From: Exit Staff
Commissioner Várhelyi Urges Albania to Meet Conditions for EU Talks to Start 

Olivér Várhelyi, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, has urged Albania to meet the European Council’s conditions for starting EU accession talks.

In his speech in the Albanian parliament during his visit in the country on Wednesday, Várhelyi stressed Albania’s and the Western Balkans future in the EU, while also highlighting the reform needed. 

Contrary to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s denial of there being any conditions for Albania to meet before sitting in the first Inter-Governmental Conference, Commissioner Varhelyi continuously spoke of these conditions in his speech, press conference, and in social media.

Exit News brings the main points highlighted by Commissioner Várhelyi during his visit and speech in parliament, which comes after the EC’s progress report on Albania published on Tuesday.

Western Balkans EU integration 

The Commissioner stressed that the Western Balkans integration in the EU is a priority for the European Commission.

He laid out the three main tracks the EC is working on: reinforcing the enlargement process, starting accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, and speeding up the economic convergence of the region with the EU. 

The EC has proposed negotiation frameworks for both countries to the Council. Once they are approved by each EU member state, the dates for the first intergovernmental conferences will be set.  

As regards economic convergence, Varhelyi laid out the assistance provided to the region to help the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the WB

He stressed that the focus is now on supporting the longer-term socioeconomic recovery. The EC has adopted the Economic and Investment Plan for this purpose, which is structured around the areas of transport, energy, environment, digital, the private sector and youth. Up to €9 billion of grant funding are planned to be mobilized to support the Western Balkans.

EU Financial Support for Albania 

The Plan envisages supporting the following investments in Albania:

The Blue highway along the Adriatic coast;

The Mediterranean Rail Corridor;

Rehabilitation of the Fierza Hydro Power Plant;

Construction of the Skavica HPP, 

Construction of the Fier-Vlora gas pipeline, and the Ionian-Adriatic pipeline;

Establishment of integrated regional waste management systems, and closure of non-compliant landfills;

Implementation of a Broadband Infrastructure Development scheme. 

Mini-Schengen Initiative

Commissioner Varhelyi praised the work of the leaders in relation to the Mini-Schengen Initiative, aimed at developing a regional economic area. He said he expects the leaders from the region to agree on the initiative at the Sofia summit on 10 November.

Only Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia have agreed on the initiative so far.

More Reforms Needed  

Varhelyi stressed that benefiting from EU funds will only be possible if governments in the region implement fundamental reforms based on European values, including structural economic reforms, strengthening the rule of law, and improving public administration.

He added that the EC 2020 Enlargement package provides a detailed overview of the reforms expected, which are key to the countries’ EU integration.

EC’s Progress Report on Albania

Albania has made decisive progress and is close to meeting all conditions to be fulfilled prior to the first Inter-Governmental Conference, Varhelyi stated.

Implementation of the justice reform has continued; vetting of judges and prosecutors is proceeding steadily, the High Court is functional and the Constitutional Court is expected to be soon, new specialized bodies on anti-corruption and organized crime are established.

He stressed that the implementation of the electoral reform is a condition for the first IGC.