EU candidate status rejection was doubly bad news for Albania. Politically, the country fell further behind neighbours in the region on the long journey towards Brussels. While economically, some say Albania lost millions of euros in financial assistance from the EU.
Gentian Elezi of the Albanian Centre for Competitiveness and International Trade told SETimes that the October 12th application rejection would have "immediate economic consequences".
The EU plans to offer Albania 96.8m euros in financing in 2013: 10.9m euros for cross-border co-operation and 85.9m for transition assistance and institution building.
However, Gledis Gjipali, executive director at the think tank European Movement Albania, explained that without candidate status the country will be left out of additional EU funding.
"EU Financial Aid rules from the so called IPA (Instrument for Pre- Accession Assistance) are designed according to EU financial perspective 2007-2013. Albania will continue to get the assistance it has received these years, provided from IPA Component I and II, but without EU candidate status, the country cannot profit from three other components," Gjipali said.
"We must not forget that these components deal with regional development, human resources and agriculture. Therefore, they are direct funds to Albanian citizens, unlike the financing for administration and technical capacity increase. It is very important to make these financing sources available for the country [given] its existing demands," Gjipali added.
Next door, EU candidate Macedonia is benefitting from these additional funds to the tune of 64m euros in 2011 and 72m next year, even though the integration process is bogged down over the name dispute with Greece.
"We must learn as much as possible from our neighbours' positive experience to maximise our benefits, and to speed the integration process and not waste our energy justifying [the current] impasse," Gjipali said.
Albania continues to lose credibility in the eyes of major EU institutions and member states, he concludes.
Yet the Albanian government disagrees, with Minister of European Integration Majlinda Bregu putting the blame for October's negative decision squarely on the Socialist Party-led opposition. "Albania lost candidacy for a simple reason: because of the political stalemate and long lasting opposition boycott that undermined integration reforms," she told SETimes.
She insisted there will be no impact on EU funding, adding that any claim to the contrary is "speculation that suits only the Albanian opposition".
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