By Benet Koleka
TIRANA, March 30 (Reuters) - The European Union urged the Albanian government and opposition on Wednesday to set aside their differences and quickly pass a sweeping reform of the judiciary to secure the start of EU membership talks.
A candidate to join the EU since June 2014, NATO member Albania still needs to do more about crime and corruption, the public administration and human and property rights, but reforming a tainted judiciary is the EU's top priority.
While the government and opposition both back judicial reform, the opposition first wants to see implementation of a new law to kick anyone with a criminal record out of politics.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said the Commission not only wanted the judiciary reform to pass soon but also see it heading in the right direction before the EU's executive body gave its opinion to EU member states on starting accession talks with Albania.
"Therefore we need now decisions very soon...this is decisive. Definitely my aim is to present to the European member states a positive report in the course of this year, to give them something on their hands to take a decision," Hahn said.
"Because I believe the next step should be the opening of negotiations in order to start this process," he told a news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Hahn urged opposition and government to work together to serve the interest of citizens, saying EU accession must be a national effort.
With EU and U.S. expertise contributing, the reform aims to remove corrupt judges after vetting them and then to create an independent judiciary.
Rama, who had hoped parliament would pass the reform before Hahn's visit, appealed to the opposition to sit down to discuss the issue without conditions. (Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Adrian Croft/Mark Heinrich)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.