16 June 2019 President Meta’s interview with “Al Jazeera” television
Journalist (John T. Psaropoulos): The situation in Albania is described as a “constitutional crisis”. The Constitution describes Albania as a “parliamentary republic”, which means that you are elected by Parliament and serve while you enjoy the trust of the Parliament. Parliament has the power to remove and replace you with a large majority as long as the Constitutional Court ratifies the Parliament’s decision. But it may only do so if you have committed an egregiously unconstitutional act in Parliament’s opinion. So do you think that you have committed such an act violated and do you think Parliament has indeed began such a process of replacing you? Is that what we saw in the motion brought to the floor of the Parliament?
President Meta: I want to assure you that I don’t want to make use of this interview to talk about the Parliament and about its responsibilities, but it is very clear according to the Albanian Constitution that when the Parliament can dismiss the President. And it is very clear when the President is doing a very grave constitutional violation, which also should be verified later from the Constitutional Court.
So I have to let you know that there is on article in the Constitution of the Republic of Albania that has been violated from the President of the Republic and I also want to ensure you that the constitutional order of Albania is based on political pluralism and free and fair elections.
And what the President has done is exactly showing his commitment to protect political pluralism in the country and also to guarantee free and fair elections for all citizens of Albania, because Albania has had voting for 45 years during the communist regime, but everyone knows there is a big difference between the elections and the voting.
Journalist: As you know, last month millions of Europeans went to the polls to elect a new European Parliament. Albania has had troubles deciding when to elect 61 mayors. Is Albania ready to join European Union?
President Meta: Albanians, the citizens of this country, they have been ready even earlier to join EU, but in the commig hours and in the coming days the political leadership of the country is going to be tested if it has the right maturity, not to be an obstacle for this aspiration of the Albanian citizens.
Because here more than 95% of Albanians are eager to join the European Union, and with my decision I wanted to give time to the leaders to reflect, to calm down and to create the conditions for a reasonable dialogue that demonstrates maturity first of all towards our citizens here, but also towards EU, that this country is ready to make another major step ahead.
Journalist: Again going back to the constitutional issue, the arguments against you being expressed by the government is that you do not have the right to cancel an election…
President Meta: I’m not talking about political speculation. I assure you that this is a very solid constitutional decision. The only supreme authority that can review or judge this decree is the Constitutional Court, but what I would like to assure you is that this discussion and this debate is a waste of time, because this decree has already been published in the Official Newspaper and according to our Constituion and legislation, from that moment it is an obligation for every institution, whether in the central or local government, to implement it.
Journalist: Alright, but politically speaking, Prime Minister Edi Rama says “I am not going to go back to the dialogue with the opposition to find a consensual date for the elections. They had a chance to register, they decided to abstain and I am going to stick to what we originally agreed to, before the President. What is the solution to this? Are you going to recognize the results of the local elections if they happen?
President Meta: Now, after this decree was signed and came into force, there is no formal and legal date for elections on June 30th. Regarding these claims of Prime Minister Rama, I want to let you know that this precedent of postponing general local elections in the country was created for the first time in 2006 and 2007, when Mr. Rama was the opposition leader and the Mayor of Tirana. He wanted an additional document to be included in this technical process in order to participate in the elections. And it was then that we had a very first precedent, which later was repeated in different cases.
So, this is not something new. Of course, that is not something normal, because when everything goes well there is no reason to take such a decision and I hope our Prime Minister is going to be more aware of this ruling principle that the governments bares greater responsibility for the whole country, not only for its supporters or militants. And, I hope that they are living up to these responsibilities and reflecting soon in the best interest of the country.
Journalist: But will you recognize the results if the government holds this election?
President Meta: There are no elections on June 30th. This decree has been published in the Official Newspaper and this is now an obligation of everyone to implement it.
Journalist: So, there are two sharply distinct interpretations of the Constitution, which the Constitutional Court would have to adjudicate. There is no Constitutional Court, because its judges are undergoing ethical review, they are being vetted…
President Meta: There is only one supreme authority that can judge such decree, which is the Constitutional Court and which is not functional at the moment, as you are rightly mentioned. Everyone knows that the President of the Republic has done every effort for a long time to avoid such a situation, but this is not anymore important. Now in these conditions this decree can not be contested by any other court in the country. And of course, it is a decree that I have signed in front the Albanian citizens, taking all the responsibilities for that and I’m sure that I did my best to avoid a further escalation of the conflict between the government and the opposition, giving both sides the possibility to calm down, to reflect and to sit as early as possible in dialogue for the best interest of all Albanians. Especially in these days before this very important decision that will be taken by the member countries of the European Union about the European future of Albania.
Journalist: Let’s talk about the domestic political aspect of your decree for a moment. You have, as you say, expressed in that decree the desire to see no threats to public security and no threat to democratic stability. You have asked the two sides to come together, but so far the Socialist Party has not done so. Some representatives of the smaller opposition parties have met with you, and that seems the beggining of the dialogue, but there is no indication that the main actors will be involved. The Socialist-led government says it is going to proceede with the elections and the Democratic opposition says something rather cryptic but certainly not conciliatory. Mr. Basha on Thursday said that he calls upon citizens to do whatever European citizens are force to do when they ar faced with the prospects of an effective “coup d’etat”, which is how he describes the government of Edi Rama. So, are you concerned that your decree doesn’t seem to have the desired effect?
President Meta: I am very determined to do my best to create the necessary conditions for dialogue and fo a liable solution, because this is very important, not only for the stability of the country and the democratic cohabitation of our citizens, but this is very important for the European future of Albania.
