From: Bledar Qalliu
EU Should Start Accession Talks with Albania, Urges EC Report

Albania has delivered “tangible and sustainable results” in reforms towards integration in the European Union, the European Commission (EC)’s annual report has found, and it has met all conditions to start accession negotiations.

On Monday, European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi presented the European Parliament with Albania’s progress report, as well as those of other EU candidate countries. Reports on Albania and North Macedonia stress the countries’ readiness to sit in accession talks with the EU.

Albania is criticized for making no progress in defending press freedom, but it’s urged with positive notes to continue advancing reforms in the justice system, the fight against corruption and organized crime, and public administration.

The report commended the administration of the general elections in April 2021, and urged political parties to engage in dialogue regarding issues concerning European integration.

It also urged for consolidation of the territorial administrative reform, and decentralization of decision-making at the local level in order to empower municipalities with more fiscal autonomy.

The government has made “limited progress” on an enabling environment for civil society, and the country is “moderately prepared” with the reform in public administration.

Progress was noted in the implementation of justice reform in Albania and the European Commission urged Albania to continue to advance and complete the reform.

It highlighted the appointments of three new judges to the Constitutional Court, noting that the two highest courts in the country – the Constitutional Court and the High Court – are still incomplete due to the dismissal of judges by the vetting process. Of the total of judges and prosecutors vetted, 62 percent were either dismissed or resigned.

The report highlights the formation of the National Bureau of Investigations (BKH), which is expected to start work later this year. It will help the Special Prosecution against Organized Crime and Corruption (SPAK) to fight criminal activity by senior officials. “Convictions in cases involving high-level officials still remain limited, fostering a culture of impunity within the higher levels of the State,” the report noted.

“Good progress” was noted in meeting previous EC recommendations regarding the fight against organized crime. Cooperation with EU member states and EUROPOL increased, and the plan against money laundering continued to be implemented. The government continued to fight drug cultivation and trafficking; a number of police operations were conducted, many in cooperation with European partners.

Protection of minority rights in the country was assessed positively. The next actions expected are legal adoptions regarding self-identification and use of minority languages.

“There was no progress” over the reporting period regarding freedom of expression in Albania. The situation with verbal attacks, smear campaigns and acts of intimidation against journalists did not improve.

“Tensions between political actors and journalists have increased during the COVID-19 crisis and in the context of the parliamentary elections. The reported attacks against journalists have not resulted in any final convictions.” 

The report urges the government to provide for the self-regulation of online media, and for any related law to be in line with the Venice Commission recommendations and to be consulted with media organizations.

It highlighted the 66 percent drop in Albanians’ asylum requests in EU member states, noting that it was largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but “the average decrease of applications from the rest of the world to the EU is much smaller (-33 percent).”

On the economic criteria, the report noted that Albania has made some progress in strengthening its market economy. The November 2019 earthquake and COVID-19 pandemic were challenging for the government and other institutions, but they were able to assure business continuity and advancement in reforms.

Albania expects to sit in accession talks with the European Union, but its progress is tied to that of North Macedonia, who was blocked in its EU path by a Bulgarian veto.