Albanian Daily News
European Commission urges Albania to take agreement seriously

Jan 28, 2000

TIRANA - A European Commission team of experts which came to Albania to discuss a closer agreement has urged the government to make an action-plan on integration with European institutions, the media quoted the government as saying.

The team came to Albania two days after the Commission had discussed the EU relations with and plans for Eastern Europe, where it announced the plans of action.

"It would be good if the plan would be presented in the next meeting," the mission’s leader, Sabathili, said. But it called on Albania to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and public order.

The commission team came to the country to discuss a stabilisation and association pact with Albania, a tailor-made agreement it wants to reach with all East European country candidates for membership of the EU.

It was a pledge the European Union made for the development of the region during the NATO air-strikes against Yugoslavia.

The European Commission is the government of the EU.

The EU had earlier said it would conduct a feasibility study on the agreement with Albania.

The government will have to coordinate its efforts to speed up the process with the Western Balkans Unit of the commission.

The meeting did have its pitfalls. Discussing with some administration officials, the EU mission complained of a lack of figures in what was presented. Albania apparently had not prepared any public investment, its source and further plans, daily Koha Jone reported. Instead, Transport Ministry official Jolanda Trebicka responded with: "We did not know we had to present those figures here."

"The draft of public investments plan has not yet been made ready," Trebicka was quoted as saying. She said the ministry needed time until March to have the whole process prepared.

Albania, the poorest European country until the break-up of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia, is probably the last potential member the EU has considered.

Political crises that often turned violent in the country since the separation from the communist system in 1990 have marred its stability and economic development.

The EU team said it wants to see a stable Albania with democratic institutions.

"The forthcoming local elections will be an important indicator of the demonstration of democratic values of all political factors in Albania," said Sabathili. He was meaning the forthcoming local elections, due in the autumn.

The team, which met all important government officials, including Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Trade Ermelinda Meksi and deputy Foreign Minister Ben Blushi, said it would offer to cover some important economic costs in Albania.

"The European Union is trying to see the problems of land expropriation and of the Value Added Tax reimbursement solved," Sabathili said.

But minister Meksi said an agreement of free trade between Albania and the EU is still far away. "The government lacks the experience, because it has never dealt with similar agreements before," she said. "A free trade area would be very complex for us."

Further integration with the EU will be a challenge for Albania.

The mainly western European institutional union is now pushing all Balkan countries into fostering regional cooperation, this under the Stability Pact, in which Albania harbours many hopes.

Meksi had earlier said the government will this year study lifting trade barriers in a Balkan corridor that goes through Macedonia and Bulgaria to Turkey. "For the moment, we will have to study what the economic cost will be in closer agreements with the EU," she said.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]