December 21 (SeeNews) - Albania hopes the European Union will give it candidate status in early 2011 but this could muche depend on whether the opposition ends a boycott of parliament, European Affairs Minister Majlinda Bregu told Reuters.
The Balkan state plans to answer a thick European Commission questionnaire by end-March and hopes the European Commission will prepare its opinion on the country's readiness to join the bloc by the end of next year, Bregu told Reuters in an interview last week.
The country received last Wednesday the 384-page questionnaire of 2,280 questions which cover the EU's legal framework and membership criteria concerning democracy and the rule of law.
"I hope, as it is not we who set the EU agenda, that we shall have an opinion from the EU within 2010 ... After that, I hope that in January 2011 screening will begin and a decision will be taken for the day of the negotiations," Bregu said a day after receiving the questionnaire.
The questions are an unprecedented reality check for Albania, a poor country of three million and a NATO member which applied to join the EU in April, that needs to usher in wide ranging reforms to improve the rule of law and fight corruption, Reuters said.
"I would say that on paper the state of the legislation is better than the implementation. As to the implementation, there are too many details or ingredients to have it fully in place," Bregu said. "But it is improving day by day". About 70 percent of Albania's laws are already aligned with those of the EU, Bregu added.
The EU has repeatedlyw warned Albania, which shed communism in 1991, that it has a long way to go to meet European standards and the process may take years.
A major issue now is the month-long boycott of parliament by the opposition left-wing Socialist Party. The Socialists, alleging vote rigging, have boycotted parliament since a June 28 election when Prime Minister Sali Berisha's ruling Democrats won a second term.
Eager to have as much consensus as possible behind EU-driven reforms, Brussels has stressed that political debate should happen in parliament and wants the crisis solved by January, Reuters said.
"We do expect and we still pray every day for the opposition to find enough maturity [to return to parliament]," Bregu said.
The EU agreed in principle in 2003 that all countries in the Western Balkans were eligible to join the bloc eventually. But member states must agree unanimously to grant each one candidate status. Macedonia, which gained that status in 2005, has still not started entry negotiations because of its failure to settle a dispute with Greece over the country's name, Reuters said.