Albania should be granted EU candidate status without delay, provided it delivers key reforms in the judiciary, public administration and the functioning of parliament, MEPs said in a vote on Thursday.
"We must provide incentives for Albania and its people. However, the EU must take a strict stance against nationalistic statements such as the recent ones by the Albanian Prime minister. All those concerned must refrain from any actions which could trigger regional tensions", said Nikolaos Chountis (GUE/NGL, EL), rapporteur for Albania's progress towards EU membership.
MEPs acknowledge that constructive political dialogue in Albania has been an important factor in achieving progress with twelve key priorities agreed with the EU,, particularly the proper functioning of parliament and the appointment of an ombudsman. However, they stress that the oversight role of the parliament must be further improved.
They welcome the Commission's commitment to putting the rule of law at the centre of the EU's enlargement policy. The EP is worried about Albania's slow progress with judicial reform, which it says must be an irreversible process. MEPs insist on the independence, integrity and transparency of the judiciary, free of political interference and corruption. They also point to the risks of politicising public administration and to the inadequate fight against corruption.
2013 parliamentary elections: test of maturity
Next year's parliamentary elections will be an important test of the maturity of Albanian democracy, say MEPs, who call on all the political parties to demonstrate their commitment to a free and fair campaign and elections. The elections will also test the ability of all political forces to embark on a common European agenda for the country, the text adds.
Progress on protection of minorities
MEPs recognise the progress made with the protection of minorities but want more to be done, in order to secure these rights for all, not just for national minorities.
The rights of women, children and vulnerable people must be secured and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and Roma combated, say MEPs, pointing to the high levels of domestic violence, forced prostitution and trafficking of women and children.
Economic and social reforms
The high, albeit declining, unemployment rate in Albania and the number of Albanians living below the poverty line is a matter of major concern for MEPs. They also recommend Albania to carry out reforms relating to the rule of law, the weakness of which is making it difficult to enforce contracts and is hindering investment, and to address the issue of property rights.