From: Bledar Qalliu
EU Officials Discouraged Kosovo, N. Macedonia from Albanian-Style Justice Reform

The European Union has discouraged Kosovo and North Macedonia from pursuing similar reforms in their justice systems as the one it has supported in Albania.

The ministers of justice of both countries said European officials had opposed their plans to vet all judges and prosecutors using the format used in Albania. EU officials had claimed that such reforms may lead to too many dismissals and to dysfunctional courts and prosecution offices, as was the case in Albania where, for over two years, the highest courts were practically nonexistent.

The ministers of justice of Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia’s  spoke in a panel on justice reform at the Tirana Connectivity Forum 2021 last Thursday.

Albania’s Ulsi Manja praised the reform in the country, which since its start in 2017 has resulted in roughly half of the judges and prosecutors being vetted and 60 percent of them dismissed.

Judges and prosecutors in Albania are being vetted regarding their assets, background, and proficiency.

Macedonian minister Bojan Marichiki noted that the European Union had refused to support a similar reform in his country.

“In our strategy from 2017 we have stated clearly that we would like to implement a vetting in our system. Unfortunately, the European Union did not endorse our intention to implement vetting, but they endorsed strengthening the criteria for appointment and dismissal of the judiciary, of the judges and of the prosecutors. This is why we haven’t implemented vetting, although we wanted to, but we are implementing filtering. This should be a light version of the vetting, which does not produce quick results as it may produce in other countries, but it gradually strengthens the credibility of the judiciary and its independence,” Marichiki stated.

Kosovo minister of justice Albulena Haxhiu highlighted the “alarming ratio” of dismissals in Albania. She noted that Kosovo has taken the necessary lessons from reform faults in Albania.

“The biggest challenge in this regard are the vacancies [created] in justice institutions. Minister Manja mentioned the alarming ration of 60 percent of personnel left outside the system, although at the beginning 30 percent was expected to be the maximum,” she said.

Haxhiu also pointed out that the EU had not requested them to implement the vetting of judges and prosecutors, but instead to strengthen disciplinary tools in the system.

“Regarding the EU assistance, let me first note that Kosovo was not asked to pursue vetting in the justice system. The EU wants us to focus on strengthening the existing disciplinary mechanisms in the justice system, which have not worked in Kosovo so far, as there is no single case of a judge dismissed following disciplinary action […] It’s not their request but the society’s […].

I met with EU representatives when I took office, who expressed their concerns on the specific matter that institutions may end up without personnel, i.e. we may end up with dysfunctional institutions as it happened in Albania.”

The government of Kosovo has passed a proposal for the vetting of judges and prosecutors, which is soon expected to be submitted to parliament.

Supported by the European Union and the United States, Albania has been implementing a unique justice reform that was never tried before anywhere in the world. As a result, the Constitutional Court and the High Court were decimated and left dysfunctional for over two years.

The EU officials’ discouraging of Kosovo and North Macedonia to implement a similar reform contradicts their full support behind its implementation in Albania and the praise for its results. 

With the legal term for the reform implementation nearing its end four years since it started, and while roughly only half of the magistrates have been vetted, the Albanian parliament is set to extend the vetting period.