Albania | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Albania

Albania

Nations in Transit 2011

2011 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.04

Regime Classification

Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime

National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.75

Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

3.75

Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

3.00

Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.00

Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

3.25

Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.25

Corruption
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.00

Capital: Tirana
Population: 3.2 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US$8,640
Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2011.

*Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary: 

The most significant governance-related event in Albania in 2010 was the opinion issued by the European Commission (EC) on the country's application for European Union (EU) membership. The opinion noted Albania's stalled reforms and especially the lack of progress on political criteria, including: the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. Thus, the EC concluded that candidate status and the opening of membership negotiations could not yet be granted to Albania until several key priorities were met. The country's shortcomings in implementing transformation and democratization reforms were coupled with an ongoing political crisis involving an investigation of the disputed June 2009 parliamentary elections; this had a significant bearing on the EC's opinion, as it was at the top of the agenda and a constant concern for EU representatives in their relations with Albania during the year. At the end of 2010, Albania was invited to join the EU's visa-free travel zone. Being in substance a technical process as well as the only issue that retained cross-party political support, the lifting of visa requirements on November 8 was a much anticipated achievement in public opinion, and one in which the Albanian government had invested great effort, under growing public pressure.

National Democratic Governance. Albania's political and governance climate throughout 2010 was marked by harsh disputes between the government - led by Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party of Albania (PD) and the main opposition Socialist Party (SP) regarding the transparency of the 2009 parliamentary elections. The government and the opposition were unable to resolve their disagreements over the investigation into the elections, slowing down the reform process significantly. Therefore, the stalemate had direct implications on the country's political development and Albania's progress toward EU integration. A "conditional relation" with the parliament was established by SP deputies, resulting in their absence from voting on laws until the issue of the election's transparency was settled. The legislative agenda was heavily affected by this situation, and no laws or appointments of high state officials requiring a qualified majority were approved. The United States, EU, and Council of Europe increasingly intensified their lobbying in order to resolve the political crisis and facilitate dialogue between the two parties, but with limited success. Due to the paralyzing effects of the prolonged political crisis, Albania's national democratic governance rating declines from 4.50 to 4.75.

Electoral Process. The parliamentary elections of June 2009 continued to greatly influence the political agenda of Albania during 2010. The SP and other opposition parties demanded that a parliamentary committee be set up to investigate the electoral process. The government and ruling PD party claimed that all legal steps with regard to electoral disputes had been exhausted, and were willing to accept an inquiry as long as ballot boxes were not scrutinized. As a consequence, the entire political debate was centered on this issue, and electoral reform could not proceed until a resolution was agreed upon. In mid-November, the SP softened its stance, offering to inquire only into the election material boxes and dropping its demand to scrutinize the ballot boxes - the request most staunchly opposed by the ruling party - but still to no avail. According to the electoral code, the deadline for amendments is six months prior to a general or administrative election. With the next local administrative elections set to be held on May 8, 2011, the last opportunity to undertake electoral reform or to address the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) report in the electoral code was in November 2010. However, the unresolved row over the investigation into the 2009 parliamentary elections compromised the reform process and legal actions needed to address the identified shortcomings in the country's electoral system. Albania's electoral process rating drops from 3.75 to 4.00.

Civil Society. Albanian civil society generally operates in a nonrestrictive environment, but it faces many important challenges concerning capacities, impact, and credibility in public life. Composed of small organizations mainly operating in the capital, Tirana, the civic sector is characterized by problems with continuity of financing and fundamentally donor-driven agendas. State financial support began in 2010 through the Agency for Support to Civil Society (ASCS). Yet, the civic sector in Albania is rarely consulted in policymaking (with the exception, to a certain extent, of the visa liberalization process) and has low visibility in public life, with citizens generally apathetic and distanced from civic engagement. Trade unions remain relatively weak. Albanian civil society operates in an overall unclear fiscal regulatory framework. Albania's civil society rating remains at 3.00.

