Albania is the first country in the Western Balkans to host a European Union police office.
Minister of Interior Sandër Lleshaj announced today the launch of the Europol Office (European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) in Tirana, which will start work with one officer.
Lleshaj commented that the launch of the office meant that Albania was marking a de facto integration into the EU:
Our effort to integrate into the European Union is becoming more and more concrete and practical. The opening of the Europol Office in Tirana […] makes us feel good.
In a way, we are taking steps that mark some kind of de facto integration. This de facto integration into the EU, I believe, is the best way to achieve a slow and secure approach towards de jure integration.
Minister Lleshaj stated that the launching of a Europol Office in Albania was due to the increase of the movement of citizens in the Albanian borders:
Only in the past 10 years, the number of people crossing the borders of Albania has increased almost 160 percent.
[…] This high dynamics of exchanges is a very good news, and this is accompanied by a great challenge: How to strengthen the level of integration without compromising security?
General Director of State Police Ardi Veliu said the Europol officer will cooperate with the Albanian police in the fight against organized crime.
The establishment of a Europol Office in Albania comes two months after Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard agency, launched its first full operation outside an EU country. 50 armed and well-equipped Frontex police officers are now guarding the Albanian border with Greece, aiming to thwart illegal migration, drug trafficking and international organized crime.
A number of recent reports have presented Albania as a country of origin and international hub for drug trafficking and organized crime.
The Frontex operation and Europol Office were launched amidst raised concerns over the failure of the Albanian government to control its borders, fight human and drug smuggling, as well as international organized crime.