The adoption of the justice reform, five years ago, meant the beginning a new “era” for rule of law in Albania. It marked a decisive start for a modern and European Albania.
Those who conceived this reform they knew that this was never going to be an easy reform. It has been a complex endeavour since 2016.
However the last five years have only confirmed that reform was necessary. This is a hard process of fighting against impunity, fighting to regain public trust and most importantly, fighting to re-establish integrity as a core value.
This reform has been essential for Albania to move forward away from its past, towards a European future.
The justice reform has started to bring concrete results, which would have been unthinkable only a few years back.
For instance, criminal proceedings against 23 former magistrates dismissed by the vetting are underway, including 10 former High Court and Constitutional Court judges, while SPAK sent for trial cases of former Constitutional President and judges of the two highest Courts. Assets acquired thanks to corruption have been confiscated and brought back in the realm of legality.
Crucially, we now have fully functional independent justice institutions – the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils, the Justice Inspector, the General Prosecutor’s Office and the SPAK – which are delivering results on a daily basis.
We have now entered a new phase of the justice reform. In this phase, the focus should be on bringing the justice reform to completion. It will require strength, and sometimes pragmatism. As I said in previous occasions, it will require resilience, competence and leadership by the new justice institutions.
The new Parliament and the new Government have important responsibilities in this regard and the EU stands ready to support every effort to this end.
I had a very good first meeting yesterday with Minister Manja and I will soon meet with key Members of Parliament from the majority and opposition.
There are many important files that need to be tackled with urgency. It is essential to engage in ensuring the efficiency of the courts, including by concluding the ongoing work on the judicial map and the new case management system. It is important to look at the fundamental role of the School of Magistrates and at its resources.
It is urgent to make sure that the vetting process can be brought to conclusion: it is crucial that all pending vetting cases are finalised in the shortest possible period of time, whilst preserving the consistency and integrity of the process.
This requires a time-limited extension of the mandate of the members of the Independent Qualification Commission (IQC) and the Public Commissioners. It falls of course within the remit of the Parliament and of the Government to define the precise time limits of such extension, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
More generally, the mantra of this second phase of the justice reform should be “consolidation”. To make sure that this reform and its benefits are irreversible.
The continuous strengthening of professionalism and performance of the justice system, the focus of today’s conference, is of course one of the key aspects which needs to be looked at.
A good system of performance evaluation, inspection, and genuine cooperation between the independent justice institutions is essential for retaining the high standards that Albania has committed itself to with the justice reform. I am therefore very happy that this is going to be discussed today in the presence of all key actors.
At the same time, we must never lose sight of the overall objective – namely, to uphold integrity and independence of the justice system.
An independent judiciary is one of the pillars of democracy and a fundamental precondition for EU accession.
Looking at the vetting results so far, in most cases where judges and prosecutors have been dismissed, they have not been so on grounds of lack of performance or professionalism, but mainly on integrity related issues.
In order to strengthen integrity and preserving independence, the self-governing justice institutions – in close cooperation with the School of Magistrates and with the support of the Ministry of Justice – must show political leadership, as well as invest time and resources.
Judicial reform is and will remain one of the top priorities for the EU in Albania. The EU investment in the sector speaks for itself: EUR 50 million have been invested so far.
As we are entering a new phase of consolidation, it is also time for the EU to adjust our assistance. A new phase of more targeted assistance to the various judicial institutions and for the Ministry of Justice will be operational at the beginning of next year with an additional budget of EUR 9 million.
Peer-to-peer assistance and the exchanges with European counterparts are also crucial tools in this area. And one good example is the cooperation with the European Network of Councils of the Judiciary, whose president, Mr. Filippo Donati, we have here today. Providing the best EU best practices to the independent justice institutions of Albania is the way to go.
Bringing Albania closer to the EU has been my personal commitment since my arrival three years ago and will be until I leave. I sincerely hope that accession talks will start very soon, and I fully join President von der Leyen in the pragmatic optimism she has shown during her important visit to Tirana earlier this week about the timing for the first IGC.
Let me conclude by thanking all the authorities present today and wish you a good discussion ahead.