EXCLUSIVE: Albania to File For EU Candidacy on April 28 Tirana, Brussels | 13 April 2009 | By Gjergj Erebara

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EXCLUSIVE: Albania to File For EU Candidacy on April 28 Tirana, Brussels | 13 April 2009 | By Gjergj Erebara

Post  AuLoNa on Mon Apr 13, 2009 1:29 pm

The Albanian government is expected to apply for European Union candidate status on April 28, sources in Tirana and Brussels have told Balkan Insight.

“The formal request for candidate status is expected to be handled to the [EU] Czech presidency possibly before the end of this month,” sources from European Parliament said last week in Brussels.

The date also was confirmed to Balkan Insight by a government source in Tirana.

“The government will hand the request on 28 April,” said a high Albania official on condition of anonymity.

“[Prime Minister] Sali Berisha wanted to surprise Albanians on that occasion,” he added.

Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey are already candidate countries, while the rest of Western Balkans are classified as “Potential Candidate Countries.”

Montenegro has applied for candidate status last December but Podgorica is still waiting for further movement on the matter.

Tirana expressed its desire to apply for the candidate status early this year, however several EU officials advised against such a move asking the government of Premier Sali Berisha to “review several factors before.”

“The parliamentary elections, at the end of June, will be a critical test for Albania's democratic maturity and the appraisal of whether these elections will have been free and fair according to international standards and commitments that will have an impact on whether the European Union considers that Albania is ready for further steps towards European integration,” said Helmuth Lohan, Head of the European Commission Delegation to Albania, in an interview with local broadcaster Vizion Plus.

“But at the end, of course it is up to Albanian Government to decide on the most appropriate time for submitting its application for EU membership and the Albanian government has said on many occasions that it would do that in consultation with EU member states and the European Commission”, he added.

Formally every country, even Ukraine can apply for the candidate status, but EU officials argue that Albania should test the political environment within the EU before applying.

According to EU experts this is not the appropriate time for Albania's candidate status bid to be sent to Brussels.

In June, Europeans will vote for a new European Parliament. In September, Germans will also vote for a new government and the current chancellor Angela Merkel declared few weeks ago that “Europe must consolidate before further enlargement.”

But despite such problems, diplomatic sources in Tirana said that the government has good reasons to believe that the Czech Presidency will handle the matter in an amicable way.

In the mean time, the opposition in Albania is accusing the government for using the application to earn support for the forthcoming elections.

“Several EU officials made it clear: Albania should work on elections before applying, but the government does not want to hear this”, said Socialist member of parliament and former minister of foreign affairs Arta Dade.

FACTBOX: Procedures
Albania’s application for the candidate status will be handled by the European Council. The European Council has to ask the EU Commission to issue its opinion on the membership application, which means that the Council accepts the application and therefore asks the Commission to do the job. This is a large process, as an average over the last 10-15 years it has taken some nine to ten months, according to European commission officials. But in the case of Montenegro, four months has already gone by and the European Council has not yet asked to the commission to prepare its opinion.

AuLoNa
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