt a decision in June 2018 on the opening of accession talks. Any further delay in the process, warned Bushati, would be a ‘huge disappointment’ for the Albanians and may be interpreted as an ‘unwelcome message’.

“Since the very first moment of Albania’s post-communist journey, our main national priority has been, and remains, to become closer to the EU and ultimately to join the union. Our path to the EU has proved to be long and difficult as we had to rebuild not just roads and institutions, but first and foremost the culture of the Rule of Law and accountability. In April 2018, the European Commission will present a report on our country and we expect unconditional recommendation to open accession talks. Our realistic expectations are that in June the Council will adopt a decision on accession talks with our country. Anything short of this would be a huge disappointment and an unwelcome message to the Albanians,” Bushati said.

Addressing the audience, the Minister added that the current political context in the EU, considering Brexit and the rise of nationalism in Poland, does not favour a process of enlargement for the EU. Nevertheless, stressed Bushati, there is no alternative to integration because ‘when the Balkans are neglected or side-lined, problems arise’, perhaps referring to the bloody events which took place in the region during the 1990s.

Tirana has high expectations regarding the approaching Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, as Bulgaria actively supports the development of integration of the Western Balkans and has placed the topic of enlargement at the top of its agenda. Albania submitted its formal application for EU membership in 2009. Five years later it was granted EU candidate status, but without any clear statement regarding a time period for the opening of accession talks. Later, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, linked the beginning of negotiations with the meeting by Albania of two conditions – a re-opening of the dialogue with the opposition and the successful delivery of reforms in five key areas, identified as public administration, rule of law, corruption, organised crime and fundamental rights.

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