Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Albania on Tuesday (14 June) for an official visit. In the course of the morning, he spoke to Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati in Tirana. There followed talks with Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and Opposition leader Lulzim Basha. The discussions focused on the reform process in Albania, particularly the anticipated reform of the judiciary, and the country’s progress towards the EU.
Candidate for EU accession – impressive progress on transforming institutions of democracy
Albania has launched a large number of reform processes since the change of government in 2013. It was granted the status of candidate country for EU accession almost two years ago in recognition of that development. Foreign Minister Steinmeier explicitly commended the “impressive progress” that Albania has already made on transforming its democratic institutions, rule of law and economy. “Not only have we in Germany been observing this reform process in recent years,” the Foreign Minister said, “it has also inspired our respect.” He gave the example of “courageous reform” in the economic sphere having contributed to the country’s “economic progress”.
Nonetheless, Steinmeier added, Albania must not “rest on its laurels”. He said there was a “clear roadmap” for starting accession negotiations in autumn: reforming public administration and the judiciary, combating corruption and organised crime, and ensuring respect for human rights. Speaking to Foreign Minister Bushati, Steinmeier emphasised the fact that “the reform efforts will remain incomplete as long as the judiciary has not also been successfully reformed”.
Judicial reform the “toughest nut to crack”
Steinmeier warned that judicial reform was particularly beset by “many difficulties, especially deep-rooted corruption”. The reforms had been “the subject of long and detailed discussion by the Parliament and the Albanian public”, he said, adding that “all political forces have had the opportunity to present their proposals in pursuit of the best solution”. Steinmeier expressed the belief that, with this reform project, “Albania can become a pioneer in the region” for the rule-of-law reform of its justice sector.
But the time had now come to make a decision, Steinmeier went on. Those responsible, he said, had to ask themselves “whether they want to take the next big step on the path towards the EU or whether they want to pass up this opportunity”. As Steinmeier put it, the European Commission had made it “abundantly clear” that it would only be able to recommend in the autumn that accession negotiations be started if the Albanian Parliament adopted judicial reform in the near future. There was too much at stake for Albania, he said, for it to allow this major project to fail. The Foreign Minister called on “all of the country’s political forces” to adopt the reforms in the parliament with all due speed.
A meeting with Opposition leader Lulzim Basha
Steinmeier also met Opposition leader Lulzim Basha to underline the need for a sense of urgency to ensure the “window of opportunity” is not missed. This was a situation, he said, in which “all political sides” had to think of the country’s future and the opening of EU accession negotiations. He cited studies which had found that 90% of Albania’s population hoped that the judicial reform would succeed.
Steinmeier warned that the aggressive tone of debate currently being heard in Albania was unhelpful to the search for answers. He advocated returning to “the goal I hope everyone shares”, namely to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, and getting the legislation this would require under way.
For me, there is no doubt that the citizens of Albania see their country’s future as being a member of the European Union. We in Germany share that vision.
The Berlin Process – strengthening cooperation between the states of the Western Balkans
While in Tirana, Foreign Minister Steinmeier also pointed to the success already achieved in the Berlin Process, a joint endeavour launched in 2014 to boost cooperation within the Western Balkans. “I am glad that the Berlin conference was not a one-off event but has been taken up by other partners here in the region and in the EU,” said the Foreign Minister “We will work with them to continue the process and check on progress at frequent intervals.”
One important outcome of the encounters had been, he said, the increased exchange not only between governments but also between societies. He mentioned that an office for youth exchange would be starting operations in Tirana. “I would be glad,” he said, “if as many young people as possible from across this whole region could be brought together, visit each other’s countries and gather experience that will break down prejudice wherever it exists.”