We had a very constructive and forward looking meeting today. We looked at the challenges ahead for the country and we also took stock of the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Albania has achieved a lot in recent years: The implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement has been positive overall, the visa liberalisation process was completed in December 2010, and the European integration process is ongoing. Albania has maintained a constructive and stabilising role in the region.
Nevertheless, I am concerned about the current political situation in Albania following the local elections and the missed opportunity to make substantial progress on key priorities and challenges on the path towards EU integration. I would like to highlight the following three points in this context also on behalf of the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission, Ms Ashton:
1.Firstly, we have closely followed the 2011 municipal elections. We are concerned that there was controversy and polarisation over decisions of the Central Election Commission and the Electoral College, including over the latest decision and reasoning by the Electoral College. The elections in Tirana were not good as they demonstrated beyond doubt that the electoral framework needs to be reformed.
We recall that on 20 June the Council of the European Union stressed that shortcomings in the legal framework and electoral process will need to be addressed in a comprehensive, effective and consensual manner through a thorough electoral reform, in line with all recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR. To that end, we await the final assessment by the OSCE/ODIHR.
In this context, we welcome the initiative by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Jagland, asking the Venice Commission for an opinion on how to avoid similar situations in future elections. We expect this to be supported by all sides in Albania as part of a serious effort to overcome the difficulties noted during the conduct of elections in Albania, most recently in 2011.
2.Secondly, now that the Electoral College has completed its task, it is time for political forces in Albania to overcome the political stalemate and return to a level of political dialogue that would allow the proper functioning of key democratic institutions, notably the parliament.
Work on addressing the recommendations of the European Commission's Opinion, in particular the 12 key priorities, and other key challenges, needs to be pursued in an effective and inclusive way. In order to achieve progress on the EU integration path, electoral and constitutional reforms, reforms of the parliamentary rules and procedures as well as other key reforms are essential and urgent. The European Union is prepared to facilitate this task through the Seminar process begun earlier this year.
3.Thirdly, Croatia set the practical example of adopting credible reforms that bring results. Other countries in the region are moving forward in the accession process. I would like to encourage Albania to grab this momentum to redouble its efforts and to deliver reforms in key areas.
The European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, including Albania, is essential for the stability and the prosperity of the region and for the European Union.
Let me conclude by underlining that Albania's European perspective remains high on the European Union agenda and the Commission stands ready to continue assisting the country in this regard. Albanian political leaders need to show that they are ready to work towards that direction and put the country's interest ahead of party agendas.