Tirana expects Greek-Italian support for its EU push

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Albania is likely to get backing from Athens and Rome in its moves towards EU accession, but the rise of euroscepticism may unravel the whole process, Tirana officials say. EURACTIV Greece reports.

In its annual set of progress report last week, the European Commission recommended for the second time the granting of EU candidate status to Albania.

Ilir Meta, speaker in the Albanian parliament, told EURACTIV Greece on the sidelines of a conference organised by the Young European Federalists of Albania, a pro-EU think tank, that Tirana counts on the support of Athens and Rome move towards the European Union.

Greece takes on the rotating presidency of the EU on 1 January 2014, followed by Italy on 1 July.

Albania also appears to count on the support of its neighbours in building a major infrastructure project, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will bring gas from Azerbaijan, over the Turkish border, and across Greece and Albania, with an offshore section reaching Santa Foca, at the “heel” of the Italian peninsula. [see map].

“We have expectations that the Greek and the Italian presidency will draw attention of the EU to enlargement first of all and in particular for a faster perspective for Albania […] Greece and Italy can be the driving forces and I hope they will work closely on a common agenda during next year”, he said.

Albanian officials hold high hopes of Greek support, particularly during its upcoming EU presidency, which they believe is a great time to push the EU enlargement agenda.

In addition, it is believed that Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Evangelos Venizelos, who recently visited Tirana, can play a catalytic role.

Greek support

“Mr Evangelos Venizelos is a pro-European politician and has all the necessary special weight to push the European agenda of Albania and take the bilateral relations of Athens and Tirana to a much higher level”, said a government official, under condition of anonymity.

Speaking in the European Parliament Parliament last week, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle for the first time outlined five “fundamentals" underpinning the enlargement process: the rule of law, strengthening economic governance, support for democratic institutions, respect for fundamental rights and ties between the enlargement countries and EU member states.   

Deputy Minister of European affairs Majlind Lazimi said that he held a transparent discussion on issues of mutual interest between Albania and Greece with Venizelos during his visit to Tirana.

“I believe that the mutual interest is not only to solve the bilateral issues […] and the European perspective of Albania should not be mismatched with issues of different nature”, he underlined.

“Greece, being a neighbouring country and a European member state, will be an added value in pushing forward the European agenda of Albania”, continued.

The rise of euroscepticism fears Tirana

Ralf Gjoni, foreign policy adviser to the speaker of the Albanian parliament, said that tension was mounting in Tirana ahead of the European Parliament elections, due to take place in May 2014.

"As we get closer to European elections, we are sadly reminded of the danger of radical forces getting stronger in some countries. This would be a disaster for Europe and a disaster for the Western Balkans”, he stated.

“We know that Europe works, and we should all work hard to fight euroscepticism, to prevent radicals from entering the European Parliament," added.

The president of Young European Federalists in Albania, Vladimir Thano, voiced similar concerns.

“The rise of extremist parties in the European Parliament undoubtedly represents a hindrance in the enlargement of the EU and the further integration itself. The economic crisis has distracted Europe from its principal goals,” Thano said.

EU Ambassador in Tirana Ettore Sequi said: “The main challenge for Albania on the way to the EU is to stay committed to some fundamentals. These fundamentals are related to the rule of law, namely the reform of judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime. Obviously it is necessary to keep focus on the protection of human rights.”

After the "big bang" of 2004-2007, 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 and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo are considered potential candidates. 

the last progress report on Albania notes that the parliamentary elections in June 2013 were conducted “in an overall orderly manner”.

The Commission said that it recognised that Albania had adopted a number of important legal instruments, including key requirements for the granting of candidate country status, and had continued the fight against corruption and organised crime. Against this background, the Commission recommended granting candidate status to the country. 

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