Albania: Dictatorship or Democracy…Albania: Dictatorship or Democracy

Albania: Dictatorship or Democracy

Police deployment in the Albanian autocracy Mustafa Rama, against peaceful Demonstrators 

Martin HenzeDemocracy: the government of the people by the people for the people.

Albania is facing a major process with the European Union. Do you think that the EU member states are still not satisfied with Albania?

Henze: The Rama government has come to power in Albania by manipulating the 2017 parliamentary elections. Since then, the rule of law and democracy have been dysfunctional, and human rights are therefore not protected in Albania. An illegal local election was held in 2019. Now, how could it be otherwise, in a state where a party is ruling and the rule of law does not function, certainly, institutionally, the manipulation of the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2021 is being prepared. First indications are the attempt to massively restrict the freedom of the press and the introduction of an anti-democratic election law, which may allow the chances of a democratic change, tends towards zero.

The Rama government has not only failed in legal reform, corruption, the economy and the fight against the pandemic, but, as a result of this failure, it has now also prevented Albania’s ability to begin talks with the EU. 

Also astonishing are the projects to cloud the total failure of the government, so that the socialist and comrade of Rama, Balla, now communicates that there are currently no talks with the EU, since in Europe 2021 is elected. This fake news suits communist-thinking people, not the reality is relevant, but the plan is reality.

And the specific demands for membership, what about them?

Henze: An application for membership sets a series of procedures in motion. Essential are the Copenhagen criteria, which have to be fulfilled as a prerequisite for starting negotiations. In addition to political and legal stability, these include a functioning market economy free of corruption and the ability to fulfill the obligations of EU membership (“acquis criterion”).

The European Commission conducts negotiations with candidate countries – which begin after the approval of all EU member states – and regularly coordinates them with the member states. In purely practical terms, the negotiations are divided into 36 thematic negotiating chapters. Only when all chapters have been closed will a vote be taken on accession – all member states must agree, as must the European Parliament.

Annual reports summarize the progress (or setbacks) in the negotiations. I have a current draft of the Albania country report. It is more critical in its statements than the 2019 report.

What problems are there in the accession process?

Henze: A few years ago Albania and Northern Macedonia also applied for membership, as did Bosnia. The European Commission recommended some time ago that accession negotiations be started with Albania and Northern Macedonia. In October 2019, however, this had failed due to the veto of individual EU member states, especially France and Germany. France initially called for a reform of the admission procedure for new EU members. This affected Albania in particular.

Change of the accession procedure in 2019, and now in 2020?

Henze: The European Commission has now decided on stricter regulations for future accession negotiations. In a communication on strengthening the accession process presented at the beginning of February, it states that the process should focus more on “essential reforms”, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration, and economic development.

In addition, the negotiations are no longer dealt with in 36 chapters, but rather these chapters are grouped into thematic groups. Six clusters are planned: “essential reforms”, “internal market”, “competitiveness and inclusive growth”, “green agenda and sustainable connectivity”, “resources, agriculture and cohesion” and “external relations”. The negotiations on the first cluster, essential reforms, will be the first to be opened and the last to be concluded. Also, only entire groups can be concluded, no longer negotiating chapters on their own.

If the candidate countries implement the reform priorities, this should also enable participation in individual EU policy areas, the EU market and EU programs (a so-called period of “phasing in”). On the other hand, backward steps in the implementation of reforms, particularly in the area of the rule of law, should be sanctioned.

And what does this mean for Albania and northern Macedonia?

Henze: The Commission presented its new assessments on Albania and Northern Macedonia at the beginning of March 2020. According to the Commission, they continue to make tangible and sustainable progress in their reforms for the rule of law. Against this background, it has still issued the Commission’s recommendation with restrictions and conditions to enter into accession negotiations with the two countries.

The Ministers for European Affairs of the 27 member states, modified, i.e. with restrictions, endorsed this vote and agreed on 24 March 2020 to start accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia. 

