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Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe analyses the situation of the past 12 months in Albania

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Vienn, October 31, 2013

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), analyses the political, economic, social situation and situation concerning other domains of life in Albania for the period September-2012-October 2013.

Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Ambassador Florian Raunig presented on Thursday at the Permanent Council of OSCE in Vienna the report for the situation of the past 12 months in Albania.

Below is the report.

“In a year dominated by parliamentary elections on 23 June, the peaceful conduct of those elections, together with a relatively smooth transition of power, represented meaningful progress in Albania despite a challenging political and economic environment. Although
noting an “atmosphere of distrust between the two main political forces [that] tainted the electoral environment”, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission’s final report concluded that the elections “were
competitive with active citizen participation throughout the campaign and genuine respect for fundamental freedoms.”

The past year has been a time of significant developments in Albania. At the end of November, Albania celebrated 100 years of independence. The celebrations were, however, a rare unifying moment. Progress on the reform agenda stalled, while political animosity and polarization increased steadily as the 23 June parliamentary elections approached. The adoption in May 2013 of two key pieces of qualified majority legislation, namely the laws on the High Court and on Civil Servants, as well as of the parliamentary Rules of Procedure, by the combined votes of the ruling majority and the opposition, was a notable exception.

The 23 June elections saw the opposition Socialist Party-led coalition elected by a large margin; the coalition won 83 seats, but due to the later switch of an opposition Member of Parliament, the new ruling coalition now has the 84 votes needed to pass three-fifths qualified majority legislation. The transition of power that followed the elections was relatively smooth, if not completely free from accusations of misuse of power by the outgoing government and alleged purges of the public administration by the incoming one.

The new government took office on 15 September with an ambitious agenda. Substantial challenges are facing the new government, however, and must be dealt with in a mature and inclusive manner. In a positive sign, the new majority indicated its strong interest in pushing through with much-needed reforms, and pledged to work together with the opposition in this regard. It is hoped that the opposition will respond in a manner conducive to making progress on the country’s reform agenda. The Presence and the wider international community have continued to emphasize to all parties the need to fully engage in the country’s democratic institutions. The Albanian political class has the opportunity to adopt a fresh style of politics to tackle essential challenges and meet the aspirations of its citizens. These aspirations, and the values behind them, are shared by the OSCE, and the Presence in Albania has a distinct role to play in advancing them, offering support and partnership.

This political climate shaped the European Commission’s 2013 Progress Report on Albania and the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on enlargement strategy, issued on 16 October 2013, and contributed to the Commission’s
decision to recommend granting Albania candidate status, with the understanding that Albania continues to take action in the fight against organised crime and corruption. The Commission noted that constructive and sustainable dialogue between the government and
the opposition on related reforms will be vital for progress, as will constructive engagement in regional co-operation.

The Commission identified five key priority areas that Albania needs to address for the opening of accession talks, namely: to continue public administration reform; to reinforce the independence, efficiency and accountability of judicial institutions; to make further efforts in the fight against corruption, including towards establishing a solid track record; to make further efforts in the fight against organized crime, including towards establishing a solid track record; and to reinforce the protection of human rights, including of Roma, and anti-discrimination policies, as well as implement property rights. These priorities, which are also declared priorities of Albania, are very much in line with the Presence’s mandate and represent key areas of the Presence’s strengths and experience.

The Presence has engaged early and strongly with the new government, and is active with all political players and more widely in society. Towards the end of this past year, the Presence has taken a fresh look at the complementarity with which it works with other international
partners, strengthening co-ordination and co-operation with the EU, offering a stronger relationship with the Council of Europe and the participating States and deepening interaction with the UN, ensuring that scarce resources are allocated where they can have greatest effect
and that our efforts are mutually reinforcing.

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT AND ACTIVITIES

The 2013 elections were competitive, with active citizen participation throughout the campaign and genuine respect for fundamental freedoms, according to international observers of the ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe. However, the atmosphere of mistrust between the two main political forces tainted the electoral environment and challenged the administration of the entire electoral process. Following the elections, the longstanding leader of the Democratic Party
and then-Prime Minister Sali Berisha conceded defeat and resigned as party chair, thus opening the way to elections for a new party chair, which were won overwhelmingly by the Mayor of Tirana, Lulzim Basha.

The new government, led by Prime Minister and Socialist Party Chair Edi Rama, in coalition with the Assembly Speaker and Socialist Movement for Integration Chair Ilir Meta, announced its intention to focus on developments and reforms necessary to improve the political, economic and social situation in Albania and achieve further progress in Albania’s European integration.