Independent Media. Albanian media have advanced technologically, but a lack of independence and transparency of financial resources continued to be concerns in 2010. The use of multimedia formats and the internet to provide information increased during the year. However, there was the risk of misuse of these developing forms of information dissemination due to the absence of a legal framework to provide proper regulation. Strong government ties to the former and current chairs of the National Council of Radio and Television (NCRT) showed that this institution was still far from being independent. Freelance journalism is not regulated and little practiced in Albania, increasing even further the dependence of journalists on media owners. The public service broadcaster, Radio Televizioni Shqiptar (RTSH), remained underdeveloped in terms of technology and program content compared with private broadcasters. RTSH information programs were biased, providing excessive coverage to government activities or high political representatives while giving little space to other public actors. State-funded advertisements were limited to two or three media companies, constituting a near monopoly and shrinking the resources available to other media operators. Albania's independent media rating remains at 4.00.

Local Democratic Governance. During 2010, Albania's central government continued to undertake legal actions and initiatives that hampered the capacity of local officials to exercise their responsibilities, in conflict with local autonomy principles enshrined in the constitution and international conventions ratified by the country. These actions often put the central and local governments at odds, stopped the advancement and consolidation of decentralization reform in Albania, and narrowed the space for local governance by reducing local authorities' competences and drying up their financial resources. Albania's rating for local democratic governance worsens from 3.00 to 3.25.

Judicial Framework and Independence. Guaranteeing rule of law and judicial independence remained a challenge for Albania in 2010. Judicial reform was still considered incomplete, and there was no progress in revising and adopting some of the most important laws, including the Law on National Judicial Conference, the Law on Judicial Administration, and the Law on Establishment of Administrative Court and Administrative Justices. The overall political stalemate also negatively influenced the judicial-reform process. The parliament failed to approve the law on administrative courts and administrative disputes. The Constitutional Court and High Court began the process of replacing members; one third of the Constitutional Court and 4 out of 17 members of the High Court are to be replaced. So far, the parliament has rejected most of the candidates proposed by President Bamir Topi. Although the lustration law has not been officially implemented in Albania due to the constitutional concerns it raises, the spirit of the law served as the basis for the parliament's rejection of one of the candidates. There were a number of highly positive developments in the field of human rights during the year. In February, the parliament approved the Law on Protection from Discrimination, and in May the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination was formally sworn in. Overpopulation in prisons continued to decline, largely due to the establishment of the new probation system. Albania's judicial framework and independence rating remains unchanged at 4.25.

Corruption. Corruption remained deeply entrenched in all sectors of life in Albania, negatively affecting the country's economic and political development as well as the consolidation of democratic institutions. Surveys show that Albanian citizens are faced with bribery three times more often than the populations of neighboring states. On a positive note, efforts to complete the legislative framework to combat corruption increased in 2010. The Albanian High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA) continued to expose conflict of interest cases and enforced asset declaration requirements. Yet, institutional capacities as well as political will to effectively fight corruption remained weak. Official immunity and a frequent lack of determination to see cases through to a verdict nourished the country's already widespread culture of impunity. Albania's corruption rating remains at 5.00.

Outlook for 2011. Albania's potential advancement in the EU membership process will be reconsidered in 2011. The key priorities set in the EC's opinion are the goals that the Albanian government and political class will strive to accomplish, with a particular focus on increasing political dialogue, bringing elections to international standards, strengthening rule of law, and adopting pending legislation that requires a reinforced majority. Local administrative elections held in May 2011 will be crucial to ending the transition period of the still-contested 2009 parliamentary elections. The filling of Constitutional Court and High Court of Justice vacancies with impartial and professional judges will be very important for the functioning of the country's justice system and guaranteeing the preservation of constitutional rights.

National Democratic Governance: 

The governance climate in Albania in 2010 was marked by harsh disputes between the government and the main opposition Socialist Party (SP) over the transparency of June 2009 parliamentary elections. The government and the opposition were unable to resolve the controversy over the investigation of the elections, resulting in a significant slowdown of the country's reform process. This political stalemate had direct implications on Albania's political development and conditioned the country's European Union (EU) integration process and prospects.

The SP demanded an election investigation, and boycotted the parliament from September 2009 until February 2010, when the terms of 65 (out of 140) members were close to expiring. Even after the boycott, SP participation in the parliament was hampered by the SP deputies' "conditional relation," which meant they were absent from legislative voting until the election transparency issue was settled. The legislative agenda was seriously affected by this situation. No laws or appointments of high state officials requiring a qualified majority were approved, including the law on National Judicial Conference, essential for the appointment of High Council of Justice (HCJ) members; the law on administrative courts, introducing for the first time courts dealing only with administrative disputes; and the appointment of the People's Advocate.

