Albania and Europe !

What do we want to talk about?” asks Martin Henze, an international expert on the Balkans at the beginning of our conversation, about the elections?

Albania and Europe

Martin Henze

Democracy: the government of the people by the people for the people.

What do we want to talk about?” asks Martin Henze, an international expert on the Balkans at the beginning of our conversation, about the elections?

I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. 

The economy is in ruins and is maintained by black money and international financial resources. Basically, Albania is permanently on the brink of insolvency, pensions and salaries are no longer secure, just before the election Albania received about 100 million euros from the EU for the earthquake relief and about 175 million in loans from the IMF because of the budget problems. I assume that little of this money will reach the citizens and that in June the Rama government will again ask the international community for money, as pensions have to be paid.

Since 2013, Albania has increasingly turned into a country for organised crime activities and underground businesses that are massively damaging to national and EU and US interests, but also to Russian interests.

The same criminal groups have taken active steps to buy ballots and bribe voters just weeks before the parliamentary elections on 25 April 2021 to boost the popularity of the Socialist Party of Albania and ensure Rama’s stay in power, he is the godfather.

Although the OSCE representatives on the ground had expressed their concern about the poor standard of these elections, an electoral law which, according to the Venice Commission’s opinion, did not meet international standards and the Venice Commission’s vision, and the majority of the citizens were sinking into increasing misery and lack of prospects; a number of Western embassies in Tirana have hastened to congratulate the incumbent Prime Minister, thereby tacitly encouraging him to continue his strategy of harbouring organised crime and using Albanian territory for money laundering. Every ambassador in Tirana knows this and also sees it when he observes the poor population on the one hand and sees the huge real estate investments on the other, or a sports stadium that is hardly to be found in Europe even in terms of quality and design.

A few days ago, a political advisor to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin Roth was in Albania and praised the Rama government’s willingness to reform and that Albania was now ready to start talks with the EU, what do you say to that?

Well, the a political advisor to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin Michael Roth seems to be carrying out a personal opinion in the exercise of a state office. His socialist SPD has just lost another election in Germany, it was now at 8.4%, the Germans do not want this party. Surely he wanted to visit his friends in Albania again before being sent into opposition by the Germans in the autumn.

It is remarkable that Mr. Roth, in disregard of the EU Parliament and the German Bundestag, has probably also overlooked the 15 hard criteria Europe has for starting accession talks. 

And there is another serious issue with his disqualifying performance in the Balkans: a central goal of the German EU Presidency was to better protect and strengthen the rule of law in the EU. With the new mechanism, EU funds can and must be cut if member states violate the principles of the rule of law. The official name of the mechanism is inconspicuous: “General Conditionality Regulation for the Protection of the Union Budget”. Nominally, this regulation is intended to serve the EU in sanctioning member states if they deviate from the fundamental values of the European Union and from principles of the rule of law. 

This can be quite painful financially for a respective government, but should not be at the expense of the “final recipients”, i.e. the municipalities, civil society, citizens. If the Commission makes use of its possibilities, this new instrument will be a sharp sword. Of course, this also applies to the initiation of talks with countries that want to become members. Anything else would be absurd to assume.

Basic conditions are: Rule of law, democracy, protection of the press and electoral laws according to European standards. All these issues have been deliberately made dysfunctional by the Albanian government of Rama, but more on that later.

Mr. Roth knows this and yet he acts in such a way in Albania. This should and will have repercussions in Germany as well. 

Support for kleptocratic structures is not possible due to the legal framework of Germany and the EU, which is precisely why Poland is currently being accused, which is precisely why the EU is reacting very strictly in Minsk, Russia and China, and which must also apply to the conditions of the Rama government in Albania.

Even Mr. Roth should have made expressive verbal reference to the conditionality regulation and the 15 EU criteria/Bundestag, but he did not do so publicly. 

Rama publicly states that they do not exist. I do not hope that Roth has also developed political dementia, i.e. that he does not know them either.

The same applies to the Italian EU ambassador Sorreca, who likes to be photographed with the autocrat, as happened at the beginning of March 2020, before one of the largest rallies of the Albanian state, invited by the president Ilir Meta, it was about the attack of the autocratic government Rama on the Freedom of the Press, clear, scathing statements of the Venice Commission are available.  