While the accession process with Northern Macedonia can begin immediately, the European Ministers have formulated six conditions for Albania, which must be fulfilled in advance: Resolution of a democratic reform of the electoral law, by mutual agreement and together with the united opposition, implementation of the current judicial reform, fight against corruption and organized crime, among other things by establishing the anti-corruption public prosecutor’s office, correction of the media law, implementation of a reform of the asylum law. In addition, there are the other 15 criteria, the special criteria for Albania. Furthermore, disputes between Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria continue to exist. However, I consider these to be too negligible. So, it is only about Albania

And so far the Rama government has not delivered anything, on the contrary, everything in Albania has become more chaotic and worse, I only refer to the illegal local elections in 2019, the demolition of the National Theater or even the massive attempts to restrict the freedom of the press.

It seems that all problems have to do with the election law. What do you think about this?

Henze: The election law was a touchstone for the country’s ability to integrate into the EU. Unfortunately the Albanian government did not understand the test of democracy and did not pass it. The united opposition, on the other hand, had shown a strong commitment and showed that they wanted and could secure Albania’s future. However, the United Opposition, the USA and the EU were betrayed by the breach of contract by the Rama government on June 30, 2020. 

We therefore no longer have any doubt that there is an interest in EU membership on the part of the Rama government and the illegal opposition in the Albanian parliament.

The main topic at present is electoral reform. What are the best solutions for the electoral law, “The people shall rule” or “The majority shall rule”?

Henze: Allow me first to go into the second part of your question. The Albanian people shall rule” or “The majority shall rule”. This question is wrongly posed and the answer would also be wrong, because neither the people, nor the majority, nor the government actually rules or can and must absolutely rule in a democracy. The Albanian constitution does not provide for this 

This question had to be replaced by the better question of how tyranny could be avoided, and how the state could be so structured and the powers so divided and controlled that rulers could not cause too much damage and could be deposed without bloodshed. 

Actions of governments are not fundamentally and absolutely legitimate and cannot take precedence over the morals and will of the people. They carry out, in trust, the will of the people. This constitutional principle is hidden by the Rama organization.

Neither the Albanian people, nor the Albanian government, are sovereign; the government must protect minorities even against the will of majorities, and the Albanian people must hold the government accountable against their will in elections or when the government dysfunctionally sets the constitution, by deposing and indicting them for state/high treason. 

For my part, I believe that it is not part of the concept of democracy that democracy itself creates the conditions for its elimination. 

One must also have the courage to be intolerant towards those who want to use democracy to kill them, as is now the case with the Rama organization. So, Albanian democracy must also be defensive and disputatious. The Albanian people must not let their future be stolen, which is ultimately written in the constitution. Rama is currently organizing a continued, permanent breach of the constitution and is destroying the future of the Albanian nation, if the Albanian people do not put up with this any longer.

Albanian President Ilir Meta has sent the electoral law to the Venice Commission. What do you think about it?

Henze: In Albania there is currently no rule of law, no separation of powers, therefore no democracy, the Rama government has switched off these functions in 2018. Since the current government intends to implement an election law and at the same time change the constitution, this requires a constitutional examination. 

However, since the third power, the rule of law, is unlawfully abolished, including the guardian of the constitution, the Constitutional Court, another institution must examine this and that is indeed, Albania is a member of the Council of Europe since 1995, then the Venice Commission.

The President of the Republic has expressed very substantiated constitutional and European law concerns in Strasbourg, that is in this situation also his constitutional duty and we in Europe are very positively impressed and glad that there is at least one state institution in Albania that still adheres to the rules of the country and the EU, besides the united opposition.

Does Albania have to listen to the Venice Commission?

Henze: At this point, it should be made clear once again what the Venice Commission is and what its function is, and this partly answers your question. The correct name of the Venice Commission is: “European Commission for Democracy through Law”. This name indicates the objectives and the work program of the EU’s expert panel. Its special field of work is the legal safeguards to ensure democracy and the rule of law in the EU and thus also the decisive body of the EU when it comes to candidate countries. The aim is to harmonize the legal standards in all countries with those of the Council of Europe. 

Has this Commission existed for a long time?