The United States, EU, and Council of Europe intensified their lobbying to resolve the political crisis and facilitate dialogue between the two parties, with limited success. Albania's recent change in its electoral system to a proportional one with closed candidate lists increased the already high leverage of leaders within their parties, leaving little space for different or moderate opinions to materialize. Consequently, the political situation engulfed the country in controversy during 2010 by aggravating the ground-level perception that Albanian elections are merely power struggles between two competing individuals. Local and international actors concurred that the situation had served to polarize society at all levels, making it harder for reformers to emerge while taking focus away from core issues and policy debate.1

In July 2010, the government proposed changes to the law on the State Information Service (the Albanian intelligence service) that would reduce the level of parliamentary control over the service and expand its powers of surveillance. The international community and the opposition argued that these changes could affect relations with international partners. U.S. Ambassador John L. Withers II called for a careful review of the law, and NATO officials asked for a copy of the draft law in order to provide their opinion. Another concern was that the draft would give the State Information Service responsibilities in the field of policing. The Albanian Helsinki Committee expressed its concerns on empowering the service with executive attributes currently given only to police authorities. Lacking the support of the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), a party in the governing coalition, the draft law was withdrawn by the ruling majority prior to the vote.

In a government reshuffle in September, the deputy prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and head of the SMI, Ilir Meta, replaced his party colleague, Dritan Prifti, as minister of economy, trade and energy. After the dismissal, Prifti and Meta exchanged fierce corruption accusations, resulting in Prifti declaring opposition to the government.

Albania's economy remained stable during 2010, with steady growth at around 4 percent of GDP. The government reviewed its budget in July to balance the deficit due to weaker than expected revenues. Foreign direct investment increased as a result of the privatization of the electricity distribution service. The high official unemployment rate of 13.8 percent remained a serious concern, especially as it failed to include figures from rural areas, where more than half of the country's population lives. Albania's agriculture continued to be unproductive, and many of the country's agricultural products are imported.

Since the fall of communism, Albania has made continuous reforms to property rights, focusing on property registration, restitution and compensation, and legalization. However, a number of property-related issues remained unresolved because of the country's complex legal framework, uncoordinated structures, and high level of corruption. The already complicated property issue was aggravated by the backlog of legal disputes in the courts, and property disputes constituted the largest number of complaints against Albania at the European Court of Human Rights. The government has failed to develop and implement a clear property reform strategy. The latest legislation passed by the parliament giving authority to the Agency of Property Restitution to review previous decisions was rejected by President Bamir Topi as not complying with the constitution.

At the end of May 2010, the European Commission (EC) proposed to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers that visa restrictions for Albania be lifted, provided that three outstanding benchmarks of the visa liberalization process were met by the end of the year. The government invested great effort during 2010 to successfully conclude the process as public pressure mounted, and, considering it was the only issue with cross-party political support, its successful conclusion on November 8 was a much-anticipated achievement in the country.

The most important governance event in 2010 was the EC's opinion on Albania's application for EU membership, which noted the country's stalled reforms and lack of progress on political criteria, such as: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. The opinion concluded that EU candidate status and opening of negotiations could not yet be granted to Albania, and that a list of key priorities would need to be met before that could occur. As the European Parliament resolution of July 2010 noted, there was an urgent need to establish a cross-party consensus on economic, political and social reforms in order to improve the well-being of Albanian citizens and allow the country to make progress towards EU membership.2

Electoral Process: 

Albania's last parliamentary elections, which were held in June 2009, continued to play an ongoing and disruptive role in the country's political agenda throughout 2010. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election report addressed the polls' shortcomings and irregularities and provided recommendations on how to improve the electoral process.3 Despite the OSCE's recommendations having been released in September 2009, Albania failed to implement basic reforms in 2010, leaving the electoral system vulnerable to more irregularities ahead of and during the May 2011 local elections.

Claiming egregious irregularities noted during the counting process, the SP and other opposition parties demanded the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the electoral process. The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Albania (PD) claimed that all legal recourses with regard to electoral disputes had been exhausted, but were willing to accept an inquiry as long as ballot boxes were not opened and scrutinized (considered by them to be a violation of the electoral code and the constitution). As a result, the country's entire political debate came to be centered on this single issue, and electoral reform could not proceed until a resolution was agreed upon by both the ruling coalition and opposition parties. Throughout 2010, however, repeated international attempts at mediation failed to resolve the political crisis.

