By Benet Koleka

By Benet Koleka

 

TIRANA (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Albania on Wednesday to deepen a reform drive so that it can persuade member states it deserves to join the bloc after 2025.

 

The European Commission recommended on Tuesday that the Balkan country should start accession talks following a series of steps including to combat corruption and improve law enforcement.

 

It also again recommended membership negotiations with neighboring Macedonia, but that step has been held up for years over a dispute with Greece over the country's name.

 

Mogherini called on Albania to maintain the momentum before European Union member states consider the recommendation at the end of June.

 

"The Commission's assessment ... says clearly ... that Albania is ready to open negotiations, maintaining and deepening the reforms you have undertaken," she told reporters on a visit to Tirana. "Do not stand still, keep going!"

Albania aspires to join the EU along with west Balkan neighbors Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo - most of which were war zones after Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s.

The Commission judged it suitable for accession talks thanks to its vetting of judges to clean up a corrupt judiciary, law enforcement successes, a government-opposition deal that led to peaceful elections and work to solve old and new disputes with neighboring Greece.

The recommendation has boosted the Socialist government which faces growing dissent and protests at home over road toll fees and value-added tax for small businesses.

Italy and other EU members back accession talks. However, France and Germany have resisted further EU enlargement, with some member states worrying about Albanian economic migrants seeking asylum, organized crime, drug trafficking and a lack of cooperation between the government and opposition.

"They want to see a country moving beyond the line of non-return, get the assurance that it will not slide back," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Albania still needed to consolidate urgently its system of property titles, which has been in disarray and a source of conflicts, even deadly ones, since the fall of communism in 1990.

Mogherini later arrived in Macedonia whose hopes of accession talks remain blocked by Athens due to the decades-long dispute. Greece believes the name "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim over its northern region, which uses the same name.

A new Macedonian government has intensified talks with Greece to resolve the dispute and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has expressed optimism. "The government will even more energetically lead the reform and political processes in the next two months, so that in June Macedonia receives a date to begin talks," he said.

(Reporting By Benet Koleka,; Additional reporting by Kole Casule, Editing by Ivana Sekularac and David Stamp)