The EU ambassador Soreca had nothing else to do than to hand over police cars financed by EU funds to the autocrat days before, which he certainly used against this peaceful demonstration. Many people in Albania therefore have the impression that the EU supports an authoritarian system. These are not only activities, but also images that massively damage Europe’s reputation.

It shows, Soreca, like Federica Mogherini at the time, who, together with the Serbs, Rama and Trump, propagated the division of Kosovo against Germany’s interests, an outrageous act in 2018. Kosovo’s external borders are recognised under international law, there are no more discussions.

The EU Commission President von der Leyn must pay much more attention to who and how is active abroad on behalf of Europe, on behalf of the EU Commission, and whether this is also in line with EU interests. I have heard that this is being dealt with in Brussels and Strasbourg.

And what about Albanian foreign policy?

The organisation of Albanian foreign policy and the reappearance before the public of corrupt diplomats, including Fatos Tarifa, Artur Kuko and the beer lover Ilir Boçka (known for his bank accounts in Cyprus); are unfortunately one of the reasons why the country is in shambles. The aim of Rama’s foreign policy is to start talks with the EU, as it is then hoped to get more money from Brussels. Albania’s problems are clearly highlighted on page 60 of the EU’s main document, which sets out the roadmap for this long and complex negotiation process. However, since this document was drafted, the situation in Albania has deteriorated dramatically, even further. Irrespective of this, there are certainly also actors in the government or in interested circles who have no interest whatsoever in Albania becoming a member of the EU, because then the time of money laundering and drug trafficking should be over. But why should this organisation commit suicide? So far, no one has been able to answer this question adequately.

Albania has not fulfilled any of the 15 conditions for the start of negotiations. Therefore, the EU cannot and must not start negotiations for accession. Something else applies to North Macedonia and Kosovo, here negotiations with the EU should be started.

Don’t you think that once the accession process has started , the negotiation process will give the government a signpost on where to go long ago?

Well, for one thing, there have been sufficient signposts, indications, criteria since 2014, that is surely sufficient. The fact that Rama cannot remember the EU’s 15 criteria, which were set as a condition for the opening of talks only for Albania, not for Macedonia, shows that signposts do not help with this government.

Whether Albania will become a member in the foreseeable future depends only on Albania, i.e. mainly on the state of the government. If the political parties have recognised the signs of the times, and also because of the widespread manipulation of the 2021 parliamentary elections by the representatives of the ruling party, they should agree to form a joint transitional government of national unity until new elections are held, accession should still be possible by 2025. But Rama has surrounded himself with such weak ministers, he cannot go on like this, and he knows it.

Time and again, the opposition raises problems about the elections, a reform of the electoral law took place in 2020, accusations of vote-buying were made against Rama. Is Albania in a democracy crisis?

Well, in order to be able to answer this, we should first agree on what is meant by democracy, also according to the Albanian constitution.

As fundamental principles of the free democratic basic order in Albania, also according to the EU, the following criteria have to be fulfilled:

1.respect for human rights concretised in the Basic Law, above all for the right of the personality to life and free development. This respect requires a functioning constitutional state. This is still not functioning today. In Albania there are still no constitutionally established, functioning courts. They are not staffed in accordance with the constitution and there is a backlog of almost 45,000 old cases. Now, cases that are to be processed very promptly are prioritised. It is completely unclear according to which criteria the rule of law is prioritised. Also, basically only the constitutional judges can prioritise the cases. Furthermore, it is currently noticeable that only constitutional court cases are prioritised that are against the opposition or against the president. Lawsuits concerning the rigged parliamentary elections in 2017, the electoral law in 2020, the illegal local elections in 2019, the press law, the mandate of the current parliament. The unconstitutional establishment of the SPAK does not seem to be prioritised, very astonishing.

2. popular sovereignty, it does not exist in Albania, as there is no possibility of free elections anymore, as we saw with the rigged parliamentary elections in 2017, 2021, the illegal local elections in 2019 or I am just thinking of the electoral law that is flawed according to the Venice Commissions.

3. the separation of powers, it does not exist in Albania, as the judiciary is dysfunctional since 2018, so is the legislature, the executive is highly corrupt and therefore also dysfunctional. As a result, a separation of powers in Albania does not exist.

