February 28, 2019 / 3:56 PM / 6 months ago

EU lawmakers urge Albanian parties to work towards EU talks

TIRANA (Reuters) - European lawmakers urged Albanian political parties on Thursday not to let domestic squabbles endanger the possible start of accession talks with the European Union in June, after the opposition quit parliament.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the opposition party shout slogans during an anti-government protest in front of the Prime Minister Edi Rama's office in Tirana, Albania February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo

Visiting Albania to assess progress before the European Council decides on June 19 whether the country is ready to start accession negotiations, they urged the parties to ensure they stick to the goal of entering the EU.

“It is paramount not to cause any delays in this process (of joining the EU) because of national disagreements,” Tunne Kelam, head of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs delegation, told reporters.

Citing investigations by prosecutors into allegations of vote fraud, and corruption by the former transport minister, the opposition Democratic Party and its allies gave up their parliamentary seats a week ago.

They have staged three protests this month in the capital, Tirana, to demand Prime Minister Edi Rama step down and call early elections.

The EU, the United States, the council representing Albania’s three main religions and business groups have appealed for calm and for dialogue. The opposition has said it will keep up nationwide protests.

Noting what he called significant progress by Albania in many areas in meeting EU standards, including a reform of the judiciary and vetting of judges, Kelam said it was crucial to implement laws.

Boycotting parliament would undermine the credibility of the state and nation, so civil society should pressure the parties to “come together”, Kelam said.

Rama was elected in 2013 and his Socialist Party government has steered the economy back to growth, with an expansion of about four percent in 2018. However, the benefits are not reaching everyone and many Albanians continue to leave the country in search of jobs. The perception of corruption is on the rise.

Referring to protests in December by university students calling for lower fees and better education, Kelam said providing higher education to young people would give them brighter hopes for the future and help dissuade them from emigrating.

The European Parliament delegation is also due to visit neighbouring Macedonia, which is also seeking to enter the EU.

Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Frances Kerry

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