Dear Prime Minister,
One week ago, the European Commission adopted the Enlargement Package, including the Annual Report on Albania. On the same day, GRECO published its addendum to 2018 compliance report.
They both offer the chance to step back, reflect on progress made and discuss the way ahead regarding the fight against corruption in Albania.
We welcome the GRECO report, which shows progress since July 2018 and aligns with the Commission assessment on most findings.
When it comes to the fight against corruption, the Commission considers that Albania has “some level of preparation” to enter the European Union. This is our technical language to say that Albania has still much work to do
In the past year, Albania has continued its efforts to improve the track record on investigating, prosecuting and trying corruption cases. Especially, we have seen a number of convictions of lower and middle-ranking officials.
Needless to say that the justice reform and especially the vetting contribute directly to the fight against corruption. Of the more than 286 magistrates that underwent vetting, so far 62% have been dismissed from office, mostly for unjustified assets, or resigned. The vetting process and its results remain crucial in the fight against corruption and to restore public trust in the judiciary and law enforcement bodies of the State.
In the past year, we have seen major progress with the establishment of justice reform institutions. The new General Prosecutor has been appointed, SPAK was established. The Chief Special Prosecutor was appointed in December 2019. With 13 out of 15 Special Prosecutors in function, the Special Prosecution Office is fully operational. The Director of the National Bureau of Investigation was also appointed by the High Prosecutorial Council and is the selection committee is, as we speak, selecting the investigators of this prestigious unit.
The role of HIDAACI in detecting conflicts of interest and checking asset declarations has been strengthened by the adoption of the Law on whistle-blowing and whistle-blower protection. And, as put forth by GRECO, we look forward to the online asset declarations and control system to go online on the HIDAACI’s website in January 2021. I am glad that the EU, the US and the Council of Europe have partnered to support this development.
All that being said, the overall state of play is that corruption does remain widespread in Albania and is still. a serious concern for the EU and our Member States.
It requires further structured and consistent efforts. Final convictions in cases involving high-level officials remain far too low. This is something we, unfortunately, have been assessing in all our previous reports. As we have seen in a number of other countries – including in the European Union – you need these high-level convictions for society to understand that no one is above the law.
On this, we have high expectations that SPAK and the SPAK Courts will significantly strengthen the capacity to investigate, prosecute and issue final convictions in corruption cases. It is promising for example that investigations have been launched against 23 magistrates disqualified by the vetting, including 9 from Constitutional and High Court.
Finally, on fighting money-laundering –which is a closely related topic also monitored by the Council of Europe (MONEYVAL) – our annual report is also calling for further actions. On that front, it is key that all recommendations of the Action Plan agreed with the Financial Action Task Force are implemented in due time. We know that positive steps have already been taken but efforts should continue.
When it comes to the fight against corruption, the European Union is one of the strongest partners of Albania. Since the first major intervention to fight corruption in 2009, the EU has invested over EUR 20 million in this sector. This includes direct support to the institutions through Twinnings, a sector reform contract snd cooperation with the Council of Europe through the Horizontal Facility. I am proud that we also directly support civil society organisations working in the field throughout the country.
Those interventions have directly or indirectly contributed to the achievement of the GRECO recommendations that are being discussed today. EU-funded projects have contributed to the introduction of a regulatory framework on lobbying and the improvement of the Law on Political Party Financing. EURALIUS has also been instrumental in ensuring the efficient functioning of the new institutions.
For the coming years, we have already identified new support under a Good Governance sector reform contract, as well as more opportunities for civil society to contribute from their side.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To conclude, the Commission agrees with GRECO’s conclusions that progress has been made. We are also looking forward to the report of the 5th GRECO evaluation round.
Corruption erodes trust in public institutions and in democracy, it hampers foreign investment, it costs taxpayers millions at a time of economic and financial crisis, and in many cases, it helps organised crime do their dirty work.
Fighting corruption is a whole-society effort, it will only be won if everyone is on board: government, civil society, academics, media, in short: society as a whole. There is no single clear-cut solution to this problem. It needs to be fought from various angles at the same time, with clear political will and a robust institutional framework. To aim at a deeper cultural shift towards a society that fully values honesty and integrity.