Demanding the inquiry and the opening of the ballot boxes, the SP boycotted the parliament until February 2010, when the six-month deadline for elected members to take the oath or lose their seats was close to expiring. The opposition opted for a conditional relation with the parliament, meaning its members participated only in the plenary sessions during open discussion. Several attempts to find a compromise failed and the opposition escalated its protest, even conducting a two-week hunger strike of 200 supporters, including members of parliament.

The hunger strike came to an end only after two European Parliament figures, supported by the EC, facilitated a meeting in Strasbourg between the leaders of the ruling coalition and the opposition. After this meeting, communication between the parties increased and several options were put forward, but none received enough support from both sides to end the political crisis. The most promising option was to secure an initial agreement for scrutinizing the election material boxes, while deferring the issue of opening the ballot boxes to the Constitutional Court or Venice Commission for legal review.

Neither side made any substantive changes in its position, and in November 2010 the EC decided not to recommend the granting of EU candidate status to Albania, perpetuating the political crisis. In mid-November the SP modified its demands, offering to forgo scrutiny of the ballot boxes - a request the ruling party deemed unacceptable - and to investigate only the election material boxes. Still, no agreement was reached. The Central Election Commission several times voiced the possibility of voiding the ballot papers from the 2009 elections, but in September announced that it would postpone this decision. Most agreed that destroying the ballot papers would have escalated the conflict and compromised the possibility of finding common ground between the parties.

Albania still does not have a regulatory law on financing political parties or a designated authority for its implementation. Current provisions in the electoral code are limited in their scope and lack proper implementation mechanisms, and controls to verify the financial declarations of political parties are superficial. Discrepancies are clearly visible between the expenses reported and scale of activities organized or advertisements produced during campaigns.

Local elections are set to be held on May 8, 2011. According to the electoral code, no amendments may be enacted less than six months prior to a general or administrative election. Therefore, November 2010 was the last opportunity to undertake electoral reform and address the recommendations of the OSCE-ODIHR report in the electoral code. The unresolved row over the 2009 parliamentary elections compromised any potential electoral reform or legal actions needed to address shortcomings in the electoral process. There is growing public support for a nonpartisan system for managing elections, particularly in the wake of recent events, when political parties have had control of the process. But with the missed opportunity to change the administration of elections, it will take at least one more year for electoral reform to start; thus, the coming local elections will be conducted again in an atmosphere of mistrust and conflict between the deeply polarized political parties.

Civil Society: 

Albania's civil society operates in a generally non-restrictive environment, but the sector faces many important challenges in developing its capacities, impact, and credibility in public life. The civic sector is mainly composed of small nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concentrated in the capital, Tirana. Generally, these groups are founded around the main political, social, and economic issues of the country, with a modest but growing activism concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and environmental issues in 2010. Many civil society organizations (CSOs) are understaffed and struggle with weak organizational and management capacities. Financially, they depend almost exclusively on international funding and continue to develop fundamentally donor-driven agendas. Over the past year, leading donors continued to reduce financial support in view of growing funding available from the EU, yet few organizations acquired the expertise and human resources necessary to apply for the latter.

In 2010, the Albanian civic sector began to receive financial support from the state as well. The Agency for Support to Civil Society (ASCS) became operational and launched the first call for proposals, completing the selection process in the fall. The nature and degree of state influence on the behavior of financially supported NGOs remains to be seen. However, it did not go unnoticed that in the first round of financing, several NGOs receiving funding were supported or directed by board members of the ASCS; the organization receiving the largest grant was founded and formerly directed by the current ASCS head.

Albanian CSOs and their work have a generally low level of credibility among citizens, and few organizations manage to achieve visibility in public life. Civic engagement remains the weakest dimension of the sector. Citizens are generally apathetic and distanced from membership in associations and volunteerism, which are still associated with the compulsory activities organized under the communist regime. NGOs are mainly viewed as small groups composed of elite intellectuals, focusing on specific issues in isolation from the general public, rather than as catalysts for broader social movements. The exception is political activism, which concerns mainly employees of central and local institutions, who often suffer pressure from the ruling parties to participate in various activities.

