Albania is a potential candidate country for EU membership and is currently part of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) - the overall policy framework of the European Union for Western Balkan countries. Albania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU on 12 June 2006. During the course of the SAA’s ratification process by the parliaments of EU Member States, advancement of trade-related conditions was enabled through an Interim Agreement. The SAA entered into force in April 2009, fully replacing the Interim Agreement and covering political, economic and trade issues too. Apart from bilateral EU-Albania relations, the SAA also promotes regional cooperation.
In January 2006 the European Council adopted a revised European Partnership for Albania. The European Partnership identifies short and medium term priorities which Albania should address, serves as a checklist against which to measure progress, and provides guidance for EC assistance. In July 2006, Albania adopted a National Action Plan to implement the European Partnership recommendations. Progress on these reform priorities is encouraged and monitored by the European Commission, notably through the annual Progress Reports and through political and economic dialogue.
A great component of EU-Albania relations is the financial assistance received from the Union. The initial focus of this assistance, under the CARDS programme was physical reconstruction and rehabilitation. In time, institution building, strengthening of administrative capacity, justice, freedom and security were prioritised. For the period 2001-2006, total CARDS assistance allocated to Albania amounted to EUR 282.1 million.
As a result of the Community’s reform of external aid, the CARDS programme has been replaced by the new Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) as of January 2007. IPA aims at streamlining all pre-accession assistance in a single framework uniting under the same regulation both candidate and potential candidate countries, thereby assisting them in progressive alignment with the standards and policies of the European Union. The instrument consists of five components, the first two of which are open to both candidate and potential candidate countries: the transition assistance and institution building component and the cross-border cooperation component. The Multi-Annual Indicative Planning Document (MIPD) 2007-2009 for Albania under IPA was adopted in May 2007 and Albania will receive a total amount of EUR 212.9 million.
A number of structures have been set up under the SAP to provide for dialogue between Albania and the EU. The dialogue is conducted through Ministerial Troika, Consultative Task force (CTF), Joint Committee and Working party meetings.
The EU/Albania Consultative Task Force is an ad-hoc Council/Commission forum with Albania. It is co-chaired by the Council Presidency/Commission and the Albanian Minister for European Integration. CTF meetings are a key instrument for monitoring Albania’s reform progress, in particular in political, justice, freedom and security matters. Each CTF meeting result in jointly-agreed recommendations for action by Albanian authorities. The Joint Committee meetings are chaired alternatively by Albania and the EU and are held once a year. Working parties meet regularly to assist the Joint Committee in conducting its tasks and focus on reforms related to SAA commitments and European partnership priorities.
An EU-Albania agreement on visa facilitation was signed in September 2007 and entered into force on 1 January 2008. This new arrangement makes travelling to the EU easier for Albanian citizens. It complements the EC-Albania readmission agreement, which came into force in May 2006. These agreements will facilitate people-to-people contacts between citizens of the EU member states and citizens of Albania.