European Politics and Institutions

Balkans Forum

To compromise or not to compromise? Albanian politicians between outdated dilemmas and European imperatives

3 September 2012

“Nowadays the EU integration of Albania is a priority for the government and the population. We’ve been through a difficult period of stalemate between the parties. That’s no longer the case. Constructive talks are taking place regarding the European Commission’s 12 benchmarks,” said Edmond Panariti, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania.

June saw a major breakthrough when “both the majority and the opposition endorsed electoral reform,” Panariti recalled.

Both parties have made good progress on removing top officials’ immunity from prosecution, the minister said. “There are indications that a compromise will be achieved. But a national referendum may be considered if an agreement can’t be reached,” he said. 

“Other important goals will need cross-party agreement,” he added, citing among others a new law on parliamentary procedures.

“We’re optimistic that we’re making good progress on complying with the Commission’s 12 benchmarks [for recommending that Albania be granted EU candidate status]. Where there’s goodwill, we’re delivering results,” Panariti insisted.

“We expect the Commission’s progress report to reflect this and the ministers to ultimately decide to grant Albania candidate status,” he said.

Majlinda Bregu, the Republic of Albania’s Minister for European Integration, said “’yes’ to compromise, when it brings parties closer to a golden medium. ‘Yes’ to a legislative framework that builds the country. But don’t undermine the constitutional framework of the country with political compromises,” Bregu warned.

“Albania has wasted two years not getting granted candidate status. We have damaged ourselves. Enough with the domestic fights of the last two years! Even though we’ve compromised, we haven’t compromised enough,” she admitted.

“November’s political package of 12 priorities from the European Commission is in a good state of being met. We’ve produced a scorecard on how we consider the 12 deliverables to have been met,” the minister explained.

“All 12 priorities are important. We’ve met many of them. Electoral reform we did in July. We’ve done well on appointing an ombudsman. There are good achievements and reforms regarding the fight against corruption and organised crime too,” Bregu said.

“Albania deserves to get a positive answer this year, because the changes and the difference are there. We want it to be a merit-based approach. We don’t want decisions to be taken just to keep us happy,” she insisted.

“I would encourage people to travel to Albania see for themselves how much it has changed into a positive story. Albania has always played a positive role in the region. We tend to underestimate that and overstate the problems,” said Stefano Sannino, Director-General for Enlargement at the European Commission.

“A new spirit has started to work in the country. The balance is extremely positive regarding the implementation of our 12 priorities. Albanian society can be happy about what has been achieved so far,” Sannino declared.

“Substantial ground has been covered on electoral reform. There are mainly positive aspects regarding the more technical priorities too,” he said.

“However, there’s always a ‘but’. The story isn’t over yet, so I’m pleased to hear Minister Bregu’s commitment to continuing the reform process,” Sannino said.

“If you look at the results and achievements recorded between November and today, they’re remarkable. But the element that’s still problematic is that every achievement is accompanied by a political fight. That’s a pity,” the EU official said.

“The progress isn’t being sold or marketed in the right way. A signal of willingness to move beyond this would be very significant,” he said.

“The Commission’s strategy is to make sure that Albania can open negotiations and eventually join the EU. We’ve offered our help and support. We’ve helped to generate a platform to develop this agenda and to make it a national agenda,” Sannino said.

“Albania is making a remarkable effort to put its house in order. This progress was much needed. The country was effectively paralysed from 2009-2011, so this progress must be applauded – along with the European Commission’s tireless work,” said Corina Stratulat, a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre.

“But there’s still a long way to go. The scope of the transformation that the country must undergo is vast, and it extends beyond the [Commission’s] 12 priorities into the wider pre- and post-accession process of becoming a successful EU member,” Stratulat said.

“Albania must continue to make progress and not rest on its laurels. Fierce personal political rivalries are yet to be permanently traded in for a spirit of compromise that benefits Albania,” she argued.

“The EU is resolute on good governance criteria, such as the fight against corruption. But Albania is yet to get serious regarding many of these good governance criteria. They are very difficult areas of reform that take time to get to grips with, especially since the Commission requires a solid track record in these fields,” Stratulat said.

“Governments don’t have the political will or the incentive to fight corruption. So the fight against corruption must be carried by the judiciary or law enforcement agencies, supported by the media and by the EU, and not by political parties,” the EPC analyst argued.

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