Auteur: Benjamin Fox
BRUSSELS - Albania's hopes of EU membership were dashed on Friday after UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that he would not approve its bid for candidate status.
Speaking after the close of the EU summit on Friday (20 December), he confirmed that his government was "not currently supporting candidate status for Albania," adding that "quite a lot of steps need to be made before Albania can become a candidate."
The UK has previously been one of the staunchest supporters of EU enlargement, particularly in eastern Europe.
Cameron attempted to soften the blow, insisting that "enlargement has been a success" and that "the accession process into the EU can be a very good development tool."
But the news will still come as a blow to the West Balkan country's hopes, just two months after it was given the green light to be accepted as a candidate by the European Commission.
Presenting the EU executive's annual enlargement reports in October, enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele gave the all clear to begin accession negotiations, three years after the commission rejected Albania's first application.
However, Fuele stated that the talks would be conditional on Edi Rama's government continuing to take steps to combat organised crime and corruption. The commission also wants Tirana to push through judicial and administrative reforms.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, Fuele commented that "we see the granting of candidate status as a further incentive for the country to continue its reform efforts.”
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that leaders had agreed to postpone a decision on Albania until June as part of "a two-step approach."
"We are welcoming the progress done, but before granting it candidate status in June, we want to see more implementation of reforms," she said.
"The European Commission will report on the implementation - it was the same procedure with Serbia and it proved to be very reasonable," she added.
The December summit had been earmarked as the time when EU leaders would decide on whether to begin accession talks.
But the plan was first derailed last week when the Dutch parliament voted down a government proposal to award candidate status, preventing prime minister Mark Rutte from backing Albania's bid.
All 28 EU countries must agree before accession talks can be opened with a country.
Albania hopes to join Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro who have already been granted candidate status. However, none are likely to join the EU before 2020.