Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited Albania on Monday (17 April). It was both his first official visit and a mediation effort. Albania has paved the way for impressive progress. However, two months ahead of its parliamentary elections, the country is at a political standstill. Parts of the opposition are no longer participating in parliamentary procedures, which means they are blocking urgently needed reforms. This is also having an impact on efforts to draw the country closer to the EU.
An historic opportunity
Remarkable progress has been made in the Western Balkans over the past years. Albania submitted its application for EU membership in 2009, and it has been a candidate country since June 2014. Before accession negotiations can begin, however, reforms must be carried out in a few key areas. Besides the fight against corruption and efforts to strengthen human rights, reforms of the judiciary are particularly important. But these reforms are now far from being implemented.
Ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 June, the opposition has decided to institute a parliamentary boycott. This is putting a halt to the reform process, as well as blocking further steps towards the EU.
Judiciary reforms are vital
On Monday, during his first official visit as Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel wanted to gain a first-hand impression of the current situation. In addition to his meetings with Edi Rama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, and with his counterpart Ditmir Bushati, Gabriel also met with Lulzim Xhelal Basha, leader of the opposition and Chairman of the Democratic Party. Sigmar Gabriel used this opportunity to urge the opposition to end its parliamentary boycott and re-engage in the political process.
Any continuation of the opposition’s destructive boycott would jeopardise the progress Albania has made, as well as its steps toward the EU, the German Foreign Minister said. “Refocusing attention on the well-being of the people must again be the top priority. Political selfishness is not helpful in this regard.” He added that judiciary reform and progress in the remaining four key areas were vital for drawing closer to the EU.
Germany wants to continue to support Albania as it develops its democratic and rule-of-law structures and moves towards stability and prosperity. During his talks, the Foreign Minister emphasised that “the road to the EU will remain open if you opt for progress and reform instead of division and standing still.”