27 October 2019 Interview of President of Albania, H.E. Ilir Meta for News 24 television with journalist Robert Rakipllari
Journalist (Robert Rakipllari): Mr. President, the European Council decided to refuse the opening of Albania’s accession negotiations with the European Union. Was this decision expectable by you, as the President, as you had foreseen in some way the developments that Albania has had this year, and what do you think will be the consequences of this decision for Albania, but also for the region in general?
President Meta: My views as a whole have been very clear and my efforts have been very determined and systematic, especially during the months of May, June, July and even August, to avoid such a decision.
I have repeatedly urged both sides, in particular the government, to reflect, first and foremost, on the organization of the October 13th comprehensive elections, but also on other issues that would improve Albania’s chances to receive a green light on October 18.
I was so clear on the matter, that if that didn’t happen, I promised a decoration, isn’t that so?
Normally one does not have to promise a decoration to someone, from the leaders of a country, whose duty is to work for a national objective, such as the European integration of the country, because it is part of the daily task.
In my assessment, a positive decision-making due to the added negative and deteriorating internal circumstances, compared to at least a year ago, it was evident that a positive decision-making would be out of the whole past history of how the European Union decision-making has worked.
The decision for me was generally expected, though I wish that the countries that conditioned this decision-making in the end had at all followed the example of Germany, the Bundestag, which for the first time in its history made an invention, an invention into a attitude which is quite complicated, but on the whole is a constructive approach to giving a green light. But by making clear all the conditions that have not been fulfilled so far that will have to be met until Albania’s negotiations with the European Union actually begin.
Journalist: Given the outcome of the Council of Europe Leaders Summit, Mr. President, it was the fact that France, the Netherlands or some other countries that ultimately rejected this decision to refuse negotiations. Prime Minister Rama said that Albania has done all its tasks according to the European Commission Report, and that this is not our issue, so it is not ours but a European Union decision-making problem.
Do you, as the President, think that this outcome, that Albania did not receive the negotiations, is more of our problem, or is it a decision-making problem of the European Union?
President Meta: The only accurate part of what the Prime Minister or the government representatives say in this case is that, according to the European Commission, they have done their job, or Albania has done its job.
And this is not the first time this year, but this is the third time it has been three years in a row that the European Commission proposes that Albania must open negotiations without conditions.
In all three cases, if we look back to previous decisions a year ago, June 2018, as well as June 2017 and so on, member states have set conditions on the European Commission report.
What has happened practically, and that France, but also other countries, have made it clear, and has a real basis, is that the European Commission, from a technical commission, has often emerged as a political commission.
Whereas member states, from the political decisions they would have to make on the basis of technical reports, have become more technical, so they do not take for granted European Commission reports, but go deeper into the progress of reforms, from letters on the concrete ground, to their results. Since these successes do not correspond in many cases that are reported by the European Commission, they impose conditions, as it is entirely legitimate for a member state to maintain a fact-based position and rely on standards.
Now let’s stop a little bit in France and the Netherlands. I am very sorry to see a demonizing campaign against France and the Netherlands.
It is clear that some countries have been against the opening of negotiations. There were not only two countries like France and the Netherlands, not even four, with Denmark and Spain, but there were many countries skeptical and doubtful of Albania’s capacity to deserve the opening of negotiations.
It is dishonest to say that the Netherlands does not love Albania, or wishes to close its doors to Albania for whatever reason.
This is untrue! The Netherlands has been warning us about the visa liberalization for three years (let’s not forget that the first initiative to revise visa liberalization occurred), as well as issues related to Albanian organized crime groups, which are related to Albania and which raise concerns for the Netherlands.
The issue of asylum seekers, too, is a problem raised by the Dutch side.
We’ve pretended like they’re not that serious! But these are problems raised by the Dutch Prosecution, the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament.
So here we have a clear, systematic and disturbing problem raised by a partner country that has not been addressed clearly, aggressively, reliably from our part as Albania, which has forced the Netherlands to go to that position, which has been quite clear by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.
