Albania - annual report 2019

During the Steering Committee meeting for the EU project EURALIUS V.  Front centre: EURALIUS V Team Leader Dr Agnes Bernhard, to the right:  Dr Stephen Stork, EU Delegation Albania
During the Steering Committee meeting for the EU project EURALIUS V. Front centre: EURALIUS V Team Leader Dr Agnes Bernhard, to the right: Dr Stephen Stork, EU Delegation Albania

Strategic Framework

Legal Policy Starting Point

Albania has been an official EU candidate country since mid-2014. The EU Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania back in April 2018 to acknowledge the progress that had been made in many areas by then. Nevertheless, it was not possible to start accession negotiations in the reporting year, as not all of the EU Member States agreed to this step. This has been met with great disappointment in Albania, as the country‘s accession (and that of North Macedonia) is a centrepiece in the EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, which essentially envisages closer ties between Albania and the EU as a means of contributing to the ongoing stabilisation and reconciliation of the region. For years, Albania has made strenuous efforts to implement reforms – especially in the judicial field – to bring the country closer to possible EU membership.

Compounding this situation, the government under Prime Minister Edi Rama faced strong domestic pressure in 2019. Student protests in the first half of the year demanded, among other things, more say in the running of universities, halving of tuition fees and significant improvements in the housing situation. The protests were effective, causing the government to give in in some areas.

Moreover, the opposition resigned their parliamentary mandates at the beginning of 2019 in protesting – in their perspective – a corrupt government, which they accused of election rigging and having links to organised crime. The blockade led to violent riots in some places. The opposition also boycotted the local elections in summer. The government, which rules with an absolute parliamentary majority, did not react, and no new parliamentary elections took place.

Albania‘s legal and political situation is further exacerbated by the fact that key institutions such as the Constitutional Court and the High Court are currently not operational. As a result of the vetting procedure with its comprehensive review of judicial personnel, in particular judges and public prosecutors, in regard to their professional qualifications, financial circumstances and personal integrity, many posts in courts are vacant and filled only slowly.

Overall Concept

IRZ has advised Albania since 2000 both in direct bilateral cooperation with institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the High Court and the School of Magistrates, as well as in EU-funded projects. In many cases, bilateral cooperation has made it possible to address or deepen areas that could not be covered by EU-funded projects.

Unfortunately, IRZ was unable to continue its cooperation with its main partners, the High Court and the Constitutional Court, in 2019 due to the situation outlined above. Nonetheless, constitutional law was a priority of IRZ activities in Albania. For example, further training seminars for lawyers were held in the regions of Albania to introduce the constitutional complaint and its application.

At the same time, the cooperation with the School of Magistrates, which in the current situation plays a key role in the basic and further training of young legal professionals, has significantly intensified. For instance, IRZ jointly with the School of Magistrates offered continued training events on a variety of topics.

In addition, as part of a project funded by the Federal Foreign Office, an electronic commentary is being set up, which will provide for lowthreshold and free access to legal commentaries to all Albanian legal practitioners. The commentaries themselves will be written by Albanian authors and reviewed by German experts prior to publication to ensure a uniform quality standard. This project is carried out in cooperation with the EURALIUS V project.

Focus of Activity in 2019

Constitutional Law/Human Rights and their Enforceability

  • Further training for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates on the subject of “Constitutional vs. administrative court jurisdiction“ in Tirana
  • Further training courses for lawyers in cooperation with the Bar on the topic “Application of the constitutional complaint“ in Durres and Korca

Public Law

  • Seminar on administrative law in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Seminar on asylum law in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Criminal Law and Penitentiary Law

  • Seminar for lawyers in cooperation with the Bar in Tirana on the topic of the Code of Criminal Procedure
  • Seminar on “Criminal law and ECHR case-law“ in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Basic and Further Training

  • Kick-off event for e-commentary in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Training courses for authors on writing e-commentaries in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Project funded by the European Union

EU Grant project: EURALIUS V “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania“

Since April 2018, IRZ is implementing the EU-funded EURALIUS V project as a lead contractor, a follow-up of the EURALIUS IV project, which was also successfully implemented by IRZ.

