New summer destination? Albania and its road to the European Union

After World War Two, Albania became a communist state allied with the Soviet Union and then China, before pursuing its own form of autarchic socialism under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. And just like in all other countries who were under communism, Albania had a dark period, facing economic underdevelopment and abolition of basic human rights for the Albanian citizens. Finally, in 1990, like in most of ex-communist countries, a multiparty democracy was established – replacing decades of isolationist communist rule. Since then, Albania shift its position from east to west, making clear the strong will of the Government and the people in general to accept democracy and to get in line with western culture.

Till 1991, there were no relations at all between the EU and Albania. Diplomatic relations between Albania and the European Economic Community (EEC) were established in June 1991. In May 1992, Albania has signed the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation, which was followed by the signing of the Joint Political Declaration between Albania and the European Community. Albania was the first country in the region to sign a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EEC. In May 1999 the EU launched the Stabilisation and Association Process. At the Zagreb Summit on 24 November 2000 the Western Balkan countries, including Albania, endorsed the objectives and conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process. A key element of the Stabilisation and Association Process is the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

In June 2003 Albania – along with other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council Summit.

Albania officially opened the negotiations for the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2003 and the SAA was signed on 12 June 2006.

The entry into force of this Agreement on 1 April 2009 opens a new chapter, as regards the relations of Albania with the EU. It supersedes the Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related aspects, which entered into force in December 2006.

Albania’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) entered into force on 1 April 2009. Albania officially joined NATO on the same day. In the same month, Albania submitted its application for EU membership.

In October 2012 the European Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status, subject to completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform and revision of the parliamentary rules of procedures.

In 2013 Progress Report, the Commission identified 5 key priorities for the opening of accession negotiations: public administration reform; the independence, efficiency and accountability of judicial institutions; fight against corruption; fight against organized crime; protection of human rights (including of Roma, anti-discrimination policies, as well as implementation of property rights).

Tirana 1
Tirana, capital of Albania

Finally, on 24th of June 2014, Albania received the candidate status. In the official Memo issued by the European Council on the same day, it was stated that ‘’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 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.’’

Further, the Commission on its Memo made it clear that ‘’ 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.’’

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.

In the last months, the Albanian government took several actions to improve administrative services, closed several high education (public and private) institutions which were not giving qualitative results and most important, got seriously engaged on fighting crime in the country. A big operation was undertaken especially on destroying the production of cannabis sativa in south Albania village called Lazarat, where this narcotic substance was cultivated publicly for many years.

With its beautiful seaside and perfect mountain tourism, Albania can become soon the newest touristic attraction in the European Union. All what need to be done is a lot of work and a good will to move forward. The progress can already be seen.

Author: Artan Murati