I can say one thing for sure. If Denmark had one-tenth of the concerns that the Netherlands has on Albanian organized crime, or the problems caused by Albanians, rest assured that the position would be even tougher than that of the Netherlands. Because there are some countries in Europe that are very democratic and can never accept to violate their standards or those of their citizens for political purposes. Therefore, to accept Albania or to accept another country despite these problems, because serves stability in the Western Balkans.
This does not work with all countries. It works with Italy, Austria or with some EU countries near our region that are more flexible, but not with some other countries in the North of Europe that are more demanding in meeting the criteria.
It is unfair for us not to look at our own problems, because I would not refer to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Foreign Minister, because these have been obvious, but I would refer to an interview given by Wiersma, the Dutch Labor leader, one of the main leaders of the European Socialist Party, its former Vice President and of the Parliamentary Group in Brussels, the European Socialist Group, a well-known supporter of the Socialist Party here in the past.
He has made it very clear that most of the Members of Parliament in the Parliament of Netherlands do not believe in Albania’s capacity to implement the reforms required for the membership process.
And his further warning was that such a divided country, even in another case in the future, will find it difficult to open the negotiations.
Because for Europe, the political dialogue is the key to the implementation of reforms and their effectiveness.
In such a polarized and divided environment, how can it be discussed the effective law enforcement?
But let’s not talk about France or the Netherlands or the EU. Let’s talks about a very concrete fact.
The latest World Bank report “Doing Business”, namely the opportunities to do business in one country, ranks Albania 19 places lower and worse than a year ago.
So, the Northern Macedonia is 17th in the world, Albania is 82nd and Kosovo is 57th.
Why a country like Northern Macedonia that doesn’t have access to the sea, doesn’t have access to ports, that has had problems recently but resolved them with Greece or other neighbors, or Kosovo who also is not in a favorable position, have a much better ranking than Albania?
Why does Albania, which has some extraordinary advantages, and has no problems with its neighbors, that has extraordinary access to the sea, has ports, has everything else, to be in such a dire situation?
Because in the end this says it all, whatever we may say or someone else may say, can also be considered a political, benevolent or malicious stance.
But the fact is that Albania’s position has worsened compared to a year ago by reaching a lower level by 19 countries, and this is completely unacceptable.
Journalist: In this context Mr. President, the rejection was for both Albania and Northern Macedonia and the reaction of the two prime ministers, that of Albania and Northern Macedonia was different. The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia has announced early elections after that rejection decision, while the Albanian Prime Minister says that he has no responsibility and that the elections will be in 2021. Did you expect such a reaction from the Prime Minister? Were you expecting his resignation as a reflection?
President Meta: If we were to expect such a reflection on the part of our Prime Minister today, I think we would be a little naive, because if he had felt only 1% of the responsibility that Zaev has felt in this particular case, who for me is a “victim” not responsible ….
Journalist: Whose “victim”?
President Meta: … a “victim” of certain circumstances.
So, if our prime minister felt 1% of Zaev’s responsibility, we would have started negotiations two years ago, a year ago in June, and would absolutely be out of discussed now.
Moreover, we were together with Northern Macedonia and could benefit a lot from the great success this country achieved internationally, due to the Prespa Agreement.
I am sorry to say this, because I am the President of Albania, but even with this behavior shown after the failure to open the negotiations, which was a great injustice, Northern Macedonia showed once again that it deserved the opening of the negotiations.
Because the way it behaved was very democratic, very European, because it promised to the people that both the name settlement and some reforms were to take place because it certain the opening of negotiations apart from the NATO membership.
The truth is, that most of all the countries of the European Union, except any special occasion, have been for Northern Macedonia to get the green light and separating it from Albania.
But let’s not forget the World Bank’s Doing Business report, Northern Macedonia is 17th in the world and there are many cases where many Albanian entrepreneurs have fled and plan to leave, shifting their investments in Northern Macedonia, which is not normal.
It is normal from Northern Macedonia to come to Albania because they have even more direct access to the ports or to all the logistics that Albania would have to offer in this case.