Trade unions in Albania remain weak. The persistent, widespread gray economy and instability of the labor market have made it hard for citizens to organize in order to claim their rights and interests. Trade unions generally exhibit little activism or impact in policymaking, and mainly gather employees from the public sector. In 2010, input from the civic sector in government policymaking remained modest, with no structured dialogue with state authorities or formal consultation procedures in place. State institutions typically regard civil-society work with mistrust and have little appreciation for the sector's contributions. The watchdog role of CSOs is routinely hampered by state authorities' disrespect of existing right to information legislation. However, Albania's visa liberalization process with the EU marks an example of successful consultation and collaboration of state authorities with NGOs, specifically concerning human rights issues. Next, the adoption of the law on anti-discrimination should be integrated into this framework, an initiative and draft proposed entirely by the country's civic sector.

Relations among civil-society actors are less hostile than those with state institutions, yet the fierce competition for financial resources tends to produce more fragmentation than efficient and stable coalitions. During 2010, several organizations faced an exodus of their leaders into political life, creating new challenges in the struggle to ensure the continuity of their work and funding, increase human capacities, and fight the prejudices of political affiliation.

Civil society in Albania continues to play a limited role in the country's EU integration process. This mainly involves activities carried out independently from state authorities, such as communicating public opinion on the process and stimulating debate on the issues. But the country’s civil society is not yet seen as a strategic partner of the government, and its expertise is generally not utilized in setting priorities or undertaking different tasks in the EU integration process.

The country's fiscal regulatory framework for non-profit organizations remained unclear during the year. Existing Ministry of Finance provisions require the confirmation of tax-exempt status for NGOs. Although no such confirmations have been issued yet, NGOs continue not to pay taxes. The Law on Public Financial Inspection, which was adopted in July and applies to NGOs as well, leaves ample room for arbitrary use of inspections based on a non-exhaustive list of criteria. Whereas the law leaves these inspections up to the discretion of state authorities, it does not provide sufficient guarantees for entities subjected to inspections. In 2010, these measures continued to generate a climate of pressure by state authorities on Albanian civil society.

Independent Media: 

Freedom of expression, including the media, is guaranteed in Albania by the constitution and relevant laws. The country's media sphere has advanced technologically, but its independence and transparency of financial resources continued to be a concern during the year.

The National Council of Radio and Television (NCRT) is responsible for regulating public and private radio and television in Albania. The NCRT is supposed to be an independent institution, yet there are strong political ties with the government among the former and current chairs and other members. Controls are not regularly applied, leaving space for misuse of licenses. For example, one nationally licensed operator, TV Arberia, had ceased to broadcast for several years, but no measures were taken to revoke the license and open the call for other interested operators. In 2010, a new license was granted to an existing operator close to the government, replacing TV Arberia.

The high number of broadcast and print outlets competing in the small Albanian media market has led to an environment guided primarily by business interests. Editorial independence and quality is hampered by media owners who also run other businesses, and state pressure on media is most often seen in interference in these other economic interests. Freelance journalism is not regulated and little practiced, thus further increasing the dependence of journalists on media owners.

Media revenues in Albania are hampered by limited resources from commercial companies, whereas a major part of their financing comes through government advertising. State-funded, produced, and transmitted advertisements are almost a monopoly among two or three media outlets. Several government-organized information campaigns rely on very few media outlets, further shrinking the available resources for other operators.

The working conditions of media employees and the rights of journalists remained a concern in Albania during the year. More than 65 percent of journalists work in the black market because they do not have formal contracts with media owners, and their social and economic rights are often violated by employers.4 Very few professional associations play an active role in protecting the rights of journalists, and Albanian unions could play a greater role in supporting individual and collective contracts by mediating disputes between journalists and media owners. Self-regulating mechanisms are also missing, although there are frequent debates among journalists concerning ethics issues. However, there have been no steps to institutionalize such debates through the production of a code of ethics or establishment of a supervising authority.

In June 2010, the district court of Tirana issued a fine of €400,000 (US$559,000) to TOP Channel for violating the privacy of former minister of culture Ylli Pango, after the TV outlet caused a scandal by airing a tape in which the minister requested sexual favors. The judicial decision, which was the highest fine ever imposed on an Albanian media outlet, was considered disproportionate and a threat to investigative journalism in the country.

