EU renews calls on Albania opposition to return to parliament and avoid damaging the start of EU membership talks

Brussels | 26 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – The European Union has renewed its calls to Albania’s opposition parties to engage in talks with the socialist majority and return to parliament, following their collective decision to give up their parliamentary mandates, warning their acts could damage Albania’s aspirations for EU integration.

EU Commission Spokesperson Maja Kocijančič said during a press conference that “the opposition’s decision to renounce its MP mandates damages the functioning of parliamentary democracy and is counterproductive to Albania’s aspirations for EU membership.

Kocijančič added that the MPs should keep serving in the parliament and avoid any acts of violence, while calling on both majority and opposition to engage in negotiating talks to find a solution to the country’s current political crisis.

Renewed calls from Brussels come as the European Commission prepares to issue its annual progress report on the small Balkan country, which will determine if the Council will agree to formally opening membership talks with Albania as well as with its neighbor North Macedonia.

In the meantime, a delegation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will visit Tirana and Skopje to take stock of EU-related reforms in progress and evaluate the countries’ readiness for potential accession talks.

Members of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) will evaluate the latest progress made in Albania and North Macedonia on EU reforms, with less than four months left to assess their readiness to open EU accession negotiations.

A seven MEP strong AFET delegation, led by Mr. Tunne Kelam (EPP, EE), will meet the political leadership, opposition and civil society representatives in both countries from 27 February to 1 March.

Commenting on the recent resignation from Parliament of opposition MPs and protests in Albania, Mr. Kelam said: “We strongly condemn all political rhetoric inciting violence and urge the opposition to reengage in the democratic parliamentary process. The government and the opposition must urgently de-escalate the situation through constructive engagement.

Last week, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn criticized the decision by Albania’s opposition parties to resign their parliamentary mandates en-block, and cautioned against any violent acts during mass protests planned in Tirana.

Echoing the Commission’s concerns, European Parliament Rapporteur on Albania Knut Fleckenstein said Brussels does not understand how political parties can give up its parliamentary mandates and that no-one should be surprised if accession talks are postponed again.

I have heard the opposition will give up its mandates and this is incomprehensible in Brussels. Members of Parliament are elected to represent a better alternative to the policies of the government. If Albania does not have a functioning parliament, no-one should be surprised if accession talks are postponed again.” Fleckenstein said.

Following the unprecedented decision by opposition parties to abandon parliament, which may take the small Balkan country into an unknown spiraling political crisis, the United States and the European Union called on individual opposition MPs to reject their party leadership line arguing the extreme decision would “undermine the basic principles of democracy and subvert the important progress Albania has achieved on rule of law and responsible governance.”

European Union leaders agreed last June to start membership talks with Albania and Macedonia within 2019 if both small Balkan nations show substantial progress in their crucial rule of law reforms under way.

While Macedonia has agreed to an historic name change deal with Greece into ‘North Macedonia’ opening the path for NATO membership and accession talks with Brussels, it is yet unclear whether member states will agree to formally opening accession negotiations with Albania which needs to get its act together in fighting endemic corruption and political links to organized crime.

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