EU — Second meeting between Albania and the EU

Sec­ond meet­ing of the sta­bil­i­sa­tion and asso­ci­a­tion Coun­cil between Alba­nia and the EU
Brus­sels, 11 May 2010 — Joint Press Release
The Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Coun­cil (SA Coun­cil) between Alba­nia and the Euro­pean Union held its sec­ond meet­ing on 11 May 2010. The meet­ing was chaired by Mr Ilir Meta, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs of the Repub­lic of Alba­nia. The EU del­e­ga­tion was led, on behalf of the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, by State Sec­re­tary Diego Lopez Gar­ri­do, Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, Spain and Com­mis­sion­er Šte­fan Füle rep­re­sent­ed the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

The SA Coun­cil not­ed the con­clu­sions of the Gen­er­al Affairs Coun­cil of 7 Decem­ber 2009, where the Coun­cil not­ed that the 2009 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions met most inter­na­tion­al stan­dards but some short­com­ings remained and the OSCE/ODIHR rec­om­men­da­tions need­ed to be fol­lowed up. It not­ed that strength­en­ing the rule of law and notably the fight against organ­ised crime and cor­rup­tion, as well as the prop­er func­tion­ing of state insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly the inde­pen­dence of the judi­cia­ry, remained urgent chal­lenges for Alba­nia. The Coun­cil also recalled that admin­is­tra­tive and enforce­ment capac­i­ty required fur­ther strength­en­ing, and inde­pen­dence of the admin­is­tra­tion need­ed to be ensured. It not­ed that more efforts should be made to improve con­di­tions for media free­dom. The Coun­cil not­ed that Alba­nia had made progress in ful­fill­ing the bench­marks set in the frame­work of the visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion dia­logue. The Coun­cil encour­aged Alba­nia to con­tin­ue its con­struc­tive role in the sta­bil­i­ty of the region. The EU also called on all polit­i­cal par­ties in Alba­nia to pur­sue a con­struc­tive polit­i­cal dia­logue, includ­ing in par­lia­ment.

The SA Coun­cil reviewed devel­op­ments relat­ed to the polit­i­cal cri­te­ria. The SA Coun­cil stressed the impor­tance of a con­struc­tive polit­i­cal dia­logue between major polit­i­cal par­ties and actors, which is a key pri­or­i­ty of the Euro­pean Part­ner­ship. The EU under­lined the impor­tance for all sides to active­ly coop­er­ate to re-estab­lish unin­ter­rupt­ed full par­lia­men­tary activ­i­ty involv­ing the rul­ing major­i­ty and the oppo­si­tion. In demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties, Par­lia­ment is the place for dia­logue and the res­o­lu­tion of dif­fer­ences. The EU called on the Alban­ian polit­i­cal lead­ers to take into account the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of the polit­i­cal dead­lock for Albania’s EU inte­gra­tion path. In the peri­od lead­ing to the prepa­ra­tion of the opin­ion on Albania’s appli­ca­tion for EU mem­ber­ship, a ful­ly func­tion­ing par­lia­ment is essen­tial for demon­strat­ing Albania’s demo­c­ra­t­ic matu­ri­ty and for ensur­ing progress on key reforms. The EU will con­tin­ue to fol­low future devel­op­ments with a par­tic­u­lar atten­tion on progress as regards the polit­i­cal cri­te­ria. The EU stressed that a solu­tion to the cur­rent polit­i­cal stale­mate should be based on two fun­da­men­tal demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples, which are the respect for the con­sti­tu­tion and trans­paren­cy.

The SA Coun­cil recalled the sub­mis­sion of the appli­ca­tion by Alba­nia on 28 April 2009 and wel­comed the sub­mis­sion to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, on 14 April 2010, of the answers to its ques­tion­naire with a view to enabling the Com­mis­sion to pre­pare its opin­ion on Albania’s appli­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship to the Euro­pean Union. This marks an impor­tant step on Albania’s Euro­pean inte­gra­tion path. The SA Coun­cil was informed of Albania’s pri­ma­ry objec­tive and strong com­mit­ment to advance in the EU inte­gra­tion process by attain­ing can­di­date sta­tus.

The SA Coun­cil wel­comed very good progress made by Alba­nia in meet­ing the bench­marks of the road map for visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. The SA Coun­cil not­ed Albania’s aspi­ra­tion for a visa free trav­el regime for its cit­i­zens as soon as pos­si­ble. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the aware­ness cam­paign by the Gov­ern­ment inform­ing the cit­i­zens about their rights and oblig­a­tions under the visa free regime.