4.The accountability of the government does not exist. In the negotiations with the EU, we can well see that the government is prone to political dementia. The 15 EU criteria for starting accession talks are not known to it, also the de facto abolition of the supreme courts shows that the government has no accountability.

5. the legality of the administration, is non-existent. The administration is considered the most corrupt in Europe internationally.

6. the independence of the courts, is non-existent as the supreme courts are dysfunctional.

7. the multi-party principle has been gutted by the manipulation of the parliamentary elections.

8. the equality of opportunity for all political parties with the right to constitutional opposition is dysfunctional, due to the widespread manipulation of elections and the holding of an illegal local election.

So, in conclusion, we come to the conclusion in Europe, de iure and de facto, no democracy and no constitutional state exists in Albania.

But in the EU’s progress report there are reports of successes?

Well, the last progress report of the EU is extremely critical. Moreover, you will not find any EU representative who speaks as openly about this issue as I do. This is because if the EU or Germany were to say that Albania is not a democracy, that there is no rule of law, that elections are being rigged by the ruling party, that the press is being threatened, that opposition figures are being persecuted on the grounds of corruption, then every Albanian could apply for asylum in Europe and, crucially, the asylum application would not be rejected. No European wants to initiate such a wave of refugees of about 2 million Albanians, that is how the euphemisms in the public statements on Albania are to be understood. The Rama government also knows this and is playing with it.

Were Rama and his brother personally involved in vote buying?

Well, there are files in Albania, tape recordings, there is even more information on this at the US and European security agencies, his involvement can certainly not be ruled out, but ultimately only a neutral court can judge this.

Prime Minister Rama said in an interview on the question of whether there is a rule of law in Albania: “I see success. We are cleaning up our judiciary. We operate the cancer out of the patient’s body. Only after the operation can he start walking again.”

On the one hand, it is interesting to note that in this article in Der Spiegel in early 2021, he shared that there is no rule of law in Albania , so he has deliberately abolished it. This is surely in itself high treason and a criminal bending of the law. He and his comrades should therefore be indicted.  

On the other hand, it is to be attested that an autocrat in Europe, in all openness, is presenting that he is cleaning up the judiciary, of course in his own interest. As I heard, the leadership of the anti-corruption agency consists of very many party members of the ruling party

You said earlier: “Corruption made kleptocracy Rama”. What do you understand by the term kleptocracy?

Some colleagues call the Rama administration a mafia government, according to the German Bild newspaper, some call it a robber state. I call it a kleptocracy. 

However, we mean exactly the same thing, that the Albanian executive, that is the Rama government , which is one of the most corrupt , in the world, the money of the US /EU taxpayers and the money of the Albanian people is best kept in the caring custody of the paternalistic Rama administration, the Albanian executive.

Thanks to this fascinating philosophy, the Albanian government of Rama has managed to be at the top of the most corrupt states in the world in recent years, last year Albania was ranked for the first time, internationally, among the 20 largest money laundering states, worldwide. It is well known that international terrorism is financed by money laundering.

The Albanian people hardly participate in Albania’s natural resources. There is an arbitrary power of disposal over the property and income of the Albanian nation and they enrich themselves or their clientele at the expense of the ruled. This can be seen clearly in the building law. Expropriations are carried out rigorously, as is the case in Tirana City, and the amount of compensation is negligible. There is no legal certainty, as the Supreme Court is still not intact; 43,000 old cases alone are waiting for a decision. Therefore, at present only foreign investors can be advised against investing in Albania. Another problem is that the state always spends all additional revenues and credits immediately.This shows that no priorities have been set and that there is currently no concept for the reconstruction of Albania. Albania has suffered several catastrophes in recent years, the mass exodus of many Albanians to Europe and the USA, the abolition of the legal disputes, the permanent rigging of elections, the 2019 earthquake and the Corona crisis, which was not professionally managed by the administration. 

All this is leading to one of the biggest economic and social disasters. The Albanian nation will only really feel the consequences in late 2021/2022. Therefore, a state reconstruction programme should actually be organised.

And what happens? Nothing. The state should limit itself to the current and essential tasks and not deviate more and more from this line. If the economy is growing, the additional income should be used to relieve the people.

