The EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) held its twelfth meeting on 16 March in Tirana. The meeting was chaired by Mr Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, represented the European Commission. Mr Edi Rama, Prime Minister, led the Albanian delegation. The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Olta Xhaçka and the Minister of State and Chief Negotiator, Mrs. Majlinda Dhuka, also participated.
This was the first time that the SA Council met in Albania, underlining the European Union’s unequivocal commitment to the EU integration of the Western Balkans and to the accession negotiation process of Albania. The meeting provided an opportunity to take stock of Albania’s progress in its preparations for membership and within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, and discuss how to further intensify relations between the EU and Albania. The EU welcomed the advanced process of analytical examination of the EU acquis (screening), while looking forward to the completion of the process.
Participants welcomed Albania’s clear EU strategic direction and ambition to move forward in the accession negotiations based on reform progress, while reaffirming EU commitment to further support Albania in its endeavours towards EU membership. Participants also underlined the importance of further advancing the reform progress and consolidating implementation, in the interest of the citizens of Albania.
Given the new geopolitical reality following Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the EU strongly underlined the importance of further deepening the cooperation on foreign and security policy issues. The EU strongly commended Albania for its continued 100% alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, including on EU restrictive measures following Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. This is a strong expression of Albania’s strategic choice and place in a community of values. The EU also commended Albania’s active engagement as a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council in promoting and defending the rules-based international order.
Participants noted Albania’s commitment in the field of rule of law and encouraged Albania to continue working on implementation of all relevant aspects of the fundamentals cluster. The EU commended Albania on the good progress overall made through the continued implementation of the comprehensive justice reform, stressing the need to further progress. The EU also underlined that efforts to establish a solid track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime need to intensify, including at high level. The EU encouraged Albania to adopt and implement the pending measures, particularly in the areas of minorities, freedom of expression and media freedom, property rights, as well as personal data protection. The EU welcomed the good cooperation in addressing common migratory and security challenges, and encouraged Albania to further its efforts including by aligning its visa policy with the EU’s list of visa-required third countries. It underlined the importance of continuing to address the issue of unfounded asylum applications by Albanian citizens.
The EU noted that Albania has continued aligning its legislation and capacities with EU standards. Further substantial efforts are necessary as regards the overall preparations for adopting and implementing the EU acquis. The EU encouraged Albania to continue improving its administrative capacity to effectively implement and enforce legislation, and underlined the importance of safeguarding the independence of regulatory bodies. The EU welcomed that Albania has reinforced its coordination structure for EU integration. Participants also underlined the need for authorities, political parties and all segments of society to communicate adequately to the public on EU integration and on EU assistance.
The EU encouraged Albania to continue efforts to further meet the requirements of the EU’s internal market and to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. It noted that Albania has made good progress in its preparations for developing a functioning market economy and that, supported by a broadly appropriate policy mix, the Albanian economy showed resilience.
The EU also recalled the importance of the substantial Energy Support Package of EUR 1 billion for the Western Balkans (500 million in grants and 500 million in soft loans & guarantees), of which EUR 80 million for Albania aims to protect the most vulnerable groups affected by the energy crises, in particular businesses, households and SME while advancing energy transition, security and diversification.
The EU welcomed Albania’s recent ratification of the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement for IPA III. The EU reiterated its commitment to assist Albania in intensifying reform work, including those required to maximise the impact of the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. In the last three years Albania received EUR 229.1 million grants and EUR 305.1 million loans within the framework of the Economic and Investment Plan.
Participants also welcomed Albania’s continued constructive engagement in regional cooperation as well as its continued dialogue to ensure good neighbourly relations. The EU recalled that inclusive regional cooperation as identified in the Common Regional Market action plan will remain crucial for taking full advantage of the potential of the region and of the Economic and Investment Plan.
The SA Council also held an exchange of views on developments in Albania and the regional situation in the Western Balkans.
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