EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said Tuesday in Brussels after meeting with Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto the country's continuing political deadlock hasn't helped its bid for EU candidacy.
Fule cited an "urgent" need for reforms and referred to "the missed opportunity to make substantial progress" down the EU path due to the violence and political standoff in the wake of a disputed May 8 election for mayor of Tirana, the Trend News Agency reported.
The pair met during the Third Joint EU-Albania Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, in which the Polish EU presidency was expected to urge the backers of incumbent Tirana Mayor Edi Rama and declared winner Lulzim Basha to put aside their differences for the good of the country.
Doing so may be the only way Albania can meet a set of 12 recommendations set by the European Union to pave the way to its candidacy as a possible member, analysts have said.
The EU will decide by October whether to grant Albania candidate status.
Despite the call for action from Fule, Haxhinasto said Tuesday he believes his country can be named a candidate for EU accession this year.
"As positive as I am, I believe that this is going to happen before the end of this year," Haxhinasto told reporters in Brussels.
The comments came as Basha of the Democratic Party was set to take office Friday in Tirana after an election in which Socialist opposition leader Rama had at first appeared to have won by less than dozen votes only to see appearance of "lost" ballot boxes.
Those votes resulted in Basha being declared the winner by 93 votes and has deepened a political crisis that began two years ago when Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party won parliamentary elections -- also by razor-thin margin that resulted in accusations of fraud.
Violent riots broke out in January, with four people dying as protesters clashed with security personnel outside a government building, Trend reported.
This month, Socialist Party backers of Rama resigned in protest at the accession of Basha as Tirana's mayor, accompanied by days of rallies by party supporters. He was to be sworn in before the newly elected city council Friday after the country's Central Election Commission turned down a Socialist request for a do-over of the Tirana vote, the Albanian Web news portal Albeu.com said.
The rallies, violence, fraud allegations and general political chaos have hurt Albania's chances to join the EU. Still, Haxhinasto said the country is ready "as it was in the past, as it was before the election, as it is now, to engage in an all-inclusive process for electoral reform.
"The elections are already a closed chapter and we have to draw lessons and improve the legal framework for the future," he said.
Much is riding on a final report to be issued this month by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which had 340 observers in Tirana during the May 8 election.
"Citizens want and deserve clarity regarding the election outcome," OSCE Ambassador Eugen Wollfarth, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Arvizu and EU Delegation Ambassador Ettore Sequi said in a joint statement after the disputed poll.
"We expect both sides to exercise self-restraint and to fully respect the democratic process."