By Luigi Soreca
Head of EU Delegation to Albania
In June 2018 the Council of the European Union responded positively to the progress made by Albania on the five key priorities and set out the path towards opening accession negotiations in June 2019.
This “path” meant for Albania to maintain and deepen the reform momentum, in particular in the key field of the rule of law.
Since then, the European Commission has thoroughly monitored developments in Albania.
The report adopted today is based on a very wide range of inputs from the Albanian Government, the EU Member States, the EU Delegation and the European Commission, European Parliament reports, civil society organisations and the business community.
The assessment of the European Commission is that Albania has delivered significant progress in the areas set by the Council in June 2018.
On that basis of such significant progress, the Commission therefore recommends that the Council opens accession negotiations with Albania now and without any conditionality.
I will not go into all the details of the report. But let me however highlight some important elements which motivated our decision:
The implementation of the justice reform has continued consistently. The new institutions for the self-governing of the judiciary, the High Judicial Council, the High Prosecutorial Council and the Justice Appointment Council have been established. The re-evaluation of all judges and prosecutors, the vetting, has also advanced steadily, producing more than 140 decisions.
In the fight against organised crime, police operations to dismantle criminal organisations have been intensified. Several operations resulted in multiple arrests, and a number of important indictments and convictions took place. There has been an intensification of international police cooperation, especially with EU Member States, leading to a number of cross-border large-scale law enforcement operations.
On anti-corruption, the establishment of an Anti-corruption Task Force has increased the proactivity of administrative investigations and the vetting process has led to the dismissal from office of a number of corrupted high-ranking magistrates, including at Constitutional Court and High Court level.
With regard to migration, the number of unfounded asylum applications lodged by Albanian nationals in the EU has decreased, although it remains high in some EU member States and requires continuous and sustained effort. An important development was for Albania to be the first non-EU Member State to sign and implement the European Border and Coast Guard Status Agreement with the EU. And the first operational results of this cooperation are already coming. .
On fundamental rights, Albania has made further efforts to meet obligations that arise from EU and international legal instruments, especially in the areas of child’s rights and domestic violence. Work will have to be properly brought forward in the fundamental area of property rights.
Finally on public administration, efforts have improved the regulatory framework on impact assessment of policies, led to more transparent recruitment procedures, and overall strengthened the administration’s capacity to undertake merit-based civil service procedures.
Let me now clarify one point which is very important. The decision by the European Commission to confirm the positive recommendation is based on the sufficient progress that the Country needs to deliver to open the negotiations. This level of progress is clearly not the same that Albania will have to achieve in the future to become a Member State. This will happen at the end of the negotiations.
The opening of negotiations therefore represents the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
Challenges remain and more need to be done in the longer term to consolidate and sustain the progress made. Today’s report provides political guidance on two areas on which Albania needs to focus on:
the need to continue building a solid track record against corruption and organised crime.
the need for a strong national consensus on the overriding priority of EU integration, overcoming polarisation and demonstrating the political will across party divides.
This collective effort means all parties must be united behind the objective of EU integration and put aside their divisions.
We therefore reiterate the calls made in the last months on all parties to engage in dialogue, in the superior national interest.
Today Albania has reached another important milestone. I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Rama and his Government for their achievements and for the reconfirmation of the Commission’s positive recommendation to open accession negotiations.
The popular support and trust in the EU has systematically helped Albania push and consolidate unprecedented reforms in the country.
The Albanian people continue to be one of the countries of Europe that has the highest trust in the European Union.
The opening of negotiations, and the beginning of the screening process in earnest, will launch a long and intensive process for the entire country to adapt all sectors of its public and economic life to EU standards. To be clear, this will necessitate reforms related to the environment, consumer safety, competition, media and in total 34 of what we call the chapters of the acquis.
Therefore much remains to be done for Albania to become a Member State. But having achieved sufficient progress means that the European Commission considers that Albania is now ready to move to the next step.
Talking about next steps. The Member States in the Council will now assess the progress made on the basis of this annual report.
The next 3 weeks of discussion will be crucial. Each of our Member States need to be fully convinced and each Member State has its own decision making process on the matter. This is the way the Union works and this is the way the final decision will be taken.
We therefore encourage the whole Albanian political system, the government but also the opposition, to contribute to this goal by reaching out to all your partners in the EU Member States to explain your case, what Albania has achieved and to continue building trust in your country and in our common future.