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3rd Mar 2024

Albania is refused EU candidate status

The European Commission has rejected Albania's application to become an EU candidate while accepting Montenegro as an official aspiring member state.

The EU executive's recommendation was issued on Tuesday (9 November) together with the latest round of progress reports on each country aspiring to join the European Union. Albania is the first Western Balkan country to apply for EU membership and to be rejected as a candidate by the commission.

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For Albanians, the rejection is bound to break the high spirits raised by the European interior ministers' decision on Monday (8 November) to grant citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. However, accession talks could be back to the agenda once Albania fulfils the Copenhagen criteria, the commission said.

"What is needed is the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law," said enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule, who added that he hoped to be able to recommend Albania's candidacy next year. "I urge Albania to make the necessary efforts to build on efforts so far."

The greatest problem identified by the commission experts was the lack of dialogue between Albania's government and opposition.

"There is a general consensus on the goal of EU membership," says the report. "Yet, the effectiveness and stability of democratic institutions is not sufficiently achieved. Parliamentary institutions and procedures do not function properly. As a result, parliament does not exercise effective oversight and control over the government and its scrutiny of legislative development is weak.

"Political dialogue is confrontational and unconstructive, not least because of the political stalemate since the June 2009 elections. This obstructs parliamentary work and prevents necessary policy reforms based on consensus." The report says that the government and opposition must work with the opposition to come up with "solutions needed for the country to move forward on its EU integration path".

There are currently four countries with EU candidate status – Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Macedonia. Montenegro will follow soon, provided EU member states agree with the commission's recommendations. Before actual accession talks can kick off, however, Montenegro still has to implement further reforms and no starting date for negotiations has been set.

The European Commission has found some degree of improvement in all the countries covered by its enlargement reports but this progress is mostly the adoption of European legislation, not implementation.

The clear frontrunner in the race for the next admission ticket is Croatia. The report on the country, which started accession talks in 2005, confirms that it fulfils the political criteria and also qualifies as a functioning market economy.

Although the report gives no date for the conclusion of talks or for EU membership, it is increasingly likely that negotiations will be concluded during the first half of 2011, provided Croatia improves its judiciary and restructures its shipyard industry.

Progress is very limited for other aspiring member states but, as Mr Fule pointed out, they have all made a step forward.

Macedonia continues to match the political criteria but the name dispute with its neighbour and EU member Greece has prevented the official start of accession talks. Macedonia has been asked to strengthen its efforts in implementing the Ohrid Agreement, the peace deal between the country's government and ethnic Albanians, signed in 2001. The report's authors also strongly criticise the judiciary and public administration for being under political pressure and influence.

Serbia has made progress in fighting organised crime but not in combating corruption, the progress report says. The judiciary continues to be the weakest spot in Serbia's assessment. There are also demands for the country to develop a more pragmatic approach towards Kosovar participation in regional initiatives, a message also sent out to Kosovo. Serbia's willingness to engage in regional cooperation and reconciliation is, however, welcomed.

While Kosovo has made most progress on decentralisation, improvement in other areas is limited and in some cases non-existent. Media freedom, corruption and organised crime and a judiciary hindered by political interference remain issues of serious concern for the European Union.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still struggling to overcome political divides along ethnic lines. As a result, state institutions do not function properly. The commission is waiting for it to fulfil conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative, which was installed in Bosnia more than fifteen years ago. This is seen as a precondition for the country's further progress towards the EU.

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