The foreign ministers of the 27 EU-member states are expected to ask the European Commission early next week to prepare an assessment of Albania's readiness to start membership talks.
(Reuters - 12/11/09; AFP, Reuters, Balkans.com - 11/11/09)
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn earlier cautioned that Albania still had a long way to go to meet EU standards. [AFP]
Albania may soon make a major step on its European integration path by joining Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey on the list of official EU candidate countries, according to reports Wednesday (November 11th). Ambassadors of the 27 members of the Union have agreed to support Albania's bid for membership in the bloc, the AFP reported, citing an unidentified diplomatic source. During talks in Brussels on Wednesday, the diplomats decided to ask the European Commission (EC) to prepare an assessment of Albania's readiness to start accession talks.
EU foreign ministers are expected to endorse the ambassadors' decision during a two-day meeting, opening in Brussels on Monday. The provisional agenda of the talks, posted on the Swedish EU presidency website on October 30th, lists the "Western Balkans" as one of the possible items for discussion.
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha submitted his country's official application for EU membership on April 28th. In the event of a positive EC assessment of Tirana's preparedness for membership negotiations, Albania will become an official candidate.
Speaking after a meeting Wednesday with Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said it is "already high time" that step was made.
A country's inclusion on the list of official EU candidates does not imply however that it will start membership talks immediately.
For example, Croatia was confirmed as a candidate country in June 2004. During a summit in December that year, leaders of the then-25-member bloc set March 17th 2005 as the starting date for Zagreb's entry negotiations, making it conditional on the country's full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. But the talks did not open until October 3rd the same year, when Carla del Ponte, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor at the time, confirmed that Croatia had met the condition.
Turkey, an official EU candidate since December 1999, had to wait nearly six years for the launch of its negotiations, alongside those with Croatia. Macedonia has been waiting for a starting date since December 2005.
Tirana is likely to be asked to implement a series of sweeping political and economic reforms before the launch of its negotiations with Brussels. Meeting such requirements may take years.
Reuters quoted Rehn as saying at the joint news conference with Meta on Wednesday that Albania needs to strengthen the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, as well as to ensure media freedom. Meta told reporters that his country would step up efforts to implement EU-required reforms.
Stressing that EU hopefuls must show political maturity, Rehn also made clear that Albania could hardly expect a positive assessment from the EC unless the country's main opposition party stops boycotting the work of parliament.
"If the parliamentary boycott were to continue for long, it would have a negative impact on the analysis of the political criteria and thus have negative ramifications on the chances of being granted candidate status," Rehn warned.
Edi Rama's Socialist Party (SP) has been boycotting the legislature for weeks, insisting the results of the June 28th general elections were manipulated. The SP came just 1.5% behind Berisha's Democratic Party, which won the vote and a second mandate.