Henze: In July 1989, the Soviet President Gorbachev spoke before the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg of the basic democratic concept of the Council of Europe and described the organization as a supporting pillar in his concept of a future common European cooperation. 

This commitment became a political signal for reform forces throughout Central and Eastern Europe, including Albania. To this end, it was necessary to increase the Council of Europe’s advisory capacity. 

The final decision to establish the Commission was then taken at a conference of European foreign ministers in Venice on 19-20 January 1990.

The reasons for the establishment of a legal advisory commission thus lay, on the one hand, in the national upheaval in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. 

On the other hand, the transformation states’ striving for integration into the Western community of international law enabled public and diplomatic pressure from outside to bring them closer to the standards of Western democracies. 

In this context, the Venice Commission was founded. Its task is to assist the reform states, both before and after their admission to the Council of Europe, in establishing or consolidating a parliamentary democracy and creating structures based on the rule of law with legal counsel. 

As its legal basis, the statute is decisive for the work and status of the Commission. It is an advisory body according to Article 1 No. 1 of the Statute.  It is the institution of the EU when it comes to constitutional issues, including those of candidate countries and partners.

Its special field of work is legal guarantees in the service of democracy. It aims to promote understanding of legal systems and cultures and to study problems arising in the work, strengthening and development of democratic institutions. In practice, the Venice Commission fulfils these tasks mainly through its assistance in the legislative process and its comprehensive information work.

The Venice Commission has a very high international reputation. Allow me a Bonmot from a Russian colleague from Moscow, which is very characteristic: 

“We rejected a hundred American proposals, twenty-one of the Venice Commission’s proposals were accepted, but we did consider a bottle of vodka.With these words and the presentation of the Russian national drink to the German member Helmut Steinberger, the President of the Russian Constitutional Court thanked the “European Commission for Democracy through Law”, which is also called the Venice Commission after its founding and meeting place, for a detailed statement on the drafts of the Russian Constitution and the Constitutional Court Law. So the Venice Commission enjoys the highest recognition, even among our Russian friends, who are not always friendly to the EU, and it is also the key to membership in the EU, to the opening of accession talks and to the conclusion of partnership agreements. 

Your President Meta has therefore rightly recognized and this is how the statements of the colleagues from the European Parliament, the very clear indications of the ambassadors and the EU Commission as well as the German Bundestag are to be understood, that without an electoral law conforming to the European Union, without the observance of the rules of the electoral law reform and the agreement reached on this with the united opposition on June 5, 2020 and without consideration of the report of the Venice Commission, there will be no admission talks and no membership in the EU. The fact that your so-called Prime Minister Rama communicates that he is currently not interested in the Venice Commission’s communication and that he will deal with it after the parliamentary elections in Albania in 2021 shows Mr. Rama’s complete disrespect for the constitutional institutions of the European Union, it also shows a marked ignorance of the rule of law and it shows us that Rama has no interest in Albania becoming a member of the EU. If he had interest, he would behave differently.

To come back to her initial question: ” Does Albania have to listen to the Venice Commission before the 2021 elections and if necessary change the electoral law again?Yes, Albania must listen to the Venice Commission before the 2021 elections, contrary to what Rama says. If Albania does not do this, there will be no talks with the EU. So, it is about the future of Albania. In this respect, we should now wait for the Venice Commission’s statement, in December there will be a final report. And it should also be clear to Mr Rama that he is not the sovereign in Albania, but the sovereign is the Albanian people. The Albanian people want Albania to become a member of the EU. If he now prevents, sabotages and disturbs this with his communist comrades in the government and parliament by his actions, this is not in accordance with the sovereign’s will, he would then have to dissolve his government in December 2020, because it no longer represents the Albanian people.

Mr. Henze, how realistic do you think the danger of a collision between a corona pandemic and a wave of influenza in Albania is?