The public service broadcaster, Radio Televizioni Shqiptar (RTSH), remains underdeveloped in terms of technology and programming compared with the main private broadcasters. RTSH's information programs are biased, providing excessive coverage to government activities and high government representatives while giving little space to other public actors. To comply with international agreements, Albania has promised to introduce digital television transmission and end analog broadcasting by December 2012. But the lack of investment in digital technology by RTSH will make it difficult to meet this deadline. Still, technological innovation in Albanian media progressed during the year. There is now a large gap between the few Tirana-based outlets that have increased their investment in technology and human resources and the others, especially local media, which use only basic equipment. The use of multimedia formats and the internet to provide information has increased in the country. However, there is no legal framework in place to regulate new, developing forms of information dissemination, which could lead to their misuse.

Local Democratic Governance: 

The Albanian constitution of 1998 stipulates that local governments are founded on the principle of decentralization and may exercise their powers with local autonomy. Albania is organized into 373 communes and municipalities, which are the basic units of local governance. Communal and municipal councils regulate and manage local issues within their jurisdiction. The executive body is either the head of the commune or mayor of the municipality. Local governments exercise property rights, administer their revenues independently, and are entitled to engage in economic activity, collect revenue, and spend funds necessary for fulfilling their duties. They are entitled to levy local taxes and set their level, although recent legislative changes have restricted this competence.

The harsh political atmosphere at the central level continued to affect relations between central and local governments in 2010. The fact that the leader of the opposition is at the same time mayor of Tirana contributed to political divergences. In May, a hundred elected officials of municipalities and communes from the opposition left the existing association and established a new Association for Local Autonomy in Albania (ALAA). These leaders justified this action by arguing that the existing structure was an ineffective local advocate and the new association would better guarantee the implementation of the constitutional principle of local autonomy. During the year, the central government continued to take legal actions and initiatives that hampered the capacity of local officials to exercise their responsibilities and narrowed the space for local governance by reducing its competences and drying up financial resources.

In July, the parliament approved the Law on Public Financial Inspection, aimed at improving public finance management. It created an independent inspectorate upon the order of the minister of finance with the task of inspecting the finances of local government units, while the constitution exclusively vests the High State Audit with this power. Moreover, some of the law’s provisions leave room for arbitrary inspections by the central government, with scant criteria specified for starting an inspection. Inspectors should be independent of the government, but the process and procedures are strongly dependent on the Ministry of Finance.

In the summer, the business community protested the buying and installing of obligatory electronic registers because of their high fixed prices. After negotiations with the business community, the government agreed to reimburse the cost of the registers. The government decided unilaterally to reimburse small businesses by forfeiting the amount from local business tax income in 2011. This was done through changes to the Law on the Local Tax System, which were approved in November. As a consequence, local governments will lose a large part of their revenue collected through taxes on local small businesses. Again, no precautionary measure was taken by the government to compensate the budget losses at the local level. This decision violates one of the constitutional principles, namely, the financial autonomy of local governments, which requires financial remedy from the central government to local authorities in cases where local government units have full authority over their own revenues.

Once the law is implemented, revenue collected by local governments will be reduced at a national average of 90 percent. Losses will be greater for some municipalities than others. Based on preliminary estimates, the municipality of Puka will lose 133 percent of its 2011 revenue (meaning that the cost of reimbursements to businesses will exceed revenue collected in 2011 by 33 percent); meanwhile, the Pogradec municipality will lose up to 150 percent of its 2011 revenue.5

The parliament approved the Law for Payment of Local Government-owned Enterprises Obligations to Third Parties, with the aim of increasing payments from enterprises that are more than 50-percent owned by local authorities to third parties. The law vests the minister of finance with the attributes of a “superior authority” for municipalities and communes, giving the minister the right to issue an administrative act to block the budget and suspend financial activity of local government units, thus seriously affecting their autonomy.

All the abovementioned legal changes were carried out without prior notice and no consultation, which is obligatory according to the European Charter of Local Self-governance and the Albanian law on local government. Most of the legislation, which directly affects the work of municipalities and communes, will be implemented at the beginning of 2011, deteriorating even further relations between local and central government. Moreover, in May 2011, local elections will be held in Albania, thus increasing the risk of abusive intervention from a central government empowered with new competences. By contrast, the decreasing financial resources of local authorities will jeopardize their functions and responsibilities.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

Guaranteeing the rule of law and judicial independence is a continuing challenge for Albania. Judicial reform was still considered incomplete in 2010, and there was no progress in revising and adopting some of the most important laws of the justice system. In June 2010, the Ministry of Justice drafted the Justice Sector Strategy to address one of the requirements of the 2009 EU progress report for Albania, but it was still not approved at year;s end.

