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European Western Balkans
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Key findings of the 2022 European Commission Report on Albania

EU - Albania flags; Photo: Pixabay

European Commission has published the 2022 country reports for the six Western Balkans states and Turkey. Here we present the key findings in the country report on Albania.

The fundamentals of the accession process

As regards the political criteria, in the new legislature, resulting from the 2021 elections, which were held following the cross-party agreement of 5 June 2020 the elected members from the largest opposition parties took their seats in parliament. The parliament elected the new President of the Republic. Internal conflict within the largest opposition party (DP), affected parliamentary life. On EU oriented reforms, parliament passed a time-limited constitutional extension of the vetting bodies mandate and nine laws aimed at alignment with the EU acquis. The government maintained a focus on reforms related to the country’s EU path and reinforced its coordination structure for EU integration, but it needs to further advance the EU reform agenda, together with the opposition and all segments of society. The establishment of several government agencies around the Prime Minister’s Office, without a comprehensive steering framework and without a systematic attention to oversight and reporting lines, raises questions in relation to the standards of public administration. A new decentralisation strategy beyond 2022, remains to be adopted and upstream consultation at local level will be essential. Despite funding improvements, limited progress was made to implement the roadmap on creating an enabling environment for civil society.

Albania is moderately prepared in the area of public administration reform. It made limited progress in strengthening line ministries’ capacity to implement regulatory impact assessments and hold public consultations. It started preparations for the salary reform and expanded the automated payroll system. Implementation of the 2015-2022 public administration reform and the 2014-2022 public financial management reform strategies continued. The IT systems for integrated planning are not yet fully functional. However, bodies subordinate to ministries (agencies) continued to be created without a comprehensive steering framework, systematic attention to oversight or clear reporting lines. They also further exacerbated the issue of tasks entrusted to staff hired under the Labour Code, instead of to civil servants. Provisions on merit-based recruitment in the civil service law remain to be fully implemented, especially for senior level positions. The number of provided online services continued to increase, but this also raises questions about equitable access for citizens with limited digital skills.

Albania’s judicial system has reached a moderate level of preparation. Comprehensive justice reform continued, resulting in good progress overall. Two new judges were appointed to the Constitutional Court in March and September 2022, further improving the court’s ability to carry out its mandate. There was also progress with the High Court, which now has 15 sitting judges, enabling it to reduce the case backlog for the first time in six years, to start unifying the case law and to appoint judges to the Constitutional Court. Further appointments to the High Court are expected. However, long proceedings, a low clearance rate and a large case backlog continue to negatively impact the efficiency of the judicial system. To tackle these problems, a new judicial map was adopted following consultations. Additional efforts are still required to put it into effect, as well as to improve the case management system and the training system for magistrates.

The temporary re-evaluation of all judges and prosecutors (the vetting process) has continued to advance steadily. Under the aegis of the European Commission, the International Monitoring Operation has continued to oversee the process independently. By 12 September, the vetting institutions had completed 554 first-instance cases. Around 64% of the vetting dossiers processed so far resulted in dismissals, resignations or the termination of mandate of vetted magistrates. The vetting institutions must continue to refer cases to the prosecution services where there are indications of criminal offences.

The Specialised Structure for Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime(SPAK), comprising the Special Prosecution Office (SPO) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), continued its operations. After a budget increase in 2021, the SPO now has 17 prosecutors in place, the recruitment of eight financial investigators is underway and the NBI reached its full operational capacity of 60 investigators after a second round of recruitment.

Albania has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. It continued its efforts to build on its track record of investigation, prosecutions and convictions in the fight against corruption and delivered some results. These efforts need to continue. However,  greater political will, further structured efforts, and adequate resources and skills remain necessary. The SPAK Court delivered several important final decisions on high-ranking state officials, including a former Minister of the Interior and a former Prosecutor General. Although the vetting of members of the judiciary is an administrative process, it continues to bring results in the fight against corruption within the judiciary. A new General Anti-Corruption Directorate was created in the Ministry of Justice. Overall, despite some progress, corruption remains an area of serious concern. Increasing the number of final convictions of high-level officials remains an important priority to further tackle a culture of impunity. The sectors that are most vulnerable to corruption require targeted risk assessment and dedicated measures.

