What is in the Commission’s updates on North Macedonia and Albania?

Hearing of Oliver Varhelyi in AFET; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – European Commission has released an update on the implementation of reforms in the fields of the judiciary, fight against corruption and public administration reform in North Macedonia and Albania.

The updates are published several weeks before the sessions of the General Affairs Council and the European Council, during which the Member States are supposed to revisit the opening of accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana, which the heads of state and government failed to do in October 2019.

European Commission for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhely, as well as the officials of both countries, expressed hope that the track record of reforms will be enough to convince the Member States to reach a different decision this time.

North Macedonia: Good progress in tackling corruption cases

“Good progress has been made through further consolidating a track record on investigating, prosecuting and trying high level corruption cases. These efforts need to continue unabated and in a transparent manner, irrespective of the position or political affiliation of the suspects”, wrote the Commission in its update.

It highlighted 38 indictments, mainly for abuse of authority, in 2019, as well as opening of nine new investigations against 52 suspects.

Oliver Varhelyi and PM of North Macedonia Oliver Spasovski; Photo: Government of North Macedonia

Final sentences and judgments against the former Prime Minister and former Minister of Interior, among others, have been particularly noted, as was the indictment of the former Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva and two other suspects in the “Extortion affair”.

“In another high profile case not related to corruption charges, the first instance court has sentenced 16 people to prison, for periods from seven to 18 years for their involvement in the April 2017 attacks in Parliament… This includes a former Minister of Interior and former Police Director”, the Commission wrote.

The Commission also emphasised the importance of the adoption of the Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was adopted with a necessary two-thirds majority on the final day of parliament’s work in February, as well the establishment of the new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption.

“Major steps were taken to ensure that the SCPC has the powers and financial resources to fulfil its tasks”, the update reads, adding that 66 cases of nepotism have since been indicted.

Fight against organised crime has also seen further improvements, according to the Commission.

“In 2019, first instance convictions were pronounced against 60 persons (compared to 37 persons in 2018). Final convictions were pronounced against 56 persons. Most of them concern smuggling of migrants or unauthorised production and trade of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors”, the document states.

Additionally, reform of the security services and public administration reform have also seen progress, prompting the Commission to assess its recommendation to open accession talks with North Macedonia as valid.

Albania: Decrease of unfounded asylum applications, re-evaluation of judges continues

When it comes to Albania, European Commission has found that the number of unfounded asylum applications lodged by Albanian citizens to EU Member States and Schengen-associated countries is now 17% lower than in 2017, and 26% lower in the most affected EU Member State.

The fact that Albania is the first country of the region in which the agreement with European Border and Coast Guard came to force was also highlighted.

Oliver Varhelyi and PM of Albania Edi Rama; Photo: Twitter / OliverVarhelyi

The most often noted progress in the rule of law area for Albania has been the vetting of judges. According to the Commission’s update, the vetting institutions have completed 234 vetting cases, including all priority dossiers, out of the total 811 magistrates that have to undergo vetting. So far 60% of the vetted magistrates were either dismissed or they resigned.

Albania has also established new institutions for the self-governance of the judiciary, which were effective throughout 2019. However, due to the vetting procedure, there are now multiple vacancies in the High Court and the Constitutional Court, and the process of appointing new judges is ongoing.

When it comes to the fight against corruption, there were 246 final convictions involving lower or middle-ranking officials in addition to 289 final convictions in 2018. In 2019, there were two final convictions for passive corruption of judges, prosecutors and other officials of the judiciary.

As regards the overall track record in the fight against organised crime, the number of new cases related to criminal organisations and structured criminal groups referred to prosecution increased from 34 in 2017 to 53 in 2018. In 2019, there were 50% more referrals, with 79 cases.

“Overall, Albania has increased its efforts and delivered further tangible and sustainable results in the key areas identified in the Council Conclusions of June 2018. Consequently, the bases of the Commission’s 2019 recommendation to open accession
negotiations with Albania remain valid”, the Commission concluded.