And holding elections without the opposition this is completely an investment against the European future of this country, which is the national goal of all Albanians, no matter of their political affiliations. Also, I am realistic that after 4-5 months of tense confrontations, as you have also followed and reported, the solution can not come in 2 or 3 days.
But I am not hopeless that Mr. Rama come back here with other leaders and we conclude an agreement and solution that will help the country, not only to avoid this divisive climate but also to help the country demonstrate to the European Union and all its partners the right maturity and that this is a country that is improving democratic standards and not downgrading.
Journalist: Let’s talk about the European aspect of your decree to cancel and postpone the elections. You have said that you want to save the Copenhagen’s criteria of holding free and fair elections, of guaranting democratic institutions function properly with the greatest possible participation of the parties concerned. And on 9th of June, you issued the decree in which you stated these things very clearly. On the 10th of June, Prime Minister Rama went to Brussels and met with the President of the European Commission. He said that “I am I favour that these election should take place on June the 30th if not this would harm the European perspective of Albania”. Mr. Juncker has a cokpletely different interpretation of what is in the interest of your European perspective to you. How do you explain that?
President Meta: President Juncker is also a great friend of mine and is a great democrat. But I am sure that he was not reported that June 30th elections are practically or substantially simply votings rather than elections, because they are elections without opposition. I’m sure he has not been fully aware about it.
And in this frame I see, what you are saying is very correct, but we know very well now that this is no longer anymore the responsibility of the European Commission, because this Commission has already made a positive recommendation for Albania. Now this decision is going to be taken at the highest political level and the messages have been clear, that elections without opposition do not help the European progress of Albania.
Journalist: It does seem however that regardless Albania will not receive an invitation to start membership talks with the European Union this month. How do you think this is going to be received in Albanian society and what do you think is going to be the political impact of this decision?
President Meta: I still pray that Albania is going to open negotiations with the European Union as soon as possible, hopefully within this month, together with North Macedonia. But it is very important in the coming hours, it is very important in the coming days that we show maturity to overcome this crisis and this is the only way for Albania to have better chances for a positive decision in June or in September – this is now not the mos important – but as soon as possible. However, if the crisis continues, the chances would be undermined for years, not for months. This is clear.
Journalist: Why do you say that? Do you think that the current political confrontation is a key criterion for being invited to start membership talks with the European Union?
President Meta: The functioning of democratic institutions is fundamental to any decision of the highest political levels. As I have underlined, free and fair election standards have always been crucial for such decisions. Albania was having some problems and concerns also in the past with the elections and if we do not show normality and progress now over the upcoming local elections it would be a disaster.
Journalist: There are also other concerns that EU member states have expressed and included in the European Commission report. Particularly, a disappointment the lack of high level convictions of organized criminals, particularly in drug crime and trafficking. Does Albania continue to have serious problems with organized crime in your view?
President Meta: Rule of law and tangible progress in the fight against organized crime, but also on corruption, is fundamental for going ahead. Albania has initiated a very important judiciary reform, but there is much more to be done to show political will to implement it rightly. Also, to be more reliable partners for all international partners in the fight against organized crime.
Journalist: So, you think that there is still progress to be made. Why did it take so long for the vetting process? Why has Albania been without Constitutional Court for eighteen months?
President Meta: The lack of the Constitutional Court is a major problem for the country and this has helped the government to take additional authority that is not in the Albanian Constitution for that. Anyway, I hope things will improved in the coming months, but now it is important to address this crisis and take more time for all the reforms that are required to be implemented.
Journalist: If Albania does not receive an invitation to open membership talks this months, do you think there is a danger of widespread emigration, legal or illegal emigration, away from this country? We already see indication that there are large numbers of Albanians leaving the country to start work in a foreign country, because here salaries are low. Unemployment among adults is at 12%, but among young adults is 22%. Very difficult numbers to manage…
President Meta: I do not like to describe the worst scenario that you are mentioning. I am determined to fight for the best scenario, which means finding a solution as soon as possible, showing the right maturity and our citizens have more confidence for the European future of Albania and also our partners are more convinced that we deserve the opening of negotiations with the European Union as soon as possible.
Journalist: Let me go back to what you have identified as the principle obstacle which is the political situation in the country today. Extremely polarized, very confrontational and you seem to be dragged into it now, whereas you waited into this powerful political currents in order to try an save the system, the system seems to be sucking you in.
Prime Minister Rama questioned your neutrality during his speech in Parliament on Thursday and said that you have ceased to have the right to hold your office of the President of the Republic because you have become partisan in your position. You have effectively backed the position of the Democratic Party and you have requested the cancellation of the election. The government position is the opposite. Do you think that you are in danger of losing at least the image of your neutrality in society?
President Meta: Mr. Rama has no reason to be disappointed with me, because one of his strongest arguments when he proposed me as the President of the Republic – at that time we were partners in the ruling coalition – was exactly that he could not find someone that would work to guarantee the rights of the opposition than Mr. Meta.
Journalist: One final question Mr. President. Does Prime Minister Rama enjoy your trust and support as head of the country’s government?
President Meta: This question is something that I had answered earlier when I have confirmed him as Prime Minister of Albania. I was expecting from him to be more flexible and more cooperative with the opposition first of all, because the challenges the country is having ahead can be successfully addressed only based on broader cooperation. And I am looking forward to see him to leave behind this divisive rhetoric that he uses too much that is not helping broader consensus and more all inclusive policies for the country to be more united.
Journalist: Mr. President, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera!