Ukip's Jane Collins criticised Albania's pending membership talks with the EU
The tiny Balkan state could begin negotiating its accession to the bloc in just four months’ time under controversial proposals agreed by MEPs in Strasbourg.
Brussels politicians approved a report by eurocrats which argues that the former dictatorship has made significant strides in its domestic reforms and is almost ready to begin the process of joining the bloc.
But eurosceptics in Britain decried the move, saying it was “appalling news” for the rest of Europe because Albania is still beset by corruption and widespread organised crime.
MEPs sitting in Strasbourg voted by 546 to 85 to pass the report championed by Jean-Claude Juncker’s EU Commission, removing one of the final hurdles to accession talks.
The dossier does not explicitly commit Brussels to starting negotiations with Albania but its rapporteur, German MEP Knut Fleckenstein, said he expected it to do so soon after the country’s general election on June 18.
He said: “Since summer 2014 Albania has been an EU accession candidate and since then it has been making constant progress. We should not put off the decision on the start of accession negotiations again and again.”
MEPs approved a report saying the country is almost ready for negotiations with Brussels
Representatives overwhelmingly backed the report despite ongoing concerns about corruption
Responding to the vote Ukip’s home affairs spokeswoman Jane Collins said the prospect of the Balkans state joining the EU was "appalling news for all law abiding, tax paying people in Europe”.
She said: "Euro MPs have ignored the polls showing that people want independence from the EU or, in other countries on the continent, a rolling back of EU power, and decided that accession negotiations should be opened with Albania ‘as soon as there is credibly progress with implementation of the justice reforms’.”
The Yorkshire MEP pointed to the country’s dire global ranking in terms of corruption, and said its accession would include “not only huge transfers of cash from the British tax payer but the opportunity for free movement – and thus free movement of criminals”.
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She added: “With our borders still a long way from fixed even post Brexit, the possibility of borderless routes from Albania to Northern Europe will be a concern to people in Britain – and rightly so.
"Not only must Brexit not be delayed but there must be a serious injection of investment into our border force."
Not only must Brexit not be delayed but there must be a serious injection of investment into our border force
Ukip MEP Jane Collins
Albania was placed 83rd out of 176 countries in terms of corruption by the independent charity Transparency International, which marked a slight improvement on its ranking of 88 out of 168 surveyed in 2015.
But Mrs Collins said: “Other EU countries like Denmark, Sweden and the UK are in the top 10 – so why do parties like Labour want us to stay in the EU and Albania to join?”
However, during a debate on Albania’s potential accession yesterday Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk launched an impassioned defence of the country, saying it deserved to join the EU.
He said: “We should clearly recognise Albania’s role for the regional stability and its full alignment with relevant EU declarations demonstrating clear commitment to EU integration. As member of the EU Parliament from a Balkans country I fully support Albania’s succession to the EU.
“During the last year in domestic politics Albania has made progress in key reform areas which gave the reason of the European Commission to recommend the opening of the accession negotiations.”
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Speaking after his report was unanimously passed by the EU parliament’s foreign affairs committee last month, Mr Fleckenstein said he wanted to see talks begin swiftly.
He said: “As we clearly stated we think that if implementation of the judiciary reform now starts, there should be very soon after the elections the opening of the negotiation and we really hope the Council will agree on that. “
The negotiations would have to be formally signed off by the EU Council, which is made up of the heads of the 28 member states.
During the same session in Strasbourg today MEPs also passed a report on Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is much further away from joining the EU than its neighbour.
Eurocrats have previously confirmed that no countries will be ready to join before Mr Juncker quits in 2019 whilst talks with nearby Croatia dragged on for 10 years before it became a member in 2013.