Dear Ambassadors, honourable president Moisiu, dear representatives of civil society organisations, but most of all, dear friends,
Literal translation of the word democracy is “people power”, and our discussion today it needs no better definition than this.
Citizens' power is not something exercised only during elections, but at all times. In order for participatory democracy to function, you have to want and demand to participate. It sounds like tautology, but unfortunately there are still many mountains to climb.
Let me use the most recent example: the new judicial reform has envisaged direct participation of the representatives of civil society, academia and advocates in the councils that will appoint judges and prosecutors, as the so-called lay members. The first call for representatives of civil society that should create a Commission that will evaluate candidates for civil society lay members of the Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils has been launched and closed with only two applications. Only two! This is what we should worry about, and what we should try to understand - why only two organisations, among thousands in Albania, cared to apply?
Is it fear from pressure? Lack of trust that the process will work? Lack of information? Or just lack of interest to actively participate, now that there is a possibility?
I have learned through days and months of discussions on judicial reform that people in Albania are very sceptical about possibilities for real change, and feel powerless in what they can do to make it happen.
If I had put aside one euro for every time I was told that judicial reform is impossible, that it will never happen, that it will not work because it will be blocked, I would have had dozens of thousands of euros now.
What has been proven though is that change is possible, and that it is actually happening as we speak! Next week the setting up of vetting institutions will formally start, and that is just the beginning.
But for this change to be sustainable, to be strong and to be fortified and irreversible, it needs you. It needs your participation, your personal commitment and your dedication.
The call for civil society participation in forming judicial and prosecutorial councils will be relaunched, I sincerely hope this time with many more applications.
Solutions never come from the outside. Friendship and support, assistance and transfer of knowledge, financial assistance – we do all that. But solutions for your society have to come from you.
Transparency and participation are core European values. European Union has relentlessly pushed for public participation, access to information and support to civil society – up to enshrining the European Citizens Initiative in the Lisbon Treaty.
This is not only about Albania. EU legislation has pushed for those rights in all Member States. And just like here, it has been, and often still is, difficult, because the resistance of insiders to open the playground they control is universal. But when citizens see that they can really change things, they get more interested. They get more informed. And it launches a virtuous cycle of trust and empowerment.
Parliamentary elections are coming soon. It is of paramount importance for citizens to get organised, to question, to monitor and to participate.
In the coming months, the European Union Delegation will be fully engaged in supporting the stronger participation of all citizens of Albania in the management of their country. We will launch campaigns on transparency and participation, provide support to civil society organisations, and assist as much as possible to make sure that the electoral process is as inclusive as it can be.
We might live in what is described as the post-truth era of politics and media, but it does not mean that truth does not exist and that people don’t know what it is. I have a great trust in the wisdom of hard working Albanians, to see clearly the facts, the truth and the change that needs their support to keep course.
Electoral reform has been under discussion for too long. The OSCE-ODIHR recommendations have been on the table since 2013! I only hope this lack of progress is not a sign that the system is comfortable enough for all involved, to the detriment of citizens.
Depolitisation of the electoral process remains a necessity to ensure both independence and professionalism of the management of elections. Transparency of party financing, gender representation and fair access to media are key parts of OSCE-ODIHR recommendations. The law on integrity of elected representatives and public officials should be fully implemented, and tougher sanctions for electoral violations should ensure prevention and improve electoral standards.
Political parties have clear and direct obligations in this regard.
But citizens also have rights and responsibilities to demand change, and hold accountable all those who don’t deliver.
This is your democracy, and power is yours.