EWB Op-Ed by Knut Fleckenstein, Member of the European Parliament (S&D, Germany)
Albania is at a crucial moment.
I hope that next week the Albanian Parliament will adopt the necessary constitutional amendments so that the judiciary reform can start as soon as possible.
Since I have become the European Parliament’s Rapporteur for Albania in 2014, I have visited the country many times. Each time I met representatives of the government and parliament, of political parties and civil society in order to discuss Albania’s preparations for EU accession and the necessary reforms. The judiciary reform is probably the most ambitious and most important reform that Albania has seen during the last 25 years.
Why is this judiciary reform so important?
First of all, Albanian citizens are unsatisfied with the rule of law in their country. They want a justice system, which effectively protects their rights. They want a justice system, which gives equal chances to everyone. They want a justice system where justice does not depend on money and connections. I regularly receive letters by Albanian citizens who hope that I could somehow help them to speed up lengthy and overdue judicial procedures. They also hope that I could help to protect their property rights or to simply get access to fair justice. Whoever still needs a proof of the need for a comprehensive reform of Albania’s judiciary, should read these letters.
Second, the judiciary reform is part of five key priorities which the EU expects the country to fulfil before it will open negotiations over Albania’s accession to the EU. Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009. After a positive opinion by the European Commission and progress done on seven out of twelve reform priorities, the European Council in June 2014 recognized Albania as a candidate country for EU accession. These last five reform priorities need to be completed now – the reform of judiciary and of public administration, the fight against corruption and organised crime and a strengthening of fundamental freedoms.
Third, a successful judiciary reform will allow fighting corruption and organised crime in an even more effective way. The government has already launched many initiatives in these areas. But only a professional and effective judiciary will guarantee that today’s actions against corruption and organised crime will have a long-lasting impact.
Fourth, better rule of law in Albania will make it easier to build up one’s own business, will help attract investments and will thus create growth and jobs. It will give people the perspective of a better life in their country.
Last but not least, this reform is a crucial test for Albania’s political leaders. They must now prove their leadership and make sure that Albania’s reformed judiciary will be free of political influence, corruption and any links to organised crime.
This reform is a duty of the Albanian state towards its citizens.
I am sure that Albanian citizens will honour those who dedicate their work and their political careers to making Albania progress. All those who contribute to the success of the judiciary reform contribute to building Albania of the future and the future Albania in the European Union.
Whenever I visit Albania, I want to bring back to Brussels good news about the progress that the country is doing on its way forward to reforms and to EU membership. My next visit to Albania will be next week. I sincerely hope that afterwards I will be able to report to my colleagues in the European Parliament that all of Albania’s political leaders contribute to making the judiciary reform a success because they all want to move the country forward and make it ready for EU membership.
Knut Fleckenstein is a German politican who serves as a member of the European Parliament where he holds the position of Vice-Chair of the group of the Progessive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Since 2014, he is the EP’s Rapporteur for Albania.