The country's overall political stalemate also negatively influenced the justice reform process. The long-term absence of the opposition in the parliament and its subsequent policy of not voting on any law distracted the attention of political forces from reform issues. The parliament failed to approve the law on administrative courts and administrative disputes. Moreover, the National Judicial Conference (NJC) of judges gathered on November 15 without a law in place, arguing that it was an emergency to elect members of the HCJ in order for the institution to function normally. The issue of approving an NJC law has been pending for almost two years but, again, cannot be approved without the votes of the opposition.

The judiciary is often subject to external interference and, despite public statements on the need to select the best judges possible, judicial appointments and transfers often lack sufficient transparency, as does the justice system as a whole. Although the HCJ successfully completed the reorganization of the courts of first and second instance in Albania, increasing the number of judges at these two levels, the process of transferring and appointing new judges was not done in full compliance with the law. Judges who were appointed to the appeal courts were not subject to expedited evaluation procedures as required by the Judicial Power Law.

Both the Constitutional Court and High Court began the replacement of their members in 2010; one-third of the members of the Constitutional Court and 4 out of 17 on the High Court are to be replaced. Because the constitution provides only very general requirements for nominees to both courts, President Topi held meetings of experts to develop more specific criteria. The results of these meetings were never made public, and it is still unknown whether the president followed any criteria except those clearly stated in the constitution when he decreed his court nominees.

Since 2008, the process of appointing Constitutional Court and High Court judges has included a public hearing of the candidates before the law committee of the parliament, followed by a simple majority vote of approval within the parliamentary assembly. Thus far, the parliament has rejected most of the candidates proposed by the president. Although the lustration law is not officially implemented in Albania, the spirit of that law served as a basis for rejecting one of the president’s candidates, Vangjel Kosta. The opposition has not participated in plenary sessions of the parliament for voting on the judges, but it has participated in the law committee where these hearings took place. It remained unclear whether the opposition would participate in the upcoming voting procedures.

In March 2010, the Constitutional Court repealed unanimously the already suspended law on cleanliness of public figures (lustration law) and asked the Venice Commission for an amicus curiae opinion. Both the Venice Commission and the Constitutional Court argued that many provisions of the law violated the Albanian constitution.

The Albanian justice system continued to suffer from poor infrastructure and lack of transparency and efficiency, and these conditions were emphasized throughout the EC's 2010 report to the European Parliament on Albanian EU membership. There were some attempts by the Ministry of Justice to revise the procedural codes to address delays in court proceedings. However, more investment in courtroom infrastructure is needed to observe the solemnity of judges and the rights of the parties.

There were a number of highly positive developments regarding the protection of human rights in Albania in 2010. In February, the parliament approved the Law on Protection from Discrimination, and in May the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination was formally sworn in. The law offers protection to a wide range of persons who may be subject to discrimination. A new pretrial detention site in Durrës, with markedly improved living standards, was opened at the beginning of the year, as was a long-awaited special institution for juveniles in Kavaja. Prison overpopulation continued to decline, largely due to the establishment of the country's new probation system. In February, the mandate of the People's Advocate expired, and a qualified parliamentary majority is required to elect a new one. Still, despite the need for a new People's Advocate, the institution continued to function relatively well.

Corruption: 

Corruption is deeply entrenched in most sectors of Albanian society. As much as the public deems corruption an issue at all levels, Albanian society has yet to gain proper awareness or trust in the mechanisms available to fight it, which has led to a general public perception that the phenomenon is inevitable. A recent survey by Gallup Balkan Monitor showed that the majority considers the government more corrupt than the business sector. Even more concerning, 49 percent - about three times the average in other countries of the region - admit to encountering a situation in the last 12 months where a bribe was required in order to solve a problem.6

At the central institutional level, Albanian authorities increased efforts to complete the legislative framework and achieve a more comprehensive approach. The goal of the Albanian Anticorruption Strategy for 2007-13, as reflected in legal and other measures taken by the government, is to progressively and steadily reduce corruption by prevention, strengthening institutions, and punishing corrupt officials and corrupted activities. Despite some remaining gaps in the legislation and institutional setup, Albania has arrived at a fairly adequate legal framework and institutional makeup to fight corruption. The country improved and updated its anticorruption strategies as part of the Action Plan of the Anticorruption Strategy of 2010. This plan includes specific, measurable indicators that should facilitate implementation and monitoring. However, even within this scope, there are still problems with the reporting mechanisms from line ministries and a lack of compliance and harmonization among them.

