EU says Albania candidate status "within reach"

By bne IntelliNews February 5, 2013

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The European Union moved to encourage Albanian efforts towards joining the 27-member bloc on February 4, as it told the country's politicians that candidate status is "within reach" should they translate the current relative consensus into action and press on with reform.

Ahead of meetings with President Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister Sali Berisha and chairman of the opposition Socialist Party Edi Rama, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule said in a statement: "Candidate status for Albania is within reach. It is up to Albanian politicians to make this a reality."

The successful conduct of parliamentary elections in 2013 will be a crucial test for the smooth functioning of the country's democratic institutions, the commissioner insisted following the meetings. He called on the politicians to deliver in June elections in line with international standards, to improve the credibility and standing of democratic institutions, and strengthen the accountability of politicians towards the Albanian people. "Albania's entire process of EU-related reforms needs to be sustainable, inclusive and consensus-driven - for the benefit of all Albanian citizens," Fule stated.

Albania has seen two official bids for candidate status denied in the last three years, largely due to the delay in reforms as a result of the festering relations between the government and opposition. However, the bitter confrontation between the pair has eased somewhat in recent months. Last October, the European Commission recommended Albania be granted candidate status on the condition it approves parliamentary reform and improves legislation governing its supreme court and the status of civil servants.

However, the Balkan country has yet to approve the series of necessary laws and achieve the progress in several areas demanded for the EU to grant the status the country claims to covert. The government and the opposition - which have had relations even more fractious than usual since a bust up over parliamentary elections in 2009 - remain at odds over the approval of three laws. The opposition says it wants to see that the laws are first respected in reality.

Clearly wary of the dangers, Fule warned the country's political leaders against contesting the June 23 election result. It was such action which sparked violence in 2009, resulting in a two-year parliamentary boycott by the opposition. That created political paralysis that has held back the country's progress towards EU membership.

"I came to Tirana to address the most crucial question of the Albanian modern state - what needs to be done for elections not to be contested," Fule commented on his Twitter account a few minutes before starting the official meetings.

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