The European Commission recommended the launch of EU accession negotiations with Albania on November 9 after the country made steady progress towards fulfilling its five key priorities, but this will be subject to credible progress in the implementation of judicial reforms.
The positive recommendation was expected by Prime Minister Edi Rama after his Socialist Party-led government made tremendous efforts to adopt wide-reaching justice reforms in the summer despite obstacles from the opposition Democratic Party. Albania became an EU candidate country in June 2014.
“Pivotal constitutional amendments were unanimously adopted in July 2016, launching a thorough and comprehensive judicial reform process system,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement, presenting the newest progress report on Albania.
“Public administration reform continued to be implemented consistently. Work towards solid track records of proactive investigations, prosecutions and convictions in the fight against corruption and organised crime also continued but must be deepened,” Hahn said.
However, Hahn noted that credible and tangible progress should be made in the implementation of justice reforms, in particular with regard to the law on re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors, known as the vetting law.
“We must see very clearly and credibly that this works on the ground,” Hahn said.
In view of the next general elections due in 2017, Albania is expected to adopt amendments to the electoral code and related reforms to address in particular the lack of impartiality and professionalism of the electoral administration, the statement on the report's key findings said.
Regarding reforms in the public administration, the European Commission also said that Albania is “moderately prepared” but that further progress is key to consolidate achievements towards a more efficient, depoliticised and professional public administration.
Albania’s achievements in the fight against corruption were noted, but more efforts are required for tackling high-level corruption. “Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem,” the report said.
Some progress was also made in the fight against organised crime, in particular on identifying and destroying cannabis plantations. However, the country was criticised over the low number of final convictions in organised crimes cases.
Albania is also moderately prepared in developing a functioning market economy, the report assessed. Tirana was commended for the progress made in improving the budget balance, fighting the informal sector and reforming the electricity sector. However, the high jobless rate and high public debt were pointed out as problems.
The ongoing justice reform is expected to have a material impact on the business environment.
The Commission said that Albania continued aligning its legislation with EU requirements in a number of areas. However, the country should continue work on the development of the transport and energy networks, also with a view to improving connectivity throughout the region, it added.