- Published: July 8, 2019
Legal Policy Starting Point
In recognition of the progress made in many areas, the EU Commission issued a recommendation in April 2018 that accession negotiations are to start with Albania, which has been an official accession candidate country since mid-2014. The EU Member States are currently consulting on whether and when accession negotiations with Albania should commence. The possible accession of Albania is part of the EU Western Balkans Strategy. For instance, the Sofia Declaration issued on the occasion of the EU Western Balkans Summit emphasises that greater convergence between the region and the EU, associated with a prospect for accession, would contribute to the ongoing stabilisation and reconciliation of the region, as well as stimulate a continued economic upswing. In recent years, Albania in particular has made consistent efforts to implement reforms that bring the country closer to a possible EU membership.
In Albania, the bilateral cooperation as well as in the framework of the EU funded projects during the reporting year was dominated by the vetting procedure, which involves thorough vetting of the judicial personnel, in particular the judges and public prosecutors, in regard to their professional competence, their financial assets and their personal integrity. The vetting began in 2018 following a certain delay, leading to the dismissal of some judges at the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. Moreover, a number of judges had already resigned from office before the vetting procedure started. Appointments to these judicial vacancies have not yet been made, which effectively prevents the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court from operating.
A focus has now been placed on training new judges in order to fill the vacancies in the judiciary, which result from the ongoing vetting procedure. The School of Magistrates, which is responsible for training young legal professionals, is currently unable to offer sufficient educational capacities, which ultimately obstructs progress in the ongoing judicial reform. Reform processes are now being initiated at the School of Magistrates to enable the institution to accommodate greater numbers of students. These reforms and the selection of young legal professionals have repeatedly been the subject of controversy during the reporting year.
The IRZ has been advising Albania on its judicial reform and its consolidation of the rule of law since 2000 and has, in this regard, conducted events in the fields of the organisation of the judiciary, legislation as well as basic and further training for lawyers. This takes place both in direct cooperation with institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the School of Magistrates, as well as within the framework of EU-funded projects. Specific areas that could not be covered by the EU projects were often picked up or developed further by means of IRZ`s bilateral cooperation.
Against the above-mentioned backdrop, it was not possible to implement any direct bilateral measures with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court in 2018. Nevertheless, the IRZ was able to continue its work on the topic of constitutional complaints, which was already a priority of the cooperation last year with other partners such as the Albanian Bar Association. Co-authored by representatives on the German and Albanian side, the Constitutional Complaints Handbook was distributed to all courts, universities and interested practitioners. In the meantime, a second edition has been issued. The aim is to encourage the use of constitutional complaints as an instrument for both the judiciary and the legal profession and to conduct further training events on relevant topics.
The dismissal of judges has also produced a situation in which new judicial personnel must be trained as quickly as possible. Hence, the School of Magistrates, which is responsible for the training, must significantly increase its capacities and improve its infrastructure. In this regard, the IRZ has managed to build on and strengthen its long-standing cooperation with the School of Magistrates bilaterally as well as in the framework of the EU funded projects EURALIUS IV and V. Joint seminars prioritised issues of European law with a view to the EU Western Balkans Strategy.
The IRZ involvement in Albania is extremely intense due to the bilateral projects and the EURALIUS V project and will certainly remain at this high level during the next years due to the EU Western Balkans Strategy.
Foci of Activity in 2018
Constitutional Law / Human Rights and their Enforceability
- Two further training courses for lawyers in cooperation with the Albanian Bar Association in Tirana on constitutional complaints
Civil and Commercial Law
- Seminar “EU legislation on consumer rights“ for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
- Seminar on the “Rome II Regulation (the law applicable to noncontractual obligations)“ in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
- Seminar “Basic principles of European law and rulings of the ECJ“ for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
Basic and Further Training
- Seminar on the assessment of evidence in court proceedings for Albanian judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Albania
- Attendance by two lawyers of the “IRZ Summer School on German Law“ in Bonn
- Study trip to Trier and Mainz by the School of Magistrates in Albania on “Basic and further training for judges, establishing an academy, structure of degree programmes in law in Germany, e-commentary“
Projects funded by the European Union
EU Grant: EURALIUS V “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania“
The IRZ was delighted to be awarded the EU-funded EURALIUS V project as lead contractor. The project continues the EURALIUS IV project, which the IRZ as lead contractor has successfully implemented in Albania since autumn 2014.
EURALIUS V has a total volume of €7.5 million and will run for 36 months, beginning on 1 April 2018. The consortium partners are the same as in the predecessor project: so the “Centre for International Legal Cooperation“ (CILC/the Netherlands) and the “Agency for Economic Development“ (aed/Austria). A new partner is the “Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura“ (CSM/ Italy).
Since 1 April 2018, a team of around 35 experts has successively started work on the project at a number of institutions in Tirana. The team consists of eight international and ten local long-term experts, ten admin staff members and additional mid-term experts. Dr Agnes Bernhard from Austria is again the Team Leader on the ground.
The project‘s kick-off meeting on 13 June 2018 in the “Europa House“ of the EU Delegation in Tirana was attended by Christian Lange, Member of the Bundestag and Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection.
While the EURALIUS IV project focused on drafting the legal basis required for the ongoing justice reform, EURALIUS V will strongly focus on the overall consolidation of the reform measures. Because of the general social conditions, it has not been possible so far to adhere to the original schedule for establishing the judicial administration institutions that are planned within the framework of the constitutional amendments. Therefore, the launch of the EURALIUS V project is taking place during an extremely sensitive phase. This is because the establishment of new institutions and the implementation of planned reforms will depend significantly on the outcome of the concurrently ongoing vetting procedures. A decision will be reached on the start of EU accession negotiations in summer 2019, which injects even greater urgency into the implementation of the reforms.
If possible, the IRZ will continue its bilateral cooperation with the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court in 2019, as soon as the institutions are operational.
The IRZ also intends to significantly expand its activities with the School of Magistrates over the coming year. There are plans to establish an e-commentary that will provide all members of the legal profession with free access to current case-law and law commentaries. Moreover, the IRZ will remain highly committed in Albania within the framework of the EURALIUS V project. EURALIUS V focuses on capacity building measures for the new but also for the existing judicial institutions.