The Council Conclusions on the opening of accession negotiations with Albania were adopted on 25 March 2020. These Conclusions contain various criteria which Albania must meet before the first and second Conferences on Accession. Like all other Western Balkan countries, Albania was offered the prospect of joining the European Union (EU) by the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003; this prospect was reiterated at the EU‑Western Balkans summits held in Sofia in 2018 and Zagreb in 2020. Albania officially applied to join the EU in 2009 and has been a candidate country since June 2014.
Milestones in relations between the EU and Albania
After decades of isolation, Albania started to show an interest in closer ties with the EU in the early 1990s. The EU, which was still the European Communities (EC) at the time, established relations with Albania in June 1991, following the foundation of a parliamentary republic in the country in March of that year. A Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Albania entered into force in 1992.
The EU is supporting Albania on its path towards accession. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Albania and the EU was signed in 2006 and entered into force on 1 April 2009. Under the terms of the SAA, support is being provided on matters such as consolidating political stability in Albania, establishing a functioning market economy as rapidly as possible and promoting regional cooperation. A visa facilitation agreement entered into force in November 2010, under which citizens of Albania may visit the EU for tourism purposes for up to 90 days without needing a visa.
On 28 April 2009, Albania submitted its application for EU membership. In the Commission’s Opinion of December 2010 on Albania’s application, it stated that the country had to meet the necessary criteria before accession negotiations could be opened, and that it had, in particular, to meet twelve key criteria specified in the Opinion.
As a result, Albania adopted a national action plan to implement these twelve key criteria, which include ensuring the proper functioning of parliament, introducing appropriate parliamentary procedures, reforming electoral law, reforming public administration, strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption and organised crime.
In its Progress Report of October 2013, the European Commission stated that Albania had implemented the requested measures to reform the judiciary and public administration and had revised parliamentary procedures. It thus acknowledged that the criteria for granting candidate status had been met and recommended that Albania be granted this status. However, it also called on the Albanian Government to maintain its intensive efforts to fight corruption and organised crime.
In its conclusions of 16 December 2013, the General Affairs Council then held out the prospect of candidate country status being granted to Albania in June 2014, but called on the European Commission to submit a report on the progress made by Albania in implementing reforms in the judiciary system and in combating corruption and organised crime.
After the European Commission’s report of June 2014 confirmed that Albania had made sufficient progress, it was granted candidate country status on 24 June 2014. This decision was confirmed by the European Council on 27 June 2014. However, the Council also reiterated that the remaining five key criteria had to be met before Albania could move closer to EU membership.
In July 2016, Albania’s parliament passed the judicial reforms required by the EU. The independence of the judiciary is an important prerequisite for Albania’s path to EU membership. The aim of the reform is to tackle corruption more effectively and to improve the independence and efficiency of the judiciary.
At its meeting on 26 June 2018, the General Affairs Council held out the prospect of opening EU accession negotiations with Albania, as the European Commission had recommended. It made this conditional on progress in the five key priority areas (judicial reform, administrative reform, the fight against corruption and against organised crime, human rights). The European Commission’s report published on 29 May 2019 once again recommended the opening of accession negotiations.
The Council Conclusions on the opening of accession negotiations with Albania were adopted on 25 March 2020. These Conclusions contain various criteria which Albania must meet before the first Conference on Accession, including those set out by the Bundestag in its decision of 26 September 2019. They concern in particular the effective functioning of the Constitutional Court and the High Court as well as the adoption of electoral law reforms. Further conditions which must be met before the second Conference on Accession are related to the five priorities of judicial reform, fighting organised crime and corruption, reforming public administration, and human rights issues.
The European Commission’s report published on 6 October 2020 recommends the commencement of EU accession negotiations and states that Albania has made extensive progress on the necessary criteria, but that reforms in the five priority areas must be continued.
European support for the reform process
The EU provides financial support for the reform process through the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA). A total of around 640 million euro has been earmarked for Albania for the 2014-2020 period, of which about 521 million euro was pledged by the end of 2019. The measures financed primarily concern the promotion of democracy, good governance, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights, protection of the environment and climate change mitigation, improved transport infrastructure, competitiveness, and education, employment and social policies. The EU is also supporting agriculture and rural development, as well as cooperation in the region. The measures financed from IPA funds are described in detail in the Indicative Strategy Paper for Albania published on 3 August 2018.
Furthermore, the EU is providing the Western Balkan states with a COVID-19 support package worth 3.3 billion euro to help them overcome the socio-economic impact of the crisis. And on 6 October, the European Commission presented an Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans providing support of up to 9 billion euro.