I think it is a source of discontent in Albania that people who play by the rules are hardly able to find a future for themselves and their children in Albania. Social contributions, taxes, defective infrastructures, out-of-control executive plus the second burden, the rigged parliamentary election in 2021 , after the rigged parliamentary election in 2017, by members of the ruling party – all this deprives citizens of any possibility to build their future. This breaks the promise of advancement made by the Albanian state in 1992. There must be an end to the Albanian government acting like a kleptocratic association.

The United Opposition speaks of a kleptocracy and denounces that a small circle of people profit greatly from their closeness to the regime. Unjustly? 

It is a scandal that some people in Albania, which includes Rama, have become so rich through their involvement in the executive or through relations with the executive. But Albania’s big problems include the unemployed, the mass exodus of young people that has been going on for years, the lack of prospects and the lack of investment. There has often been speculation at the expense of the people, and the majority of the Albanian population is in great poverty.

What should Albania do instead?

The biggest problem in the country is the public sector, the Rama executive.

It is huge, costs a lot of money and, with its bureaucracy, makes life difficult for companies that create value. If you don’t help it by bribing it, you get the building permit after you die or the municipality’s planning is changed and the owner of the land is expropriated. The curious thing is that now the petty judges and prosecutors are charged, those responsible for corruption in the executive are not.

Is Albania incapable of reform?

Certainly, Albania needs reforms. Everything is antiquated, much is illogical, much is criminal, hardly anything has a future. Even the legal reform, the anti-corruption agency SPAK, which was not set up in accordance with the constitution, are a tragedy and a comedy. 

On the one hand, the reform, like in Russia or China, focuses strongly on the opposition and on the other hand, only small apparatchiks, judges and prosecutors, are removed, but these are not the people in charge. Rama and his administration will not be touched, as we can see very well in the case of Tahiri and others. There are still no charges against Rama for rigging the 2017 parliamentary election, although there is enough material from the security agencies.But every reform, no matter how small, that could be dangerous to the executive is counteracted from within the apparatus in Albania. No other government manages to be politically responsible for such an expansion of drug trafficking and money laundering in the last 8 years. A truly grandiose achievement, for which the Rama administration naturally earns nothing but reverential admiration from many NGOs, international politicians.

The Albanian people, the “little people”, must suffer particularly badly from this state philosophy. Albanians not only have to pay high taxes, they are confronted with a health infrastructure reminiscent of African conditions in Sudan and if they want to survive, as in corona times, they still have to raise private money for treatment.  

The Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are fully functional. I don’t understand why you think that the Supreme Courts are dysfunctional and therefore there is no rule of law in Albania. How do you arrive at this assumption?

Well, it’s not really that complicated. It is complicated if we trust the Albanian government’s communications with the EU Commission.

The Constitutional Court currently has 7 judges. 6 new judges ( 3 were appointed in November 2019 and 3 more in December 2020). The other (the 7th judge) has finished her mandate since April 2017 and remains, constitutionally in service, waiting to be replaced by new judges appointed by the Supreme Court. This rule is clearly so provided in the Constitution. Albania had not followed this rule when replacing the other judges. The Constitutional Court must have 9 judges according to the Albanian Constitution.

But now there are only 6 judges, is that a problem?

Yes, the Constitutional Court must be fully staffed. This is also required by constitutional law, because it is always possible that a judge falls ill, even permanently, then no plenary session can be held, so it is dysfunctional. Hence the rule with 9 judges. A constitutional court is a permanent body, which means that it must always be functional at all times. This is not the case in Albania, hence the Constitutional Court still dysfunctional. No functioning constitutional court, therefore no functioning separation of powers, therefore no rule of law in Albania.

And what is their assessment on the Supreme Court?

Well, the Supreme Court currently has 7 judges (3 appointed in March 2020 and 4 more in March 2021). The Supreme Court must be composed of 19 judges. This number is not provided for in the Constitution, but was established by the Supreme Court Organisation Act. After the judicial reform, this law was repealed, but the new institution, the High Judicial Council, decided in 2020 that the number of Supreme Court judges would remain as it is now 19. This decision of the HJC can be changed, but has not yet been changed. In this respect, the High Court is also formally dysfunctional. All High Court cases are to be reviewed by a panel of 3 members from each panel. Cases for unification of jurisprudence in each college are to be handled by a panel of 5 members.

