Albania’s accession to the EU: Rule of law at the center of concerns

Albania’s accession to the EU: Rule of law at the center of concerns

Difficult issues relating to the rule of law will be tackled head-on in the context of Albania’s accession negotiations to the European Union. This was announced by the European Commission on Tuesday July 19, as the country took its first steps on the long road to EU membership.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his delegation were in Brussels for the first Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) after three years of waiting and much uncertainty regarding enlargement in general.

Albania and neighboring North Macedonia will follow a different process than the other candidates in the region, namely Montenegro and Serbia, which are already negotiating their accession.

“For the first time, we have applied the revised methodology in its entirety — now we will give the negotiations with Albania more credibility, predictability, dynamism and a stronger political orientation”European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi told reporters on Tuesday.

As part of the next stage of the accession process, the European Commission will begin a rigorous examination of the legislation of the candidate country in order to determine to what extent it complies with Community law, indicated Mr Varhelyi.

During this process, the Commission will identify, inter alia, key reforms in the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

“This will benefit from the solid preparatory work already undertaken with the Albanian administration”he added.

Albania, whose progress on the path to membership has been linked by the EU to that of North Macedonia, is expected to start accession negotiations immediately, while Skopje will first have to change its constitution and include Bulgarians as a recognized minority.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to accelerate the pace of Albania’s accession negotiations”, said Mr. Varhelyi, not wishing to give a timetable. However, he added: “We are ready to work as quickly as possible to get this done as quickly as possible. »

Speaking in Brussels alongside Mr Varhelyi, Mr Rama said his country “never gave up the dream of following the European path”.

He underlined that the opening of accession negotiations is only “the end of the beginning” and that “we must continue to build a strong, democratic and European Albania, as well as the Western Balkans”.

This opening took place despite “Three very, very difficult years” obstacles to accession, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine, the Albanian Prime Minister added, noting that “If God had foreseen these obstacles to test our commitment to the EU integration process, He could not have found a more devastating combination of challenges”.

However, Rama, whose country gained EU candidate status in 2014, also admitted talks could take some time.

“As of today, the membership talks are not making our dream come true, but making reality a better place to pursue that dream. We know that what we have achieved so far is only the end of the beginning”said Mr. Rama.

But Mr. Rama’s words about never giving up should be taken with a grain of salt. During the European summit on 23 and 24 June, largely devoted to enlargement, he denounced the lack of unity between EU member states and the “twisted spirit” of the enlargement process.

Rule of law issues

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen praised the rule of law and anti-corruption reforms undertaken and the resilience shown by the two countries, describing them as a success of their leaders and their people.

However, according to experts, the Albanian judiciary still suffers from widespread corruption, staff shortages and structural inefficiencies, with public confidence in courts and law enforcement remaining extremely low at present. .

EU-backed justice reform started in Albania in 2016 and includes vetting of every prosecutor and judge in the country. The process, however, proceeded very slowly and was fraught with pitfalls.

While just over half of members of the judiciary were subject to scrutiny, half resigned or left their posts after assessing their wealth, reputation and qualifications. This paralyzed the country’s Constitutional Court and High Court for nearly two years and caused a backlog of cases for tens of thousands of people.

In 2021, the mandate for further reform has been extended, despite citizens’ confidence in the process declining every year, according to several independent polls. In addition, the justice system is still plagued by delays, and thousands of people do not have access to justice in criminal and civil cases.

When it comes to those fired due to wealth discrepancies and corruption concerns, the lack of prosecutions, let alone convictions, has raised eyebrows across the country and in Brussels.

Asked whether the prosecution of judicial officials would be dealt with during the accession process, Mr Varhelyi replied that this question would be addressed when the first part of the negotiation, devoted to the accession, was opened. rule of law.

“We will work with the rule of law, and obviously the situation of the judicial system will be discussed”did he declare.

“I can only confirm that we are not going to back down on our demands: there must be concrete evidence, cases to be solved, and these must be solved”, Mr. Varhelyi said.

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