TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The United States on Friday increased its pressure on Albania's main opposition party to approve a package of judicial reforms needed to convince the European Union to start membership talks.
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha that the package was "a top priority in U.S.-Albanian relations and for Albania's progress toward the EU," according to a statement from the U.S. embassy in Tirana.
A day earlier, EU's top official for enlargement Johannes Hahn also urged Albania to complete the reforms if it wants to launch full membership talks with the bloc.
Despite regular visits and direct involvement from the U.S. and EU ambassadors, Democrats do not agree with a final draft despite earlier approval. Their votes are needed in the 140-seat Parliament for some constitutional amendments in the package that should be passed by the end of the month to convince Brussels to authorize membership negotiations.
After getting candidate status from Brussels two years ago, Albania, a NATO member since 2009, expects to launch full membership talks this year on the condition that the legal package is approved and implemented.
The EU and the U.S. have helped Tirana draft the reform package. It also has been reviewed and approved by the Venice Commission, as both main political groupings had asked for.
The reform package is considered key to fighting corruption at all levels, especially the judiciary.
Basha and his governing Socialist counterpart, Prime Minister Edi Rama are expected to meet Monday.
In her call to Basha, Nuland urged them to use the meeting "to agree to quick passage of a meaningful and comprehensive judicial reform package," as it is strongly supported among the Albanian people.