UPDATED – Tirana, June 24, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency
The Council of Ministers of the European Union decided today in Luxembourg to accept the recommendation of the European Commission for Albania to be granted the status of the member candidate for full accession in the Union.
The decision was confirmed a few minutes ago by the European Union enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule: “Congratulations to Albania for the status, which was just approved by the ministers. They just agreed, recognized the reforms and encouraged their continuation”.
Prime minister Edi Rama commented the decision for the membership candidate status: “I just spoke to Stefan Fule and I’m proud that we all made it together, especially about SP and SMI. Thank you all”, said Rama.
After the meeting of the EU foreign ministers, the leaders of the Union member countries have the last say. They will meet on June 27 and 27 in a Summit in Brussels, where they will also discuss on Albania. This is followed by the negotiations for accession. /ibna/
EU candidate status for Albania
At the General Affairs Council meeting today in Luxembourg, Ministers from the EU Member States have agreed – based on the recommendation by the European Commission (see report) to grant EU candidate status to Albania, subject to endorsement by EU heads of states at the forthcoming European Council on Friday in Brussels. This is a clear step forward in EU-Albania relations, reflecting the progress the country has made in European integration and in implementing the necessary reforms. Today’s decision underlines the EU’s continued and credible commitment to support Albania in its efforts towards this goal.
For Albania, today’s decision should translate into a strengthened endorsement of its reform agenda: Albania still needs to meet key priorities, with particular focus on administration and judiciary reform, fight against corruption and organised crime and fundamental rights, as highlighted in the Council Conclusions of December 2013 Moreover, a constructive and sustainable political dialogue will remain essential to consolidate and continue reforms.
Candidate status does not mean that the EU will automatically start accession negotiations with Albania, which is a subsequent, separate step in the EU integration process, for which additional progress, in the key priorities, is required.
EU-Albania relations – timeline
Along with other Western Balkan countries, Albania was recognised as a potential country for EU membership in 2003. A Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) entered into force on 1 April 2009. In the same month, Albania submitted its application for EU membership. The Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status in October 2013. The Commission reconfirmed its recommendation in its June 2014 report to the Council.
What does candidate status mean in practice?
Being recognised as an EU candidate country has a number of implications for Albania. It is an important political signal for Albania and its citizens, showing that the country is moving to the next phase of the European integration process. From an economic perspective, candidate status will encourage foreign investments and, as a result, lead to job creation.
The candidate status raises the relationship between Albania and the EU to a higher level: Albania will now receive invitations to Council meetings open to candidate countries. Its access and cooperation with EU agencies will be easier – for example its participation in the Fundamental Rights Agency as an observer. Joint Committees between Albania and the Committee of Regions as well as the Economic and Social Committee might also be set up. As a candidate country, Albania will continue to profit from EU funds under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) in order to carry out comprehensive reforms and strategic investments, and will benefit from the participation in EU programmes.
The way forward
The European Commission will continue to work closely together with Albania to support its reforms and prepare it for the next step in the integration process, namely the opening of accession negotiations. The opening of negotiations depends on further concrete and sustainable reforms in Albania; agreement from all EU Member States is also required.