Albania has finally been accepted as an official EU membership candidate. European affairs ministers agreed to start Albania’s EU membership process, but warn that further progress depends on sustained efforts to reform. EURACTIV France reports.
The 28 EU member states granted Albania the status of official EU membership candidate on 24 June in Luxembourg. This is the next step in Albania’s long road to becoming an EU member state, and is recognition of recent reforms in the country.
Albania is now the sixth accession candidate along with Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Iceland. Talks with these countries have come to a standstill, and unlike Albania, they are taking steps to leave behind their candidate status.
16 EU member states wrote to the European Council to back Albania’s accession. Britain, Germany and France are reluctant to grant the small Balkan state the status of candidate. France’s reluctance can be explained by domestic issues. According to Philippe Moreau Defarges, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), French opposition represents a general rejection of further enlargement: “France did not sign the letter, because it does not want another EU enlargement.”
The decision taken in Luxembourg will be ratified by EU heads of state at the European Summit on 26 and 27 July. This is an important milestone, but it is still just the first part of a long process. Future talks will be challenging.
Candidacy backed by the Commission
The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Štefan Füle, backed Albania’s candidacy bid on 4 June, and praised the country’s efforts to reform.
“Based on our findings we confirm – beyond any doubt, with no conditionality or reservations – the recommendation that the member states should grant Albania candidate status. We have based this recommendation on the continued political will to act decisively in the fight against corruption and organised crime and on the commitment to a comprehensive judicial reform,” Füle said in a press release.
European affairs ministers in Luxembourg concluded that progress in the membership process is still conditional on further efforts. In their conclusions, they state that Albania must “intensify its anti-corruption efforts and implement its anti-corruption strategy and action plan […] reform of the public administration and the judiciary, the fight against organised crime and corruption, the protection of human rights and anti-discrimination policies including in the area of minorities and their equal treatment”.
Füle shared Albania’s success with his followers on Twitter:
#Albania congratulations on candidate status just agreed by Ministers: acknowledgement of reform efforts,encouragement for more.
— Štefan Füle (@StefanFuleEU) June 24, 2014
EU forced to integrate the Balkans
According to Philippe Moreau Defarges, further integration of the Balkans, and especially Albania, is the logical next step in EU enlargement, but he still has his reservations.
“The EU must integrate the Balkans into the EU. Giving Albania the status of membership candidate is a step in this direction. The Balkans is a fundamental part of the EU, and integrating it the EU is inevitable. However, I am not convinced that it is a good thing. It is simply the logical result,” said the researcher.
He added that the EU already has too many members, but Albania is a special case. Indeed, geographical stability plays an important role in Albania’s membership process.
“Behind the Albania candidate status lie concerns over Kosovo and real political stakes for the entire Balkans region. The European path is creating a peaceful future for the region,” he said.
Numerous countries have announced plans to oppose Albania’s membership bid, including the Czech Republic. Prague’s opposition comes from a dispute between the ?EZ Czech state-controlled power utility and the Albanian state.
This is an important obstacle, because the accession of a new EU member state can only be ratified if all 28 EU member states agree. It will be hard to achieve as more and more countries are opposed to further enlargement, a sentiment reinforced by the victory of Eurosceptic parties in last month’s EU elections.
Negotiations are still ongoing with five other candidate countries -Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia, Iceland and Macedonia – and talks with Turkey only began five years after the country was granted candidate status.
However, granting the status to Albania promises a bright future for its neighbours who are also hoping to become candidate states, like Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
EU enlargement has progressed over the past four years. The last accession was Croatia on 1 July 2013, becoming the EU's 28th member state.
After the "big bang" of 2004-2007, the EU enlargement is losing steam. The European Commission's voluminous yearly reports look at the state of play of the EU hopefuls' relations with Brussels.
Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland and Serbia are candidate countries, whereas Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo are considered potential candidates. Montenegro has started accession negotiations while Serbia will start them on 21 January 2014. Negotiations with Iceland are currently frozen.
Macedonia is a special case. It was granted candidate status in December 2005.However, the former Yugoslav republic has been unable to start accession negotiations due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province.
- 27 and 28 June: European Summit and ratification of the candidate status for Albania