Albania has some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime. It made some progress in meeting last year’s recommendations. Strong and fruitful cooperation with EU Members States, Europol and Eurojust has led to tangible results. Albania continued to show commitment to counter the production and trafficking of cannabis. Good progress was made on the seizure and confiscation of assets related to organised crime. This effort must continue in the future. Efforts also need to continue to ensure increased prosecutions and final convictions, especially at high-level. Countering cybercrime, trafficking in human beings and money laundering remain areas in which additional results are needed. The phenomenon of child sexual abuse online remains a concern. The country progressed steadily in the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Action Plan to improve effectiveness in the field of anti-money laundering, but Albania remained on the list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring. Financial investigations need to accompany systematically criminal proceedings. Albania adopted a new national cross-sector counter-terrorism strategy and action plan in December 2020.

On fundamental rights, Albania complies overall with international human rights instruments and has ratified most international conventions on the protection of fundamental rights. Some progress was made in using alternatives to detentions and, in particular, in developing the probation service, which remains fully operational, including for juvenile offenders. Albania adopted a new lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) action plan, which includes measures to fight discrimination, improve access to services and approve the legal gender recognition law and a national action plan for equality, inclusion and participation of Roma and Egyptians. Enhanced efforts to consolidate property rights through the registration and digitalisation of cadastral data are needed and the sector remains prone to corruption, while the compensation process has stalled. On the protection of national minorities, Albania adopted a new piece of implementing legislation that creates a fund for civil society projects in support of minority rights. However, adoption of the remaining implementing legislation, including on freedom to self-identify as a member of a national minority and on the use of minority languages, is still pending. Preparations for the long awaited population and housing census continued, including with pilot censuses in minority population areas, however the census was postponed to 2023. Further actions need to be taken to strenghten data protection and align national legislation with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Albania has some level of preparation/is moderately prepared in the area of freedom of expression. No progress was made in the reporting period. The intersection of business and political interests continued to hamper media independence and the quality of journalism. Disinformation including smear campaigns are recurrent, especially in online media whose self-regulation needs to be ensured. The atmosphere of verbal attacks, smear campaigns and acts of intimidation against journalists has not improved. Any changes to the Media Law need to be in line with the Venice Commission opinion and must be submitted for consultation with media organisations. It remains important to ensure that the media have direct and transparent access to governmental institutions and their activivities. The regulatory performance of the Audio-visual Regulatory Authority (AMA) needs to be improved and the independence and resources of the public service broadcaster should be strenghtened.

Albania adopted a new and better-budgeted national strategy on gender equality and continues its efforts to ensure adequate state funding to implement it at central and local level. Efforts are needed to ensure that all national strategies at central and local level are gender mainstreamed and spend budget in ways that take geneder into account. On citizenship, Albania should refrain from developing an investors’ citizenship scheme (golden passports) as it would pose risks as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration by organised crime, and would be incompatible with the EU acquis.

On migration, the legal framework on migration is largely aligned with the EU acquis but needs updating, and must provide a clear framework for managing and coordinating migration. The number of irregular migrants apprehended in Albania in 2021 decreased by about 15% compared with 2020. No progress was made in referrals to asylum procedure and the implementation of return procedures in line with the legal framework. Albania’s visa policy should be aligned with the EU one.

The number of Albanian citizens lodging asylum requests in EU Member States remains lower than the peak of 2015, but increased significantly in the summer of 2021, and thus still requires continuous and sustained efforts. Dialogue and cooperation with the countries most affected have continued, in addition to thorough border checks and awareness-raising on rights and obligations under the visa-free regime. Albania should keep addressing the phenomenon of unaccompanied minors. The Commission is monitoring the trend very closely in the framework of the post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism.

