Albania’s modern history can be described with Tirana’s cafés, and each phase had a defining locale. When Albania opened in 1990, the Dajti Hotel was a hub of social life. The café with a parquet floor and high windows offered a tranquil place to talk politics, mostly with former communists who felt at ease in the faded room. By my arrival in 1993, Tirana’s elite drank coffee in the pyramid, the former EnverHoxhaMuseum. Journalists, ministers, and members of parliament sat at low tables with red upholstered seats to gossip and scheme. Over time, cafés grew around the pyramid’s edge, down the boulevard, and into RiniaPark, each with a specific clientele: pro-government journalists, opposition journalists, writers, professors, actors, and exiled Kosovars. From 1994 to 1997, the liveliest café was Bar West on RiniaPark’s northern side, known as Fidel’s after the name of its owner. A prefabricated glass-and-metal hut, it served the politicians, journalists, and intellectuals who opposed Berisha and the spies who monitored their lives.
Everyone played it cool, sipping espresso in the morning and raki inthe afternoon, watching who talked with whom. To this day, a weekly magazine from Tirana has a political gossip section called “Bar West.”
In 1995, the Rogner Hotel drew those who could afford the price for coffee with a biscuit on the side. The café and patio became the stage for the drama of 1997 and, as one journalist noted, “virtually Albania’s only functioning institution.” The neighborhood had become the bustling center of business and chic cafés, such as Manhattan, Rio, and Fame. High-rises sprouted around Enver Hoxha’s villa, one with a revolving restaurant. Finally, in 2005, came the Sheraton, which bumped the Rogner to a lower class. Behind a wall and long driveway at the end of the boulevard, it symbolized the widening gap between Albanians and their leaders. The café evolution shows how far Albania has come: from a dilapidated, fascist-era hotel to a modern, international chain. No one can deny that Albanians’ lives have vastly improved. They travel, they debate, and they change their government. But to me the measure is not how Albania looks at the top but how far it has come as a whole. It is tempting to see the new cafés and restaurants as progress until one steps into Tirana’s periphery, or to most other cities, let alone the rural areas, where blackouts and muddy roads prevail. In 2014, the poverty rate-people living on less than about $1.25 per day-was 12.4 percent. Violence remains common on the streets and in homes, with women and children bearing the brunt.
In this context, the argument about independent institutions becomes concrete because these bodies should defend people’s rights, and not just those who belong to the ruling party or can fill an envelope with cash. Two and a half decades after communism, Albania still needs media, police, and courts that serve as honest arbiters of disputes. If a revolution is meant to replace the old power structures with something new, Albania did not have that break. It had protests, some of them authentic, and then a process of choreographed change. Power passed from one sector of the elite to another. At the same time, this transfer instead of rupture probably spared Albania a lot of pain. Given Hoxha’s extreme repression, 1990 could have been a very bloody year. Throughout the transition, Western states that espouse democracy have often fallen short. The U.S. focused on short-term regional stability at the cost of democratic growth. The U.S. rightly cared about regional affairs over local politics, but it could have used its vast power to encourage moderation abroad and at the same time promote the rule of law at home. Instead, in the desert of Albania’s early post-communist politics, the U.S. watered one sprig.
The error of die-hard Berisha supporters was not that they backed the man-he was arguably the most capable person to lead Albania in the early years. The error was giving him so much power and uncritical support, which fed into Albania’s track record of strong leaders. In a country emerging from four decades of dictatorship, it was critical to foster a separation of powers and checks on the rule of one man. The failure to do so emboldened Berisha and made his authoritarianism worse.
Thankfully that approach has changed. The U.S. and E.U. now protest when politicians squeeze a prosecutor. They complain about corruption. But they have not taken the proactive approach that Albania needs and the leverage they have allows.
In the end, however, Albanians hold the key. After two decades of frenzied individualism, they can step back and examine their common project. What is Albania’s long-term economic plan? What type of army serves the country’s needs? How can education best train the youth?
Albania’s leaders can show the way by thinking more about hospitals and schools than about posts and profit. They can use their positions to serve rather than to hoard. They can govern instead of rule. But citizens need to demand this from their leaders. Their voices can count not just during elections but as a constant refrain for responsibility, transparency, and accountability.
The younger generations give reason for hope. They are not bound by the burdens of fear and servitude. They have matured as Albania rejoined the world, absorbing cultures and engaging in debate. At the same time, they have grown up on a drifting ship, with principles thrown to the wind. They have watched swindlers get promoted, enter parliament, and run the state. They have learned how to pay for exams, and diplomas
too. Which spirit dominates-emancipation or deception-will determine Albania’s next café.
