By Edison Kurani
The most debated issues during 2016 in Albania will be carried forward to 2017. These issues were drugs and the justice system.
The first one is seen as a serious problem with long-term consequences.
The second one is seen as a wound which is causing a number of problems for the country and the citizens for more than 25 years.
While drugs are a seasonal phenomenon, true justice seems to be far far away.
However, efforts have started and the hopes for a serious and effective process are growing every day, especially after the developments occurred in the last months of the year that we’re leaving behind.
It is true that the reform in the justice system was used as an electoral card in the 2013 elections, but the legal package for this reform was delivered this July. This package changed 40% of the Constitution. But this was the first time, in many years, that all 140 MPs gave their unanimous vote.
This process was accompanied by a number of political debates and hesitation by the sides to agree on a legal package that would satisfy everyone.
What was mostly noticed during this process was the direct involvement of the US ambassador, Donald Lu and EU ambassador, Romana Vlahutin.
They put pressure on the sides, especially on the opposition, to vote for the reform in justice.
The most culminating point was when Mr. Lu threatened on behalf of the USA that sanctions would be introduced against those who would not vote the reform in parliament. “There will be specific negative consequences by the US for all those political leaders who will vote against this Reform”, Mr. Lu said.
Earlier, he had suggested that the constitutional changes for this reform to be made without the votes of the opposition.
But this was contested by the speaker of Parliament. Ilir Meta offered his resignation in exchange of consensus. He even suggested a technical government. “The best thing to do is to form a government of experts, which will take the country to elections once the Reform in justice is approved”. His declaration followed a unanimous approval of the reform on 22 July. Although the legal package was approved in summer, its implementation seems far away.
The essence of this reform is to remove all corrupt prosecutors and judges.
In order for this to be done, their assets should be examined along with the cases that they have handled, in order to evaluate the legitimacy of the decisions that they have taken and the actions that they have carried out.
But it is a fact that as of July, the implementation of the reform in justice has been suspended because judges, prosecutors and the opposition appealed the law on the Vetting and sent it to the Constitutional Court, after this bill was only passed with the votes of the majority. The Constitutional Court sought the advice of the Venice Commission, which a few days ago said that there are no obstacles for the application of this law.
Yea 2017 is expected to seem prosecutors and judges leave, while it is not known if this reform will have an impact on police structures or not, because it is clear that corruption offenses involve three main chains, police, prosecution and courts.
Marijuana, national flourishing of “Lazarat”
For many years, perhaps a decade or more, Lazarat was the center of marijuana in Albania. In 2014 alone, Lazarat was cleansed, as the area carried out a wide operation there by making it impossible to cultivate, process and traffic marijuana nationally and internationally.
But 2016 will be remembered as a year when marijuana flourished almost in the entire Albania. There are numerous reports that the cultivation and the traffic of this drug has been aided by the state and/or state structures, especially police.
Officially, no institution has admitted this.
However, it is a fact that marijuana’s cultivation underwent three seasons this year, leading to large amounts of drugs to be gathered, ready for trafficking, mainly international.
During this year, Albanian police has discovered several tons of marijuana. Even more have been discovered in neighboring countries, especially in Italy, where tens of tons of marijuana have arrived in this country from Albania, carried with ships and motorboats.
Former PM Sali Berisha says that drugs became a gold mine for the government and its other structures. He considers this to be a state and a government of drugs. Meanwhile, Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri susprises everyone when he says that police have destroyed 99.6% of the drugs cultivated in the country during 2016.
Such figure doesn’t seem to be accurate, for the simple fact that the government has no clear figures of the drugs which has been cultivated this year in the country.
Italian police observed the areas cultivated with drugs with a helicopter and the figures that were issued were interpreted differently by the government and opposition.
Cultivation and traffic of drugs is a serious wound which has long term consequences for the country and its citizens.
Continuous reports suggest that this year, the drug was cultivated under police custody. Many people say that they are involved in seasonal work for the cultivation of marijuana for a daily wage of 20 to 50 euros.
They say that in order not to be bothered, cultivators and traffickers share their earnings with police and other state officials.
These declarations have never been admitted by authorities. Meanwhile, the opposition insists that the situation is real and serious.
The Minister of Justice, Ylli Manjana has also expressed his concern about the spreading of this phenomenon. He said that if necessary, the military could be involved in the fight against drugs: “We either separate ourselves from it, now that it’s only the beginning, or we separate later, when it is too late and painful”, Mr. Manjani said on 14 October.
Integration which is not taking place
The process of accession of Albania in the EU seems to be the most difficult process for the country. Since 1990, when Albanians shouted “We want Albania to be like Europe”, more than 25 years have gone by. But very little has been done for the country to be in the EU.
These efforts started in 1992, but they stopped with the unrest of 1997. After this, the delays were constant, sometimes as a result of the irresponsibility shown by Albanian politicians, sometimes as a result of the reluctance of the EU to have Albania part of it.
Year 2016 followed his “routine”. The government made efforts to launch the talks, but this never happened. The European Commission issued a conditional recommendation for accession, but the EU foreign ministers didn’t take this into consideration, saying that there are at least seven priorities that Albania should deliver before deciding if the negotiations are launched.
However, the EU is open to renegotiations if the conditions are met. “We don’t need to wait the next commission report in Spring of 2018, because there’s an engagement of the Commission to inform or review Albania’s progress as soon as possible once there’s tangible progress. I think that this is a clear and positive result and Albania must be satisfied”, declared the Slovak Foreign Minister, Miroslav Lajcak on behalf of the EU presidency.
With this pace, many Albanians believe that EU accession will either happen after 15-20 years or as the years go by, the Union will no longer have the current value and will dissolve. These convictions were strengthened this year with Brexit in the UK, developments in Italy and Greece and the EU’s reluctance to accept new members.
Not only this, but the EU’s popularity among Albanians has dropped significantly.
If 25 years ago, more than 97% of Albanians aspired the EU, today, this figure has dropped significantly and polls indicate that support for the EU is no higher than 50 or 60%. This is alarming not only for Albania, but the EU too, which doesn’t seem to be life before, the exclusive area where Albania is aiming to penetrate.
Even in the political aspect, it has been made clear that the EU’s slow steps damage the Union. This was stressed in the recent weeks by PM Edi Rama, who said that Russia and other countries outside of the EU, are very interested on strengthening their presence in the Balkan region, as most of the Balkan countries are outside the EU zone.