Albania determined to put in EU bid in June

Albania faces an uphill battle to join the EU, with the PM acknowledging that hard economic times could create a ‘sentiment of reluctance’ among Europeans to welcome new member states.

Tirana — Albania is determined to submit its candidacy for European Union membership in June despite the global economic crisis and uncertainty about EU enlargement, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

In an interview with AFP, Berisha said an agreement “in principle” has been reached with the Czech EU president for Albania to apply for membership before its June 28 parliamentary elections.

“We agreed on submitting the request,” he said, noting that 96 percent of Albanians back their once-communist nation’s EU ambitions.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has told Albanian news media that smooth conduct of the elections, in line with European criteria, is essential before Tirana can present its candidacy.

It would then be up to the 27 incumbent EU member states to unanimously approve the candidacy. Negotiations with the European Commission — the bloc’s executive arm — would follow.

Albania is already on the threshold of joining NATO next month — a landmark that Berisha called “the biggest event for my country after independence” from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.

Since the demise of communism in the early 1990s, all elections in Albania — a predominantly Muslim nation of 3.6 million that remains one of Europe’s poorest countries — have been disputed and marred by incidents.

Last November, however, parliament adopted a new electoral law aimed at preventing fraud.

Albania’s left-leaning opposition is in favour of submitting candidacy papers after the elections, arguing there is a risk the application will otherwise remain a dead letter for a long time.

Several EU member states are meanwhile reluctant to widen their club so long as the Lisbon reform treaty — intended to streamline decision-making in the wake of enlargement in 2004 and 2007 — is not in place.

Speaking to AFP two weeks ago, Berisha acknowledged that economic hard times could “create a sentiment of reluctance” among Europeans to welcome new member states, and that in turn could “demotivate public opinion” in Albania.

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