Henze: The danger of a collision and a resulting storm – yes, it is not unlikely. Waves of flu are sometimes more and sometimes less pronounced. And if, after a quiet one, we get a more pronounced flu epidemic, it could well become a very relevant problem. On the one hand, a collision would classically endanger the same group of people, on the other hand it would mean a high workload for hospitals and doctors – and a high sickness rate for everyone else. This will cause the Albanian system and the state to collapse. In essence, like in a soccer match, you have two halves and a break. So, the first half has been January to June. The government did not have any pandemic plans, in the first third of this half their prime minister only made jokes and told jokes about Covid. In the second third of the first half, the Rama government put tanks on the streets of Albania and quarantined the entire Albanian people. Then came the break, the summer holidays and now comes the winter, and basically Albania is in no way better organized in terms of infrastructure, protective measures for doctors, decentralized supply of the population than at the beginning of the first half. The Albanian government of Rama is responsible for many dead Albanians who would not have had to die if an effective pandemic management had been implemented.

Winter is just around the corner, in the southern hemisphere it has begun. And there is an irritating picture in Australia: The curve of influenza-like illness has a peak in February/March – that was Corona. And now, as winter begins, the curve from this season is much lower than in the comparison of the last five years. What could be the reason for this?

Henze: I think the following is quite likely: That in Australia what we had here in spring is now happening. That the flu was over the week after the lockdown measures were implemented. In other words, you can see how effective distance and testing measures as well as a good medical health infrastructure and good payment of medical staff are against influenza.

So this could really be a consequence of the pandemic measures and not so much the suspicion that is now floating around: that one pathogen is displacing the other?

Henze: I don’t think it’s completely impossible for one pathogen to displace the other – let me say this somewhat cautiously. But I am very sure that the other phenomenon is the explanation. As I said, unlike in Albania, the Australians have a very good decentralized supply infrastructure and they have effectively tested and kept their distance and wore protective masks.

It is known that influenza follows crowds of people and spreads along main traffic routes. If they are unoccupied, i.e. people don’t meet each other as often, they are tested and we pay attention to hygiene, the flu is also a serious problem, and so is Covid.

Albania has not yet fully ordered Covid and flu vaccine doses and has not entered into cooperation with the Who or EU. Are these plans going in the right direction?

Henze: With influenza vaccination, you don’t know beforehand how good the protection is. In principle, however, the vaccination is the best protection we have in addition to the general hygiene, testing and distancing measures. 

Therefore, the additional vaccination against influenza and, very importantly, the pneumococcal vaccination is a step in the right direction. If Rama does nothing, then I say now somewhat flippantly: Well, if he does nothing, he and Balla are personally responsible for the additional dead Albanians.

By the way, it is not possible that doctors and nurses are supposed to help on the one hand and on the other hand the government does not recognize an effective pandemic management. 

The state has the task to protect the people, the children, the sick and the old people and not to expose them to even greater dangers.

And it is always unfortunate when patients come and want to be vaccinated and then you have to say Sorry, we do not have or sorry, we can vaccinate you, but then you have to pay 300 euros for it. This also applies to protective clothing and masks. The state has a duty to protect its citizens.

Would you recommend having vaccine stocks for flu and pneumococcus?

Henze: My personal tip would be to do so. This is a primary, governmental task. We currently have around 26 million doses in stock for flu vaccination alone. We in Germany do that, our people are protected, that is the primary task of the Chancellor and she does her job very well.

In Albania, with the Rama government, I see only ignorance, stupidity and not action. It is astonishing that the Albanian people still put up with this. In Germany such a government would have been politically eliminated within 24 hours.

But there is a very relevant problem: the Albanian state is on the verge of national bankruptcy, the coffers are empty. This is due to the fact that for 8 years no quality oriented economic, social and financial policy has been organized in Albania. The result is: a destroyed health, education and economic infrastructure.

The Albanian people are not sufficiently protected by their state. A drama that can only be solved in a democracy through elections. It is quite astonishing that Albania is now thinking about elections in 2021. Until then, many more people will die in Albania.

There are probably also signals from the respective manufacturers that they want to produce much more flu vaccine doses.

Henze: Then you have to see how much more it really is. This is not an uncomplicated manufacturing process. The products must be certified and comply with European standards. So in Albania, they should make sure that such products are approved and certified by the EU, only then can they be vaccinated with peace of mind.

