On Saturday evening, the Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, gave a message eagerly awaited for years by the fans of AS Roma: the permit for a new football stadium had been approved. The stadium of Rome has passed through difficult times. Pushed on by the need of Italian football teams to modernize their stadiums, the US owners of AS Roma had for years tried to create the conditions for the construction of a new stadium, with private funds and on private property in the suburbs of Rome, together with a commercial center that would vitalize the periphery and make the project financially feasible.
For three years, the stadium passed through political and legal ordeals while dividing the populace, because citizens and bureaucrats were opposed to the destruction of the urban planning of Rome through the additions of towers, whether in the center or in the periphery. In the end, the project was approved, without towers and with about half of its projected original volume, after a difficult agreement between the municipality, citizens, and the football club.
Such legal-political processes are not uncommon in Western democracies. Recently, new or renovated stadiums for the Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur teams have lingered for years in municipal offices and courtrooms in order to arrive at final agreements that were pleasing to all sides, in which citizens who were affected by the new building had a say. Developed democracies have bureaucratic processes precisely in order to eliminate hasty decision making that would pose a risk to ordinary citizens. On the other side, the Chinese government destroyed 15,000 houses for the construction of the Olympic Park for the 2008 Olympic Games, under hardly transparent circumstances and while imprisoning those who opposed the conditions of the expropriations.
Also in Tirana a new stadium is being built, the National Arena. In this case, the construction process isn’t like in any of the developed democracies. Only 40 days were needed from the moment of the presentation of the project until the beginning of the construction work, without considering any of the criticism of different interest groups.
In Rome, the municipality didn’t give a permit to a fully private construction because there was opposition in relation to the impact on the urban planning, cultural heritage, and environment of the city. In Tirana, on the contrary, the Albanian government passed public property into the hands of a private actor. All of this happened in complete obscurity, so much so that even today the conditions of the contract between the government and construction company are not public. In Rome, like in other democracies, the municipality has tried until the end to defend the worries about urban planning and ecology of citizen groups. In Tirana, the Albanian government neither listens nor explains to the inhabitants of the neighborhood what is happening there at the moment a large tower is being constructed.
There is no doubt that this entire process wouldn’t have happened if the prosecution and the courts of the country had functioned normally. Just like in the democratic world, the judicial institutions would have blocked the project until a compromise between the different sides would have been found. That’s why, one would say, we need the judicial reform.
But if we listen carefully to those in power, the judicial reforms is supposed to save the process of public investments that they are planning. Yesterday, for the second day in a row, Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj has appeared at an event in support of the judicial reform. The day before he had declared:
We have many construction sites in Tirana where the work has moved quite fast, but imagine how fast we could go if we weren’t interrupted by endless court sessions. And at the end, we discover that the bad guy, a person that refuses to work with the municipality and free an area that he has unjustly occupied, hinders the work of the municipality for many months, because he has buying power and can bribe the judge.
But as is shown by the example of the stadiums in the two cities, the problem of the Albanian courts is not the blocking of public works, but precisely their non-intervention and the avoidance of a collision with the government, even when the interests of regular citizens are being violated. Except the new stadium, the municipality has made interventions in the Lake Park and Skënderbeg Square, expropriations for the Small Ring and the New Boulevard, the concession of the kiosks and the plan for public parking, without deigning to answer to the worries of the citizens.
A judiciary system that functions would be a system that would have halted, if not prohibited, those projects, and not one that would give the municipality free rein to do whatever it pleased. The example of Rome shows us precisely that.