Sali Berisha recently made it onto the front page of the International Herald Tribune. The occasion was the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU. This was generally heralded as a cause for great rejoicing, and it is true that it does represent a statement of serious commitment by both parties - but especially the EU - to Albanian membership.
On the other hand, Albania is now in the position of a climber who has climbed the first hills to reach base camp and is now being shown the towering cliffs ahead. Or, using the metaphor preferred by Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, it is the "first stepping stone" towards the European Union. The 550 page document "creates significant obligations in terms of trade, rule of law, human rights, democratic standards, regional co-operation and new legislation," as Hubert Petit, acting head of the EU delegation in Albania, pointed out.
(I haven't been able to find a copy of the text of the Agreement yet. The EU, moving with the speed and efficiency for which it is renowned, has not yet published it on the relevant page on its web site.)
Both Rehn and Ursula Plasnik, the Austrian Foreign Minister currently serving as President of the council, while offering words of support and encouragement also challenged Albania to step up the pace of reform. Plasnik first:
The signing today of these agreements is a significant milestone on Albania's road towards the European Union...A lot of work has been achieved by Albania since the negotiations first started in January 2003...But it is with today's signing that the real work begins. Albania now enters into a more advanced phase in its relationship with the EU, which implies increased responsibilities...
Albania must now establish a sustained and effective track record in implementing them. In parallel, Albania should also lose no time to vigorously push ahead with the EU-reform process, in line with the priorities set out in the European Partnership, to progressively transform Albania to a modern European state.
The EU will of course continue to stand ready to advise and assist you, but the bulk of the outstanding work can be done by Albania only.
We welcome Albania's continued progress in the reforms including on fighting corruption and organised crime. Nonetheless Albania still faces difficult reform challenges. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement indeed provides a solid framework for Albania to address these challenges and for the EU to support it doing so.
A sustained record of successful implementation of the SAA is essential and critical before considering further formal steps towards the EU.
Dear Prime Minister, we now look to Albania to show determination in fulfilling the commitments it has made in the context of this Agreement.
The commitment has been made, but it is going to be a long engagement.