Plenary Session of National Convention on European Integration

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European Movement Albania in partnership with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association and line Ministries, supported by Slovak Aid organised on May 26 the Plenary Session of the “National Convention on EU Integration”. The activity gathered more than 80 participants, representatives from foreign diplomatic delegates, state institutions, civil society organisations, business associations, media,and academia.

The Opening Remarks were delivered by distinguished speakers: H.E. Mr.Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, H.E. Mrs. Klajda Gjosha, Minister of European Integration of Albania, Mrs. Majlinda Bregu, Chairwoman of European Integration Committee of the Parliament of Albania, H. E. Mr. Milan Cigánik, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic, H.E. Mrs. Romana Vlahutin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Head of Mission of EU Delegation to Albania

During the opening speech of the Plenary Session EMA’s Executive Director, Mr. Gledis Gjipali emphasized the goal of National Convention on EU Integration as a bridge to institutionalise the public debate and dialogue on EU related issues and to provide a mechanism for the participation of all segments of Albanian society, enabling to formulate the national policies relevant to EU Integration process. During the first phase of the project’s implementation, 16 sessions are conducted in framework of the 4 Working Groups set up. “Each Working Group,- explained Mr. Gjipali, -has covered a particular field of development directly related to the chapters of EU-Albania negotiations process, along with chapters pre-defined in the project.”As added value of the project were the activities held outside the capital – in regional capitals and other local communities- Elbasan, Lushnje, Fier. Implying that the Convention has as a peculiar feature of comprehensiveness, cities and rural areas were included according to their economic, industrial, environmental, agricultural activities and problems that required a special attention.

H. E. Mr. Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Albania stated that the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU is expected to be positive for the further progress of National Convention of EU Integration in Albania. During his opening remarks, Mr. Bushati emphasized the need of Albania’s reformation process and the dialogue EU-Albania is essential in this regard.. “The Justice Reform is a crucial and is required from all the Albanian citizens, since today the 92% of them are unsatisfied and disappointed with the current justice system. The level of trust is really low and the efforts to make the reform should be stronger. For the first time, we are experiencing a silent social revolt”.

H. E. Mrs. Klajda Gjosha, Minister of European Integration of Albania, while underlining the importance of Civil Society in the reformation process of Albania , expressed the full support for the National Convention on EU Integration as an important mechanism to inform and involve the citizens about EU integration process. She highlighted “this platform offers a feature that had been missing for a long time in our society -that of Dialogue and Compromise.”

Mrs. Majlinda Bregu, Chairwoman of European Integration Committee of the Parliament of Albania stated that it is the right momentum for the civil society to shift its own role from just organizing forums and public discussion, to oblige strongly for being a relevant partner in integration and reformation process. “The Civil Society should be a critical partner in the decision making process in Albania, in influencing and exerting pressure to  political actors”. To Mrs. Majlinda Bregu the most important elements that define a well-functioning society and institutions are: 1) the rule of law 2) steady and solid institutions, 3) civil society as a watchdog and 4) a well management of time.

H.E. Mrs. Romana Vlahutin, Head of Mission of EU Delegation in Albania remarked the importance of how to communicate the changes the country is going through, how to understand, discuss and explain them to the citizens. “Particularly important within this project was the promotion of cooperation between governmental and civil society sectors. This is a change for the entire society,-” EU Ambassador added, “It really needs to include as many people as possible in these discussions all over Albania”..According to Mrs. Vlahutin,the European integration is a crucial ‘life changer’ for the citizens of each country and represents the best modernisation tool.

H.E. Mr. Milan Ciganik, Ambassador of Slovak Republic in Albania showed his support to further implementation of National Convention on EU Integration in Albania-as an effective link between state institutions and civil society.  “This establishment is essential to create an area of discussion and critical debate among interested groups concerning the integration process of the country in EU. It is a great opportunity for all of them to be part of this debate”. National Convention in Albania is in the same line with the EU priorities and integration process of the country, and if it goes smoothly during the implementation, the country will approach the final stage of membership. The development of working group discussions has been closely followed by Slovak experts, who have brought their best practices & experience in the specific areas.

During the panels of the four Working Groups, there were presented the main findings and results of the 16 sessions conducted from June 2015, followed by a discussion between the participants coming from civil society representatives and state institutions.

In the light of the recent challenges the country is facing, the first panel of Working Group I(Judiciary and Fundamental Rights)  had as a main focus the Reform on Justice and its immense role in  accelerating  the progress of Albania EU membership. Ms. Mona Xhexhaj, Coordinator of the Working Group and moderator of the panel explained the progress of fourth sessions of the WG I and analysed the recommendations extracted during the sessions. The collaboration with the Ministry of Justice was essential for further progress of the WG I activity. The Chapter 23, as being the first to be opened and the last to be closed during the accession negotiations, covers a variety of topics of highly importance to Albania’s progress toward EU. The Working Groups sessions have addressed the issues such as i) Juvenile justice and rights of minors ii) alternative dispute resolution iii) free legal aid iv) public information on legal issues. The recommendations and discussions were aligned on three main elements)legal framework 2) institutional capacities and 3) the level of transparency and cooperation between state institutions and CSOs. The Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr. Eridian Salianji stated that the Justice Reform is not the end of the process and the solution of the problems, but it represents  the beginning of a new phase, more challenging and with higher standards. He emphasized the need for the Chapter 23 to be fully applicable (implemented), as the only way towards an efficient and integrated justice system in the country. The role of civil society remains substantial and the cooperation among all the interested stakeholders on drafting new laws, increasing the capacities and the structures is important. Mrs. Vjollca Meçaj, representative of Albanian Helsinki Committee and Co-Chair of the WG I emphasized the role of the civil society as crucial even though the political actors tend to leave it behind. It is important that the civil society organisations to be actors during all the process and not only at the end after the things have been done. Despite the fact that the sessions of WG I might look like they are not linked to each other, it is important to mention that this is the main feature of Chapter 23: that of a multidimensional chapter that covers different issues in one umbrella – Judiciary and fundamental rights. There is a need for a change of institutional framework such as capacity building, better trainings and higher level of professionalism. Public information about the legislation and involvement of the interest groups is relevant and one of the services the state should offer.

