Füle: Albania’s ‘dangerous downward spiral must end’

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An increasingly bitter political stalemate and the undermining of national institutions in EU hopeful Albania must stop, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle told the European Parliament yesterday (15 February).

MEPs yesterday debated the deteriorating political situation in Albania (see 'Background'), a Mediterranean country ruled by a leader, Sali Berisha, who has been omnipresent in the nation's life for more than twenty years.

Berisha has ruled the country first as president from 1992 and later on as prime minister, a position to which he was re-elected in 2009. He was in opposition between 1997 and 2005.

The opposition socialist party claims that the June 2009 parliamentary elections were fraudulent, and has been unwilling to cooperate with the government since.

Local elections are planned for May this year. The idea of holding early elections frequently appears in the political debate, but there is no agreement on its timing or modalities.

Füle called on Berisha to "create a truly inclusive political environment in Albania," in which other political forces and civil society organisations would also benefit from European integration.

He also appealed to the leader of the Socialist opposition, Edi Rama, "to ensure that his party is a truly constructive opposition" and to act responsively.

"The tone in Tirana needs to change. The dangerous downward spiral must end. The political crisis must be resolved. This is the shared responsibility of the political leaders in Albania," Füle said.

The commissioner told MEPs that the managing director of the EU's diplomatic service, Miroslav Laj?ák, had recently visited Tirana twice to meet Berisha and Rama, delivering a clear message on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

'Crocodile diplomacy'

However, according to diplomats, those visits were inconclusive. Laj?ák, a former Slovak minister and international troubleshooter in Bosnia, reportedly told Berisha and Rama that they should jointly invite Füle to Albania and do their utmost to end the stalemate.

Such a 'double' invitation is unusual by international standards, but it is not a novelty in the EU's efforts to deal with Albania. Last May, the leaders of the two largest political groups in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, (Socialist & Democrats) and Joseph Daul (European People's Party), invited both Albanian leaders to a dinner in Strasbourg, which was also attended by Füle.

However, the "crocodile dinner", as it is now referred to by EU officials after the name of the restaurant, was a diplomatic flop.

“There is no space for 'cherry picking'. Albania must meet all of the Copenhagen criteria, including interactive political dialogue and a functioning parliament, or nothing," Füle said.

Asked to explain this 'cherry picking', a Commission official told EURACTIV that the EU executive was extremely determined not to allow a "rebate" on accession criteria. This is not only true for Albania, but for all other candidate countries which might expect Brussels "to shut one eye" on the EU's accession criteria because of events like the domino revolutions in the Mediterranean.

This was especially true with regard to Turkey, the official added. 

wave of protests apparently inspired by Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution', has hit EU hopeful and NATO member Albania last month, killing four people. The country's prime minister, Sali Berisha, accused the opposition of staging what he called a "Tunisia-style" revolt.

Albania formally applied for EU membership in April 2009, but if its accession bid is to move forward it must tackle a number of issues: particularly political stability, economic reform and corruption (for more, see EURACTIV LinksDossier on EU-Albania relations).

National elections, held on 28 June 2009, saw Albania's dominant post-communist politician Sali Berisha clinch a second four-year term as prime minister. The opposition Socialists refused to accept the results and accused his government of corruption and vote fraud (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on EU-Albania relations once again).

Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned last January amid corruption charges.

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