EU official urges Albania opposition not to block reform

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2017 9:10 AM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — A senior European Parliament politician on Wednesday called on the Albanian opposition Democratic Party not to block a judicial reform — the main step toward launching Albania's membership negotiations with the European Union.

Albanian's Democrats, who have been protesting for a week for free and fair elections in June, plan to boycott parliament next week. That may stop the justice system reform, which aims to create institutions for the vetting of some 800 judges and prosecutors.

The reform seeks to root out bribery and ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics. Brussels says its implementation is key to Albania's effort to become an EU member.

Judicial corruption has plagued post-communist Albania, hampering its democratic processes and integration into the bloc. The country was granted EU candidate status in 2014 and hopes this year to get approval for launching membership negotiations.

Knut Fleckenstein, rapporteur on Albania, on Wednesday said it was up to Albanian politicians to implement the reform and start negotiations.

"I really ask the colleagues and friends at the Democratic Party ... to come back to work," Fleckenstein said.

EU and U.S. experts were directly involved in drafting the reform, which was verified by the Council of Europe.

Though lawmakers including the Democrats unanimously voted in the reform last year, the Democrats later abstained from voting on how to vet the judges.

Since Saturday the Democrats have blocked the main boulevard in the capital Tirana saying they don't trust the left-wing government to hold June 18 parliamentary elections fairly and want a caretaker cabinet instead.