MEPs Say Rule of Law Is “Backsliding” in Albania and Balkans

The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) criticised Albania and other Balkan EU candidate countries on “stagnation” over rule of law issues.

Yesterday’s hearing examined the progress made and the persisting challenges current EU candidate countries face in fulfilling the fundamental criteria of the EU. Invited guests include Christian Danielsson, Director-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission, and Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission.

Before acceding to the European Union, each candidate country have to fulfil the Copenhagen Treaty criteria, which comprise of fundamental rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the bloc or not.

Current EU candidate countries are Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Potential candidates are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Danielsson commented during the hearing that the rule of law is a core and essential value and that a country must respect and promote common values including rule of law. Whilst noting that there had been some improvement in the region, limited progress was being made with some even going backwards rather than forwards.

“A lot of countries that wish to join EU are far from reaching the criteria and in some we have backsliding” he said, adding that candidate states such as Albania need to show their determination to move forward with EU accession processes.

President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio stated that Constitutional Courts need to be independent so they can adequately defend the rule of law, noting that politicians are prone to attempting these courts when they do not like the judgement.

Adding that the presence of the rule of law should be a “key element” in deciding if a country is accepted into the EU, he said that candidate states need to reform the judiciary, not just to satisfy membership requirements but for the benefit of citizens as well.

Albania at present, has no functioning constitutional court. This has resulted in situations where unconstitutional laws that benefit the government have been passed with no challenge, to the detriment of the country and the rule of law.

Marko Kmezić from Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz stated that  “there should be an increase in the pressure towards the political leaders in the Balkans. Civil society should be the main partner of EU in bringing the political leaders to the rule of law and benchmarks should focus on the lacks of democracy”.

So far, civil society has largely been ignored in Albania by the EU, in favour of “propaganda” that has been presented to them by the incumbent government.

Naim Rashiti, Exec Director at Balkans Policy Research Group in Pristina added that the Albanian government is using agenda reforms negatively against the opposition, adding to signs of tension across the region.

This could be considered as a nod towards Taulant Balla’s recent false claims that the opposition are only protesting because they have an issue with the justice reforms, rather than allegations of corruption in the government. In actual fact, the opposition parties of Albania are protesting against significant evidence linking the government to corruption, organised crime, vote rigging, judicial capture, failing of the country’s institutions, and serious issues with the of the rule of law.

In the annual Human Rights Report, compiled by the US State Department, significant concerns were raised around the rule of law and corruption within the country’s judiciary. Impunity, corrupt practices within law enforcement, lack of media freedom,and allegations of vote buying were also highlighted in the report.

– Alice Elizabeth Taylor