As the required unanimity in relation to the EU enlargement process was not achieved, because of the diversification of the Austrian government over Turkey and there was no public statement by the Foreign Ministers who participated in the General Affairs Council, the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council incorporated the draft conclusions in a statement, noting that it has received the overwhelming support of Member States.
For Albania a date was not set for accession talks to begin, nor was there a rendez-vous clause. In fact, the Council does not set a deadline before which it will reexamine the Albania issue, while it calls the Commission to come back with an update in addition to the next Enlargement Package – that will be submitted in the spring of 2018 – concluding that it will revisit the issue when there is progress.
It is noted that for any progress in Albania’s European course, the Council establishes the basic principle of implementation of the five key priorities which have been set as the basic conditions for opening accession negotiations in their entirety.
Particularly important, however, are the requirements regarding the protection of minorities as Albania is expressly called to respect and promote the rights of minorities throughout Albania and not only within certain areas, which clearly is a reference to the case of the Greek native minority.
Additionally, for the first time references were included that acknowledge legal gaps in the protection of minorities and Albania has to address existing legal gaps according to the commitments it has undertaken towards the European acquis and the Council of Europe. Also significant is the pointing out of Albania’s obligations to protect the property rights of minorities as the country is now called to efficiently implement property rights.
Also, it is mentioned for the first time that actions and statements which negatively impact on good neighborly relations should be avoided, thus indirectly raising the issue of the rising Albanian irredentism.
Finally, it is noted that rhetoric over the need to tackle organized crime in the neighboring country is enhanced, with special emphasis on the production and trafficking of drugs; judicial reform is linked with the issue of corruption and the business environment; and the need to conduct elections in line with international and European standards – as recommendations have been made by the OSCE – ODIHR over the years – is mentioned.
During a press conference, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias stated at the end of the General Affairs Council: “I would like to say, however, that these open issues with Albania are place in the framework of our country’s good intentions towards this country. We want Albania to join Europe. We estimate that steps have been made for the reconstruction of Albania. But we do not accept two things: First, the formation of clientelistic relations by third European states with candidate countries and the evaluation of these countries on the basis of clientelistic relations and interests. And second, complementary to the first point, for an à la carte process to take place, meaning that instead of the principles that applied to date for EU accession are applied, suddenly these do not apply for one country or another.
We want Albania in the EU and we believe it will be a great benefit for geographical and economic reasons, but also for reasons of good neighborliness. Therefore, Albania’s EU membership is in the interest of the country and the stability of the Western Balkans. But accession must take place the European way, with European evaluation, based on European values and principles and not on the basis of other objectives. And we have told Albania that we are open to discuss anything they may need our expertise on, we will provide it. Because as you know, we are also open to negotiation on a series of issues with Albania, which we have told them to continue”./ΙΒΝΑ