Let’s look at the structure of exports of Northern Macedonia and Albania. There is no connection, no comparison. Let’s look at the foreign investors who have entered North Macedonia in the automotive and modern industries and see what kind of investors have entered our country. Let’s look at the support that Northern Macedonia gives to agriculture, to farmers, compared to the support we give in this regard.
For the past six years I have sought not to take Denmark, nor Sweden, as examples, as they are a little far from us, not merely in the geographical sense, but in the whole long way they have developed to be where they are.
But at least for agriculture, for foreign investment and the investment opportunities it provides, let’s take example from Northern Macedonia. Because Northern Macedonia is so close and these things that happened there, why not happen in our country as well. It is only a matter of political will.
Journalist: However, Mr. President, we continue to be in a political crisis …
President Meta: Because there is no political will to solve the crisis and it has not existed for a long time.
Journalist: We are in this situation that, the opposition is out of parliament, you have made your efforts, you have decreed a date for the local elections, October 13, which was ignored by the majority, by the institutions, by the CEC, by the ones that are left. In this regard, what do you intend to do as the Head of State to resolve this, and do you think that what the opposition proposes, early elections in 2020, parliamentary and local elections together, would be a solution?
President Meta: I am not worried about the President’s decrees being ignored by the current majority, because in a personal level this is not a concern for me as President.
My concern is the total disregard from the majority of the rule of law and respect for the principles on which the rule of law operates. Had the President’s decree been regarded and respected according to the law, Albania would certainly have received a green light for the opening of negotiations.
Journalist: Are you convinced of this?
President Meta: In the worst case, Albania would have received much greater support from the German Bundestag and would have had much less conditions in the Bundestag resolution or position than it currently has, including the Constitutional Court’s position on the matter of the legitimacy of local elections.
These positions have only damaged the country and have shown where the true source of all this artificial crisis lies, which I emphasize is artificial, that has been created in our country for a long time.
However, I hope there is some reflection. I have never shared the belief that the issue of integration can be resolved through lobbying, I have said this systematically.
The issue of integration should only be resolved through the reforms and implementation of the standards required by the European Union.
We cannot say today that France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Finland or others have rejected us.
We have to be clear that this is how Europe works, and even only one country has this right, it has the potential to condition a position at European level.
It is not a matter of majority.
We have known and still know these things.
France has warned us of its concern for asylum seekers and the statistics are quite serious. Instead we say this is an internal problem of France.
It is not an internal problem of France, if in France you are, based on population, the second country, after Afghanistan, that worries it with asylum seeking.
If you appear in the newspapers in France every day, if this issue goes to their parliament every day, if the opposition in France mentioned it on a daily basis, then how do you help President Macron or the French government tell other decision makers out there that this is indeed a problem for us, but this problem does not come from Albania, but from other countries, and that Albania is a country that is fulfilling its obligations to France.
Thus, it’s really an internal problem, the immigration and asylum in France and in the EU, but, unfortunately, we are unjustifiably contributors and source of this problem, so he says: Since we gave Albania visa liberalization and that Albania is committed and bound – that is all that must be done to preserve this right we have acquired – since this country or another country in such a case violates its obligations afterwards, then we have no reason to give it this right in order to infringe our interests. What he is saying we do not like, but you cannot say that it is outside the logic of a politician or a country that will protect and abide by the standards of its citizens, which will uphold also the EU standard.
So we must always deepen and reflect on demonstrating that we are serious about the European Union issue, that we fulfill our obligations and that we deserve those rights that we have acquired or demanded.
Journalist: In this context, the issue is to find a solution and the question is: are the early parliamentary elections a way of restoring the legitimacy of the main institutions?
President Meta: There is no question that the solution is, and in my opinion, the position held by the German Bundestag. If we read it carefully we have all the conditions there, the standards that Albania needs to meet to be credible for the opening of negotiations, and the whole political class should be focused there.
Journalist: Mr. President, referring to the final opinion of the Venice Commission, it clearly shows that you have not committed a serious violation of the Constitution as the majority claims, which has initiated your impeachment, but on the other hand do you think that the opinion of an important institution, such as the Venice Commission, legitimizes the June 30th elections, given that it says you had no right to postpone the election due to the lack of an emergency?