Of course, the USA is also involved at the moment, Trump & Co. are on a big shopping tour. Mr. Trump propagates the sentence: USA first. Also Putin and the Chinese act similarly. This is, of course, a distinctly selfish approach, which is met with deep incomprehension in Europe and among civilized nations, worldwide, as they know. But, be sure, Europe and especially Germany thinks differently, we stand on the side of the Albanian nation. But, we do not support the person Rama.

I have been told that the most critical point in the production of the vaccine Covid is the filling capacity, which is booked up long in advance by the companies that can do it. And where the bottlers then also do not quite easily get out of existing contracts. So it is gratifying when the manufacturers say they can increase capacity, we will see in winter.

So vaccination primarily to protect the herd – in the broadest sense to protect the patient herd.

Henze: Yes, that is now something different from the epidemiological concept of herd protection, I would not like to confuse that. But for the protection of those who belong to the so-called risk groups. In the pharmacy around the corner from my home there is a sign: “Do not carry Corona to grandma”. And we all have the warnings in our ears: Be careful when visiting elderly people or be careful when visiting nursing homes or risk groups. Which was also prevented to a large extent, in order not to carry anything in there. That also applies to influenza. In this respect, especially now, in Albania, schools and universities are social meeting places, the possible hot spots for a second wave of Covid and also for the first wave of influenza. The measures of the government of Rama and its administration, which it has occupied with its people throughout Albania, are not sufficient, if anything has been done at all.

For committed doctors and nurses the question now arises: How do we organize ourselves, what do we do? What would you recommend, how can they prepare themselves?

Henze: The problem, is and that also the medical profession in Albania know, it will still many humans die and the virus remains in Albania, perspective all Albanians with this virus will become infected, symptoms cannot be eliminated, if the cause is not fought against.

For an effective pandemic control they need specialists in the government, they don’t have them, they need a decentralized, good medical care, in all parts of the country, they don’t have them, they need serious and qualitative laboratory and free testing capacities, in all of Albania, the government of Rama doesn’t take care of that, they need medical supplies and a good strategic planning for the autumn and winter to fight the influenza and Covid, they don’t have them and they won’t experience them with this government. Some progress has been made in the pan-academy planning because a proposal and recommendations of the united opposition have been implemented.

Thus, the first step in fighting a pandemic in Albania would be the resignation of this Chaotic Rama government and the immediate appointment of a government of experts, so that a serious, strategic management of the medical and economic crisis is ensured. 

If they don’t do this in Albania, it looks very black for the coming weeks, many more people will die, who actually, in a good Pandemic – Management would not have to die. This can now be seen very clearly in the suicides of patients in clinics, a process that will certainly be repeated to an even greater extent.

In these few days the Democratic Party of Albania has elected the deputy candidate. But there are still some members who do not agree with this procedure. Many of them have been left aside. Why? Have an opinion on this matter.

Henze: It is a very remarkable, democratic procedure of the Albanian opposition. In every party there is competition for the best idea, the best performance. Nobody should be disappointed now, there is enough work and projects, after the election in April is won. It is now about the Albanian nation and its future. Vanities and disappointments should be put behind. Now cohesion and unity and no quarrelling is needed, the time for experiments is over. The reconstruction of Albania is on the agenda and the accession to the EU.

Rama has made some changes for the cabinet. Do you think that the elections in April will be recognized by the Socialist Party?

Henze: No, Rama is the generalized global risk par excellence, in the Balkans and for the future of Albania: nobody knows what he wants, nobody knows what comes to his mind next, nobody knows if he is really healthy, nobody knows if he knows what he wants. Rama and Co. are a case for the public prosecutor, not suitable for another government.

Rama seems to think only of himself, he and his friend Balla, Veliaj and Hajadari are not democrats, this became very clear now with the reform of the election law. But depending on who wins, I assume the united opposition, this would mean a long-term political turnaround – future for Albania, membership in the EU, economic growth in Albania, more jobs for Albanian workers. The European people’s parties support the DP and so let us make Albania the Switzerland of the Balkans, for the benefit of all Albanians.

Mr Henze, thank you very much for the interview

Albanian Press:

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