June 2, 2016 / 1:02 PM / a year ago

EU urges Albania to move quickly on judicial reform

European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn gestures during a news conference at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 10, 2015.Eric Vidal

TIRANA (Reuters) - The European Union urged Albania's political parties to move quickly to implement delayed reforms of the country's judiciary so that it can move toward starting accession talks.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, encouraged by a meeting on Monday of Prime Minister Edi Rama and opposition leader Lulzim Basha, called on them to strike a compromise.

The main parties have made little progress since Hahn's last visit on March 30, the promised deadline for agreeing the reforms intended to remove corrupt judges appointed by politicians.

Both sides have accused the other of standing in the way of reforms because they would expose their own corrupt practices. The opposition has also expressed doubts about whether the reforms would guarantee the independence of the courts and the prosecutors.

Hahn told the government and the opposition in March the package must pass by June so he would be able to give EU member states a positive report later this year.

"Now, it is important to go the last mile and ensure the two-thirds majority (in parliament) needed for the respective constitutional changes," Hahn said in a statement released in Tirana.

"Therefore, I urge all parties including the opposition to place the interest of their country and citizens above their individual interests and find compromises on the outstanding political issues," he added.

The reform package, prepared with local, EU and U.S. expertise, aims to remove corrupt judges after vetting them and then to create an independent judiciary.

"The coming days will be decisive whether Albania will advance in the Euro-championship or stay in the group stage," Hahn said in a figurative reference to Albania's soccer team qualification for the first time ever to the Euro Championship finals in France in June.

However, a senior Albanian government official told Reuters on Wednesday rewriting the constitution to accommodate the package might stretch beyond June and should be done carefully.

Reporting By Benet Koleka; editing by Giles Elgood and Ralph Boulton

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