The SA Coun­cil also reviewed progress on judi­cial reform, which is a key Euro­pean Part­ner­ship pri­or­i­ty, stress­ing the impor­tance of the rule of law and inde­pen­dence of the judi­cia­ry as core aspects of the polit­i­cal cri­te­ria for EU acces­sion. The EU stressed the impor­tance of adopt­ing a com­pre­hen­sive reform strat­e­gy for the judi­cia­ry and called on Alba­nia to safe­guard and respect the inde­pen­dence, trans­paren­cy, effi­cien­cy and account­abil­i­ty of the judi­cia­ry, and in par­tic­u­lar the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court and of judges and pros­e­cu­tors. The SA Coun­cil was informed of the adop­tion of the law on the pri­vate bailiff ser­vice and of amend­ments to the Law on Gen­er­al Prosecutor’s Office, while the law on the High Coun­cil of Jus­tice, the Nation­al Judi­cial Con­fer­ence Law, the Law on Judi­cial Admin­is­tra­tion and the Law on Admin­is­tra­tive Courts remain to be adopt­ed.

In rela­tion to the fight against cor­rup­tion, which is a key Euro­pean Part­ner­ship pri­or­i­ty, the SA Coun­cil not­ed the recent adop­tion of the inte­grat­ed Anti-Cor­rup­tion Action Plan for 2010. The EU called for rig­or­ous imple­men­ta­tion of the Action Plan and the under­ly­ing anti-cor­rup­tion strat­e­gy. It under­lined the impor­tance of estab­lish­ing a con­vinc­ing track record of inves­ti­ga­tions and con­vic­tions free from polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence. The SA Coun­cil not­ed good progress with regard to the work of Joint Inves­ti­ga­tion Units on eco­nom­ic crime and cor­rup­tion, with an increased num­ber of cor­rup­tion cas­es being inves­ti­gat­ed, includ­ing cas­es involv­ing judges and police and cus­tom offi­cers. The EU expressed the view that cor­rup­tion remains wide­spread and con­sti­tutes a par­tic­u­lar­ly seri­ous prob­lem in many areas includ­ing in rela­tion to par­ty fund­ing, in the health sec­tor and oth­ers. The SA Coun­cil not­ed con­tin­u­ing efforts and steps by the Alban­ian Gov­ern­ment to fight cor­rup­tion. The SA Coun­cil was informed of the need to achieve fur­ther progress in imple­ment­ing GRECO rec­om­men­da­tions.

The EU point­ed out that unre­solved prop­er­ty issues have under­mined efforts to devel­op a func­tion­al land mar­ket and kept for­eign invest­ment below poten­tial. Improv­ing legal cer­tain­ty is cru­cial for fur­ther enhanc­ing the busi­ness cli­mate and address­ing risks of cor­rup­tion.

With regard to free­dom of expres­sion, the EU recalled the impor­tance of respect­ing media free­dom and inde­pen­dence and of ensur­ing an improve­ment of the over­all cli­mate for the media. Media free­dom is a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar of good gov­er­nance and account­abil­i­ty. The SA Coun­cil was informed on the efforts made and called for fur­ther progress with regard to the imple­men­ta­tion of the adopt­ed strat­e­gy for the pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion and stressed the impor­tance of estab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing a sta­ble, pro­fes­sion­al and mer­it­based civ­il ser­vice.

The SA Coun­cil not­ed that on human rights and the pro­tec­tion of minori­ties the leg­isla­tive frame­work is most­ly in place. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the appoint­ment of the Com­mis­sion­er fol­low­ing the adop­tion of the law on Pro­tec­tion from Dis­crim­i­na­tion, which reg­u­lates the imple­men­ta­tion of and respect for the prin­ci­ple of equal­i­ty and non dis­crim­i­na­tion. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the adop­tion of the Roma Decade Action Plan, for which suf­fi­cient resources will be nec­es­sary to ensure suc­cess now that it is being imple­ment­ed. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the deci­sion to con­duct the Pop­u­la­tion and Hous­ing Cen­sus, which is planned for 2011, ensur­ing full respect of the prin­ci­ple of self­i­den­ti­fi­ca­tion. It will col­lect updat­ed sta­tis­ti­cal data on per­sons belong­ing to all minori­ties, in accor­dance with the EU and inter­na­tion­al stan­dards. This should be a step for­ward in order to fur­ther devel­op and imple­ment appro­pri­ate poli­cies regard­ing per­sons belong­ing to minori­ties.

