Albania, the EU integration process between diplomacy and the fight against corruption

On June 24, 2014, Albania obtained the EU candidate status. On April 29, 2009, its application for the EU membership was an important reference point for a country that 20 years ago had emerged from a repressive communist regime as one of most isolated in Europe.

Albania’s Political Situation and Relations between Albania and EU

Although the country has made great progress, it still shows strong critical issues that could slow down the EU integration process. Corruption and criminality continue to damage the potential economic development of the country. Also, the elections in Albania do not yet meet all the international democratic standards according to Functional the OSCE. In fact Albania is one of the countries with the lowest levels of revenue in Europe and in the Balkans, presenting an estimated annual per capita income at €2.973 for 2011 (Nova Agency source), which is still 6% more than what it was in 2008.

In this context, welfare policies have been affected by a process of change that tough has failed to effectively address the most critical of the Albanian society. The process of institutional reforms initiated in 1991 brought Albania to face many renovations in the construction of a democratic state and open to the free market; but the years of transition were characterized by strong institutional instability that has revealed the inability of the country to tackle the new development challenges.

Negotiation process: toward a New Political Dialogue

Albania begun to liaise with the European Economic Community in 1991, after the fall of communism; diplomatic relations led to the signing of the agreement on trade and economic cooperation and the Joint Political Declaration between Albania and the European Community. In fact, relations between the European Economic Community and Albania had been overlooked because of the division of Europe, imposed by the Cold War and mutual ideological, social and economic incompatibility.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the European Union began to tighten political, diplomatic and trade relations with these countries, which led to the conclusion of partnership agreements and trade cooperation. Albania, like other countries emerging from communist dictatorships, on May 11, 1992, signed a trade agreement with the European Community, and it entered into force in December 1992. This is the start of treaty relations between the European Community and Albania, which was included in the general system of preferences’ European Economic Community; it was a general system of trade preferences offered by the Community in a large number of countries which entertained credible reports of an international agreement.

In 1996, EU and Albania were near the conclusion of an Association Agreement, which aimed to deepen the political dialogue and cooperation in a variety of matters, such as justice and home affairs, environment, transport, energy, etc. However, the complex dynamics of the Albanian political life, the disputed parliamentary elections of May 1996 and the deep financial and social crisis at the beginning of 1997, following the collapse of “financial pyramids,” reverberated negatively on the international level, thus determining the failure of the negotiations.

In November 2000, at the Zagreb Summit between the EU-countries and the Western Balkans, EU decided to consolidate relations with Albania through the creation of a “Steering Group” between Albania and EU. The new body was intended to assess Albania’s ability to assume the obligations resulting from a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Following the positive opinion of the Commission, the Council decided to ask the Commission to draw up a draft mandate to negotiate the agreement. Subsequently, on October 21, 2002, the Council decided to open negotiations for the agreement with Albania; negotiations were actually open on January 31, 2003.

On June 12, 2006, both parties signed the agreement. Agreement’s trade rules, the Interim Trade Agreement, entered into force immediately upon signature. The 2006 Interim Trade Agreement foresees the creation of a free trade zone to be established within 10 years after the entry into force of the Treaty. The two sides must take steps to eliminate all duties and charges having equivalent effect levied on industrial products. By virtue of this agreement, the EU committed itself to reducing non-tariff barriers and to prepare Albania for participation in the European internal market. The EU Commission is required to achieve the gradual harmonization of its laws and regulations with those of the “acquis communautaire” for Europe’s internal market.

Subsequently, in 2009 the entry into force of the Stability and Association Agreement marks the most advanced state of the relations between Albania and the European Union; it is designed as a contractual agreement with mutual rights and obligations between the parties. Following, on April 28, 2009, Albania submitted a EU membership application. In the month of November the EU Council asked to European Commission to prepare an assessment of the readiness of the country to start accession negotiations. Since that time, on an annual scale, the Commission presented its thoughts on Albania’s integration process in the annual reports on enlargement. After the national elections of 2013, the Commission proposed to the EU Council to grant Albania the official candidate status.

On June 24, 2014, the Council has expressed on this matter, with the launch of formal conclusions which will endorse the continuing Albania’s progress in the European integration process.

Accession of Albania to EU: which scenarios for the future

The progress of relations between the EU and Albania saw significant improvements in recent years. Certainly, Albania needs to do more in the fight against organized crime and corruption, which represent two endemic problems for the country. However, compared to the turbulent period experienced by the country in the second half of the nineties, Albania seems to be starting a stabilization process and political stability. In this sense, in the Annual Report on enlargement of November 2007, Brussels urged Albania to adopt a more effective reformative action, in the fields of justice, the fight against corruption, the electoral law.

In fact, since 2007, Albania has adopted structural reforms to comply with European standards. In particular, in 2014 the Council underlined the importance of the efforts undertaken by the Adriatic State to pursue an effective strategy in the fight against corruption, through the strengthening of penalties for the offenses of bribery, organized crime, illegal immigration, document forgery, money laundering, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

However, the efforts that Albania has accomplished and will have to make must be supported by Brussels. In fact Brussels will try to combine the integration approach with development. The aid for the creation of infrastructure is essential for the country’s economic growth and the consequent ability to take complex and expensive requirements of the “acquis communautaire.”

Giorgia Durante

Master’s degree in Law (LUISS “Guido Carli”)


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