The inflammatory and at times derogatory rhetoric that characterized much of the political discourse over the past years did not increase the trust of citizens in the country’s political leadership, institutions or the electoral process. The Presence made efforts to address the
negative political atmosphere and improve public trust in the electoral process. A Code of Ethics, drafted by the Presence in partnership with the President of the Republic, on conducting an ethical election campaign, was supported in principle by the parties, although
regrettably not formally adopted. Following the elections, the Presence has urged all sides, both in government and in opposition, to focus their energies on Albania’s reform efforts.

The Presence engaged early on with members of the new government to discuss and identify opportunities for co-operation and areas of priority. It has also engaged substantially with the opposition, to encourage it to participate actively and constructively in the promotion of the democratic institutions of Albania, which is an essential part of any functioning democracy.

The response from all political actors has been overwhelmingly positive, reinforcing the Presence’s role as a strong, supportive partner of the country. However, it appears that new areas of political tension are emerging, with the opposition having refused to participate in
some parliamentary proceedings.

Despite improvements in respect for human rights, the Presence continues to have a role to play in drawing attention and supporting solutions to problems in this area. The eviction of a number of Roma families in early August 2013 is a case in point. The Presence was one of the first to highlight the plight of the families and call for an appropriate institutional response; shortly thereafter, Amnesty International called on the authorities to provide alternative housing as required under international standards on development-based evictions.
The Presence has also been active behind the scenes, discussing short- and mid-term solutions with the government, the municipality, the People’s Advocate, and organizations working in the field, in order to find a soonest-possible solution for the affected families. The
recent constructive actions taken by the government have led to a temporary solution to this particular case. The challenge remains to find a more permanent solution for the families in question and for families in similar situations, as well as to improve integration of the Roma
community, including in the areas of education, health, employment, social welfare and social housing.

In late September and October 2012, a group of around twenty formerly politically persecuted persons began a hunger strike on a street in central Tirana, demanding a quicker payment of compensation for victims of the former communist regime. Two of the strikers set themselves on fire, although the exact details are disputed; one eventually died. Alongside national and international actors, the Presence urged dialogue between the government and the strikers, to reduce tension and find a mutually-acceptable solution. Although a court
judgment declared the strike illegal, the decision as such was never implemented; the strikers self-dispersed following the refusal of the police to allow water and medicine into the strike area. The basic problems that prompted the strike have not been definitively resolved, but
there are strong hopes that the new government will address this issue.

The run up to Albania’s celebration of its 100 years of independence on 28 November 2012, while marking a high point of national pride and unity for the people of Albania, was accompanied by a rise in nationalistic rhetoric, creating unease among some of Albania’s
neighbours and the international community. Together with international partners, the Presence urged the political leaders to recall that Albania has for most of the last two decades played a constructive, stabilizing role in the region. In the end, nationalism did not
significantly influence the campaign and was not reflected in the results of the elections.

With the European Commission having recommended the granting of EU candidate status to Albania and pending the decision of the European Council, the political class and the Albanian people have the opportunity to use this positive momentum to seek transformation
at home in order to close the chapter of transition. The Presence will continue to encourage and work actively with relevant actors on the reform agenda, in line with its mandate and in close partnership with the government, other political stakeholders and civil society.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Albanian public now has high expectations, with a focus on democratic standards, the rule of law, and economic development. The new government has set out an ambitious programme to meet these expectations, and the Presence is already active in offering expertise and practical support to activities that must overcome substantial challenges and entrenched interests. The opposition’s constructive contribution is indispensable to the further consolidation of Albanian democracy, and the Presence will maintain even-handed, close
contact with all political actors, as well as continuing to work with all sides to further develop the capability of the Assembly.

In general, Albania has satisfactory institutional and legislative structures, and the strategy of the Presence foresees a shift in focus from institution-building to those areas of greatest challenge: meaningful and impartial implementation of law, effective and proper functioning
of institutions and a relationship of trust with citizens and between political opponents.

Already an important contributor to peace and stability, and a co-operative and constructive regional player, Albania is strengthening its role as an OSCE participating State, hosting the Parliamentary Assembly’s Fall Meetings in October 2012, the High-level Conference on
Tolerance and Non-Discrimination in May 2013, and the South-East Europe Media Conference in September 2013, and the Presence will support its expressed aspiration to take over more international responsibility at various levels and in different formats.

The remaining challenges to the consolidation of democracy and further international integration are internal, in mentality and functionality: the future shape of the country, the speed, effectiveness and sustainability of reforms very much depends on the will and
commitment of all political actors in Albania. As the Presence’s vision and strategy show, the OSCE Presence in Albania offers its sincere partnership – not interference, but a frank and result-oriented engagement in selected areas where it offers distinct contributions
complementary to those of partners – to the institutions and citizens of the country in helping them to meet their worthy aspirations.

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