FRIENDS OF ALBANIA - MIQTË E SHQIPËRISË
JOINT PRESS RELEASE BY EU PRESIDENCY
AND OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP-IN-OFFICE
Brussels, 2 March 2001
The 5th International Conference of the Friends of Albania Group met in Brussels on 2 March 2001, under the joint chairmanship of the Presidency of the European Union and the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office to review the ongoing process of democratic transition in Albania and the achievements made throughout the past year in terms of the Government of Albania’s institutional and structural reforms.
The Friends welcomed the constructive and stabilising role that Albania is playing in the region and noted Albania’s active participation in the co-operation and integration processes in South Eastern Europe. They recognised the positive results achieved by the Government in the economic sphere as well as the efforts undertaken in strengthening public order and initiating the fight against organised crime, in defence reform, and in consolidating democratic institutions. Given this progress, they noted that particular attention now needs to be given to full and systematic implementation and enforcement of laws.
The Friends of Albania emphasised the importance of properly organised, timely and well-run parliamentary elections expected in June 2001. In this regard, they noted the progress achieved by Albania in conducting the October 2000 local elections. The Friends called upon the Albanian institutions at all levels to avoid further delays and work for an improved election process. They also urged the implementation of the recommendations made in the reports of the ODIHR and Council of Europe election observation missions.
The Friends highlighted other near-term priorities for the Government of Albania: enhancing the fight against organised crime, trafficking and smuggling in human beings; strengthening the rule of law and furthering the fight against corruption; and maintaining progress on economic reform.
FRIENDS OF ALBANIA - MIQTË E SHQIPËRISË
5th International Conference
2 March 2001
1. The Friends of Albania Group met at international level in Brussels on 2 March 2001, under the chairmanship of the Presidency of the European Union and the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office to review the ongoing process of democratic transition in Albania and the achievements made throughout the past year in terms of the Government of Albania’s institutional and structural reforms. Albania was represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Paskal Milo, Minister of Public Order, Mr Ilir Gjoni, Minister of Justice, Mr Arben Imami, and Minister of State, Mr Ndre Legisi.
2. The Friends took note of the discussion held during the Consultative Group meeting, organised by the European Commission and the World Bank, and endorsed the conclusions reached in that forum.
3. The Friends welcomed the constructive and stabilising role that Albania continued to play in the region. They highlighted the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and encouraged both parties to seek further ways of developing their co-operation. They noted that Albania’s active participation in the initiatives of the Stability Pact for South East Europe further contributed to the promotion of regional co-operation and understanding, and looked forward to the forthcoming meeting of Working Table II to be organised by Albania. The Friends also welcomed Albania’s new membership into the World Trade Organisation.
4. The Friends recognised the positive results achieved by the Government in the process of macroeconomic stabilisation and overall economic reform. They noticed with satisfaction the efforts undertaken in strengthening public order and initiating the fight against organised crime, in defence reform, and in consolidating democratic institutions. In particular, the Friends noted the encouraging achievements made in some central areas of the Albanian public administration, such as customs. They commended the progress made in fostering a credible and transparent privatisation process and furthering infrastructure development. They encouraged the Albanian Government to pursue its efforts in order to enhance the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, in accordance with European standards, as well as to improve the security situation within the country.
5. The Friends recognised that the transition of power at the local government level following the October 2000 municipal elections did not result in the wide-scale dismissals that had occurred in the past. This was seen as evidence of the development of democratic principles within the country and pointed towards the beginnings of a professional public administration.
6. The Friends expressed their disappointment, however, that, as noted before, politics remained polarised, and personalities rather than policies still dominated the political debate. They urged all Albanian political forces to take up their responsibility and participate constructively in the institutional life of the country. They welcomed some recent signs in this direction.
II. Priority Issues
7. The Friends reviewed the work of the Government over the past year towards accomplishing the priorities identified at the last international FOA Group meeting. The Group recognised the steady progress achieved in furthering the planned reforms, particularly in moving towards completing the legal framework for many of the country’s institutions. They noted, however, that particular attention needed to be given to enhancing public administration capacity and strengthening the judiciary, and that overall efforts should centre on a full and systematic implementation and enforcement of the laws.
8. In terms of defining overall Government priorities, the Friends welcomed the new "Policy Agenda of the Government" which identifies the strategic goals to be accomplished in the medium-term.
