EU mediators try to save Albania from political chaos

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The leaders of the two largest political groups in the European Parliament will receive Albania's prime minister and main opposition leader for dinner in Strasbourg tonight (20 May), in an attempt to prevent the country from slipping into political chaos.

Sali Berisha, Albania's prime minister, and Edi Rama, his main opponent from the Socialist Party, have accepted an invitation to bridge their differences over dinner in Strasbourg.

Martin Schulz, leader of the European Parliament's Socialist & Democrats group, and Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), sent a joint invitation on 19 May, urging the Albanian political foes to accept their mediation offer and bring to an end the country's political deadlock.

The Albanians are on their way and EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle will also attend, spokespersons for the two political groups told EURACTIV.

Hunger strike

Albania has been edging towards political chaos in the last few weeks since contested elections were held in June 2009 (see 'Background').

The opposition Socialist Party, which still controls nearly half the seats in parliament, has been boycotting the assembly for months, holding up the passage of laws, including many that are needed to align the country with EU legislation.

Since April, the Socialist Party has been calling anti-government protests "to accelerate the end" of Berisha's centre-right government (EURACTIV 06/04/10).

Some 200 protestors from the socialist camp, including 22 members of parliament, even started a hunger strike.

Accession process to be suspended?

In two identical letters to Berisha and Rama, obtained by EURACTIV, Daul and Schulz voice concern that the political meltdown in Albania is taking place at a time when the EU is starting to examine the country's bid to win official "candidate country" status.

Putting pressure on both political camps, the MEPs warn that the stalemate could lead to the "suspension of the accession process" – a move which would be unprecedented in the EU's history.

"Our two political groups fear that a conclusion cannot be drawn on the question of the functioning of democracy without a compromise solution of the present political crisis," they write.

"We would prefer to ask jointly for a suspension of the accession process until such time as a fair settlement of the dispute is reached, instead of risking a negative recommendation," the leaders state.

The Strasbourg dinner could be followed by a meeting on Friday morning, during which the two sides are invited to work on achieving a compromise solution. Commissioner Füle has also been invited to attend those talks.

Daul and Schulz urged the two Albanian leaders to discourage their supporters from holding protests – including hunger strikes – to prevent the dispute from escalating.

Antoine Ripoll, a spokesperson for Joseph Daul, said that despite taking place at such short notice, the dinner and meetings would take place amid good conditions, as the hunger strike had ended in the meantime.

On a recent visit to Albania, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle used unusually tough language, warning Tirana that a prolonged political stalemate would harm the country's EU accession prospects (EURACTIV 22/03/10).

Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009. In July, EU foreign ministers stated that they would return to the country's application once Albanian national elections held the previous month had been completed.

But ever since the June poll, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialist party of opposition leader Edi Rama have kept accusing each other of fraud.

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