From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Freedom Barometer Index: Judicial Vetting Yet to Impact, State Officials Biggest Threat to Democracy

Albania has ranked at number 33 out of 55 European countries on the 2019 Freedom Barometer Index published by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Faring better than its neighbours Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey,  it scored a total of 62.85 out of a possible 100. This is a surprising increase from its 2018 scores of 59.10 at a time the country was rocked by anti-government protests, election rigging scandals, and media freedom crackdowns.

Albania was beaten by Hungary and Poland, both of which are experiencing severe democratic crises that have raised concerns with the EU. 

Switzerland ranked at number 1 with a score of 84.80, closely followed by Finland, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. The whole top 12 noted a decrease in the score while countries like Georgia, Croatia, Greece, and Armenia registered the biggest increases.

The Institute stated that Albania has an unemployment rate of 12.2%, a GDP of $13,330 PPP, and a GDP growth rate of 4.1% during 2019.

Judicial independence was ranked as particularly poor- just 4.61 out of 10 due to “the entire system of law enforcement in Albania is under heavy pressure from politic, special interest groups, or outright corruption”. This impacts the operations of the courts and the vetting process was criticised for being incomplete and full of obstacles. Slow changes in fighting corruption, organised crime and reforming the judiciary were reported as being the some of the main obstacles regarding EU accession.

Corruption dragged down the countries overall score, gaining just 3.6 points and registering a 0.20 drop from 2018. It noted that corruption and organised crime remain “serious problems”, resulting in a contribution to failure to open accession talks in October 2019. It found that bribery rates were high and corruption among the judiciary, police, customs, land administration, tax authorities and public procurement were observed to be high or very high.

With regards to the security of property rights, the report found that private property in Albania is “not adequately protected”. The biggest problems were low judicial independence from political and business interest. It also noted how the vetting of the judiciary was yet to impact or improve the rule of law in the country.

Press freedom got a surprising 7.02 points considering it was a difficult year for journalists. The country write up did however note that attacks on journalists by state officials occurred in an environment of impunity and external pressures resulted in self-censorship. Prime Minister Edi Rama was also named for his penchant for labelling journalists as enemies, poison, and trash, amongst others. Biased reporting, pressure from politicians and media owners, and the fact that RTSH the state broadcaster is controlled by the ruling party, led to concerns over media pluralism in the country.

The report also found that elected state officials were posing the biggest threat to democratic institutions and decision making in Albania. They stated that their power was being abused for personal economic and political benefit, by politicians, business allies and criminal groups.

“With a weak separation of powers in practice, with current strong domination of the SP over legislative and executive, and with SP`s capabilities to influence the judicial sector, their deeds can often go by with impunity. Business or criminal leaders could influence the decision-making process as well.”