news 15 Apr 13

Ashton Tours Balkans Ahead of EU Progress Report

As the European Commission prepares to issue a progress report on the western Balkans, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is visiting the region to promote reforms.

Belgrade, Podgorica, Skopje, Tirana

“I travel to the western Balkans to reinforce the EU’s commitment to the European perspective for the countries in the region,” Ashton said in a statement the day before her visit began in Montenegro on Monday.

The EU’s foreign policy chief will then head onwards to Macedonia and Albania.

“I will encourage the leaders in the region to continue the reform process and promote good neighbourly relations,” she said.

On Monday afternoon, Ashton meets Montenegrin foreign minister Igor Lukic and then Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

But the EU delegation in Podgorica said there were no plans for a meeting with representatives of the country’s opposition parties.

Ashton’s visit to Montenegro comes after both candidates for the presidency declared victory in the country’s April 7 election. The election commission said incumbent Filip Vujanovic had won by a tight margin, according to preliminary results, but the opposition warned of fraud.

Djukanovic however has stated that the visit “has nothing to do with the results of the presidential elections” and that it was planned before the vote.

On Tuesday, Ashton travels to Skopje, where details of her visit are yet to be revealed, but it’s expected that the main focus will be renewed efforts to resolve the long-running Macedonia-Greece name dispute, a prerequisite for Macedonia’s EU progress.

Ashton is also expected to warn the Macedonian authorities to do more work to strengthen dialogue between the government and the opposition after the recent political crisis in the country.

In Albania, the EU foreign policy chief is expected to hold meetings with President Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialist opposition leader Edi Rama.

Ashton’s visit to Tirana comes ahead of the June 23 parliamentary elections, which are seen by Brussels as a litmus test for Albania’s EU aspirations.

Albania obtained a conditional recommendation from the European Commission for its EU candidate status bid in October last year, which required the approval of two draft laws and the parliamentary rules of procedure.

However, approval for the three bills, which requires a qualified majority in parliament, has remained hostage to a row between the opposition and the ruling majority dating back to the 2011 local elections.

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