MARJO BRAKAJ

Albania does not meet all 15 conditions for European Union Accession, although the government says it already has done all its homework to sit in the First Intergovernmental Conference. “Faktoje”, along with experts specialized in several areas, found that the country has met less than half of such conditions, while steps have been taken back in meeting some ‘vital’ criteria aiming to further advance the journey to the “union”. This year reports highlight the country’s high level of corruption, impunity of senior officials for vote-buying, fight against organized crime, and statistics show a high number of repatriations of Albanians seeking the ‘promised land’ in Europe.

Albania’s path towards the European Union is full of conditions and they must be met. It has been confirmed by the European Commission through statements, in its official responses to “Faktoje”, by member states, senior EU representatives and has been accepted even by Albanian officials. Even the “Yes” received by Albania for launching the negotiations in March 2020 was conditional. The country’s path towards European Union has been filled with conditions since 27 June 2014 when Albania received the candidate country status.

Conditions are numerous and thus extended to several directions; some are set by European Union Institutions and others by member states resulting in 15 conditions in total.

Conditions that must meet by Albania on its path to EU Accession

  • Approval of Electoral Reform
  • Functioning of the Constitutional Court
  • Functioning of the Supreme Court
  • Strengthen the fight against corruption and organized crime
  • Reducing the number of Albanian asylum seekers
  • Review of media law in line with recommendations of Venice Commission
  • Continue the Justice Reform
  • Punish of former officials and politicians involved in vote buying
  • Progress on administrative reform
  • Implementation of Electoral Reform
  • Decide on the 2019 local elections legitimacy
  • Approval of by-laws for the Law on National Minorities
  • Approval of changes to the Census
  • Property registration progress

Approval of Electoral Reform with 100 votes in favour and 6 votes against it on 23 July 2020 seemed to put an end once and for all to the dissatisfaction with the country’s Electoral Code by both political parties and internationals.

“Electoral reform did not meet expectations. It has not brought up the possibility for inclusiveness. Small political parties are discriminated and the reform deviated from the initial goal. The new initiative did not solve the old issues of the Electoral Code“- says the political scientist Bledar Milaqi after 2 years from this process.

Aiming to strengthen the arguments, he reminds that in the beginning of May this year, the OSCE Ambassador in Albania, Vincenzo Del Monaco began the consultations with political factors for the Electoral Reform.

The establishment and functioning of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts remains a challenge for the country. One more member is needed for the Constitutional Court to complete its total number of 9 members. Supreme Court is functioning with 13 instead of 19 judges, while the number of backlog files has reached over 35 thousand.

“The need for stability puts Albania on the list of priority countries, however the need for a functioning democracy, as a standard towards EU, puts Albania on the list of critical countries.” – argues the head of the Institute of Political Studies, Mr. Afrim Krasniqi regarding the need for functional existence of such institutions.

While the country has made a few steps forward to the analysed conditions so far, it cannot be said the same for strengthening the fight against corruption and organized crime.

The Professor Ilir Aliaj says that this can be also stated in the last year’s progress report of the European Commission  for Albania.

“Have a look at the latest European Commission report on Albania’s progress and see that the most common phrase is “high-level corruption”. On the other hand, there is a lack of fight against organized crime.” – he said.

The European Commission’s October 2021 progress report stated that the number of corruption cases involving high-level officials remain limited, still fostering a culture of impunity within the higher levels of the State.

Recently, the report of the US State Department  also provides a negative picture of the country’s situation. It states that Albania is a country with a high-level of corruption in both local and central government. – adds Aliaj.

Albania has also remained standstill as regards the condition of reducing the number of asylum seekers in European Union countries.

“Referring to statistics, Albania remains the Western Balkan’s country with the highest number of asylum seekers. Also, the country has very high levels of repatriates from Germany, Great Britain or other European Union countries”- argues the political scientist Mr. Bledar Milaqi.

Review of the so-called “Anti-Defamation” law is another EU requirement currently “frozen”. On 5 June 2020, Venice Commission asked the Government of Albania to review the “Anti-Defamation” package. Venice assessed in its opinion the non-readiness of the “Anti-Defamation” for approval and it’s characterization by legal vacuum. The government has not given so far any “sign” of reflection on the “Anti-Defamation Package”.

“The so-called anti-defamation package which would give the state disproportionate power over online media content and strengthen self-censorship, has not yet been clearly removed from political agenda, although its initial version has been criticized by Council of Europe, European Union and international press freedom organisations,” stated the report of “Reporters Without Borders” in early May.

Whereas the condition to continue the Justice Reform can be assessed as “under fulfilment”, the same cannot be said for the punishment of former officials and politicians involved in vote buying.

“It is clearly not fulfilled. We do we have senior political officials convicted of vote-buying in no process. The opposite has even happened with us. Current Minister of Justice Ulsi Manja, who previously was the Head of the Law Commission, has been tapped of being involved with potential evidence of vote buying. I hereby reiterate that this is a fourfold unfulfilled condition!”  – argues the political scientist, Mr. Bledar Milaqi.

This is also confirmed by the US State Department in the latest report stating:

“While prosecutors made significant progress in prosecuting low- and middle-level public corruption cases, the prosecution rate for senior officials is still low.”

The decision made on 2019 local elections legitimacy can be considered a fully met condition. The Constitutional Court upheld the elections of “30 June 2019”.

Adoption of by-laws of the Law on National Minorities is still incomplete. The 2019 report of US State Department highlights the problems related to the implementation of minority rights. Meanwhile, approval of Census’ changes and property registration progress are still in question.

“Properties has not been reinstituted to legal owners yet. The process keeps to be gangrenous. We can talk so far for approximation with the European Union legal framework; however, we are far away from fulfilling the conditions. The current process is dysfunctional and extremely rigid “– argues the political scientist Mr. Milaqi.

Aiming to summarize the condition’s progress that Albania needs to meet to continue the path towards the European Union, the political scientist Mr. Afrim Krasniqi says:

“The level of corruption has been increased significantly, emigration waves to EU are with higher intensities than to other countries of the region, link of politics with crime is a dominant topic in international reports on Albania and decline of economic standard of living is seen as a catalyst for deepening the crisis of functional democracy. Under such circumstances, with or without Northern Macedonia, Albania’s progress towards EU is conditioned more by the internal political and economic performance, than by EU internal processes.”

The professor Ilir Aliaj positions also himself in the same line saying:

“Vote sale, the right to be judged by an independent court and within the set deadlines, freedom of expression, the right for information, the right to choose freely between political alternatives, respecting private property, media with pro-government owners, politicized justice system appointments, slow implementation of Justice Reform.”

With the aim to return the course and advance the path to the “union”, Krasniqi hereby proposes:

“Under current conditions, the best solution for Albania would have been a package of consensual reforms aiming to prevent the deepening of crisis of democracy and of the rule of law, economic decline and emigration, accompanied by greater international lobbying in favour of integration of each regional country in the integration process. Escalation of state and politics decriminalization by punishing the senior justice officials responsible for corruption, as well as strengthening the justice delivery component through completion and functionality of all new justice institutions are vital for Albania.”

In conclusion, it can be said that Albania has met 6 conditions, 5 are under progress and the rest are still unfulfilled.