President Meta: We have to be very clear. The Venice Commission has not said at all neither a serious violation nor a slight violation or any kind of violation of the Constitution. Nowhere does the term “violation” exist in the opinion. In the first draft, which leaked in the press from the representatives of the majority, was made an assessment that “exceeded his constitutional powers”, which does not exist in the final version because in the first place our Constitution does not recognize the term “exceed”. This is a political assessment, not a legal assessment.
And secondly, because it was clearly explained and clarified that the election date is the sole responsibility of the President of the Republic and no other institution.
Exceeding one competence means going into another institution’s sphere of competence, which has not happened.
In the case you are referring to, the Commission refers – because they have made a long theoretical elaboration – that we are not in the condition of an emergency coming due to war, a major factor or a natural disaster, but we are in another case for which there is no specific legislation.
But the Commission has made it clear that the intention has been legitimate, referring to the crisis and changing circumstances from the moment the election decree came out, to the moment the decrees annulling the election date were announced and a new date was announced.
So we have to be much clearer and the Commission always refers to the goals of the Assembly, so even if the Assembly thinks in such a way, we still do not have the circumstance that would justify such a process.
Therefore, it is not the Commission that gives not at all any doubtful assessment of the President’s behavior.
Journalist: However, the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee continues to work despite the fact that we do not have a decision making, but we have seen the majority and the Prime Minister is not withdrawing from their attempt to continue the process of impeachment of the President. Do you have a comment on this issue? Does this bother you?
President Meta: I have never had such concerns in any case, because I know very well and I am fully aware that I have only respected and defended the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and its main principles.
And there is no violation of the Constitution, not only in its principles and in its essence, but neither in the constitutional frameworks, and even if you notice the Venice Commission has made it very clear by distinguishing a different status of the parliamentary elections and another status of the local elections. If the former has a constitutionally stipulated deadline, the latter shall be delegated to the Electoral Code.
What initiatives the parliament is taking, this is a right of parliament, but everyone knows that the President has only respected the Constitution and intended to protect political pluralism and this is necessary in terms of European integration.
What I can say for sure is that if we had had legitimate one-party elections, then we would have a clear “NO” from the German Bundestag. But the way this situation was handled has left the prospect of telling Albania the question of the legitimacy of the June 30th elections must be clarified and should be repeated in case they are considered illegitimate.
As far as the Venice Commission is concerned in this regard, the opinion is the same as that of the OSCE/ODIHR report, which is the only international judge on the election issue.
What does the Venice Commission say? It clearly states that the President’s decrees were not challenged by any court, meaning that the President’s decrees were in force and the elections were in violation of the law and the Constitution, so this is the constitutional and the legal answer.
Journalist: You have decreed a member of the Constitutional Court, Mr. Muçi, while the High Council of Prosecutors has recently taken a decision to set up a Special Prosecution Anti-Corruption Unit. Are you seeing light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the implementation of the justice reform or do you continue to think or have your doubts that the justice reform it is captured by the majority, as you have said before?
President Meta: I fully stand with what I said earlier on this issue for the reason that I have all the moral as well as the institutional right as Head of State, as I have made every effort to bring the justice reform on the right track, on that track that was voted by consensus, in other words in the track of the Constitution, on July 21-22, 2016. But this has not happened, because as we all know there is not a single institution of the new justice system to have been set up within the constitutional deadlines.
But what is my expectation for reform? Firstly, I want to assure you that as far as my duties are concerned, I will continue to carry out my responsibilities with full responsibility, so that Albania has as soon as possible these new institutions in the manner provided by the Constitution of the country.
Secondly, when will I say a good word about the reform? I will say this when the World Bank improves Albania’s position with 19 countries, with 20 countries, with 40 countries globally in terms of doing business. I will say this when Transparency International, which has ranked our country even lower this year in terms of transparency and the fight against corruption, significantly improves it. I will say then that “Reporters Without Borders”, which have stated as being worsened the situation of the Albanian media, improve Albania’s position in the ranking. So these are the true indicators of the justice reform.