News 08 Sep 16

Albania Prepares EU Talks Amid Expert Skepticism

As Albania's authorities announce a build-up of capacities in anticipation of opening EU accession talks this year, most experts downplay the chance of this happening so soon.

Fatjona Mejdini
Ilustrative picture by Ivana Dervishi/BIRN

After passing an important package of judicial reforms sought by the EU, Albania hopes to start accession talks with the Brussels by the end of this year.

However, most experts doubt that such a rapid breakthough is possible. While they say Albania should be encouraged to open negotiations this year, starting with Chapters 23 and 24, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, they fear the EU Council of Ministers may want more time to assess progress.

Mona Xhexhaj, an expert on integration in the European Movement in Albania, EMA, a think tank, told BIRN that while Albania is making progress, the Council might want more time to see how the country is implementing its recently adopted reforms.

"The Council of Ministers has always emphasized the need to see implementation of reforms and for this reason, Albania has to work intensely on implementing those reforms during the October-December timeframe," she said.

"There is little chance of Albania getting an instant positive reply in December, however, and most probably they will leave the question open, seeking six months to a year before taking a decision," Xhexhaj added.

Gjergj Vurmo, an analyst at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation, IDM, another think tank, believes that even if the European Commission recommends in October that Albania be allowed to open membership negotiations, that advice will likely be cautious.

"I believe there may be a 'mild' recommendation from the Commission to open Chapters 23 and 24 . But the chances are not too high, though I hope they [in the EU] understand the political momentum in Albania," he said.

On Monday, the Minister for European Integration, Klajda Gjosha, said Albania hoped to open accession talks within this year.

"The judicial reform [package] was passed by a consensus of 140 MPs [out of 140 in parliament] and the law on vetting, which will scan all the judges and prosecutors, has been passed as well. We are waiting for a positive decision," she said.

Gjosha announced a number of measures that are underway iy the ministry in collaboration with the European Commission designed to raise the capacities of the national administration and in civil society during the negotiation phase.

In this regard, "integration units" are to be opened in 61 municipalities, designed to show people what the EU integration process could bring the country, and how they might best benefit from EU development funds.

The National Council of European Integration is meanwhile inviting staff in the public administration, civil society and even journalists to join short training sessions and learn more about the capacities that are needed to negotiate the criteria that Albania has to meet in order to join the EU.

So far in the Balkans, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have all joined the EU while Serbia and Montenegro are seen as the "next in line".

Macedonia's membership is on hold owing to its longstanding dispute with Greece over its name.

Bosnia and Kosovo are further down the queue, Kosovo due to disputes with Serbia over its status and Bosnia as a result of its numerous internal conflicts.

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