— Responding to international pressure, Albania
's main opposition Democratic Party agreed Wednesday to accept the final draft of a judicial reform package, considered key to convincing the European Union
to launch membership negotiations with the Balkan country.
Albania, already a member of NATO, has been working to reform its judicial system, which has been criticized as corrupt and lacking professionalism. Changes being sought in the reform package include checking the incomes and property holdings of judges and prosecutors, a step seen as helping to root out bribery.
Following a letter from the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn on remaining issues, Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling Socialist Party and Democrats' leader Lulzim Basha confirmed their disagreement was resolved and the draft would be passed on Thursday.
Hailing their response, Hahn tweeted: "This agreement shows leadership and responsibility for Albania on its EU path."
Basha also spoke with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel to confirm his party's approval of the draft.
The opposition's response, however, did not please Washington
, a key player in the process.
The U.S. embassy in Tirana said it was continuing talks with both sides "to bring them back to support for the hybrid proposal discussed by Assistant Secretary (Victoria) Nuland" who visited Tirana earlier this month. Details of the contested issues are not available.
Later in the evening, the embassy said it was disappointed accusing the opposition's leadership of blocking the reform with a new demand.
"This latest development forces us to conclude this is an intentional effort by the leader of the opposition to block this reform," said a statement, adding a call "upon the individual members of parliament to pass this reform on July 21."
The 18-month-old reform effort has been the main focus of talks of many Western diplomats, including Merkel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and others, who visited Tirana this year.
The draft has been prepared by local, EU and U.S. experts and it has also been reviewed by the Venice Commission, a body of legal experts with the Council of Europe.
The Thursday vote is designed to allow the European Commission to decide whether full membership negotiations can begin this year.