Socio-economic challenges in Western Balkan countries have hampered their European Union integration process, but that will change with a new 6 billion euro cash injection for the region, the ambassador said on Thursday of the EU in Tirana, Luigi Soreca.
At a press conference a day after the publication of the report on Albania’s enlargement package, Soreca said the funding would help speed up the accession process of candidate countries.
“Economic convergence is an essential element for Albania and other Western Balkan countries to move closer to the EU. Currently, socio-economic conditions are holding these countries back on the path to integration. The goal of this plan is for these countries to benefit,” Soreca said.
The growth plan, initially confirmed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the Berlin Process Summit in October in Tirana, provides for around €6 million to accession candidates. in the Western Balkans.
“The aim is to help partners carry out reforms and investments and follow the EU path more quickly,” Soreca said.
He explained that the growth plan will be based on three pillars: improving the region’s economic integration with the EU single market, promoting the economic integration of the Western Balkans and accelerating key reforms to attract more foreign investment. .
Albania must prepare a reform program every year, and financial aid from the growth plan is conditional on their implementation, Soreca added.
“Enlargement is back in European politics,” Soreca said, adding that “we must answer the call of history and work towards the enlargement of the EU.”
Economic convergence will be an essential element, added the ambassador.
The Commission’s report on Albania shows progress in all areas, although some are more evident than others. Deputy Prime Minister Belinda Balluku highlighted her convergence with the EU but also the removal of the FATF gray list.
Balluku called the comprehensive report “the most positive ever written for our country and that it directly represents the very good progress of the deep reforms we have undertaken and their concrete results in strengthening the rule of law and combating organized crime.
Since Albania finally received the green light to begin accession negotiations in July 2022, the country has worked hard on the analytical review of the Albanian acquis compared to that of the EU, Balluku said.
Among the good news and progress noted in the report, “serious concerns” were also raised about corruption, which the Commission said is “widespread in many areas of public and commercial life and preventive measures have been little of impact”.
In terms of freedom of expression, he found that “little progress has been made” and highlighted issues such as media ownership, lack of financial transparency, poor working conditions and verbal, physical and legal action against journalists.
(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)