As Exit has reported before, the EU Representation in Albania has been completely silent in public either about the five priorities for EU accession set in the 2016 Progress Report and the problem of drug trafficking and cultivation as it has developed in Albania under the watch of the Rama government.
It now seems that the European Commission (EC) is providing additional clarification as regards its standpoint, in the face of electoral promises by the Rama government that EU accession talks will be opened after the elections.
On April 18, 2017, MEP Monica Macovei posed a written question to the EC:
In the past 25 years, Albania has become one of the chief sources of cannabis on international markets. In the light of the huge increase in planted areas, the current situation raises serious concerns. According to a 2016 survey by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol, Albania is a significant source country for herbal cannabis trafficked to the EU.
The most widely used drug in Europe, cannabis is estimated to account for around 38% of the retail market for illicit drugs and to be worth more than EUR 9.3 billion every year — approximately half of Albania’s GDP. According to the Albanian authorities, between 2013 and 2016 there was an approximate 30% decrease in areas set aside for the cultivation of cannabis, though this claim requires thorough verification. While some progress has been made, cooperation between police and prosecution needs to be further strengthened so that criminal networks can be dismantled more effectively.
Albania was granted the status of candidate country for EU membership in June 2014. What concrete measures is the Commission implementing and planning to implement in the short and long term in order to assist Albania in its efforts to eradicate the rapid growth of organised crime, and, in particular, to stop the country being a source of cannabis on international markets and help it forge ahead effectively with its pathway towards EU membership?
In an answer given on June 9 and published today on the website of the European Parliament, EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn responded as follows:
Fighting organised crime is amongst the core policy areas in which the Commission engages with Albania, in the context of the Stabilisation and Association Process. The Commission also monitors progress towards the establishment of a solid track record in the fight against organised crime, which is one of the Five Key Priorities for the opening of accession negotiations.
Through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), the European Union (EU) provides EUR 13 million of support to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Albanian State Police and prosecutors’ offices to address organised crime challenges, with a special focus on drug cultivation and trafficking, terrorism, and money laundering.
Also, at the request of the Albanian Government, the Commission is currently working on extending access to the drugs-related component of the Justice Programme to Albania in order to allow the country to further address the drugs-related challenges.
In addition, the EU intends to provide support for the further definition and implementation of the national Action Plan against Cannabis Cultivation and Trafficking 2017-2020, recently approved by the Albanian Government.
The fight against drug production and trafficking will feature very prominently at the agenda of cooperation between the EU and Albania.
Now that the European Commission has been very clear on both the existence of the “Five Key Priorities for the opening of accession negotiations” and the fight against drugs, it may be expected that EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin will be more explicit in bringing its message across.
Previously, responding to the conclusions of the Council of Ministers on December 13, 2016, in which it is clearly stated that “a sustained, comprehensive and inclusive implementation of all five key priorities has to be ensured before the opening of accession negotiations,” Ambassador Vlahutin had denied that the “Five Key Priorities” were conditions for opening accession negotations:
The five priorities will continue to remain with us until the end. […] So there needs to progress, a little bit but apparent. As regards the elections, that has to with democracy. It is not a condition in itself, but we take it for granted, because free and fair elections have to do with the democratic values of a country.
With her statement Ambassador Vlahutin echoed the words of Prime Minister Rama, who equally denied the priorities’ conditionality:
The Member States support the continuation of the negotiations for the membership with the understanding that the vetting law is implemented. As the way in which the negotiations have been opened in Montenegro and Serbia shows, these five priorities are accompanying until the moment of membership. They are not conditions, but priorities that the country needs to fulfill. The condition is the vetting. [The priorities] are the drivel of your inconsolable despair, you have become unhinged from logic, to throw each day dirt, lies, accusations with the hope that the Albanians will believe you.
With his answer to MEP Macovei, EU Commissioner Hahn has now clearly declared that the EC, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament all share the same interpretation of the “Five Key Priorities,” whose “sustained, comprehensive and inclusive implementation of all five key priorities has to be ensured before the opening of accession negotiations.” The Five Key Priorities include the fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime, judicial reform, administrative reform, and the protection of human rights.