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Albania's polls a 'test' for its EU bid: Ashton

16 April 2013, 20:47 CET
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(TIRANA) - Elections in Albania must live up to EU standards, the bloc's foreign policy chief warned Tuesday on a visit to the Balkan country that has twice had its bid to join the union rejected.

"The EU considers it of crucial importance that the 2013 parliamentary elections are in line with international and European standards," Catherine Ashton told reporters in Tirana.

The June legislative elections would be a "test" for Albania's EU ambitions, added Ashton, who held talks with President Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama.

She also called for a "constructive dialogue" between Albania's political parties. Since a poll in 2009, Berisha's ruling coalition has been mired in a dispute with the opposition Socialists over alleged vote fraud.

The conflict has prevented the adoption of numerous reforms demanded by Brussels, which has twice refused to give EU candidate status to Albania.

Brussels has called for greater political stability in the country, as well as reforms, notably to bolster the rule of law.

"We need to see a solid track record especially in corruption and the fight against organised crime," Ashton said.

Ashton began her Balkans tour in Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic which opened accession talks with Brussels in June. From Tirana, she visited Macedonia, an EU candidate since 2005, where she met President Gjorge Ivanov.

Macedonia has yet to start accession talks with Brussels as Greece has blocked any further EU and NATO integration due to a more than 20-year-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic.

Since Skopje proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has alleged its use of the name Macedonia could imply a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.

Ashton urged Macedonia to speed up negotiations on the name row if it wants to open talks on EU membership.

"There is a need to bring the long discussion on the name issue to a conclusion without delay," Ashton told reporters.

"This is the only way towards progress on the European path," she added, before returning to Brussels.

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