Yesterday, the 19 July 2011, the third meeting of the Stabilization and Association Council (SA) was held between Albania and the European Union, foreseen by the agreement between the parties.
The chairman of the meeting was Mr. Chrissie Dowgielewicz, Secretary of State for European Union Affairs and Minister for Foreign Affairs in Poland, as a representative of the common foreign and security policy. For the European Commission the Commissioners were present for the enlargement Štefan Füle and the Director General Miroslav Lajčák for the European External Action Service (EEAS). Albania was represented by Mr Edmond Haxhinasto, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Council noted the conclusions of the EU Council of 14 December 2010, which accepted the Commission's opinion on the Albanian application for membership European Union and approved its recommendations.
The Council recognized the progress made by Albania towards fulfilling the political criteria established by the Copenhagen European Council and the requirements of the stabilization process and association.
The Council took note of Albania's results in implementing its obligations under the stabilization and association agreement which is overall positive. The Council considered that Albania has reached a certain degree of macroeconomic stability and would be able to assume the obligations of membership of medium term in most of the sectors of the acquis (one of the Copenhagen criteria).
The Council noted that Albania will have to step up its strengths, in particular with regard to the implementation of the twelve priorities indicated by the Commission's opinion. These priorities are focused on the stability of institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, judicial reform, the fight against organized crime and corruption, electoral reform, public administration reform and the protection of human rights, including property rights.
The Council strongly encouraged political parties to overcome the current political stalemate by establishing a constructive and constant dialogue to ensure the proper functioning of the parliament.
Furthermore, the Council recalled that the opening of the diary negotiations will be examined by the European Council, in line with the consolidated practice, once the Commission has assessed that Albania has reached the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria and met, in particular, the priorities established by the Commission's country council. This position has been confirmed by the 16 / 17 European Council on December 2010.
In addition, the SA Council noted the conclusions of the EU Council of 20 June 2011, where it stressed that the EU closely followed the 2011 municipal elections and found that they were generally conducted in a transparent and competitive manner, including with procedural difficulties.
However, the situation in Tirana remained a particular concern. The EU deplored the deterioration of the political situation and the increased tensions that followed the elections and the conduct of the trial. The EU, while acknowledging the decisions of the Electoral College, stressed that it is essential that the electoral process, including the appeal procedure and the declaration of the final results of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), should be completed in a transparent, independent and in full compliance with the existing legal framework.
It was also essential for all parties to recognize the supremacy of the rule of law over any other interest.
The EU has called on all political leaders to support the finalization of the electoral process peacefully, constructively and on the European future of the country. The EU will closely follow the OSCE / ODIHR assessment of the trial that they have the election observation mission. In addition, the EU urged the government and the opposition, in collaboration with civil society, to agree on comprehensive electoral reform, addressing all OSCE-ODIHR recommendations in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 before the next elections.
The EU took note of the intention of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to ask the Venice Commission for a debate on how to avoid similar situations in future elections. Furthermore, the EU called on the government and the opposition to urgently restore the political dialogue and overcome the long-standing political deadlock.
Such dialogue would be indispensable for the normal functioning of every democratic society and its institutions, including the functioning of Parliament, as well as for the advancement of European integration of the country.
The EU urged the Albanian authorities to renew and reinforce the reforms on the reform program and its implementation. These are essential in order to achieve the necessary level of compliance with the Copenhagen criteria, among the twelve key priorities identified in the European Commission, the 9 November 2010 (pareresla albania's application for membership).
Only if the priorities are met will Albania be able to move forward towards the EU, in line with the December 2010 Council conclusions. The EU continued to work for Albania's European perspective and will continue to support the country's efforts in this process.
The SA Council also acknowledged the completion of the visa liberalization process in the 2010, which marked a historic result for Albania.
For its part, the EU reiterated its short-term commitment to abolishing visas for Albania and expressed its confidence in the commitment of the Albanian authorities to ensure compliance with the conditions for the lifting of the visa regime. The SA Council has observed that the implementation of the readmission agreement has continued to proceed well.
The SA Council welcomed the joint work of the majority in power and opposition in the parliamentary commission for European integration on the Albanian action plan to address the priorities of the conclusions. The SA Council was informed that the Albanian Government had adopted the 10 June 2011 Action Plan and had taken into consideration the comments and suggestions presented by the European Commission and the President of the Parliamentary Commission for European Integration representing the opposition and civil society. The SA Council has also been informed that the action plan is currently being analyzed by the European Commission.
The SA Council has noted some procedural developments regarding the functioning of the Parliament, the efforts made by Albania to fight corruption, as well as the improvement of the institutional and legislative framework on human rights and respect for minorities, while stressing that much remains to be done in these areas. In particular, it noted that corruption remains a particularly serious problem in the country. It is essential to establish a convincing record of investigations and convictions of well-known culprits, even in high-level corruption cases.
The SA Council underlined that the establishment of an independent and professional civil service, obtaining the reform of the judicial system, as well as dealing with the issues of unresolved property rights, remain the main challenges for Albania's European integration. The rule of law and independence,
impartiality, transparency, efficiency and accountability of the journal are central elements in assessing the criteria for joining the EU.
The SA Council took note of the legislative changes adopted in the fight against money laundering and the ratification of an agreement between Albania and Serbia on cooperation in the area of the fight against organized crime, while acknowledging that the strengthening of regional and international cooperation in this field must continue. In addition, the SA Council has agreed on the importance of effective implementation of the legislation for the fight against organized crime, including through the provision of adequate resources and better coordination between different police agencies. This is one of the priorities of the Council's conclusions.
Regarding freedom of expression, the EU noted that political and economic (business) pressures continue to affect media independence. Media coverage of the local elections of May 2011 marked an improvement over the previous preaccidents, but there are still concerns about direporting bias. The EU has once again recalled the importance for Albania to decriminalize defamation and slander. Regarding the economic criteria, the SA Council has observed that Albania has made efforts towards the creation of a functioning market economy and to allow the Albanian economy to cope with competitive pressures. The Board of SA has observed gaps that still exist with regard to the issue of property rights, the application of the right status and ordering of exit procedures from the market. Further reforms are needed on structural reforms and in the enhancement of transport and energy infrastructure, based on the progress made in this last sector.
On the key issue of Albania, to align its legislation and its capacity with European standards, the SA Council welcomed the progress made in recent years towards implementing the Stabilization and Association Agreement (ASA).
The Albanian taxation of imported used cars and the application of road tolls was brought into line with the ASA. However, further efforts are needed to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement (SAA). The strengthening of Albania's administrative capacity to effectively implement the SAA must continue. The SA Council acknowledged the progress made in areas such as the free movement of goods, competition, and the policy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME policy), while noting the need to intensify efforts in other sectors, such as audiovisual policy, of the transport and intellectual property rights, where progress has remained limited.
The SA Council welcomed Albania's constructive and cooperative foreign policy, as well as its participation in regional initiatives in South East Europe, where it changed its views on developments in the Western Balkans.
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