A draft status agreement for operational cooperation between the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and Albania was initialled in Tirana on February 12 by European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Albania’s interior minister, Fatmir Xhafaj.

The agreement will allow the EU to provide assistance in the field of external border management and will enable European Border and Coast Guard Agency teams to be swiftly deployed on Albanian territory in case of a sudden shift in migratory flows.

“I would like to thank the Albanian authorities for the fruitful negotiations and their commitment to reaching an agreement so quickly,” said EU Commissioner Avramopoulos, who is responsible for migration, home affairs and citizenship. “Albania is a frontrunner in the region, and the agreement will serve as a role model for similar arrangements we are negotiating with other partners in the Western Balkans.

“Closer cooperation between Albania and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will allow us to be quicker and more flexible in the way we respond to any potential migratory challenges. It is an important step forward and is in the best interests of both Albania and the European Union,” he added.

In turn, Xhafaj stressed the importance of EU assistance. “This is an important agreement which will help us receive qualified assistance with regard to border management,” he said. “It will also allow Albania to benefit from the projects the European Union will deliver during the implementation of this agreement. This is a good opportunity for us to expand cross-border cooperation, and cooperation with EU countries. I also take this opportunity to thank the Albanian negotiating team for their professionalism in negotiating and concluding this agreement. We will immediately pursue the required procedures to start the implementation of the agreement.”

The agreement must now be endorsed by EU member states, then signed by both parties, before the European Border and Coast Guard Agency can carry out operational activities and deploy teams in Albania.

According to a European Commission press release, the draft agreement is the first negotiation to be concluded between the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the EU’s partners in the Western Balkans. It’s part of plans announced by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address.

The Commission is negotiating similar agreements with Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Albania also signed a memorandum of understanding with the EU on “concrete initiatives in the policies against narcotic drugs”.

The government claims Albania is no longer a cannabis trafficking crossroads, and Xhafaj pledged his country would not be “on the map of countries cultivating cannabis”.

In 2017, the number of marijuana plantations diminished significantly, but regular seizures show that traffickers still have marijuana stored, reported AP.

Avramopoulos urged Albania “to fully exploit such an opportunity and apply for funds” to fight drug production and consumption.

Albania, which was granted EU candidate status in 2014, hopes to launch membership negotiations this year.