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If we look at the situation three years ago, we can indeed note positive achievements, not only in Albania but also in the whole region, which closely follows the ambitious reforms in this country. Entrenching the rule of law is a priority for all the Western Balkans.
In Albania, the process was launched with the constitutional objective of restoring public trust in the judiciary, by clearing the ranks of the justice system from corrupted officials. In less than two years, following complex investigations, the vetting institutions have already taken over 186 decisions in first instance, and some more are to be adopted ahead of the summer recess. Their work is carried out in a very transparent manner. The hearings are public and the institutions keep the public informed on the reasoning for the vetting decisions. The important number of magistrates who resign or are being dismissed confirms that this is a serious process of renovating the ranks of the judiciary.
The vetting has allowed the establishment of several new institutions, including the Justice Appointment Council and the two new High Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils. Now the top priority is the vetting of the applicants that will fill the benches of the Constitutional Court. The same goes for the new special prosecution office that will be mandated to fight corruption and organised crime. We are very pleased that the Justice Appointment Committee has recently published the list with the first four candidates for the six vacant seats in the Constitutional Court. We expect that the final appointments to these bodies will be soon completed.
The greatest success of the process will be when, once all bodies are in place and fully operational, the confidence of all citizens of Albania in the independence, accountability, professionalism and impartiality of the judiciary is entirely restored.
The vetting is a very visible process that attracts enormous attention on the media. We have noted that politicians have often made public statements and comments on the work of the independent vetting institutions which have not always been constructive. One of the main guarantees of the independence of the process is the clear separation between the functioning of the vetting institutions and the political level. Therefore, it is very important that all political actors fully respect the work carried out by the vetting institutions and international observers.
The Constitutional reform was adopted unanimously in 2016 by the Albanian Parliament. The vetting bodies were also appointed a little over two years ago, based on full cross-party agreement. This represented the culmination of a strong commitment of all political actors to advance the justice reform with a process that was clearly going to be complex, but that was deemed essential to strengthen the judiciary. Important checks and balances and guarantees have been put in place for the independence of the vetting bodies, in particular lack of any decision-making role or involvement of the political level. Our international observers are closely monitoring every step of the decision-making in all vetting cases. So far, there has been no indication of political interference or other undue external or internal pressure.
The vetting process has given a strong message to the ones who have abused their powers. The increasing attacks on justice reform and vetting, and against the IMO and International Observers, are very telling in this regard. These defamatory allegations are unfounded and unacceptable but we see them as a confirmation that the vetting is shaking the foundations of a corrupt system. We hope that the turnover in the judiciary will strengthen the professionalism, capacity and courage of newly appointed magistrates to fight corruption.
A few days ago, at the occasion of the inauguration of the new Justice Palace in Tirana, I attended a graduation ceremony of the School of Magistrates. I was very proud to see young judges and prosecutors taking office and swearing to serve the Constitution. I reminded them and all future graduates, but also all the magistrates that have and will successfully pass the vetting, that they have a great opportunity to make history.
Albania needs magistrates who serve with the utmost integrity and maintain an absolute commitment to turn corruption and crime into phenomena that belong to the past. In this respect, it is also essential that the vetting institutions report to the competent bodies potential acts of abuse of office, or other suspected crimes, evident from the re-evaluation files before them. Fighting impunity is a collective responsibility for all institutions and citizens in Albania.
The support of the IMO and of the international community has secured the credibility, independence, and orderly progress of the vetting process, which is an essential building block of the overall justice reform. This is exactly why all Albanian authorities and political sides explicitly requested and widely supported the IMO’s close supervision of the process at the times of finalising the constitutional reform. The European Commission is honoured to lead the IMO, under which the International Observers exercise their important role of oversight by submitting recommendations and opinions, including dissenting opinions, if necessary. We have dedicated important human, technical and financial means to the IMO and will continue to do so in close coordination with our US counterpart. However, it should be clear that the responsibility for the final decisions and accountability for the vetting process remains fully with the Albanian authorities.
The IMO has a constitutional responsibility to oversee the vetting process throughout. We will ensure our field deployment as long as it is necessary and continue monitoring at every stage the work with the vetting institutions, with whom our observers have established effective working relations.
At this stage, we do not consider that the deployment of another mission similar to the IMO is necessary but the EU support for the judicial reform will continue, with all instruments at our disposal. For instance, our EURALIUS mission has played and shall continue to play an important role in bringing the Albanian justice system closer to European standards, by providing valuable technical support and expertise. Our PAMECA mission is supporting the law enforcement agencies in fighting serious crime and corruption by working closely with our EU agencies: Frontex, Europol, Cepol to develop their capacity in line with the European acquis. In addition, we have recently allocated €42 million of EU funds to a new justice programme that will help consolidate the reform. We will also continue reporting in detail on Albania's situation in the Commission reports.
As you see, the EU's engagement in Albania is multi-faceted and very broad because we want to see concrete and measurable results on the rule of law. This is vital to protect citizens and to foster economic development, so much needed to ensure the young generations stay in the beautiful country where they have been born without needing to look for a brighter future abroad.
That is why, in these important times for the country, the EU expects all political actors to show full commitment and constructively engage in dialogue without further delays. This is the only way to overcome the current political stalemate. There should be no compromise that undermines the establishment of a strong rule of law in Albania. This will be crucial to determine the support of EU Member States in the enlargement process.