On the eve of the Commission’s progress report on Albania, Federica Mogherini, Vice President of the European Commission, yesterday hinted that the European Commission would give within the coming months a recommendation for accession negotiations to be opened.
She was speaking at a packed meeting in the European Parliament convened by Parliament Vice President David Maria Sassoli MEP to welcome the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama and his Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, visiting Brussels to promote the Albanian campaign for the EU to take a positive decision at the June Council meeting to open accession negotiations with Albania.
President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani welcomed the Albanian initiative, speaking warmly of the important regional and economic ties between Italy and Albania. He made it clear that this issue transcended political group differences in the house, that the Parliament was firm in its vision to support the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans, and looked to the European Commission to make a clear recommendation on the way forward.
Prime Minister Edi Rama stressed the efforts made and the difficulties that had been overcome to arrive at this crucial stage in Albania’s path towards its Euro-Atlantic vision. In particular Albania had undertaken a major overhaul of the justice system, and was currently going through a major transformation of the whole system of vetting and appointing judges and prosecutors. This process was under the scrutiny of international monitoring, because Albania wanted international recognition that the reforms were both real and effective. Although both Montenegro and Serbia were already well advanced in their negotiations with the EU, justice reform was an area where Albania was proud to be pioneering in the region, and showing regional leadership which he hoped would catalyse similar change in other countries in the region.
He said that Albania was now entering into a new phase of state building, and in improving democracy in everyday life for ordinary citizens. He appealed to parliamentarians to support the opening of EU accession talks in order to help Albania build a better future for the people. The opening of talks was not a goal in itself, it would be just the start of a long and painful process. This was well understood in Albania, but there was actually no other way, and the process of working towards integration would deliver a dynamism and motivation that would keep everybody in Albania working together towards the country’s strategic vision for an EU future.
Many senior parliamentarians were present at the meeting including Elmar Brok and Norbert Neuser of Germany, Andrey Kovatchev of Bulgaria, Dimitrios Papadimoulis and Giorgios Epitideios of Greece, and Elly Schlein of Italy. It was clear from the turnout and the tenor of the debate yesterday by David Maria’s friendship group for Albania that there was more than just regional support for the Commission’s strategy for the Western Balkans, there was also a strong cross-party element. This suggests encouragingly that when the Parliament gets a wind in its sails, it can be a decisive force for positive strategic action.
The European Parliament’s Rapporteur for Albania, Knut Fleckenstein, introduced a note of caution saying that in the run up to the Sofia conference on 17th May, and the final decision of the European Council on enlargement which was expected in June, there still remained much work to be done. A positive outcome could not yet be taken for granted, and it was necessary to work together to marshal all of the arguments to counter the negative thinkers, the populists, the eurosceptics and the demagogues who were arguing against expansion of the EU. He stressed that this was not a party political issue, and that the Parliament should stand strongly behind the recommendation of the European Commission, but the next few months were crucial and that if a decision was fudged, or postponed, then there was a risk that this issue could again be kicked into the long grass for many years to come.
Albanian Foreign Minister Bushati spoke of the transformational effect for Albania and its citizens of entering into accession negotiations with the EU. This important step was one of mutual self interest which would have benefits for both parties; the important thing to recognise was that Albania was serious in its vision and conviction. The act of opening negotiations would have the positive effect of delivering to Albanian citizens and to business looking for political guidance a clear perspective that would in itself deliver dynamic progress.