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.”
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”.