The EU has decided to push back one more year the decision regarding the opening of accession negotiations with Albania. This decision will be reviewed in June 2019. Albania must, once again, face a number of conditions set by Member States if it wants to receive a positive decision in 2019.
In order to avoid discouraging Albania and Macedonia, the EU sugarcoated the European Council conclusions. This way, it let the citizens of the two countries know that, even though the negotiations would not begin at this time, the road for a possible positive decision in 2019 remains open.
As Politico.eu noted sarcastically in an article from yesterday, while the door to Albania and Macedonia’s EU membership may eventually open, for now, at least until 2019, it remains closed.
According to Politico, the majority of Member States argued in favor of opening membership talks now, but France and the Netherlands, with the backing of Denmark, warned that they would veto a positive decision. It must be stressed that, at least the Dutch government was bound to vote against opening negotiations by a ruling of the Dutch parliament.
In order to avoid a formal vote, which would lead to a formal rejection of opening negotiations, the Council has therefore decided to postpone the decision to June 2019.
The Council’s final conclusions, in an effort to appease both sides, use a language that avoids direct refusal and encourage hope of potential negotiations being opened in June 2019, provided Albania and Macedonia meet certain conditions: “[T]he Council agrees to respond positively to the above progress made by Albania and sets out the path towards opening the accession negotiations in June 2019.”
However, putting aside the highly ambiguous sentence above, it is clear what every other point the final draft means: there will be no opening negotiations now, and there is no guarantee that the June 2019 ruling will be positive. Once again, Albania and Macedonia must meet a number of conditions, in order to acquire a positive decision in 2019.
Albania will have to, once again, undergo the same procedure: fulfil the conditions and obtain the approval of several institutions.
The European Council laid out the following steps, to reach the June 2019 decision:
- Albania must meet several conditions, new and existing, that the European Council has clearly laid out.
- The European Council must assess, via a special report, the progress the country has made in meeting these conditions.
- The preemptive approval of the German Bundestag and Dutch parliament must be acquired.
- The European Council must confirm or reject the opening of accession negotiations in its June 2019 Summit.
- If the decision is positive, the first meeting of the parties will take place at the end of 2019.
To summarize: a) Albania must meet several conditions set by the Member States; b) the Bundestag, the Dutch parliament, and the European Council will, once again, discuss and decide whether or not accession negotiations will be opened.
A new condition, apparently included in order to appease France, that has been set for Albania is lowering the number of Albanian asylum seekers in the EU. The Council has assigned the monitoring of its progress to the European Commission.
Improving waste management was promoted from a general issue, to a mandatory one that will be considered when the Council takes its decision.
The electoral reform was an existing condition that was rearticulated more clearly and restrictively. According to the Council’s conclusions, the Council attaches particular importance to Albania addressing the outstanding recommendations of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
The Council has, once again, stressed the conditions that demand fighting drugs, organized crime, and corruption, clearly requiring tangible results including “proactive investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in the fight against corruption and organised crime, including at high level.”
Regarding the progress of the Justice Reform, the Council expressly demanded “finalising the establishment of specialised bodies, namely the Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Structure (SPAK) and National Bureau of Investigation [BKH] and Court,” as well as the further advancement of the vetting process. The Council also stressed the need for better regard for human rights, property rights in particular.
It is obvious that, in a way, the conditions set by the Council are more numerous and stricter than the previous ones. They are also articulated more clearly, in more concrete and measurable terms.
The bottom line is that Albania has been denied the opening of accession negotiations. It must wait another year to be reconsidered, and, in the meantime, it must meet several difficult conditions within a short time. The Rama government must now show that it can accomplish within a year what it has failed to do so far.