9. Taking into account the Government’s medium-term objectives, the Friends highlighted the priorities for the near term:
A. Ensuring properly organised, timely and well-run parliamentary elections, in keeping with the proposals made in the OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe reports
10. Taking note of the assessments made by the monitoring missions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Friends noted the progress achieved by Albania in conducting the October 2000 local elections. They were the first elections to be held under the legal framework of the new Constitution and a new Electoral Code and were carried out in an orderly manner without major security incidents. This marked an important step towards meeting the standards laid out in the OSCE Copenhagen Document. Although irregularities were observed, they were not significant enough to affect the general outcome. However, they need to be seriously addressed by the Albanian authorities, especially in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
11. The Friends expressed their concern about delays in the preparations for the 2001 Parliamentary elections and called upon the Albanian institutions at all levels to intensify their work to provide an improved election process. They urged the appropriate responsible authorities to implement the recommendations highlighted in the monitoring reports of the ODIHR and Council of Europe. They also urged the Albanian institutions to respect the Electoral Code deadlines and stressed the importance of duly implementing the Voter Registration Project, adopting all necessary regulations for the efficient operation of the electoral process at all levels and fully securing the implementation of a credible appeal process. The Friends welcomed the recent decision of the Albanian Parliament on the definition of electoral zone boundaries, as well as the signs of co-operation between the Government and opposition parties on election issues. They appreciated the early signs that progress had been made and expressed hope that the Central Election Commission, under the leadership of the newly elected chair, will be able to prepare in an appropriate way the forthcoming elections.
12. The Friends renewed their appeal to all political forces in Albania to stand by their commitment on a continued political dialogue and to work towards improving the electoral process.
B. Enhancing the fight against organised crime, trafficking and smuggling in human beings
13. The Friends noted with appreciation the progress achieved in the last year in ensuring general public order and tackling criminality. They recognised the work accomplished towards completing the legislative framework of the police forces based on the Law on State Police, as well as the judicial police and financial police laws. The Friends welcomed the recent successes in increasing arrests and seizures of contraband and the commitment shown by the Government to complete the structures necessary for fighting organised crime, such as the organised crime strike force and special police unit. In addition, they encouraged the Government to complete the ratification process with regard to the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime. The Friends also acknowledged the participation of Albania in the Stability Pact Initiative against Organised Crime (SPOC) and encouraged the Government to further enhance interagency co-operation.
14. The Friends recognised the efforts made in fighting against organised crime and illegal trafficking. The Friends encouraged the Government to continue its work, in co-operation with the international community, to suppress illegal migration from and through its territory, by further strengthening the policing of its borders and taking action against those engaged in the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking in persons. The Friends welcomed the actions taken as a follow-up to the process of co-operation within the Adriatic Sea Initiative launched at the Ancona Conference, namely, the extraordinary meetings on illegal activities in Adriatic and Ionian Seas and the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding during the Rome meeting on illegal activities in the Adriatic, Ionian, and Eastern Mediterranean Seas. The Friends supported the proposed project of the Government to establish a regional anti-trafficking centre in Vlora, backed during the Corfu trilateral meeting of the Ministers of Interior of Albania, Greece, and Italy, which could contribute to the strengthening of international co-operation against illegal trafficking. They also welcomed the establishment of procedures for protecting the rights of migrants, in accordance with international obligations.
15. The Friends recognised the importance of a cross-pillar approach as outlined by the EU High-Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration, including economic development assistance for Albania as a means of combating some of the underlying reasons for engaging in illegal smuggling and trafficking of persons. They urged the Government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to manage the irregular flows of persons across its borders and the three groups that comprise them, namely economic migrants, refugees, and trafficked persons. To this end, the Friends called upon the Government to implement the framework strategy proposed by the Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings and to nominate a national focal point on this issue as agreed at the Palermo meeting of the Task Force and to take decisive steps towards implementing asylum and migration systems along the lines outlined by the Stability Pact initiative on Asylum and Migration. The Friends welcomed, as a positive step, the recent Order by the Minister of Public Order to implement a system of pre-screening to identify asylum seekers and trafficked persons among detained and intercepted foreigners. They also supported the Government’s proposal to establish accommodation centres for illegal migrants and asylum-seekers and acknowledged that countries concerned should urgently conclude readmission agreements with Albania to help ease the problem.
C. Strengthening the rule of law and furthering the fight against corruption
16. Having in mind the fact that corruption within the judicial system undermines reform efforts and thus undermines its credibility to the public, the Friends commended the progress achieved over the past year in formulating and implementing the April 2000 Revised Anti-Corruption Plan, and the Seven Immediate Actions of the Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Initiative. They recognised the commitment of the Government to establish an Anti-Corruption Monitoring Group, responsible for overseeing the implementation of the anti-corruption measures.
