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Will Albania move closer towards EU membership?

Dr Andi Hoxhaj of the University of Warwick's School of Law provides his analysis of Albania's upcming parliamentary election:

On 25th of June, Albanians are heading to the polls to elect their new 140 members of Parliament. This is the ninth parliamentary elections in post-socialist Albania, in which 18 political parties are running in general elections. The main parties are: The Socialist Party (social-democrats) lead by the current Prime Minister Edi Rama, who is running for a second term. The Democratic Party (conservative) lead by the leader of the opposition Lulzim Basha, and the Socialist Movement for Integration (centre-left) lead by Petrit Vasili, who became the unavoidable king-maker in the last two general elections, 2009 and 2013.

This election is an important test for Albania to show that the country is ready to move forward from a European Union candidate country to opening accession talks for EU membership. Albania, a NATO member since 2009 and an official candidate for accession to the European Union since June 2014 has persuade restructuring reforms, in particular reforming the judicial system to convince the EU to open accession talks for EU membership.

Little known to the outside world, Albania with only 2.8 million habitats, was trapped for over three months in a deep political crisis that began in February when the Democratic Party boycotting the parliament and demanded the resignation of the government because they had concern over the heightened cannabis cultivation, links over public officials with organised crime networks and the high-level corruption in the public administration. The Prime Minister Rama and the Socialist Party did not make any concession to resign because in their view, the opposition were blocking a key reform of the judicial system, the last remaining major institutional reform required before negotiations could begin for Albania’s accession to the EU.

After intensive round of negotiations and international pressure by the EU and the US, both the Socialists and Democrats reached an accord under a framework proposed by the Chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, David McAllister (MEP) to share a government until the general election and vote the remaining three vetting bodies: the independent Committee of Qualification, the Ad-Hoc Chamber of Appeals and the public commissioners.

Since May the Democrats are part of the Rama’s government through six technical ministers and as a part of the agreement with the Socialists, on 17th of June the Albanian Members of Parliament voted unanimously in a brief session to elected the members of the vetting commissions. Thus, unlocking the judicial reform and putting Albania back in the path to open accession talks with the EU. These vetting bodies are a crucial part of implementing the judicial reform and its main purpose is to evaluate the professional and personal backgrounds of judges and prosecutors in Albania in a major effort to fight corruption that has hampered the judicial system in the post-socialist era.

Despite the usual highly polarised political campaign and political climate in the post-socialist Albania, the country made a good progress on reforms over the years. However, the parliamentary boycott and the difficulty in finding common grounds between the leading parties without international mediation showed how fragile the political stability in the country is. In this regard, the Sunday general elections are a test for democratic institutions, political culture and respect to the democratic process in the country to show to the EU that the Albania is matured enough to put its differences aside and continue its European integration process.

Regardless of all the talks in the UK and in some major European capitals of a halt to EU Enlargement, due to Brexit, rising populism and nationalism, the German foreign policy towards Western Balkans since 2014 when it launched ‘Western Balkans' Berlin process’ shows quite the contrary. The momentum is being maintained and may even be increasing to expand the European Union in the six Western Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – who are united by the common goal of joining the European Union.

Should the general election this Sunday in Albania meet the OSCE and Copenhagen criteria, during the next an annual Western Balkans summit, scheduled for Trieste in July, almost for sure after the start of the implementation of the judicial reform in Albania, which was a key request to open accession talks – there will be demands that the EU should open accession talks later this year with Albania.