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Reuters on 25 February reported that Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has told Western Balkan countries they can all join the EU in 2025 – provided they meet the criteria for membership. While visiting Albanian capital Tirana, following a visit to Macedonia on a tour of all countries in the region, aspiring to join the EU, Juncker said at a news conference:

Contrary to what we read everywhere, the Commission and myself did not say that Serbia and Montenegro would necessarily be members of the EU in 2025. The 2025 date is open to all candidate countries and to the extent that a candidate country by then or later or earlier would have met all the criteria for membership, we will proceed in such a way that its efforts will be recognised by the EU.

Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, at the same press conference said that EU demands, key to opening membership negotiations, had already produced results. Vetting of judges and prosecutors, a first step in judiciary reforms, has seen seventeen senior judges and prosecutors removed from office. Rama said they had refused to be vetted.

Serbia and Montenegro are seen as frontrunners in the race to join the EU. They are currently in the process, having completed work on a few chapters necessary for accession, while having to address many more before joining. Albania and Macedonia are expected to be given the green light to start accession negotiations in June. Reforming its judiciary means that Albania is almost ready with chapters 23 and 24, which effectively buys them time, allowing them to catch up with Serbia and Montenegro. A European official, wishing to remain anonymous, said:

The justice reform is enshrined in the Albanian constitution: honestly, we have crossed the river,

However, a crossed river or not, the EU’s verdict will have to wait until spring. Aerial monitoring by Italy will then have to show if cannabis smugglers are planting the drug again. Although the Albanian government cracked down on cannabis in 2014, police have failed in 2015 and 2016. Albania has become one of the biggest open-air cultivators of the drug in Europe. The government claimed a victory, however, when Italian investigators said their aerial monitoring had turned up just 90 cannabis plots in 2017, down from 2.086 in 2016.