Albania and Kosovo, every day closer to EU membership

Albania has made progress on reform but must do more to curb corruption. On Kosovo, all EU Member States should back a common approach. These are the key points of two resolutions adopted on Thursday by Parliament on the European integration process of the two countries. Provided the Copenhagen EU accession criteria are met, Parliament should back the eventual EU membership of all Western Balkan states, say MEPs.

Firstly, on Albania, Parliament acknowledges the progress made on reform but stresses the need for further substantial efforts to consolidate democracy and the rule of law and to foster the country's sustainable development. This must include reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption, which remains "a major political challenge".

Towards visa-free travel for Albanian citizens

Albania's moves to waive visa obligations for the EU neighbourhood countries are seen as a positive step that facilitates people-to-people contacts and enhances regional reconciliation. But these initiatives should be taken in parallel with the visa liberalisation process under way between the Schengen countries and countries of the region, say MEPs.

The European Commission proposed on 27 May 2010 that citizens of Albania (and Bosnia and Herzegovina) be permitted to travel with biometric passports to the Schengen states without a visa, and Parliament supported this proposals few months later. The proposal is conditional upon Albania remedying the remaining shortcomings in reintegrating Albanian returnees and enforcing laws to combat organised crime and corruption. According to the Commission, the monitoring exercise could take place over the summer, so that the Parliament and Council can take a final decision by the end of 2010.

Kosovo's status

Turning to Kosovo, MEPs say Parliament "would welcome the recognition by all Member States of the independence of Kosovo". Taking note of Kosovo's declaration of independence of 18 February 2008, which has been recognised by 66 countries, the resolution states that "22 EU Member States have recognised Kosovo as an independent country and 5 have not". The possibility of partitioning Kosovo is rejected by the MEPs.

Despite differences among Member States regarding Kosovo's status, it is important for the EU to engage with Kosovo, this commitment being vital for preserving stability and security in the EU's immediate neighbourhood, believes the EP.

MEPs call for practical steps to make the benefits of co-operating with the EU more tangible to Kosovo's citizens, suggesting that Kosovo should also benefit from the prospect of eventual visa liberalisation once all conditions are met. To this end, the Commission should inform the Kosovo authorities without delay what steps need to be taken before preparing the visa liberalisation road map.

2010 is a crucial year both for the Kosovo government and for all levels of the administration to make progress on key reforms. These include decentralisation and reform of public administration but MEPs are also "extremely concerned by the widespread corruption, which remains one of the biggest problems in Kosovo together with organised crime".

Northern Kosovo

Another cause for concern is northern Kosovo. A protester was killed on 2 July and an ethnic Serb member of the Kosovo Assembly was wounded on 5 July in Mitrovica, a region which has severe shortcomings in the rule of law and is experiencing growing pressure and intimidation of civil society by radical groups and organised crime. The EU's EULEX rule of law mission efforts should be stepped up in the north so as to foster good inter-ethnic relations and inform the local population about EU action, say MEPs.

EU policy towards the Western Balkans, as set out in the Thessaloniki agenda, lists visa liberalisation as a step towards eventual EU membership. Visa liberalisation negotiations were launched in 2008, with progress benchmarks that include introducing biometric passports, which citizens must possess in order to qualify for the visa waiver.