Part of the governmental Action Plan is the implementation of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommendations under the Council of Europe, which has commenced under the Ministry of Justice. In 2010, the ministry drafted amendments to the criminal code related to acts of corruption by foreign officials and imposing severe punishment for corruption within the private sector.

The role of the Albanian High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA) became more visible in recent years as HIDAA exposed conflict of interest cases and enforced asset declaration requirements. HIDAA reports and findings were used as solid ground for starting prosecutions of junior- and middle-ranking officials on corruption charges, although in very limited numbers. This shortcoming is linked to the fact that the prosecution office itself does not always investigate files submitted by HIDAA and the High State Audit.

Some progress in fighting corruption was made with the introduction of electronic procurement systems in the public administration, which will minimize opportunities for bribery by reducing personal contacts between contracting authorities and bidders. In recognition of these efforts to improve transparency, accountability, and responsiveness in the public sector, in June 2010 Albania's Public Procurement Agency was awarded the second-place prize for Public Service in Europe by the United Nations.

Despite achievements in prosecuting low- and mid-level officials in Albania, problems of efficiency remain, and there is no track record of investigation, prosecution, and conviction of high-level corruption cases. Immunity of high officials, including ministers and judges, is still considered an obstacle to prosecuting high-level corruption in the country. There have been several attempts to lift immunity for high officials, but constitutional changes would be required. According to the Albanian constitution, the power to lift immunity for ministers lies with the parliament, or the HCJ in cases involving judges. The number of high officials whose immunity has been lifted by the parliament or HCJ is low, and this fact is directly linked to the complicated procedures needed to do so. However, there also exists the question of consolidating the political will of any government to properly address this issue.

The fact that corruption allegations in 2010 against two ministers did not go through a judicial review but were dismissed on procedural grounds and no further actions were taken raised considerable concern about the willingness of the government and judicial institutions to fight corruption in Albania. The same holds true for the immunity of judges. During the year, the HCJ lifted the immunity of three judges, but no prosecutions or convictions followed. As clearly stated in the EC opinion on Albania's application for EU membership, such actions reinforce the general prevailing culture of impunity in Albania.7

Notes: 

1 FRIDE, Democracy Monitoring Report: Albania (Madrid: FRIDE, April 2010): 14, www.fride.org/descarga/IP_Albania_ENG_ap10.pdf.

2 European Parliament, European Parliament resolution of 8 July 2010 on Albania (Strasbourg: European Parliament, 8 July 2010), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2010-0282&language=EN&ring=B7-2010-0408.

3 The OSCE's report lists several recommendations, across a number of different areas, including: Political Parties; Legal Framework; Election Administration; Voter Registration and Identification; Candidate Registration; Election Campaign; Media; Voting, Counting, Aggregation, and Announcement of Results; Complaints and Appeals; and the Participation of both Women and Minorities. See Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Republic of Albania Parliamentary Elections, 28 June 2009, OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report (Warsaw: OSCE/ODIHR, 14 September 2009): 28-32, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/albania/38598.

4 Interview with Aleksander Cipa, Head of the Union of Albanian Journalists, 23 November 2010.

5 Interview with Bledar Cuci, head of the Association for Local Autonomy in Albania, 18 November 2010.

6 Gallup and The European Fund for the Balkans, Gallup Balkan Monitor: 2010 Summary of Findings (Brussels: Gallup Europe, 2010): 35-36, http://www.balkan-monitor.eu/files/BalkanMonitor-2010_Summary_of_Findings.pdf.

7 European Commission, Commission Opinion on Albania's application for membership of the European Union (Brussels: European Commission, 8 November 2010): 23, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2010/package/al_opinion_2010_en.pdf .