17. The Friends stressed, however, the importance that Albanian institutions at all levels must work in support of the plan to avoid uncoordinated implementation. They recommended the definition of short- and medium-term strategic goals within the plan as a means of overcoming some of the programmatic difficulties. They also emphasised the crucial need to improve the co-operation between the police, prosecutors, and judiciary and called upon the General Prosecutor’s Office and the courts to undertake more vigorous actions aimed at combating corruption.
18. In addition, they stressed the need to strengthen the day-to-day functioning of the judicial system. In this context, the Friends supported all initiatives aiming at reinforcing the efficiency of the judicial system in Albania and called for an appropriate co-ordination.
D. Maintaining progress on economic reform
19. The Friends acknowledged the continuing stable economic growth and positive macro-economic indicators. They welcomed the success in achieving budget revenue targets as planned, and the completion of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). They also recognised the successful privatisation of state-owned companies and noted that improvements in the overall climate have generated greater investor confidence in Albania.
20. The Friends encouraged the Government to continue on the path of economic reform and urged that the harmonisation of the state budget with the investment budget be completed within the MTEF in order to ensure the sustainability of infrastructure development projects. Recalling that the rule of law and law implementation and enforcement is a pre-requisite for creating a favourable investment and business climate, they stressed that the transparency of laws and regulations for investors and the protection from dubious legal claims on property needed to be further strengthened. The Friends invited Albania to accelerate the overdue reforms in the electricity sector and encouraged Albania to implement fully the strategy for this sector endorsed by the donor community in December.
III. Other important issues
21. The Friends commended the Government for the ongoing nation-wide weapons collection programme and the efforts of the police in carrying out door-to-door weapons checks, often in difficult circumstances. Recognising the importance and urgency of the matter, the Friends urged the Albanian government to step up its efforts, as announced, in order to achieve further results. They welcomed Albania’s commitment to destroy more than 130,000 of its weapons and to eliminate its entire stockpile of 1.6 million anti-personnel landmines. The Friends agreed to support the Government’s commitment towards further reductions in the overall level of weapons and ammunition in the country and to work further with Albanian authorities in the ongoing effort to restructure their armed forces to better meet modern challenges including in the context of Albania’s participation in NATO’s Membership Action Plan.
22. As an encouraging sign for the defence of human rights in Albania and in keeping with the Copenhagen criteria, the Friends welcomed the creation of the Office of the People’s Advocate and commended the degree of professionalism and restraint shown by the police in confronting daily opposition demonstrations in November and December 2000. They nonetheless asserted that isolated incidents of human rights cases should be investigated and prevented by the relevant Albanian institutions. They reminded the Government to pay due attention to its reporting obligations under the United Nations Human Rights Conventions and Covenants to which it is a party. The Friends of Albania drew the Government’s attention to the need to observe strictly the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols by all public officials, including law enforcement officials, and members of the judiciary. Regarding the respect of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, the Friends recalled the importance of full implementation of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Government’s commitment to reporting under this framework.
23. The Friends recognised the steady progress in carrying out the National Decentralisation Strategy. They called upon the Government to ensure the full empowerment of all levels of local government, especially at the regional level, and the timely implementation of the fiscal decentralisation programme.
24. The Friends noted that efforts for the protection of the natural and urban environment—including hazardous industrial waste disposal, waste management, urban planning and nature preservation—need to be stepped up both for the prevention of health risks to the population and for sound economic development, especially in the field of tourism. They supported the recommendation of the UNEP’s post-conflict environmental assessment of Albania, calling on the Government to create a Ministry of Environment.
25. The European Union has indicated that it sees Albania as a potential candidate for future membership and has launched a Stabilisation and Association process to accompany Albania’s progressive integration into the political and economic mainstream of Europe. In this context, the Friends welcomed the creation of a high-level EU/Albania Steering Group in preparation for the negotiation of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). They called upon Albania to maintain her efforts to fulfil the conditions required for the negotiation of an SAA. This process is supported by various Stability Pact initiatives.
26. The Friends also noted that the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy, representing the country’s emerging economic and social development plan, will play an important role in the future development of Albania. The Friends further welcomed the commitment of the Government to engage in a broadly based consultative process with civil society to elaborate the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy with the aim of ensuring an equitable distribution of the benefits of macroeconomic stability.
27. The Friends encouraged enhanced co-ordination amongst the donor community and the Government to eliminate the creation of divergent goals and objectives that could adversely affect the Government’s management capacities, and looked towards strengthening local co-ordination efforts for sector issues identified under the three tables of the Stability Pact.