• Tirana: EU countries want to see action on irregular migration and organised crime (Photo: lassi.kurkijarvi)

Albania to become EU 'candidate', urged to fight corruption

24.06.14 @ 16:42

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have said Albania should be formally designated as an EU “candidate” in a decision to be rubber-stamped at the summit on Friday (27 June).

The decision means the whole Balkan region, except Bosnia, is, more or less quickly, moving forward to EU membership.

The EU on Tuesday also opened three more chapters in its accession talks with Montenegro.

It has ongoing talks with Serbia and Turkey.

The Turkey talks are not going well: Senior EU officials met with Turkey’s EU affairs minister in Brussels on Monday to urge Ankara to respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary amid a crackdown on anti-government protesters.

It did not achieve much. “They blamed us, we blamed them: It’s business as usual,” an EU official said. But the European Commission is still keen to open three new accession chapters this year if EU states agree.

Kosovo is a special case because five EU countries do not recognise it.

But the commission expects to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a first step on the road to EU accession, this year or in early next year and to tackle the recognition problem later.

Macedonia is in a tricky spot.

It has “candidate” status and the commission has for five years in a row said EU states should start accession talks. But Greece continues to block the move because it says Macedonia should change its name to avoid a clash with a neighbouring Greek region of the same name.

An EU official said Bosnia, which has signed an SAA, is “rather regressing than progressing”, amid political infighting between rival ethnic groups.

Iceland is the only other country on the road to EU membership.

But its talks are in limbo pending a decision by the new government whether or not to revoke its application.

Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule said on Twitter the Albania move is an “acknowledgement of reform efforts” and an “encouragement for more”.

He noted on his website that Albania will now be able to attend some EU ministers’ meetings and join some EU agencies, such as the Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna, as an observer.

He added that “candidate status will [also] encourage foreign investments and, as a result, lead to job creation”.

Croatia’s EU affairs minister, Vesna Pusic, said earlier on Tuesday: “It's far from membership, but it's an important step and it's something which Albania has richly deserved”.

The next step will come when EU states agree to open accession talks. But there is no date for the move at this stage.

For his part, Albanian PM Edi Rama said on TV on Tuesday that the closer his country moves to EU accession “the road is more difficult and the challenge becomes bigger … [but] we are convinced that we shall do it despite the conditionalities”.

The EU Council in a statement noted that Albania must “establish a solid track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in cases of corruption and organised crime, particularly organised immigration crime, the use of fraudulent documents, money laundering, drug cultivation and human trafficking” to go further.

It also urged Rama to take “further steps to address the issue of unfounded asylum applications lodged by Albanian nationals” in EU countries.