Address by Minister Lehtomäki at European Parliament: Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Albania
Minister Paula Lehtomäki
Plenary session of the European Parliament, 4-7 September 2006
6 September 2006
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The signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EUand the Republic of Albania on 12 June was a major step on Albania's path towards membership of the European Union. We are happy that Albania has advanced in its reforms to a stage that enabled the conclusion of the lengthy process of contractual negotiations. The Agreement and the other mechanisms of the Stabilisation and Association Process create a comprehensive framework for the further development of the relations between the EU and Albania. The Interim Agreement, which was signed on the same occasion, is scheduled to enter into force on 1 November. It covers the trade and trade-related provisions of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which will be observed under the Interim Agreement until the Member States have ratified the actual Stabilisation and Association Agreement. It is important to ensure that effective use of the provisions will be started as soon as the Interim Agreement enters into force.
The Stabilisation and Association Agreement plays a critical role for the future of Albania. It will promote the economic and political relations between the EU and Albania and enhance Albania's capacity to move closer to the European Union. Albania is the third Western Balkan state (after the Former Republic of Macedonia and Croatia) to have signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.
The signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the Interim Agreement does not mean that the work would have been accomplished - vice versa, the actual work is only beginning.
From the part of Albania, we expect continuing and effective progress in the implementation of the agreements. It has to steadily and energetically advance the reforms required to meet the EU's convergence criteria. It is important that headway is made especially in such fields as the freedom of the media, restoration and indemnification of property, more effective public administration and respect for the rule of law. We reiterate to Albania - as well as to the other Western Balkan states –, that they have to intensify their measures to combat corruption and organised crime.
Albania will probably hold municipal elections in four to six months' time. The country should ensure that it can hold the elections in compliance with international norms.
The pursuit of reforms called for by the EU convergence criteria requires the joint efforts of all political forces. The current political atmosphere in Albania is alarming and a serious impediment to further reforms. We encourage the parties to engage in constructive dialogue and are happy about the first results of such action last week.
Finally, I want to remind you that, in its June European Council, the European Union reconfirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkan states. It means that also Albania has its future in the European Union. However, it is important to bear in mind that progress towards the EU will continue to depend on each country's individual merits in meeting the requirements of the EU criteria. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the Interim Agreement provide the best possible framework for Albania in this path. The EU will naturally continue to extend its support but the major part of the rest of the work can only be made by Albania itself.