During the second panel of the Working Group II (Justice, Freedom and Security) the panelists discussed about the migration and asylum policies in Albania and the main challenges that the country has to cope with in the context of the refugee crisis. Ms. Nirvana Deliu, as a moderator of WG II introduced the progress of fourth sessions conducted in the frame of WG II focused on Chapter 24. Due to the context of refugee crisis and challenges of migration in Europe, the topic covered in first three sessions was that of Migration and Asylum, in which with the strong cooperation of Ministry of Internal Affairs was made possible a productive meeting and important recommendations and inputs were revealed. Another important feature mentioned by Ms. Deliu was that the fourth session addressed a topic of cyber-security and cyber-crime, to show that this chapter is really various and includes a wide range of issues. Furthermore it shows that despite the fact that some issues such as cyber security are not assessed as priority in Albanian context, yet they are important in the advancement of integration process of Albania within EU. Mrs. Elona Gjebrea, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in Albania gave a clear view of what were the main achievements and progress made in the framework of legislation and capacity building. She explained that whether Albania would be affected by the flux of refugees, the measures should be taken, and the Albanian government is preparing for all the scenarios. There are some positive achievements even though still there is a lot of work to do, while the cooperation with international partners and especially the EU authorities is crucial. She as well mentioned the new project on establishing a new reception center that would help in increasing the capacities. Mr. Ardian Hackaj, the Director of ShtetiWeb gave relevant data about the influx of foreign citizens in Albania, while during 2015 there were about 290 people. He explained the fact that Albania should be a partner country for the EU in the framework of refugee crisis and there are some measures that should be implemented and intensified such as: the increase of infrastructure, more awareness campaigns and information brochures for asylum procedure and of course it is essential an analysis of the costs of the migration situation in Albania. Also he suggested that the idea to make our country a ‘buffer area’ it should be take into consideration.

The Working Group III (Agriculture and Food Safety) had as a main focus not only the development of Agriculture, but the whole rural development in Albania, by specifying the need for grants and subvention in this area. Mr. Florian Xhafa, Expert of WG III, explained briefly that the recommendations concluded during the session can be sum up in four levels. The need of statistics and studies to better understand the situation and to know which are the measures to be taken. Second, the increase of capacities and establishing a  system to supervise, organise and support the sector of agriculture. Another important element is the legal framework and its implementation in an efficient and practical way. Last but not least, the risk assessment is relevant as well as, for gaining the required information about the different sectors of rural economy and their particular requirements and advancements. Mr. Agim Rrapaj, Chairman of Albanian Agribusiness Council during his word expressed the gratitude on the support European Movement in Albania as shown for Agriculture. He explained shortly the relevance of agribusiness in rural development and the need for further cooperation between state institutions and private sector. Due to the fact that agriculture is the main sector of economy in Albania more support and development is required. Mr. Grigor Gjeçi,the representative of Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Resources made a presentation of IPARD grants as one of the main financial supports that affect directly the development of rural areas and help farmers for more investments. He said that the government has prepared  a National Strategy for Rural Development while there are priorities to accomplish and challenges to cope with. The focus is not only the agricultural sector but the development and improvement of all rural area, the infrastructure, living conditions and the access to other services whether public or private. The IPARD 2 project is in its final stage of implementation, while the accreditation structures has been finalised. There is a need for more diversification of economy, more technical assistance and stronger role of civil society in this direction.

The Working Group IV (Environment) explained the need of protection of environment and the importance for a better legislation to protect it from the polluters. Mrs. Holta Ymeri, the Expert of WG IV noted that when it comes to environmental issues the public is not as sensitive as it should be. The approximation process of legislation with the EU acquis should not be only in drafting the legislation but even during the implementation, an element that is missing. During the sessions of WG is evidenced that the level of pollution is high and concerning especially in cities such Fieri and Elbasani, and this was the main reason why these cities were chosen as places to organise two session of the working group. Some of the suggestions made by Ms. Ymeri were that the institutions should be stronger, efficient, more transparent and independent during their functions. Mr. Taulant Bino, Albanian Ornithological Society, expressed his concern about the fact that the environment is not seen as a priority and the public it is not interested enough about this issue. He said that one obstacle is linked with the lack of information and that people are not aware about the environment, and the risks coming from the pollution of it. It is seen that the citizens do not know their legal rights and opportunities when it comes to environmental matters and this causes that the environmental cases in the courts sent by organisations or individuals to be really low.

The activity was concluded by the Slovak Foreign Policy Association representative Mr. Peter Brezani. During his remarks Mr. Brezani mentioned  as positive the first phase of the implementation and looking forward for further cooperation and collaboration in this direction. The main goal of the Convention to cultivate a critical debate in Albania with the aim to become an institutional form, is achieved and this platform should become a tradition because it affects significantly all the sectors and all the dimensions such as: structure, people, institutions and policies. The cooperation among NGOs, Working Groups and political bodies is essential for further progress and future achievements.