EURALIUS V has a total volume of €7.5 million and will run for 36 months until March 2021. 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) from Italy.

Dr Agnes Bernhard from Austria is again the team leader on the ground. While the EURALIUS IV project focused on elaborating the legal basis for the ongoing judicial reform, EURALIUS V is strongly focused on the overall consolidation of the reform measures. The priorities here include:

  • capacity building measures for newly established self-administration institutions of the judiciary,
  • strategies to effectively reduce the substantial case backlog at the High Court,
  • support for the special prosecutors‘ offices and the anti-corruption courts, and
  • accompanying IT measures for the entire judicial sector.

Overall, work on the EURALIUS V project continuously covers more than ten beneficiary institutions: The Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the High Judicial Council, the High Prosecutorial Council, the Justice Appointment Council, the High Court, the School of Magistrates and the Chambers of Free Legal Professions, to name just a few.

The project is organised in a total of five teams, each of which looks after individual institutions. The teams are led by one or two international experts, with additional support from numerous national colleagues. The teams have the following responsibilities:

  • Team 1: Parliament and Ministry of Justice
  • Team 2: Governance Institutions, the High Judicial Council, the High Prosecutorial Council, the Justice Appointment Council and the Judicial Inspectorate
  • Team 3: Court Organisation, prosecution offices, Free Legal Professions
  • Team 4: IT in the judicial system, with the aim of introducing a standardised case management system
  • Team 5: Basic and continued training for judges, prosecutors and judicial staff

The following exemplarily listed measures constitute priorities for implementing the reform legislation co-developed within the framework of the predecessor project EURALIUS IV:

  • support in the preparation of regulations, directives, decrees, manuals and expert opinions on legal issues,
  • commentaries on draft legislation,
  • development of IT programs,
  • support in the maintenance of IT systems,
  • preparation of tender documents for a new IT case management system,
  • restructuring of the School of Magistrates,
  • revision of the curricula, among many other things.

A pleasing aspect is that IRZ is also able to support the School of Magistrates within the framework of its bilateral work through the provision of advisory services that are not contractually covered by EURALIUS V.

The EURALIUS V project reached a number of its objectives in 2019. On one hand, the remaining reform-laws co-developed under the predecessor project EURALIUS IV were adopted. In addition, the Justice Appointment Council and the Special Prosecutor‘s Office for Anti-Corruption were established. Additionally, progress was made in the appointment of constitutional judges.

For the upcoming final year of the project, the priorities include supporting the Constitutional Court and High Court in restoring their functionality. Moreover, the latter institution will receive support in the development and implementation of a strategy to effectively reduce the considerable backlog of cases. Another priority will be on advising the special public prosecutors‘ offices and the anti-corruption courts. In view of the ongoing vetting procedures resulting in the reduction of the number of judges and prosecutors, the above measures constitute a challenge for the entire Albanian judicial system.

Outlook

IRZ will continue bilateral cooperation with the Constitutional Court and the High Court in 2020, as soon as they become operational. IRZ also intends to significantly expand its activities with the School of Magistrates over the coming year. Among other things, there are plans to further establish an e-commentary that will provide all members of the legal professions with free access to current case law and commentaries on laws. In addition, asset recovery will be a priority of advisory measures, and initial contacts have already been established with the relevant institutions in Albania.

Moreover, IRZ will remain highly committed in Albania within the framework of the EURALIUS V project.

 

Albania - annual report 2018

Lecture by the lawyer Stefan von Raumer (on the right in the photo) during the seminar for lawyers on constitutional complaints
Lecture by the lawyer Stefan von Raumer (on the right in the photo) during the seminar for lawyers on constitutional complaints

Strategic Framework

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.

Overall Concept

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

Public Law

  • 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.

Outlook

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.

