The European Commission is warning Albania to accelerate reforms to avoid making the Stabilization and Association Agreement negotiating process too long. The commission, in its second annual report on the stabilization-and-association process, expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of integration in Albania and other countries in the region.
Tirana, 31 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission says that only political will can speed up the integration reforms in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro.
The commission, in its second annual report issued on 26 March on the progress of the stabilization-and-association process in Southeastern Europe, (the full report can be found at http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/see/sap/rep2/index.htm), said the pace of integration remains slow throughout the region.
In Albania, officials say the biggest drag on progress continues to be a lack of legal reforms. Lutz Salzmann, the European Commission ambassador to Tirana, had this to say: "Where we are not satisfied with progress is the restitution of, or the compensation for, land expropriated during the communist era. The implementation of the rule of law in Albania still remains deficient. There are weak law-enforcement institutions; there is limited administrative capacity, and we are still experiencing widespread corruption and organized crime."
Negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement were officially launched in Tirana at the end of January following delays caused by Albania's difficulties in ensuring political stability and implementing reforms.
Following a session of roundtable negotiations between Albanian and EU officials last week in Tirana, Salzmann asked local authorities to pay particular attention to the country's justice and domestic-affairs sectors, as well as to the problems of trafficking in drugs and human beings and other forms of organized crime.
Albania remains in the forefront of global concerns about criminal trafficking rings. Early this month, the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs released its assessment report for 2002 (see http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2002/). The report says organized criminal groups are continuing to use Albania as a transit point for narcotic and other types of smuggling but notes that the Albanian government, "largely in response to international pressure and with international assistance, is in the early stages of attempting to confront criminal elements more aggressively."
Salzmann warned that a failure to push ahead with reforms could put the integration process on hold. "We can see that at the current pace of [reform] implementation, the negotiations risk being very long and drawn out. Albania will have to demonstrate its ability to implement the provisions of the future agreement," Salzmann said.
The European Commission report acknowledges relatively few positive achievements during 2002, though it does note that interparty dialogue last year allowed for the smooth election of a new president, Alfred Moisiu. But Salzmann emphasized that this has not yet translated into significant steps forward in terms of reform.
The commission report also says the country's overall economic performance failed to meet expectations. It blames the poor performance on the global economic slowdown, as well as on continued problems in the Albania's electricity sector, limited growth in the agricultural sector, and shortcomings in the customs and tax administrations.
The commission report adds that "legal security in Albania remains insufficient and commercial laws inadequate to foster business development."