Cases for unification of jurisprudence shall be handled by all members of the court (19) but with a minimum of more than half (10) members. So, there is no legal certainty.Currently, as the panels are not staffed at all, the Supreme Court has decided by a decision of the judges’ assembly that the members of the criminal panel will participate in the review of cases in the other two panels, which do not have the required minimum number of judges. On the one hand, this is contrary to the law governing the organisation of the Supreme Court and the HJC, and on the other hand, the current procedure is obviously a disaster. Judges who are highly specialised in criminal law naturally do not have the qualifications of a highly specialised judge at the Civil Court.  At this point it becomes clear that the Albanian government is playing a game, it is basically just regrouping judges, thus summarily closing a gap, and in the important Criminal Senate, no fight against corruption without a Criminal Senate, it tears open an elementary gap, as a result of which the functioning of the Supreme Court is also not established. But there is another, much more serious issue.

What do you mean?

There are 36,788 old cases in the Supreme Court, not all, but many cases from 2015 waiting to be adjudicated. This is updated information, as of 31 May 2021. These old cases are now to be dealt with by 7 judges, in parallel with the current, new cases. We estimate that the Supreme Court will need at least 19 judges to process the old cases within 2 years. But then they are not allowed to deal with the new cases. However, I have the impression that they want to do both. Which, of course, cannot work.

As a result, we would probably need about 30 judges on the Supreme Court during the transitional period to restore its functioning. Here, too, it can be seen very well that the legal reform seems to have been conceived by people who have no knowledge of what is constitutionally permissible and how a replacement of judges must be carried out, after review, during the running of the court. This is not complicated in principle, we have very often successfully carried out such legal reforms internationally. I can still remember the legal reform and the review of the former judges in the GDR in 1991/1992, after all we are talking about a nation of 17 million inhabitants.

But what was done in Albania, even a law student in the second semester should be able to do better. A real disaster. Then there is the problem of prioritisation.

What do you mean by that?

A selection of cases to be dealt with must be made according to a constitutional procedure. Which old case should be dealt with first. This is an explosive issue.

The cases should be examined on the basis of two main principles:

1. chronological order (according to when they were filed).

2. Cases that by their nature require prior review and are related to the impact they have on the time limits provided by the legislation and the consequences they entail, and for these reasons an expedited review is required.

There is a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council that establishes these criteria in general, as well as some other criteria established in the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code.

The priority of each case is decided by the reporter of the case and this is where the problem lies. In the case of the Constitutional Court, it appears that cases are more likely to be preferred in the direction of the opposition or against the President of the Republic. It seems to me that a politically coloured arbitrariness is now also taking place in the handling of the old cases. This is due to the very vague prioritisation structure, which we know very well from Russia and China, where autocracies use the judiciary to fight the opposition. The danger is now imminent in Albania too, we call this bending of the law.

So Albania has not met the EU criteria in terms of the rule of law?

No, there is currently no functioning constitutional court and Supreme Court, no EU-compliant electoral and press law. I also have the impression, when I look at all this, that the government is not interested in a functioning judiciary either, it apparently only wants to use it for its own purposes.

And now?

If I were Prime Minister Rama, I would immediately send home the Minister of Justice and the entire circle of advisors. Whoever causes such a disaster, in a really elementary legal reform, must be dismissed. The Albanian state should rather think about whether these ladies and gentlemen should not be held liable for the damage, which of course also concerns the advisors from the USA and Europe.

How is this to be understood?

Well, this amateurish legal reform has caused considerable damage to the Albanian state, EU accession is in danger, many foreign investors have certainly not come to Albania since there has been no legal certainty since 2018, many court cases before the Supreme Court may also be subject to a statute of limitations problem, so that many cases are no longer likely to be heard, or the files and witnesses have died or disappeared.

In a second step, a government of national unity, consisting of the opposition and the ruling party until a new election, should be initiated and the reform implemented, that is not so complicated, but it has to be done by professionals.

With such an approach and the clear signal of compromise between the political camps, the EU should be able to come to the conclusion that, due to the changed perspective, a negotiation with the Albanian nation can be started.

Mr Henze, thank you very much for the interview.

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