Albania - annual report 2017

Presentation of the Handbook on lodging Constitutional Complaints in Tirana:  Dr. Arta Vorpsi, legal consultant at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania; Professor Dr. Jan Bergmann, President of a senate at the Higher Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg; Dr. Vitore Tusha, judge at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania; Frank Hupfeld, IRZ (from left to right)
Presentation of the Handbook on lodging Constitutional Complaints in Tirana: Dr. Arta Vorpsi, legal consultant at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania; Professor Dr. Jan Bergmann, President of a senate at the Higher Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg; Dr. Vitore Tusha, judge at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania; Frank Hupfeld, IRZ (from left to right)

Legal Policy Situation

In June 2017, parliamentary elections were held in Albania. Prime Minister Edi Rama, who had been in office since September 2013, was reappointed. The elections were preceded by a political crisis lasting several months. The opposing PD party (Democratic Party of Albania) and their supporters occupied an area in central Tirana for several months to express their discontent at Rama’s politics and to force the government to resign prematurely. Reasons for the protests included parts of the planned judicial reform, an EU precondition for starting accession negotiations with Albania, which was granted official EU-candidate status in 2014. Approved by passing the amended law for the constitutional amendment of Albania in summer 2016, the Albanian judicial reform strategy covers almost all of the judiciary. However, the focus is on the so-called screening of judges and prosecutors. The newly adopted Vetting Law (reliability screening) is intended to establish the personal suitability and income situation of the judicial officers and whether or not they have connections with organised crime. This is an important aspect of the government’s plan to strengthen the confidence of the population in the government and the judicial system, which has been damaged amongst other things by widespread corruption.

Overall Concept

The IRZ has been advising Albania on reforming and consolidating the rule of law since 2000 and has conducted events in this context in the fields of the organisation of the judiciary, legislation as well as basic and further training for lawyers. This took place both in direct cooperation with institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the School of Magistrates and within the framework of EU-funded projects. Often, specific areas that could not be covered by the EU projects were picked up or developed further by the bilateral cooperation. In the past, the IRZ has been part of the EU judicial reform projects EURALIUS I and EURALIUS II and took the lead in implementing the follow-up project EURALIUS IV (see also under EU projects) since September 2014.

In recent years, the main focus of the IRZ’s cooperation with Albania was on administrative jurisdiction, which was introduced in Albania in 2013. Another component of in-depth consultation by the IRZ is the constitutional complaint, which was newly introduced in 2017. A handbook on the constitutional complaint was developed in German-Albanian co-authorship in 2017. It provides a practical overview of how the constitutional complaint is classified legally as well as concrete schemes for examining the same. In the future, it is intended to serve as a reference book for the current judiciary, the Bar and future colleagues in their day-to-day practice.

Foci of Activity 2017

Constitutional Law/Human Rights and their Enforceability

  • Seminar on the topic “The constitutional complaint in German theory and practice” in collaboration with the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania in Tirana
  • Follow-up seminar on the topic “The constitutional complaint in German theory and practice” in collaboration with the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Albania in Tirana
  • Developing a handbook on the topic “The constitutional complaint – a handbook for practitioners from the German and Albanian perspective” for the judiciary and employees of the Constitutional Court as well as for Albanian lawyers
  • Introducing the handbook “The constitutional complaint – a handbook for practitioners from the German and Albanian perspective” with representatives from the judiciary and the Bar in Tirana
  • Seminar “Finding, understanding and citing the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. Practical instructions for helping judges, prosecutors and students of the School of Magistrates” in collaboration with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Participation by a German judge at a Regional Constitutional Court in the international conference “Europeanization of constitutional law and constitutionalization of European law – challenges for the future” on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Constitutional Court of Albania in Tirana
  • Seminar for staff members of the Supreme Court on Asylum Law and a joint European Asylum System (GEAS) in Tirana
  • Seminar on European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights case law for the judiciary and members of staff of the Supreme Court in Tirana

Administration of Justice

  • Participation by two lawyers in the “IRZ Summer School on German Law” in Bonn

Public Law

  • Study trip by a delegation of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Albania (administrative chamber) to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig and the Higher Administrative Court in Bautzen

European Union Funded Project

EU Grant Project: Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania (EURALIUS IV/EURALIUS IV – 2017)

Since autumn 2014, the EU funded project “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania” (EURALIUS IV/EURALIUS IV – 2017) has been implemented under the leadership of the IRZ. Consortium partners are the “Center for International Legal Cooperation” (CILC/the Netherlands), and the “Agency for Economic Cooperation and Development” (aed/Austria). The project continues the work of the three previous projects, in which the IRZ was involved as a junior partner in Phases I and II.

