Where is Albania Heading To?
Dessislava Dimitrova, 29 October 2012
The programme of the Bulgarian PM included a visit to Albania in the beginning of the last week. Although the delegation members and meetings were precisely planned beforehand, it would be useful for the Bulgarian part to know where it is going and how Bulgaria could help Albania being a full member of the EU for five years. Albania has been recognised as a potential candidate country for EU accession after the Thessaloníki European Council of June 2003. The country applied for a candidate status in 2009. In 2010 the European Commission issued an opinion on the application in which it said that before launching accession talks Albania should meet the necessary requirements, pointing out 12 priority areas where reforms should be implemented.
Earlier this month, in its reports on the Western Balkan countries accession progress, the Commission recommended Albania to be granted a candidate status with the reminder that additional efforts in the judiciary and administrative reforms, as well as reforms in the parliamentary rules and procedures, were needed. In the last two years the country was twice rejected in receiving a candidate status as the local authorities were unable to calm down the political tension following the parliamentary elections in 2009. Due to disagreements among the parties, the parliament failed three times to ensure the needed majority to elect a president, but in June, when the requirement was only for a simple majority, this obstacle was finally removed.
And this was, expectedly, assessed positively by Brussels. "Overall, Albania has made good progress towards fulfilling the political criteria for membership of the EU and delivering a number of reforms against the key priorities of the Commission's 2010 Opinion", this year’s report reads. The Commission notes progress in relation to the proper functioning of Parliament too, the adoption of pending laws requiring a reinforced majority, the appointment of Ombudsman and the hearing and voting process in Parliament for high court appointments, as well as the modification of the legislative framework for the elections next year.
A positive change has also been noted in the work of the public administration. The progress in areas such as the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption are described as “moderate”, while in the fight against organised crime “some significant steps” are seen. The report puts a special focus on Albania’s role as a “constructive factor, contributing for the stability in the region through maintaining positive relations with its neighbours and regional partners”. It also notes the progress, achieved by the country, in its efforts to become a functioning market economy, pointing that “Albania should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided that it accelerates and deepens structural reforms, including by reinforcing the legal system and strengthening physical and human capital.”
According to the latest IMF report on Albania’s economy, the country, unlike other Balkan countries, has managed to avoid recession, but the consequences of the financial crisis are denting the local economy and are slowing growth down. The Fund’s main recommendation is Albania to undertake the needed measures concerning its public debt, which cannot exceed 60% of the gross domestic product by law, and is currently slightly below this line.