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Another one goes unnoticed

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Another lengthy and detailed EC appraisal of Albania’s EU integration efforts over the last 12 months was met with low anticipation in Tirana this Wednesday (October 12th). In fact, it was the recommendation for BiH’s candidate status and the repeated call to abolish the visa regime for Kosovo that made the headlines, more than the highlights of “some progress and the same challenges” of Albania’s annual performance.

The number of chapters in which Albania achieved “limited progress” increased to thirteen in 2022, up from only six chapters a year ago, while the number of chapters in which “some progress” was observed dropped from 20 chapters last year to 13 in 2022.

However, “good progress” was noted in six chapters this year, compared to five chapters a year ago. Nevertheless, according to the Commission this resulted in a slightly better picture of its overall preparedness. Compared to a year before, in 2022 Albania has one chapter less under the “some level of preparedness” and one chapter more in the group of chapters with “some level of preparation / moderately prepared”.

The above data analysis and reading of “EC’s assessment codes” in the 134 page report for Albania does not tell much to the ordinary Albanian. Hence some language decryption is needed to summarize the progress made, challenges encountered and recommendations for better performance in the 2022 report. The European Commission this year praised the good progress Albania has made in several areas such as the fight against organized crime, seizure and confiscation of criminal assets, justice reform, economic criteria, some sectoral policies such as fisheries, agriculture and rural development, and alignment with CFSP positions.

Important legislation has been adopted by the Parliament while the government “maintained a focus on reforms related to the country’s EU path and reinforced its coordination structure for EU integration”. Particularly SPAK’s performance was highly rated while other institutions were encouraged to strengthen their work and results. The Commission correctly draws attention to environmental concerns which have made headlines over the last year as the result of SPAK actions in bringing high officials and former ministers to justice (e.g., the incinerator scandal).

The report’s summary captures most of the highlights of the past 12 months, including many concerns voiced by civil society and from other independent reports on corruption, democracy, freedom of the press etc. The fight against corruption, money laundering and organized crime, freedom of expression or media independence and the deep divide in the political opposition are some of the hot issues which marked the past twelve months. As usual, the EC uses diplomatic language for elaborating these concerns in the executive summary (pages 3 – 8) of the report while challenges are itemized in the remainder of the 134 page report.

The EC rightfully underlines that threats to journalists and freedom of expression stem not only from government in/action but also from a distorted relationship between business interests and the media as a public service. The independence of media and the quality of journalism remain hampered by the intersection of business and political interests, as much as by market concentration and the lack of transparency of media funding. Despite being an issue of serious concern for several years, the EC report does not give anything beyond the usual “no progress” score in the area of freedom of expression.

The EC observes positive steps and progress in the areas of anti-money laundering and anti-corruption. Yet, the 2022 report (page 6) warns of the serious consequences that may follow if the government pursues plans for an investors’ citizenship scheme and tax amnesty. Similar warning is articulated on page 76 on government plans for tax amnesty which raised eyebrows at the IMF, EU member states, UK and US – “The adoption of such a law against the advice of the EU and Moneyval could jeopardize progress in this area” including on chapters 24 – Justice Freedom and Security and 16 – Taxation.

The EC report suggest that “anti-corruption measures continue to have a limited impact in particularly vulnerable areas (roads, cadastre, property, customs, tax administration, education, health, public procurement, PPP contracts, etc.)” and it further urges actions to “step up efforts on alignment of the legislative framework with the EU acquis in particular the area of concessions and public-private partnerships (PPPs)”.

The leak of databases containing citizens’ personal data in 2021 is another hot issue the EC has touched upon in the report. However, the recommendation for taking “measures to prevent massive breach of personal data from happening again and accelerate efforts to align legislation with the EU General Data Protection Regulation” does not seem to capture the full extent of civil society concerns and the need (for a more articulate call) to investigate the patronage system and misuse of personal data for electoral purposes.

Despite the comprehensive information contained in the report and key highlightselaborated for a three minute read, the EC annual appraisal does not get the attention it deserves from politics, media, interest groups, civil society and citizens at large. Certainly not the “all ears” attitude it used to trigger, perhaps up until a decade ago.

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