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. 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 Europe 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 that year. A Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Albania entered into force in 1992.
The EU is supporting Albania as it forms closer ties with Europe. 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.
The EU membership application and the necessary reforms
On 28 April 2009, Albania submitted its application for EU membership. In the Commission’s Opinion of December 2010 on Albania’s application to join the EU, it stated that Albania had to meet the necessary criteria before accession negotiations could be opened, and that it had, in particular, to meet the twelve key criteria specified in the Opinion.
As a result, Albania adopted a national action plan to implement these twelve key criteria, which included issues such as 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. The European Commission considers seven of the twelve key criteria to have been met and is helping Albania to fulfil the remaining five.
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 such 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, Albania 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 have to be met before Albania can move closer to EU membership.
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.
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.
European support for reforms
The EU provides financial support for the reform process through the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA). This means that Albania can call on a total of around 694 million euros for the 2014‑2020 period. The measures financed concern, first and foremost, 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, as well as education, employment and social policies. Moreover, the EU is 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 of 28 August 2014.