US ambassador urges Albanian MPs to vote for judicial reform

AP News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2016 10:28 AM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to Albania has urged the country's opposing political parties to reach a compromise on a judicial reform package, or for lawmakers to vote independently.

The judicial package, considered fundamental to ensuring that the European Union will launch membership negotiations with Albania, has been opposed by the main opposition Democratic Party on one issue. The Democrats want to give political parties the power to make judicial appointments, while the ruling Socialists want no party appointees.

In a letter sent Thursday to each lawmaker, U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu asked them to vote independently "if the political leaders do not want a compromise."

U.S. and EU experts have been directly involved in drafting the legislation, and the process has also been reviewed by the Venice Commission, a body of legal experts with the Council of Europe, a human rights group.

Their ambassadors have held continuous meetings with political leaders and lawmakers.

The Socialists don't have enough members to vote the reforms through, and need support from at least some opposition members in the 140-seat parliament.

A vote on the package has been planned for July 21, in time to allow the European Commission to prepare the annual progress report for Albania and decide whether full membership negotiations may be launched this year.

Albania, a NATO member country since 2009, was granted candidate status in 2014.

If the vote fails, it may sink the government, delay the matter from further consideration for a year, or even trigger a new election. Ultimately, failure would result in no EU membership talks this year as hoped.

The Democrats have continuously resisted passing of the draft, contesting different issues and the U.S. has openly accused their leader, Lulzim Basha, of not cooperating.

Both Brussels and Washington have urged individual opposition lawmakers to vote for the package, which the Democrats' leadership has strongly resisted.