In an April 2010 statement following a meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Permanent President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said: ''Prime Minister Berisha represents a country that has made its political vision and ambition very clear. I would like to use this opportunity as well to reiterate my strong commitment to the EU integration perspective of the entire region of the Western Balkans.''
On a visit to Albania in March, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle used unusually tough language, warning Tirana that a prolonged political stalemate would harm the country's EU accession prospects.
''A fully functioning parliament is essential to a fully functioning democracy. If the current political stalemate were to persist, it could well prevent Albania from reaching the political standards expected from a country that has applied for EU membership,'' he said.
Speaking to EURACTIV in March, Füle expressed concern about the ''stability of democratic institutions and the lack of political dialogue in the parliament''. Recognising that considerable progress had been made in recent years, he urged Albania to overcome the impasse, adding that ''responsibility lies with both political parties – both the ruling group and the opposition'.'
On a visit to Brussels on 14 April, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha pleaded the case for his country's EU accession and provided numerous examples of tough measures imposed to crack down on organised crime and corruption.
In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, the prime minister said that his country was now one of the safest in Europe following a ''zero tolerance'' crackdown on the Albanian mafia, and economic growth had remained steady despite the global crisis.
On 5 April, Socialist opposition leader Edi Rama called on Albanians to instigate demonstrations against the ''bad governing'' of Prime Minister Berisha's ruling Democratic Party.
''The time has come for a big popular movement in order to accelerate the end of this government, responsible for electoral fraud, but also for other social and economic injustices,'' he said. Rama, who is also mayor of Tirana, urged citizens to protest against ''stolen votes'' and the ''ruining of the country's and each family's economy''.
Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta conceded that the political stalemate was not ''contributing'' to speeding up the country's EU integration. In an interview with RFE/RL, he accused Socialist leader Edi Rama of making demands that run counter to the country's constitution.
He declared that an inquiry commission, which was only set up by votes from the ruling party, had the legal stature to rule on the controversy and accused the Socialists of ''damaging the country's image for the sake of the personal agenda of their own party chairman'.'
Speaking to EURACTIV in March, Albanian Ambassador to France Ylljet Aliçka claimed that Albania is making steady progress on adopting European standards and has a lot to offer the EU.
''Corruption and organised crime remain a problem in Albania, but there is a strong desire to tackle these issues and the results are encouraging […] But we have to speed up the pace of reform in economics, infrastructure and tourism,'' he said, adding that the country's administrative capacity is ''more mature'' than its political class.
Aliçka believes that Albania suffers from an image problem in Europe and would in fact bring many positive things to the EU: ''Religious tolerance, secularism, cultural diversity, tourism, young people, skilled workers... Albania's energy resources are also very important – only 20% are currently exploited,'' he said.
Speaking on 8 July in the European Parliament, German MEP Doris Pack (European People's Party) lamented the socialist opposition's boycott of the parliament and wants the EU to use visa liberalisation as an incentive for reform.
"A continuation of the boycott is bad for Albania and immobilises the approach towards the European Union, because without a functioning Parliament, the upcoming reform laws cannot be adopted. The opposition must stop poisoning the political climate of the country with its irresponsible acting. The citizens of Albania are fed up with these political games. All they want is a functioning parliament, which can build up a new - European - future for the country,'' she stated.
''The European Parliament supports a European perspective for Albania. If Albania fulfills the criteria, Albanian citizens should then be allowed to enter into the European Union also without a visa. This would be an important incentive for the necessary reforms," added Pack.
After its observation mission for last year's national elections, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights stated: ''The 28 June 2009 parliamentary elections marked tangible progress with regard to the voter registration and identification process, the legal framework, adopted in a consensual manner by the two main parties, the voting, counting and the adjudication of election disputes."
"These substantial improvements were overshadowed by the politicisation of technical aspects of the process, including during the vote count and tabulation, which temporarily blocked the counting process in some areas, as well as by violations observed during the election campaign. These actions of political parties undermined public confidence in the election process," the statement continued.
In its April 2010 report on the state of democracy in the country, the Madrid-based European think-tank FRIDE concluded that ''Albania's democratic status still falls short of European standards'' and that ''important democratic deficits remain in the areas of the rule of law, judicial independence, elections, media independence, and control over corruption''.
The report calls for the strengthening of democratic institutions, promoting the respect of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, dismantling the unlawful interconnections between business, media and politics, closer monitoring by the international community of the developments in Albania and further concerted action on the country's democratic flaws.
''Our report uncovers some major challenges that both sides of the political divide in Albania need to take seriously if the country is to deepen its democratic reforms and move closer towards the EU,'' said FRIDE director-general Richard Youngs.