2010: The year of Europe in Albania?

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A spokesperson for the Albanian foreign ministry, Ralf Gjoni, and Albanian Ambassador to France Ylljet Aliçka have affirmed that European integration remains a top priority for their country. EURACTIV France reports.

2010 could be the year of Europe in Albania: the country could obtain official EU candidate status and enter the visa liberalisation process. This represents a quick evolution for a country that was in a much worse state than its Balkan neighbours after the fall of its communist dictatorship.

Speaking at a conference in Paris on 30 March, Albanian Ambassador to France Ylljet Aliçka declared that European integration is an ''absolute priority'' for Albania.

However, Tirana's progress will depend on its ability to solve the internal political crisis. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle recently expressed his ''concern about the stability of democratic institutions and the lack of political dialogue in the parliament''.

Following the June 2009 legislative elections, the socialist opposition party boycotted the parliament for months and contests the re-election of conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

A spokesperson for the Albanian foreign ministry, Ralf Gjoni, admitted that ''the boycott is not helping Albania move towards the EU''. Rejecting the term 'political crisis', he said that the opposition party must respect the outcome of the elections. He also stressed that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE) found that the poll had no ''major irregularities'' and that Albania had made ''real progress''.

When questioned about the fight against the mafia, Gjoni claimed that Albania merely has an ''image problem''. ''There are criminals everywhere […] I feel safer in Tirana than I do in London," he added. In its last report on Albania, the Commission reminded Tirana of the work still to be done – particularly concerning the fight against corruption, the rule of law and the functioning of state institutions.

Visa liberalisation

Although it was excluded from the first phase of the EU's visa liberalisation process, Albania could be allowed to join the scheme this year. Foreign ministry spokesperson Gjoni is hopeful of ''a positive decision in 2010'', insisting that ''Albania has fulfilled all the technical criteria''. The Commission recently sent a mission to verify that the necessary criteria have been respected and is expected to make an announcement soon.

''For Albanian citizens, the EU means freedom of movement," affirmed Gjoni. He even said that citizens do not differentiate between this process and that of EU integration. The liberalisation of visas is keenly awaited in Albania – its citizens are eager to be able to move around freely following many years of isolation, he added.

When asked about 'enlargement fatigue' among European citizens, Gjoni recognised that a feeling of fear may exist but said that it is unjustified. On the contrary, he believes that ''Albania is not a risk but a contribution'' for Europe and that ''it is in the interest of Brussels to have Albania within the EU rather than outside''.

Albania formally applied for EU membership in April 2009. The European Commission has since sent a questionnaire to Tirana designed to evaluate the country’s capabilities to join the EU. The responses must be submitted this month.

The Commission will then release an opinion on Albania’s readiness. If it makes a positive recommendation and the Council of Ministers approves, Albania will acquire 'official' candidate status.

In December 2009, the EU began a process of visa liberalisation for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. However, Albania was excluded along with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Since the Albanian legislative elections in June 2009, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialist party of opposition leader Edi Rama have been accusing each other of fraud (EURACTIV 30/06/09).

Albania's opposition Socialist Party, which controls nearly half the seats in parliament, boycotted the assembly for months, holding up the passage of laws including many that are needed to align the country with EU legislation.

  • April 2010: Albania to return EU questionnaire to Commission.

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