The aim of the project, which is to finish at the end of February 2018, is to support the current judicial reform and its implementation in Albania. After the contract was amended, the project volume now amounts to around EUR 5.6 million. The budget increase was initiated by the contracting party, the Delegation of the EU to Albania, to facilitate more in-depth support for the reforms through a larger team of advisors on site in Tirana since early 2017. Currently, more than 20 international and national fulltime legal experts, including the project management team, are involved in supporting the reform efforts. As in all EU projects, the work on site is accompanied by short-term experts.

According to the project contract, the beneficiary institutions comprise the Ministry of Justice, the Parliament, the High Council of Justice, the Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the School of Magistrates and the Bar Association and the Chamber of Notaries. The new legal institutions, established after the constitutional amendment was passed in the summer of 2016, will join in successively.

The EU has maintained relations with Albania since 1992. In 2008, the EU and Albania signed the financing agreement for the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA – IPA II since 2015). In the current EU budget, the IPA II programme for Albania for the period 2014 to 2020 has a total financial volume of around EUR 650 million. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Albania entered into force in April 2009. In June 2014, the EU granted Albania candidate status in recognition of reforms that had been initiated. In view of the accession, the EU is calling for a reform of the judiciary, among others, which the IRZ has contributed to considerably as part of the EURALIUS IV project since the autumn of 2014.

The main objectives of the reform are to fight corruption more effectively and to increase the independence and efficiency of the judiciary. The reform efforts include seven pillars of reform: the Constitution, general jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction, legal training, the independent legal professions, the fight against corruption and finance.

In the first phase of the reform, the EURALIUS IV project team prepared an analysis of the current situation of the judicial system. Based on this, a strategy paper was developed including an action plan aimed at addressing the deficits identified in the analysis. Shortly after the start of the EURALIUS IV project, the Albanian Parliament set up a judicial reform commission with long-term project experts represented in working groups on various legislation projects.

From autumn 2015, the expert groups and Parliament worked on a comprehensive package of around 40 statutes including the constitutional amendment. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe was involved in the constitutional amendments and the drafting of the law on screening the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Vetting Law, see also above under “Legal Policy Starting Point”).

The draft legislation for constitutional amendments of all the justice chapters, which EURALIUS IV contributed to over many months and was assessed by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, was passed unanimously by the Albanian Parliament on 22 July 2016. The new Constitution paved the way for a profound and comprehensive judicial reform, initiating a restructuring of the whole court and judicial system.

The constitutional amendments largely relate to the Constitutional Court, the courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Between August 2016 and mid-April 2017, the Albanian Parliament passed several legislative packages, including the so-called Vetting Law, the law on the organisation of the Constitutional Court, the status act for the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the law on the organisation of the court system and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Civil Procedural Law, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Criminal Code, as well as a Code of Administrative Court Procedure. Other changes include the reorganisation of the Ministry of Justice, the areas of criminal justice and the fight against corruption.

The reform package passed thus far is a milestone for Albania in the direction of EU accession and has advanced reform efforts considerably.

The follow-up project EURALIUS V, which is due to start in 2018, was promoted by the IRZ as the leader in the autumn of 2017. Early 2018 IRZ has been awarded the contract. The IRZ will be involved substantially in the implementation of the judicial reform with an enlarged team of experts for another three years.

In future, the main focus will be on implementing the reform, whereby monitoring the establishment of new judicial institutions and measures to develop capacities for existing and new institutions will be of central importance.

Outlook

The IRZ will continue its cooperation with the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the School of Magistrates in Albania in 2018. Especially with regard to the newly introduced constitutional complaint, further on-site training events are planned. The penal system could form a new field of activity in 2018.

Furthermore, the IRZ will implement the IRZ-led EU project “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania – EURALIUS V”, which will run for at least 36 months.