European Western Balkans

Albania’s EU negotiations bid: “Hope for good news in December”

Flags of Albania and the EU; Photo: EPP

BRUSSELS – While North Macedonia’s bid to open EU accession negotiations was blocked by Bulgaria, for Albania the Council of the EU expressed willingness to approve the start of talks only once it meets conditions that include enabling the Supreme Court to do its work and implementation of the new electoral law.

When the EU in March finally supported the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, the Council of the European Union adopted a series of conditions Albania needs to fulfil prior to its first intergovernmental conference with the EU Member States.

The fact Albania will have additional work to do even after the green light of the EU was not unexpected. Last September, German Bundestag adopted a resolution allowing the Government to support accession talks with Albania, simultaneously listing conditions required for the first and second intergovernmental conference. All of the conditions adopted by Germany are now a part of Council’s conclusions, in addition to several others.

The conditions defined in the Council’s conclusions are somewhat disorganised, leaving the space for different summaries of the document.

While the EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca has talked about four main conditions, leader of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha assured the Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi that the opposition will contribute to the fulfilment of 15 conditions. Other media outlets have reported that there are 13 conditions.

Electoral reform, as well as other issues, are conditions set out by the Council of the EU for the country to hold its first intergovernmental conference with the EU. The long and controversial process of electoral reform in Albania appears to be at least temporarily closed.

According to the Council’s conclusions, Albania should ensure the continued implementation of the judicial reform, including ensuring the functioning of the Constitutional Court and the High Court.

Due to the all-encompassing judicial reform in the country, which saw the resignations and dismissals of many judges, the Constitutional Court had only one member out of nine in December 2019. Now it has four, which still means it cannot hold plenary sittings, for which at least six judges are required.

Another centerpiece of the judicial reform which started in 2016 was the establishment of the Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Structure (SPAK), which consists of Special Prosecution Office and National Bureau of Investigation.

Among the criteria, the Council expects the media law to be amended in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

Santos: There is hope for ”good news” in December

European Parliament Rapporteur for Albania Isabel Santos said there is still hope that the country will open membership negotiations with the EU under the German Presidency, Radio Tirana International reported.

“What I  know, and we saw the German Foreign Minister and we see that the German Presidency is working hard to have good news at the end of this year in December. I am still waiting for good news. I’m not sure what will happen, as you know in politics we never have good moments. Good moments are the moments when decisions are made”, Santos said.

Rapporteur Santos praised Albania’s efforts to meet the conditions before the first Intergovernmental Conference, adding that the precondition of electoral reform was reached with the June 5 agreement.

“Without wanting to get into the internal debate in Albania, I can say that the precondition for electoral reform was reached with the agreement of June 5. This condition was met. What happened next with the amendments, unfortunately, this was not reached with a political agreement. But this was achieved according to the procedures in Parliament. This is clear. What is important for the report I am making and for the Council is that this condition is met”, Santos told.

German MP Wadephul: Albania still has to meet the conditions set by Bundestag

The start of EU accession talks with Albania in December does not seem quite probable said Johann Wadephul, the deputy chairman of the largest German party CDU/CSU, Exit News reported.

In a meeting with foreign journalists on Thursday in Berlin, Wadephul said that Albania still has to meet the conditions set by the Bundestag.

He added that the first intergovernmental conference with North Macedonia could be held as soon as the country resolves the issues raised by Bulgaria.

“On September 26, 2019, we decided in parliament to open negotiations with Albania. It cost me a lot of energy, but we set some preconditions and if they are not met, then I will have a hard time convincing my colleagues in the parliamentary group to support the process,” Wadephul said.

He stressed that the German parliament and the EU should make sure that the conditions set on Albania are taken seriously and implemented fully.

The German deputy also spoke about the Albanian electoral reform, which is another condition set by Germany for the launch of the intergovernmental conference.

He stressed that much of the reform agreed between the majority and opposition was repealed in an exclusionary process, namely by introducing the system of open lists, instead of electoral coalitions.

“This exclusionary procedure contradicts the Bundestag’s request for an inclusive process, which was also recommended by the OSCE”, Wadephul said regarding the Socialist majority’s decision to make more changes to the electoral system after the agreed reform.

Asked by reporters what Albania and North Macedonia can expect from the regular European Council on December 10-11, Wadephul said that he “hopes for progress”.

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