As it was expected the European Parliament has demanding the start of the EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia in a plenary vote on 25 March amidst similar support from the European Commission.
The endorsement came as the EP adopted Reports on the 2019-2020 Commission Reports on Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia. The report on Albania received 581 votes to 61, and the move may add additional pressure on member states to reach the required unanimity for any such talks to start.
European parliament in the Report welcomed Albania’s clear strategic orientation towards EU integration and the European Council declaration of 26 March 2020 on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
However, the report listed some concerns for the Albanian authorities to deal with as one of the main worries the strengthening of the political dialogue and the functioning of the country’s democratic institutions while improving the conditions for media pluralism and civil society.
But it was particularly laid the stress on free and fair elections which as the Report said are fundamental for EU integration. “The general elections on 25 April 2021 will be essential for the consolidation and renewal of the country’s democratic procedures and structures and for achieving a higher level of political stability,” it was said.
Other issues touched upon were improvement of coordination within government, speeding up decentralization, advance public consultation at local level and push-ahead with public administration reform. “The involvement of the Albanian Parliament in the EU integration process should be strengthened with a view to ensuring harmonization of its legislation with the EU acquis,” said the Report. Another reminder to Albanian authorities by the MEPs was the importance of safeguarding the rule of law through judicial reform and steady and consistent prosecution of high-level corruption. They called for the acceleration of procedures to enable tangible progress towards an accountable, transparent, independent and functional judiciary as a precondition for the first intergovernmental conference.
In this frame highlights were ‘significant’ problems of money laundering, particularly in the construction and real estate sectors, the strengthening of prosecution and final convictions of such cases, as well as measures to reduce the size of the informal economy, the stepping up of efforts to dismantle local and international criminal networks and elimination of drug production and trafficking.
Concerned about the lack of progress in the area of freedom of expression, Report stressed the need to strengthen self-regulation, ethical standards, independence, impartiality, financial sustainability and news quality of public and private media as well as to improve transparency in media ownership, financing and public advertising.
Speaking on behalf the presidency, Ana Paula Zacarias, said they are still hoping official accession talks could start before June consistent progress has been achieved because, according to her Albania’s "political environment remains strongly polarized".
Albania also received strong endorsement from the MEP leading the file, Portugal's centre-left Isabel Santos. "What is fundamental is to say 'yes', to say yes to Albania once-and-for-all," she told reporters.
However, a US state department report published earlier this month, remained critical of Albania. It said Albania "had made no significant progress toward thwarting money laundering and financial crimes in 2020."
Bulgaria undermines North Macedonia’s bid
Among the hold-ups in EP is Bulgaria, which vetoed accession talks with North Macedonia last November as Sofia retains deep-seated historical and language grievances with North Macedonia.
The two also have sizeable minorities in each other's respective countries - triggering mutual accusations of right violations, said in a commentary EU observer on Friday.
Olivér Varhelyi, the EU enlargement commissioner, demanded the two sides stop fighting. He said the tensions "might undermine the EU's wider interest" in the Western Balkans.
The European Parliament's lead MEP on North Macedonia is Bulgarian liberal Ilhan Kyuchyuk. He too appealed for calm. "Both countries must find a common solution to their history, to their past," he told reporters.
But his colleague, Bulgarian centre-right MEP Andrey Kovatchev, remained entrenched and claimed the dispute has nothing to do with culture or history. He then used historical references while calling out Slovenian socialist MEP Tanja Fajon, who supports North Macedonia's bid. "Is it for you [Fajon] a historical provocation towards the Slovenian people, if I say say something about the atrocities of Tito's communism?" he asked. He also referenced Eurovision, noting that a North Macedonia contestant was the target of abuse after making known his Bulgarian origins.
"The Bulgarian veto to North Macedonia is irresponsible," retorted Fajon, describing it as a one-sided interest.
So far there has been no reaction by Albanian authorities, but PM Edi Rama has stepped up his criticism against the deadlock of the accession process. After a work luncheon with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris last Monday, Rama was sharp that Albania had fulfilled all its ‘home works’ and lashed out at those member countries which blocked the process.
In the meantime, there is an obvious displeasure of the public opinion towards EU which has become more outspoken in face of the failure of the EU to support Albania in the vaccination drive against Covid. No one doubts that the reason why PM Rama has turned to Chinese and Russian vaccines is the failure to get vaccine supplies from Brussels and other Western partners. It is impressive the deal with a Turkish company last Thursday according to which 1 million doses will be made available in the next two months. Rama announced that more than half a million of pensioners will be vaccinated within two months. /argumentum.al