Delegation of the European Union to Botswana and SADC

Interview of EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca with Panorama newspaper

Tirana, Albania , 29/07/2020 - 13:53, UNIQUE ID: 200729_8
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Ambassador Soreca, you were one of the Ambassadors who negotiated to reach an agreement on June 5 on amendment to the Electoral Code. Today it seems that this agreement is no longer enough for one party, the SP and 28 MPs. Does the EU still stand true to the text of the June 5 pact?


As you know, I strongly welcomed the adoption of Electoral Code amendments last Thursday, which translates into law the 5 June political agreement. All political parties deserve our congratulations to have finally addressed, in an inclusive way, the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. When the European Council decided to open accession negotiations last March, adopting the necessary legislative provisions to implement those recommendations was one of the main conditions the Council posed in order to have the first Inter-Governmental Conference. The vote of 23 July fulfilled that condition. It is now very important to swiftly implement the new Electoral Code, starting with the setting up of the new Central Electoral Commission (CEC).  

My most important goal is to push the EU integration process of Albania forward. I have therefore engaged politically since last year with all political actors to advance electoral reform. We contributed to create the Political Council as a way to re-establish political dialogue in Albania after a very difficult year 2019. Reaching the political agreement on 5 June showed that it was the right path, the right spirit, the spirit of exchanging and compromising, where necessary, which is the core of a modern democracy. I sincerely hope that the same cooperative and inclusive approach will be taken also in the future and on other important matters.

 


There are 3 points in the document agreed last week by the Assembly. The first is the approval of the June 5 agreement; a request of the EU for the opening of negotiations. The second is the amendment of the Constitution and the rules of election competition. And the third is again the amendment of the Electoral Code, according to the new rules adopted in the Constitution. In short, it seems as if the majority has approved the June 5 pact, as a condition. And then, a little later, it will change the agreed code again, this time without the consent of all parties. A scheme that is clarified in the Assembly’s document. Do you agree with this manoeuvre of the majority?

I acknowledge that the Parliament has an institutional role in proposing and adopting additional legislative initiatives, including on electoral matters covered by the agreement. Having said this, the agreement clearly stated that any further initiatives should be discussed among all parties with the same spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness as the 5 June agreement. This is why I have repeatedly, publicly and in diplomatic meetings, called for the process to be as consensual as possible, because the electoral system lays down the rules of the democratic game and inclusiveness is key on electoral matters. It is in the interest of all election contenders to arrive at an overall agreement sufficiently ahead of Election Day, in order to have a resulting Government that is accepted by all, after free and fair elections recognised by all political actors.  Therefore, it is welcomed that after the 23 July vote the parties have continued to discuss in the Political Council on the proposed constitutional amendments, with a view of detailing and clarifying the resulting changes in the most consensual manner possible. I am still convinced that this can happen before any vote takes place.

 

The June 5 agreement was welcomed by senior EU and US leaders. From that date there have been several statements by MEPs, and senior officials of major EU countries, that the violation of this agreement would affect the opening of negotiations. How much does Albania risk if the majority violates the June 5 pact?

The Parliament has now adopted the amendments to the Electoral Code resulting from the 5 June political agreement. Last Friday President Meta confirmed that he would decree the law immediately, so as to have the new provisions entering into force and work can start for their implementation. Let's not forget that the ultimate goal is to have clear and transparent rules of the game in place in time for the next elections.  As you know, the CEC will have, among others, two very urgent and important tasks ahead: (1) the implementation of electronic identification of voters and (2) of the out-of-country vote, two very important achievements of the new Electoral Code resulting from the 5 June agreement.  


Does the change of the rules of the game by only one party make the June 5 agreement  meaningless? If the extra-parliamentary opposition does not have the votes, as the majority claims, why did the June 5 pact, your engagement and that of other Ambassadors as well as senior EU and US officials was needed? Do you feel used in this case?

I consider the 23 July amendments historically important in Albania's politics. The OSCE/ODIHR recommendations were pending for more than 3 electoral cycles. It is very significant that the electoral code was modified consensually to implement OSCE/ODIHR recommendations and to clear one of the most important conditions before properly starting negotiating with the EU. As I said earlier, supporting the country on its path towards EU accession is the most important objective of the EU Delegation's work here. And my own primary goal. It is therefore essential for the EU Ambassador to engage in the political discussions and, where necessary, play a role in assisting the parties in making sure that the reform agenda moves forward. Our aim is to see Albania a stable and prosperous future EU member, an aim and aspiration I believe we share with Albanian citizens and politicians.

  

Is it normal to change the Constitution when there is no Constitutional Court? Would such unilateral and uncorrected actions endanger democracy and pluralism?

As said earlier, it is the prerogative of the Albanian Parliament to discuss possible changes to the Constitution, in full respect of the Constitution itself. At the same time, when it comes to particularly important matters, such as the electoral provisions, such discussions should take place in the widest and most inclusive way possible, and on the basis of a large consensus and best standards applicable. The spirit of the 5 June agreement. I therefore believe that any Constitutional change should be carefully discussed with all political forces, through a comprehensive dialogue, including the civil society.


Borders with the EU have not yet opened for Albanian due to Covid-19. The given argument says more or less that Albania has more infected persons per 100 thousand inhabitants than the normal allowed in the EU. Meanwhile, although it had a number of infected people per 100 thousand inhabitants higher than Albania, borders were opened for Serbia. Is the decision biased? And we are heading towards the end of July, are the borders expected to open?

The decision to temporarily not re-open the EU external border to travellers from Albania and other countries is taken by the EU Member States and is based on a list of precise and objective technical criteria agreed by the same Member States. The first list led to a recommendation to reopen EU’s external borders to 15 countries. It included – you are right – Serbia and Montenegro. However this list was updated on 16 July leading to the removal of those two countries on the basis of the same objective and technical criteria. There was no politically relevant argument when the first decision was taken, neither when the second decision on 16 July was taken. There is in no way discrimination towards Albania and Albanians. You would have noted for instance that the USA are also among the countries which did not make it to the list. The EU is applying collectively a very cautious policy to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Therefore only 13 countries are now on this list, at the moment none from the Western Balkans region where in the last month there has been a rapid insurgence of new cases of infections. The next revision of the list is expected to take place early September. Let me also stress that this it is incorrect to talk about total ban for Albanians to travel to the EU. A rather long list of exception applies for essential travellers such as health workers, Albanians citizens having residence permit in an EU Member State, those who are being married to an EU citizen or even students are some of the categories not concerned by the temporary travel ban.    

 

A few days ago, the European Union approved 100 million Euros for the reconstruction. How is this money planned to be spent, and how will it be monitored by the EU?

As you remember, at the Donors' Conference "Together for Albania" organised by the EU in Brussels last February, the EU pledged €115 million for the post-earthquake reconstruction. A first €15 million package was approved in February 2020 and is already being implemented for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 22 schools in areas affected by the earthquake, through the "EU4Schools" programme. I am very proud that work is well advanced and those schools will be ready for the next school year, thanks also to the great work done on the ground by UNDP. The second part of the package, €100 million, was indeed approved a few days ago, and will used to finance two different programmes. First, €50 million will be used to finance the reconstruction of many more schools under the "EU4Schools" programme, including the supply of equipment and furniture. Second, the other €50 million will be used for the "EU4Culture" programme aimed at the rehabilitation and restoration of historical and cultural sites damaged by the earthquake, but also to boost tourism in Albania and the local economic development of the relevant areas. We are in advanced work with the Ministry of Culture for the design of the projects, and will implement the programme thanks to the support of our UN colleagues.

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