Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


STABILISATION AND ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT WITH ALBANIA


(22474)
9813/01
COM(01) 300

Report from the Commission to the Council on the work of the EU/Albania High Level Steering Group, in preparation for the negotiation of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.


Legal base:
Document originated: 6 June 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 12 June 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 20 June 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 3 July 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: 15-16 June 2001 European Council
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared

The Commission report

48.1  The report reviews the political and economic situation of Albania and assesses its ability to implement the obligations of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). It is based on the work of the EU/Albania High Level Steering Group (HLSG) in preparing for the negotiation of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Albania and examines progress made since the Commission's 1999 Feasibility Study.[76]

48.2  The Commission notes that:

    "Albania is one of five countries in south east Europe participating in the EU's Stabilisation and Association process. This process is designed to help bring stability to the region by integrating each country into European structures and by offering them the prospect of future EU membership. The EU has been actively involved in supporting Albania's reform efforts since 1991 and supports the priority which successive Albanian governments have given to European integration. However, in 1999 the Commission presented a Feasibility Study75 which concluded that, despite progress made, Albania was not yet in a position to take on far-reaching contractual obligations with the EU. The Council shared the Commission's view".

48.3  The main items covered by the report are:

  • Political criteria: democracy, the rule of law and human rights;

  • Economic criteria: the economic situation, fiscal sustainability, privatisation, price and trade liberalisation; and

  • Ability to assume the obligations resulting from an SAA: these include Political Dialogue with the EU, co-operation with other countries of the region, free movement of goods and workers, Justice and Home Affairs, other co-operation policies and the approximation and enforcement of legislation.

48.4  The report acknowledges the progress Albania has achieved in recent years in domestic reforms, including the rule of law and market reforms. Ten years ago it was the poorest and most isolated country in Europe. Early efforts to introduce democracy and build a market economy were severely damaged by the lawlessness and economic collapse which followed the failure of the pyramid schemes in 1997.

48.5  Since 1997 major efforts have been made to restore law and order, reform economic and social life and open Albania to the region and the EU. In political terms much has been done to ensure that elections can be run in accordance with OSCE standards and that parliament and political life function effectively. There has been a major overhaul of the legal system and serious efforts are being made to align legislation with EU standards. Economic decline has been reversed, Albania's trade regime has been modernised and liberalised and in 2000 it became a member of the World Trade Organisation.

48.6  The Commission comments that:

    "Albania has continued its policy aiming at improving relations with all its neighbours and participates actively in the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. This policy constitutes an important contribution to regional stability."

48.7  However, the Commission says that:

    "Despite the impressive achievements of the last two years, many problems remain which will make it difficult for Albania to meet the obligations of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement and to deliver on the commitments it would undertake. The main difficulties lie in the functioning of the judiciary, widespread corruption, a large grey economy and lack of capacity to implement laws."

48.8  The report concludes that Albania is not yet ready for an SAA but that, if the current pace of change is sustained, and if sufficient priority is given to strengthening its administrative capacity whilst negotiating an SAA and during the transition periods, considerable improvements could be made. It notes that these agreements are designed to draw countries closer to the EU. It recommends that the best way to maintain the momentum of reform in Albania is to start negotiations on an SAA and it proposes to submit a recommendation for a Council decision to this effect in due course. The negotiations will, of course, only be concluded when all the appropriate conditions have been met.

48.9  The Göteborg European Council in June endorsed this report and concluded that the Commission should begin work on a negotiating mandate.

The Government's view

48.10  The Foreign Office Minister (Mr Denis MacShane) comments:

    "The UK welcomes this report, which meets important UK objectives. It will encourage Albania's European aspirations — which we have strongly supported — while ensuring that she maintains her reform efforts and that there is no dilution of the criteria for EU external agreements. The report is an important step forward for the EU's Stabilisation and Association Process, the policy framework which brings the countries of South-East Europe closer to the EU. It holds out the prospect of EU membership, once the Copenhagen criteria have been met and regional co-operation satisfactorily established. This offers a powerful incentive for change and should help foster peace and stability in the region."

48.11  The Minister expects that, depending on the continued pace of reform in Albania, the Commission may present negotiating directives for an SAA with Albania by the end of this year.

Conclusion

48.12  We note the wish of the Commission and the Council to encourage Albania to keep up the pace of change, but we also note that it has a long way to go before it could expect to be able to fulfil its obligations. We therefore consider that the EU should be wary of encouraging, inadvertently, unrealistic expectations of the time it could take Albania to qualify for membership.

48.13  We now clear this document.



76  (20755) 13528/99; see HC 23-v (1999-2000), paragraph 12 (19 January 2000). Back


 
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