By David Lega*
When the EU Foreign Affairs Council gathers on Monday (10 May) to discuss the Western Balkans they must seriously scrutinise the 15 conditions set for Albania to fulfil prior to proceeding with its EU accession process.
While I welcome Albania's EU integration, it is questionable whether they have fulfilled all the conditions. It surprises me that the commission claims that Albania already has; to whitewash inconvenient facts will not help neither Albania, nor the EU.
Enlargement is one of the EU's most effective foreign policy instruments. Indeed, it contributes to extending the reach of the Union's fundamental values: democracy, liberty, the rule of law, peace and human rights.
Becoming a member of the EU is however not - and should not be - a quick or an easy process.
The road towards EU membership is one of requirements aimed at guaranteeing democratisation, modernisation, the rule of law, stability and growth in each and every state aspiring for EU membership. Should new members join without fully upholding the EU's core values that might undermine the credibility of the EU as a whole.
Against that backdrop, I am concerned about the rhetoric surrounding Albania's ongoing accession process.
The pre-conditions that Albania ought to meet focus on fundamental reforms, pinpointing shortcomings that the EU cannot accept. Among other conditions, Albania must intensify its fight against corruption and organised crime, ensure the functioning of the Constitutional Court and the High Court, tackle unfounded asylum applications, and bring officials and politicians accused of vote buying to justice.
'Chilling' media law
In my view, the Commission has taken these conditions too lightly, for instance as regards firstly the country's media law.
The EU demanded the Albanian government to withdraw the so-called 'anti-defamation package' and amend it according to the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
In January 2020, the Albanian government committed to wait for and abide by the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
Half a year later, the Venice Commission issued its recommendations, heavily criticising the chilling effect of the media package.
As per today, the government has still not formally withdrawn the legal act, wherefore neither the council conditions nor the Copenhagen criteria of freedom of expression have been fulfilled.
Secondly, corruption and organised crime among politicians.
The EU demanded Albania to intensify its fight against corruption, organised crime, and vote-buying.
More specifically, the EU demanded initiation of criminal procedures and completion of legal proceedings against senior officials and politicians.
In its latest Albania report, the commission states that: "overall, corruption is prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern...convictions in cases involving high-level officials remain limited", and that "(I)nvestigations have so far not resulted in a substantial number of final convictions of high-ranking state officials. This fosters a culture of impunity within the higher levels of the state."
Despite these findings, the commission claims that Albania has accomplished satisfying results in the field of corruption among high-ranking public officials and politicians.
As for organised crime, SOCTA (EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment) recently published their annual report, stating that Albania "remains a major source of herbal cannabis trafficked into the EU."
According to SOCTA, serious and organised crime has never posed a greater threat to the EU than it does today.
Irrespectively, the commission claims that Albania has accomplished satisfying results in combatting organised crime.
Let's look at the courts: the EU required the functioning of the High Court and the Constitutional Court.
Today, the Constitutional Court still lacks several judges, and the High Court has not the required quorum to appoint outstanding judges to the Constitutional Court. On top of that, the High Court lacks the quorum to unify judicial jurisprudence. Nevertheless, the commission claims that the justice reform has had sufficient results.
By no means do I share the commission's assessment of Albania meeting these conditions. Unfortunately, that does not go for my socialist colleagues in the European Parliament. For their sake, I certainly hope that it is not the fact that socialists govern in Albania that makes them more tolerant than I am, having adverse effects on their political judgement.
The council must now be trusted to make a credible assessment of the situation in Albania.
Downplaying, or even neglecting, the accession conditions would jeopardise the EU's credibility, as well as the democratic future of Albanians. EU leaders owe it to EU citizens - and our Albanian friends - to walk the talk. /EUobserver.com
*David Lega MEP is European People's Party shadow rapporteur on Albania, and member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee. He is a member of the Swedish Christian Democrats.