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Albania: Tirana And EU On Track To Start Stabilization-Agreement Talks

The European Union and Albania appear on track to start talks on a stabilization and association agreement early next year, following a trip to Tirana this week by European Union Commissioner Chris Patten. Patten said the EU would establish a step-by-step implementation formula to avoid failure.

Tirana, 6 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union and Albania appear on track to start negotiations on a stabilization and association agreement early next year. This follows a visit to the Albanian capital Tirana this week by EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten.

Patten confirmed that EU Commission President Romano Prodi will be in Tirana in February to start the first round of talks on the agreement, which would pave the way for a free-trade area with the EU. The stabilization agreement is seen as an early first step toward eventual membership in the EU.

Patten outlined a step-by-step negotiating plan to ensure that progress is made. "We have, we hope, the first round of negotiations in early February. We then have about every six weeks a further round of negotiations dealing with all the technical chapters that are part of this agreement. And between each round of negotiations before another negotiation, we report back on the progress being made to the 15 member states of the European Union and the pace of progress. The length of the negotiations is up to you."

Patten said in a statement that failure to implement the obligations that will flow from the agreement could damage Albania's credibility and future prospects in its relationship with the European Union.

The EU adopted its negotiating mandate for the agreement in October, but an EU task force that visited the country last month said talks would not be easy and should take as long as necessary.

In his meetings with Albanian officials, including opposition leaders, Patten also discussed the need to step up reform efforts. He said progress is needed in the conduct of elections, the functioning of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organized crime, and ensuring property rights.

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, for his part, assured Patten and the EU delegation that his government was committed to the process of European integration. "I had the pleasure of my duty to reconfirm to Mr. Patten the full commitment of the government and all institutions under its dependency, of the majority parliamentary whip that I chair, and on behalf of the relations we have realized with the parliamentary opposition, to supporting the continuous process of reforms, which will further approach the Albanian legislation, institutions, and market to the European Union standards."

Patten told the Albanians that he had seen some progress since his last visit in 2001 in terms of political stability -- notably through the election of President Alfred Moisiu in July.