European Parliament urges Tirana to pass judicial reform

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Posted: Jul 18, 2016 2:29 PM
European Parliament urges Tirana to pass judicial reform

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The European Parliament is warning Albanian politicians that failure to pass a judicial reform package will end the possibility of launching membership negotiations with the European Union soon.

Knut Fleckenstein urged Albanian political leaders to vote later this week for the package, a key element in convincing Brussels to launch full membership talks with the tiny Balkan nation.

"(Unless voted) it's not possible to give the recommendation to launch negotiations," said Fleckenstein.

The country, which is already a member of NATO, has been working to reform its judicial system, which has come under fire for corruption and lack of professionalism. Changes being sought in the package include checking the incomes and property holdings of judges and prosecutors, a step seen as helping to root out bribery.

Fleckenstein said the goal of the reform was "to separate political power from the judiciary power."

"It's a question whether a political class will change the attitude and give the judiciary back to the people," he said.

Albania was granted EU candidate status in 2014. A vote on the package has been planned for July 21, in time to allow the European Commission to decide whether full membership negotiations may be launched this year.

Fleckenstein on Monday met with top political leaders who have planned other talks this afternoon on the draft reforms prepared by local, EU and U.S. experts. The process has also been reviewed by the Venice Commission, a body of legal experts with the Council of Europe, a human rights group.

EU and U.S. ambassadors will not take part in the meeting this afternoon. They said the opposition intends to review a draft they do not agree with rather than the hybrid version that contains elements from both the government and opposition that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland put forward July 10 while in Tirana.

The ruling Socialists need support from some opposition members in the 140-seat Parliament to approve the reforms.

Socialists' Prime Minister Edi Rama was determined the reform package would be voted Thursday with at least 94 votes, as required by the law.

"I am convinced that is not only the proper way, but the only one," said Rama after the meeting with Democrats' leader Lulzim Basha and his coalition ally, Ilir Meta, Parliament speaker and leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration.

But again there was resistance from the opposition Democrats on the direct role of the international experts in the vetting process, saying they should only monitor it.

Democrats' leader Basha repeated that their proposal brought Nuland's hybrid proposal in line with the Venice Commission's approved draft.

The proposal being furthered by Basha has been turned down by the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, which said it was not in line with the hybrid one.