True reforms in the area of rule of law in the Western Balkan countries are possible only with concrete, clear and transparent instruments used by European Union and political will of both sides, it is concluded during the conference “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Old tools for new rules?”, took place in Tirana.
The conference, organised as part of the project of strengthening the rule of law in the Western Balkan, discussed the current state of the rule of law reform in the region and progress that Western Balkans made in this area.
During the conference, participants questioned the instruments and mechanisms used by European Union for the reforms in that area and presented recommendations for improving progress in the most important chapter of the negotiation process.
Jovana Marović, Executive Director at the Politikon Network and Member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) presented the goals of the project within which the conference was organised.
“The whole project is designed in a way to find out what specific in the rule of law instruments for the Western Balkan countries can be improved and used in the rest of the region in order to have better conditions for the rule of law”, said Marović.
She explained that an analysis of four instruments used by the EU, Priebe report for North Macedonia, Vetting process in Albania, Non-papers for Serbia and Rule of Law council in North Macedonia showed that the EU instruments are not perfect.
“EU has not clear standards for the region. It needs to provide concrete benefits for the citizens of the Western Balkans, to be more present helping with expertise and to provide clear timeframe, not the date when the WB countries will join the EU, but to provide concrete timeframe for delivering reforms”, Marović explained.
She referred to the position of Montenegro when it comes to reforms at the area of rule of law and explained that the obstacles that prevent independence of the judiciary are still present although there has been changes in the government.
“The judiciary is one of the most important pillars in the rule of law reform, and its independence is very hard to achieve in Montenegro at the moment, because of the still present huge political influence of the previous ruling party and because of inability to have dialogue”, Marović stated.
Ilda Çukaj, Project Coordinator and Lawyer at Albanian Helsinki Committee, explained how the Vetting process took place in Albania, how was its progress and how it affected Albanian citizens.
“In the beginning we noted that Vetting process is a unique process, for Albania but also for the region as well. There are similar processes, but not the same. It is learning by doing process”, Çukaj.
According to Çukaj, the effects were immediate because 14 judges were already removed from their positions in the first year of process.
She added although there were administrative and other problems during this process, the results achieved are positive.
“This is a productive process, yes, It has provided positive results. In the general perspective I have to say that this process was more than indispensable. At the end of the day, we conclude that the process as itself was necessary. Albania really needed the justice reform because now we have the form and the shape of the justice reform, our thoughts and ideas are clear”, Çukaj stated adding that institutions are transparent and that in five years the proper results will be seen.
Elona Hoxha, Representative from the Ministry of Justice of Albania, highlighted the commitment of this Western Balkan state and presented its achievements at the area of rule of law.
“New architecture of the institutions has already been established, the preliminary assessment of judges and prosecutors has also provided very good results in the justice reform by dismissing the corrupted elements of this system”, she said.
Hoxha stated that Albania is focused on the fight against corruption as well and that it became part of international networks and initiatives in this area. She brought attention to the fact that the fight against corruption is a key responsibility when it comes to the rule of law.
“I would like to bring attention once again to say that the fight against corruption is a responsibility of all of us for establishing the rule of law and justice system”, she pointed out.
Hemion Braho, Senior Rule of Law at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Albania, explained the importance of the justice reform in Albania.
“The goal of the justice reform in Albania, but also in other countries of the region is independence of the judicial system from the political, which is very important since the difference between these two areas”, he said.
Braho added that Albania was successful in implementing reforms in justice and that it managed to achieve these two systems to be separated one from another. Still, he stated that their job is not done yet.
Rovena Sulstarova, Project Manager at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation, presented the the police vetting system in Albania and explained why this process did not get right attention.
“The impact of this process is the same – we create reforms with huge potential and very high expectations”, she said, adding that there are few obstacles that prevent this process from getting the right attention from the media and the civil society.
“The politic didn’t give it the right attention, the political support was missing” she said adding that the problems were logistical and financial as well and that the process lacked readiness and willingness.
Aleksandar Ivković, Project Assistant and Reporter at the Centre for Contemporary Politics, commented on the position of Serbia in its negotiation process with the EU but also on its reforms in the rule of law area.
He explained that the fact that Serbia has not opened any new chapter since December 2019 is a consequence of not making any progress in the reforms, but that instruments used by the EU did not provide the right incentive as well.
“I underline that it is the prime responsibility of Serbia and candidate countries to implement reforms, but the EU could also improve its mechanisms and its approach to this issues in order to create stronger incentives for the reforms to take place”, said Ivković.
When it comes to the Non-papers, instruments published by the European Commission which assess the reforms in the Chapter 23 and 24, Ivković pointed out three roles of this instruments – they should detect the problem, prioritise the problems that needs to be solved immediately and enable the EU to react appropriately when there is a lack of progress or even backsliding”.
Still in all three points this instrument could be improved.
“The reports and non-papers are usually good at detecting problems, but not always. For example there is the ongoing constitutional reform in Serbia and the reports have so far only followed the procedural part of the process and not the substance of the reform itself” Ivković said and concluded that sometimes they fail to detect the problem, sometimes they fail to prioritise them and sometimes it fails to provide clearer picture for the lack of reform and backsliding.
Zoran Nechev, Project Coordinator and Researcher at the Institute for Democracy „Societas Civilis“ Skopje and Member of BiEPAG, pointed out that most problems in the Western Balkan region are if not the same then they are similar and that there is no need for new instruments since the existing are enough.
“Most of the instruments that European Commission invented for implementing reforms in these countries are sufficient if there is political will for moving forward”, he stressed.
Nechev explained how the Priebe report led to changes in North Macedonia by his transparency and concreteness.
“Priebe report was direct and clear, everyone could read it and nothing could be hidden. This report was public, transparent and open”, said he adding that because of that the consequences were not just the change of the government but the adoption of new regulations as well.
“Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Old tools for new rules?” is the project implemented by the Politikon Network in cooperation with the Centre for Contemporary Politics and with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Serbia and Montenegro.