Albanian parliament adopts judicial reform package after last minute delay

Albanian parliament adopts judicial reform package after last minute delay
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje July 22, 2016

Albanian MPs have adopted a package of judicial reforms in a milestone vote that opens the way for the country to progress further on its path towards the European Union.

The package has been the subject of intense debates over the last 18 months as Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government sought to persuade the opposition to back the reforms. They are considered a key condition for Albania, an EU candidate country since 2014, to open accession talks with the EU, which could now start after the EU summit in December.

The package was adopted around midnight on July 21 after parliament speaker Ilir Meta temporary postponed the vote due to last minute disagreements between the government and the opposition Democratic Party over the appointment of panels of judges and prosecutors.

It was approved unanimously in the 140-seat parliament following lengthy talks mediated by the ambassador of the US in Tirana, Donald Lu, and head of the EU mission, Romana Vlahutin, news agency ATA reported.

The reforms will enable Albanian justice system, which is seen as corrupt and unprofessional, to be overhauled. One of the most important changes will be to ensure the independence of judges and prosecutors. Once the reforms are implemented, historic cases including those involving high-profile Albanians, could be reopened. This is believed to have been one of the reasons for the high level of opposition to the reforms.

Lu said after the vote that above all, this “is a victory for the Albanian people."

“The United States is proud to have supported the drafting and negotiation of this strong reform package and we look forward to continuing our enduring partnership, which is now much stronger,” Lu said in a statement published on the embassy's website.

Before the vote, Rama thanked the EU and US for the extraordinary role they have played in reaching the final consensus, according to a government statement.

Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said he considered the adoption of the judicial reform, a cornerstone in the fight against corruption, news agency ATA reported.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur for Albania, Knut Fleckenstein, also welcomed the unanimous adoption of the draft judicial reform.

Fleckenstein added that the implementation of the package would not be easy but that Tirana would get international support, ATA said.

Pressure from the international community was intensified before the key vote. On July 20 Lu warned that Albanian politicians who voted against the judicial reforms would face severe negative consequences from the US.

The US ambassador blamed Basha for “persistently obstructing” the process of finding consensus for the key reforms and changing objections to a draft agreement.