European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Albania
Joint Parliamentary Committee on Albania
Brussels, 14 June 2011
I wish to thank the Co-chairs Mr. Kukan and Mr. Beja for inviting me to this 3rd Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting between the European Union and Albania. Considering the continuing tense political situation in Albania, the possibility to gather important political figures of Albania - of both the ruling majority and the opposition- and of the European Union around one table for a discussion on Albania's EU integration path is in itself an important result. I am thankful to the European Parliament and the Albanian Parliament for making this possible.
When I addressed the European Parliament in February this year, I shared the concerns about the political crisis in Albania, about the tragic events of 21 January, and the increasingly bitter political deadlock.
At the time, we had all set hopes on the May local elections, the good conduct of which would contribute to help Albania come out from the long-standing political stalemate.
The EU, US, OSCE-ODIHR, Council of Europe and the European Parliament have all spared no efforts to help with the preparation and the observation of these elections.
The preparation and the voting during the 8 May local elections were overall smooth and calm, and despite some shortcomings, the process was assessed by all observers as generally positive. Counting, although delayed and interrupted on several occasions, was also generally considered as functioning well and being transparent.
Unfortunately, a very difficult situation arose as a result of the problems in the tabulation of the results in Tirana.
On this issue, let me make the following points:
1. There are indeed divergent interpretations concerning the so-called miscast ballots. The OSCE-ODIHR report of 20 May says: "The Electoral Code does not directly regulate the validity of ballots found in a ballot box other than the one corresponding to the type of election for that ballot. Nor does it provide any procedure for reconciling ballots found in other boxes."
2. Just this morning, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe made public a letter that he has sent to Prime Minister Berisha.
He expresses his preoccupation for the situation following the elections of the Mayor of Tirana. He notes that the political division has become so severe that it may threaten the proper functioning of democratic institutions, good governance and further economic progress.
He invites political parties to enter into a genuine dialogue on how to overcome the political deadlock, and informs about his intention to ask the Venice Commission for an opinion on how to avoid similar situations in future elections.
3. I cannot but reinforce his message. Confrontational rhetoric will only increase tension in the country. The electoral process must be finalised calmly, constructively and with a focus on the future.
It is evident that a comprehensive reform of the electoral code is needed and must be carried out by the ruling majority together with the opposition and the civil society.
4. This can only be achieved if political parties – and you, the politicians representing the people of Albania - find a way to talk together and to take the necessary decisions in the interest of the country and of its citizens.
And we have clear evidence over the past years that the country and its politicians are able to achieve significant progress. The overall smooth implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the visa liberalisation are successes that show Albania's ability to firmly progress on the European path provided there is a clear political will.
This capacity of talking and finding common ground was also clearly shown during the Seminar held in Tirana at the end of March – to which I have personally participated – and at which we have discussed the Action Plan for the follow-up to the 12 Key Priorities identified in the Commission's Opinion of last November.
That Seminar saw the participation of representatives of both the ruling majority and the opposition (and I see here today many of the Members of Parliament present then in Tirana).
The Seminar was a good example of the fact that you may have diverging views and positions, but that you can channel these energies in a constructive manner in the interest of the country as a whole.
Let me express publicly and in front of you all my deep appreciation for the work done by Minister Bregu (who is present here today) and by the chairperson of the EU Integration Committee, Mrs Meksi (who could unfortunately not come today). Without their determination and commitment we would not have been able to organise the Seminar and, more importantly, to consolidate the Action Plan in its current shape.
The work is not yet finished and, unfortunately, the electoral battle has diverted energies from that endeavour. But I want to believe that the work done is not lost, because we need to go back to implementing the reform agenda if we want to make sure that Albania can progress on its path towards EU integration.
I welcome that the revised Action Plan has been adopted last Friday by the government and that it was sent to the Commission yesterday. We will now analyse the document thoroughly.
I hope that in the near future discussions on the Action Plan in the relevant parliamentary committees could continue in a constructive manner and be concluded successfully.
Let me now turn to the reform agenda and to the Commission's concrete recommendations in last year's Opinion. I would have hoped that the recommendations are the main focus of our exchange of views today as the achievements in these key areas determine Albania's advancement in the accession process. Results and remaining shortcomings will be duly reflected in our Progress Report in mid-October this year.
I have already spoken about the local elections and I will not come back to this.
Some improvements as regards the parliamentary working procedures took place. Yet, the stalemate and lack of dialogue continues to hamper the effective functioning of the Assembly; laws requiring reinforced 3/5 majority vote are still blocked; important appointments such as that of the Ombudsman and judges of the High and Constitutional Court are also put on hold. I cannot but once again invite the opposition to fully participate to Parliament activities and to use this institutional forum, to achieve its political objectives.
Effectively ensuring rule of law remains a challenge for Albania. I acknowledge the steps forward in the preparation of a draft Judiciary Reform Strategy, but progress still needs to be made to complete the legal framework for the judicial reform itself. There remain substantial shortcomings regarding the independence, transparency and accountability of the judicial system.
In the fight against corruption, legal and institutional measures have been taken. It will be important to ensure their full implementation.
In the fight against organised crime, there are some encouraging signs in the implementation of the anti-mafia law. It is important to continue working with vigour and establish a solid track record in this area.
The property issue remains unresolved. Albania needs to accelerate efforts in consolidating property rights in order to create a solid legal framework for local and foreign investors.
The institutional and legislative framework governing human rights and the respect for and protection of minorities has been further enhanced in the past year. Further work is needed in particular for the treatment of persons in police custody and in implementing measures in favour of the Roma.
I would like to highlight the area of freedom and independence of the media, which is one of the fundamental building blocks of mature democracies. I encourage an active promotion of pluralism of ideas and full media freedom to dispel any possible perception of double standards in relations with the media. Rules regulating the media sector should be applied in a fair and equal manner to all outlets.
Finally, the economic situation in Albania remains overall positive. Despite the difficult international and regional economic context, Albania's economic growth has continued, outperforming neighbouring countries and the business environment has improved. If Albania will move forward with structural reforms, and if political instability will be overcome, I am sure that this will have a positive impact foreign investment and tourism.
Messrs co-chairs, Minister, Honourable members of the European and Albanian Parliaments, the picture that I have given you is a complex one.Albania has changed considerably in the last few years. It has consolidated its administrative capacity, developed economically and socially, played a constructive role regionally and internationally.
It is now essential to face the fragility of its political system and provide adequate answers. The skills and capacities exist in the country. Now is the time to find the will and the determination to use these skills in the interest of all Albanian citizens.