Albania and the EU
On 28 April 2008, during a speech at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, opposition leader and Tirana mayor Edi Rama called for a consensus between the government and the opposition on Albania's application for EU membership. He said:
"We will continue to strongly disagree on what is domestic, but we will continue to push, as the opposition, the government to take the risk, to be courageous and to go ahead with this application submission …We have succeeded in creating a climate of cooperation with the focus on NATO integration."
Such rhetoric, as well as a number of parliamentary decisions that followed, gave hope that – inspired by the common goal of EU accession – Albania's highly divisive politics would become less confrontational.
Albania made progress. On 1 April 2009 it joined NATO. On 28 April 2009, exactly a year after Edi Rama's speech in Brussels, Albania submitted its application for EU membership.
However, the parliamentary elections of 28 June 2009, which saw the incumbent, Sali Berisha, win by the narrowest of margins, marked a return to political polarisation and confrontation. The opposition, which had expected victory, accused Berisha of massive fraud. The OSCE election observer mission noted in its final report that "while meeting most OSCE commitments, these elections did not fully realize Albania's potential to adhere to the highest standards for democratic elections."
The political dispute has dragged on. Edi Rama's Socialist Party has boycotted parliament for months. Its members embarked on a hunger strike and called mass demonstrations in January 2011.
The EU has kept a low profile, trying to avoid taking sides. It has kept Albania on the track towards membership. On 16 December 2009 the Albanian government received a questionnaire from the European Commission, which it completed and returned on 15 April 2010. On 27 May 2010 the Commission proposed to grant Albanian citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen area. The proposal was endorsed by the Council on 8 November and entered into force on 15 December 2010.
The opinion on Albania's membership application issued by the Commission on 9 November 2010 made it clear, however, that Albania will not advance further on the path to accession until and unless it manages to resolve the political turmoil. Pointedly, the Commission refrained from recommending the start of negotiations or even granting Albania official candidate status. It stressed the need for Albania to address twelve priority measures, including:
- to ensure proper functioning of Parliament on the basis of a constructive and sustained political dialogue among all political parties.
- to modify the legislative framework for elections in line with OSCE-ODIHR recommendations.
- to ensure elections are conducted in line with European and international standards.
8 February 2011