The Netherlands vetoes Albania’s EU candidate status

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EXCLUSIVE / The Dutch parliament has voted against a government proposal to grant Albania the status of EU candidate, preventing EU leaders from rubberstamping the proposal during a summit in Brussels on 19-20 December.

The Dutch parliament adopted yesterday (12 December) a decision which obliges the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte to reject the European Commission proposal to give Albania EU candidate status.

The development is likely to inflict a heavy blow to the accession hopes of the Western Balkan nation, which according to the Commission has delivered on EU requirements and so should be granted the status of candidate country.

A spokesperson from the Dutch parliament told EURACTIV that Rutte’s liberal VVD party (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) had voted against opening the door to Albania, while its coalition partner PvdA (Labour Party), affiliated to the Party of European Socialists, reportedly voted in favour.

Albania has a socialist prime minister, Edi Rama, who took office last September.

EU leaders take decisions on all matters concerning EU enlargement by unanimity. This means that Albania will have lost the chance of becoming a candidate country during the 19-20 December summit, as was expected.

Until recently, the Netherlands has also been an obstacle for Serbia to obtain candidate status.

The Hague also opposes opening the doors to Schengen membership to Bulgaria and Romania, in spite of the fact that the Commission considers that the two countries have met all conditions to accede to the borderless EU space.

This development is also likely to infuriate the European Parliament. Croatian MEP Nikola Vuljani? (GUE/NGL), the Parliament’s rapporteur for Albania, yesterday stated that the Council, where EU countries sit, should make Albania an official candidate for EU membership without delay, in recognition of its progress with reform. A resolution in that sense was passed on the same occasion [click here and go to page 208].

Speaking on Tuesday (10 December) in Strasbourg, following the presentation of the progress report on Albania, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said that 2013 had been a good year for the country.

He commended that both the government and opposition had cooperated to adopt a number of important legal acts in parliament, including the three measures that were required for the granting of candidate country status.

“We want Albania to continue delivering and we see the granting of candidate status as a further incentive for the country to continue its reform efforts,” Füle said.

Ralf Gjoni, Senior Foreign Policy of the Albanian Parliament, made the following comment to EURACTIV Greece:

"As reflected in the last progress report, Albania has made immense progress and huge efforts to deserve the candidate status. All political forces are united in keeping the European agenda as a national priority.

“The Dutch vote in their national Parliament is incomprehensible, unfair and does not take into account the regional impact of such a decision. It is also an indication of the size of internal problems certain EU countries are going through.

“We have long advocated that European integration keeps the entire western Balkans on the right path of progress and stability.

“Saying NO to Albanians, is not the right message to the region, and would discourage our pro-European efforts. Despite the Council's decision we will continue with our reform agenda, standing firm in our belief that European values are still alive. But an EU without the entire Balkans in it, is not the kind of Europe I would want".

After the "big bang" of 2004-2007, the 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. Montenegro has started accession negotiations while Serbia hopes to start them very soon – the latest in January 2014. Negotiations with Iceland are currently frozen.

Macedonia is a special case. It was granted candidate status in December 2005. However, the former Yugoslav republic has been unable to start accession negotiations due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province.

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