Ministers give nod to Albania's EU application
Albania has advanced another step on the road to European Union membership, with EU foreign ministers on Monday (16 November) backing the Balkan country's request for official candidate status.
The ministers gave the nod to Tirana after ambassadors from the 27 member states endorsed the move at a meeting in Brussels last week.
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The ball is now in the court of the European Commission, which must assess whether Albania is ready to start talks. The assessment process can last up to one year.
"The Council [of ministers] re-affirms that the future of the western Balkans lies in the European Union," the foreign ministers said in a statement.
Albania first applied for candidate status in April, shortly after having been admitted to Nato. The country's long wait for approval stands in contrast to Iceland's application, which was waved through in a matter of days.
Despite the development, it is certain that Tirana is looking at years of talks before it can join the European bloc.
In the EU executive's most recent assessment of the country, it found that Albania still had a long way to go in the battle against corruption and to set up an independent judiciary.
Few advances in tackling organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering also remain core concerns of the commission, as well as freedom of the press.
Albania is currently confronted with a boycott by the opposition Socialists, who have refused to take up their seats in parliament since the June elections in which the governing Democrats won by a narrow margin.
The commission has said that the boycott issue needs to be resolved before it can give Tirana a clean bill of health.
The EU executive nevertheless felt that Albania had made progress in the last year.
If the country does win candidate status, it will need to begin to implement substantial political and economic reforms.