Article by Foreign Minister Steinmeier on Albania’s progress towards the EU on the occasion of his visit to the country on 14 June 2016. Published in Albanian on www.shqiptarja.com on 14 June 2016.
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. We have clearly underscored the prospect of Albania and its neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans joining the EU time and again in the context of the Berlin Process. This is another reason why I am visiting Tirana today.
However, as we all know, there is only one way to achieve this objective, and that is with radical and far-reaching reform. It is true that the implementation of reforms is often a rocky road and that this requires a good deal of political staying power and momentum. No one knows this better than we do. But we also know that it is worth it! This is why the Albanian people and the country’s political leadership have decided to tread this difficult path. There will be no shortcuts or favours along the way. However, I am sure that Albania and its people are capable of mastering the challenges ahead.
Germany will remain at Albania’s side in this endeavour. This is part of a long tradition. Over the past 25 years, we have helped to stabilise the new democratic order and improve the everyday lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Albania with political engagement and broad-based economic cooperation. Albania can continue to count on our support in the future.
And I believe that it is impossible to overlook what has been achieved. An impressive amount of progress has been made in the area of transforming the country’s democratic institutions, as well as with regard to the rule of law and the economy. We have taken note of these courageous steps – which is why we campaigned for Albania to receive the status of candidate country for EU membership two years ago. While that was an important milestone, Albania must not rest on its laurels. It is therefore even more important now to focus all efforts on achieving the next step and to make it genuinely possible to open up accession negotiations.
There is a clear road map for this. Five key priorities remain to be fulfilled in order to implement the reforms these involve across the board and in the long term. This applies to all fields, be they reforms to public administration, root‑and‑branch judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime and the protection of human rights.
The most important reform project is the overhaul of the judiciary, which has had to grapple with many problems, and especially with deeply ingrained corruption. This is also the toughest nut to crack. The rule of law is key to the success of the entire process.
Albania has arrived at a decisive, indeed perhaps historic, crossroads in this regard. Those responsible in the Government and Parliament must 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.
The European Commission has made it abundantly clear that only when judicial reform is adopted by the Albanian Parliament in the near future will it be able to recommend in the autumn that accession negotiations be opened up. In other words, should it not be possible to adopt the judicial reform now, despite all of the efforts made, Albania’s prospects for opening up EU accession negotiations will become more distant once again.
Comprehensive reform proposals are on the table that have been drafted in the past two years with intensive advice from seasoned European and American experts. They have the full support of highly regarded lawyers from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
The overwhelming majority of the Albanian population wants this reform. They want a functioning rule‑of‑law‑based state with effective and independent courts. This is also the precondition for Albania’s further economic growth. German investors are also very reluctant to invest in countries in which there is no rule of law or reliable judiciary.
I believe that, with this reform project, Albania can become a pioneer in the region for the rule‑of‑law reform of its justice sector. This would also send an impressive signal to the EU of Albania’s willingness to implement far-reaching reform policies.
The reforms have been the subject of long and detailed discussion by the Parliament and the Albanian public. All political forces have had the opportunity to present their proposals in pursuit of the best solution.
The time has now come to make a decision. What is important now is for Albania’s politicians to show leadership – for the good of their country and in the interests of Albania’s prospects of joining the European Union.
There is too much at stake for Albania for it to allow this major project to fail. I call on all of the country’s political forces, for the sake of the common good, to take political responsibility now and to adopt the reforms in the parliament with all due speed.