Albania gov't makes concessions on reform, key to EU talks

AP News
Posted: Jul 15, 2016 9:22 AM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's ruling Socialists say they will approve anything the opposition Democratic Party wants in a judicial reform package, fundamental to ensuring the launch of the membership negotiations with the European Union, if it's also agreed on with Brussels and the U.S.

The U.S. and EU, directly involved in the two-year reform process, have failed to convince the Democrats, which have said Western officials only should monitor and not actively participate in any decision of a new vetting panel for judges and prosecutors.

Prime Minister Edi Rama on Friday also offered new talks with Democrats' leader Lulzim Basha. The ruling Socialists need support from some opposition members in the 140-seat Parliament to endorse the reforms.

"That is a reform for a European Albania we want to build and also be a member of," Rama said.

The Democrats' leader, who has continuously hampered the process of drafting the legal package since the start, called Rama's words "midday hypocrisy."

Albania, a NATO member country since 2009, was granted EU candidate status in 2014.

Albania's judiciary is considered too corrupt to allow the country to join the 28-nation EU.

The reform aims to fight corruption and a lack of professionalism within the judiciary by checking judges' and prosecutors' income and property, among other things.

If the judicial reform package isn't passed on July 21, it may sink the government, delay the matter from further consideration for a year, or even trigger a new election. Ultimately, failure would result in no EU membership talks this year as hoped.