On the economic criteria, Albania made good progress and is moderately prepared for developing a functioning market economy. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, the budget deficit and the public debt ratio were lower than expected, but Russia’s war against Ukraine caused price increases and lower trade. Fiscal space remains limited. Revenue-related reforms progressed, but investment expenditure remains weak. Frequent budget revisions weaken fiscal credibility. Inflation increased above target. Increased public service digitalisation, financial inclusion, and labour inspections benefitted the business environment and the formalisation of the economy, but the informal economy remains significant. Public consultation remains weak. Albania made some progress and is at some level of preparation to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Energy and transport infrastructure, digitalisation and education improved, but entrepreneurial and technological know-how remain low, with unmet investment needs in human and physical capital, skills and education gaps, and low R&D spending. Low export diversification increases vulnerability to external shocks. Regional integration and exports increased but remained below potential.

On public procurement, Albania is moderately prepared, the country has made good progress, in particular by adopting further implementing legislation and launching an electronic appeals and complaint system. On statistics, Albania is also moderately prepared, it made limited progress on aligning with ESA 2010 standards, faster publication and transmission to Eurostat, but the Population Census Law has been further postponed. Albania is moderately prepared in most areas onfinancial control, where the country made some progress, notably on public internal financial control and internal audit.

Albania is moderately prepared in most of the areas of the internal market, namely the free movement of goods, services and capital, company law and competition policy. The same applies to financial services and to intellectual property law, both chapters where the country has made good progress thanks to the reduction of non-performing loans and to the adoption of legislation on copyright and on industrial property rights. Albania has made some progress with the adoption of a new law on foreigners as well as by fulfilling some of the recommendations of the Moneyval report. However, in the area of competition policy, the State aid authority needs to be made independent and sufficiently resourced. Preparations are at an early stage on consumer and health protection, where the country made limited progress.

Albania has achieved a moderate level of preparation in many areas linked to competitiveness and inclusive growth, namely digital transformation and media, taxation, economic and monetary policy, enterprise and industrial policy, education and culture. The same goes for the customs union, where the pan-Euro-Mediterranean area rules of origin are applied, and bodies involved in the fight against smuggling and counterfeit goods are strengthened and cooperate better. The adoption of a tax and criminal amnesty against the advice of the EU and Moneyval could jeopardise progress in this area as well as in the fight against money laundering. Albania has some level of preparation in social policy and employment, and research and innovation. Albania has made some progress in education in particular with the adoption of the new National Strategy for Education and Action Plan 2021-2026, but progress was limited on the economic and monetary policy.

As regards Green Agenda and sustainable connectivity, Albania is moderately prepared on energy, environment and climate change. It has some level of preparation in the areas of transport policy and of trans-European networks and some progress was achieved in developing transport and energy networks. It made progress on civil protection and is ready to join the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. The country has made limited progress in the other areas covered by this cluster and ongoing efforts to address issues with vessels Flag State Control and to align legislation need to continue. Limited progress was made in further aligning the EU acquis on water management, chemicals and environmental crime .The impact of strategic investments on biodiversity and nature protection requires attention. This cluster and the reforms concerned have significant links to Albania’s Economic Reform Programme, the Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans endorsed by Albania in December 2020.

Albania has some level of preparation in most areas linked to resources, agriculture and cohesion, namely agriculture and rural development, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, fisheries, and financial and budgetary provisions. It is moderately prepared as regards regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. Albania has made some progress in agriculture and rural development, notably with the establishment of a farm register and better administrative capacity for rural development. Good progress was observed on fisheries, with the continued operationalisation of the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and allocation of human resources to monitor and report on the activities of fishing vessels. Albania as a contracting party of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) is fully implementing fishing effort recommendations. Some progress was made on financial and budgetary provisions. Progress was however limited on food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, on regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. In this respect, inter-agency coordination for pre-accession assistance needs improvement, and issues need to be addressed as regards strategic planning, implementation and monitoring capacity of infrastructure projects under the Economic and Investment Plan.

Albania has reached a good level of preparation as regards external relations, foreign security and defence.  On the external relations chapter of negotiations, Albania made some progress as it continued alignment of legislation in the field of dual use goods and to implement CEFTA additional protocols. As regards the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, Albania maintained full alignment with all relevant EU decisions and declarations, including with the EU restrictive measures following Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. As a non-permanent member since January 2022, Albania has been actively engaged in the UN Security Council in promoting and defending the rules-based international order.

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