The European Union has granted Albania candidate status for membership, but said the country still needs to implement more reforms and tackle organised crime and corruption.
The decision to grant Albania candidate status for membership was announced by the EU's Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule on Tuesday.
"Albania congratulations on candidate status just agreed by ministers: acknowledgement of reform efforts, encouragement for more," Fule wrote on Twitter.
The European Commission said in a statement that the decision by the 28-nation bloc reflected “the progress the country has made in European integration and in implementing the necessary reforms”.
But it cautioned that candidate status “does not mean that the EU will automatically start accession negotiations with Albania”.
“Albania still needs to meet key priorities, with particular focus on administration and judiciary reform, fight against corruption and organised crime and fundamental rights,” the Commission said.
The decision to grant candidate status to the small former Communist nation comes after three previous rejections.
Tirana first applied for candidate status in 2008 but its bid was thwarted by fraught political relations between the government and the opposition and a poor record of reforms, particularly on the fight against organized crime and corruption.
Last November, the European Commission issued a positive recommendation on Albania’s bid, but the EU Council of Ministers decided to postpone the decision, again seeking better efforts on organized crime and corruption.
In a progress report issued on June 4 this year, the European Commission said Albania had continued to implement and consolidate EU-related reform measures, in particular those relating to its coveted candidate status.
“There has been continued political will to act decisively in the prevention and fight against corruption and structural reforms testify to an all-encompassing approach including a wide range of institutions,” it said.
“Important legislative reforms have been introduced in the fight against organised crime and investigations have yielded positive results in the fight against drug trafficking and other areas of serious and organised crime,” it added.
According to a survey by the Albanian Institute for International Studies, AIIS, 77.1 per cent of Albanians back the country’s integration into the European Union, compared to 85 per cent in 2013.
The figure, which comes from the survey published in mid-June, is the lowest since AIIS first conducted the opinion poll in 2006.