Con­cern­ing gen­der equal­i­ty the EU not­ed that the imple­men­ta­tion of the exist­ing legal frame­work and poli­cies is insuf­fi­cient. It encour­aged Alba­nia to con­sid­er­ably strength­en the pro­tec­tion of women against all forms of vio­lence.

As regards the eco­nom­ic cri­te­ria, the SA Coun­cil not­ed that Alba­nia has moved clos­er to a func­tion­ing mar­ket econ­o­my but observes short­com­ings on real estate reg­is­tra­tion and order­ly mar­ket exit pro­ce­dures. Eco­nom­ic growth, sta­bil­i­ty and pre­dictabil­i­ty have been main­tained dur­ing 2009 despite the glob­al cri­sis but macro­eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and fis­cal dis­ci­pline need to be ensured. The SA Coun­cil not­ed progress made towards enabling the Alban­ian econ­o­my to cope with com­pet­i­tive pres­sure with­in the EU by imple­ment­ing its pri­vati­sa­tion agen­da and upgrad­ing the trans­port and ener­gy infra­struc­ture in the coun­try, while increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion sec­tor.

The SA Coun­cil not­ed that the EU wel­comed the progress made by Alba­nia in align­ing its leg­is­la­tion and capac­i­ty with Euro­pean stan­dards and in imple­ment­ing Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment (SAA) com­mit­ments. In this regard, the EU wel­comed the progress made in areas such as free move­ment of goods, com­pe­ti­tion, ener­gy, and SME pol­i­cy, whilst encour­ag­ing Alba­nia to step up efforts in oth­er areas, such as audio­vi­su­al pol­i­cy, trans­port and intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights where progress has been lim­it­ed. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the progress on some sec­toral poli­cies and Alba­nia took note of the infor­ma­tion by the Euro­pean Union regard­ing required fur­ther efforts, includ­ing as regards improv­ing admin­is­tra­tive capac­i­ty in sec­toral poli­cies.

In the field of jus­tice, free­dom and secu­ri­ty, the SA Coun­cil wel­comed progress made in sev­er­al areas, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion dia­logue, includ­ing the fight against orga­nized crime, but called for more efforts to con­sol­i­date reforms, includ­ing through fur­ther imple­men­ta­tion of new and exist­ing leg­is­la­tion.

The SA Coun­cil reviewed the imple­men­ta­tion of the SAA, not­ing that over­all Alba­nia has been imple­ment­ing well the Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and has con­tributed to the smooth func­tion­ing of the var­i­ous joint insti­tu­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, the SA Coun­cil wel­comed the progress achieved in align­ing with the SAA pro­vi­sions in the field of com­pe­ti­tion, as well as the align­ment with the SAA on the tax­a­tion of import­ed print­ed mate­ri­als. Fur­ther efforts are need­ed to imple­ment the com­mit­ments of the SAA in the field of elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and net­works.

Fol­low­ing the polit­i­cal deci­sion of the Euro­pean Coun­cil in Thes­sa­loni­ki in June 2003, a Frame­work Agree­ment open­ing the door to the country’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Com­mu­ni­ty Pro­grammes entered into force in August 2005. CARDS and IPA funds are used to meet a part of the costs for the par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­grammes. The EU wel­comed the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Alba­nia in the 7th Frame­work Pro­gramme for research, tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment; in the Entre­pre­neur­ship and Inno­va­tion com­po­nent of the Com­pet­i­tive­ness and Inno­va­tion Frame­work Pro­gramme; and in the Europe for Cit­i­zens Pro­gramme.

Since the begin­ning of 2004, as part of the Thes­sa­loni­ki agen­da, Alba­nia is invit­ed to align with Com­mon posi­tions, dec­la­ra­tions etc on a reg­u­lar basis in order to co-ordi­nate its for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy with the EU. The SA Coun­cil took note of the align­ment pol­i­cy tak­en by Alba­nia to that end.

The SA Coun­cil exchanged views on the devel­op­ments in the West­ern Balka­ns region and com­mend­ed Albania’s con­struc­tive role in fos­ter­ing region­al sta­bil­i­ty and good neigh­bourly rela­tions with oth­er West­ern Balkan coun­tries. The SA Coun­cil wel­comed the con­tin­ued active par­tic­i­pa­tion of Alba­nia in region­al ini­tia­tives in South East­ern Europe, such as the South East Euro­pean Coop­er­a­tion Process, the Region­al Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil, the Cen­tral Euro­pean Free Trade Agree­ment (CEFTA).

Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union