The U.S. and E.U. made it known they were watching. High-level visitor’s dal, the pragmatic Ilir Meta took his Movement for Socialist Integration to the other side. He and Edi Rama portrayed the union as a natural reunification of the left. Meta’s video scandal had sparked the January 21 demonstration, in which four people died, and Rama had publicly ridiculed Meta’s “instability” and “paranoia,” but defeating Berisha became the bigger goal.
All sides tried to manipulate the vote. International observers saw the DP and SP force teachers and pupils to attend rallies. At the Ministry of Justice, the minister ordered managers to mobilize DP voters in their neighborhoods, and threatened them when they refused. Meta’s party cajoled and threatened voters with jobs. The voting on June 23, 2013, began ominously with a shooting death in Lezhë, but for the most part level heads prevailed. The Socialists won sixty-six seats compared to the Democratic Party’s forty-nine. The big surprise was Meta’s Movement for Socialist Integration, which jumped from four to sixteen seats. The nationalist Red and Black Alliance failed to enter parliament.
For three days, Berisha stayed out of sight. One person told he had gone to Italy. Another said he had suffered a heart attack. A third had information that he had retreated to MountDajti, as if planning a Partisan attack. Berisha broke his silence on June 26 with a dramatic concession speech in front of supporters at Democratic Party headquarters. “We lost this election,” he said with a scratchy voice. “And believe me that for this loss all responsibility falls on one person, only on me.”
The results for the big parties came as no surprise. The vote was mostly not for Edi Rama or the SP but against the authoritarianism of Berisha and the rampant corruption of the past eight years. Unexpected was Meta’s dramatic leap, given his four-year alliance with Berisha and persistent charges of corruption. The common view in Tirana was that Meta’s team had perfected the art of buying votes with money and jobs. Perhaps the party’s advisors from the U.S. firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner expressed it best when they said, without irony, that Meta had wooed voters by “focusing intensely on their employment concerns and providing a compelling vision and plan for job creation.”
The international community praised the process, with an OSCE official calling the elections free and “quite fair.” The E.U. said they had stressed the need for Albanian parties to cooperate and compromise, like a frustrated parent telling siblings to get along. As parliamentary elections in 2013 neared, diplomats and foreign officials called the vote
a test: it would show the maturity of Albania’s democracy and readiness for the E.U.
The government hired two major U.S. lobbying firms, the Podesta Group and Patton Boggs, with the influential businessman and former diplomat Frank Wisner, whose father had helped found the operations directorate of the CIA and had tried to overthrow Hoxha in the 1950s.
Wisner had recently served as U.S. envoy to Kosovo and was personally involved in Patton Boggs’s Albania work. In November 2012, as Albania celebrated one hundred years of independence, Berisha raised eyebrows by talking about “Albanian lands” in neighboring states-a breach of the long-standing deal to avoid nationalism.
A few months later, at a conference in Munich with leaders from the Balkans and beyond, Berisha stressed the “national unity of the Albanians” from five different states.
Berisha’s nationalist spurt had a domestic aim. Frustration with the government and opposition had spurred a vocal nationalist movement and new political party called the Red and Black Alliance, which Berisha strived to outflank. Still, the international community hit back. In a memo to the Foreign Ministry that leaked to the media, the State Department said the government was playing a “potentially dangerous” game that could “impact our relationship.” Germany’s foreign minister cautioned that “[n]ationalist emotions and feelings should be treated very carefully.” Most Western governments supported independence for Kosovo and decentralization in Macedonia but they rejected a larger Albanian state. In April 2013, the election campaign took a sudden turn. After four years in the ruling coalition, with high posts until the corruption scan dal, the pragmatic Ilir Meta took his Movement for Socialist Integration to the other side. He and Edi Rama portrayed the union as a natural reunification of the left. Meta’s video scandal had sparked the January 21 demonstration, in which four people died, and Rama had publicly ridiculed Meta’s “instability” and “paranoia,” but defeating Berisha became the bigger goal.
Edi Rama has a radically different character than Sali Berisha. The sixfoot-six former national basketball player comes from Tirana’s elite and has no complexes about his past. The son of a respected sculptor, Rama did not grow up in the Block but he flittered at its edge. He also rejected the ideology of his parents’ generation. As a young artist he challenged taboos. As a professor at the Academy of Arts he pushed against dogma.
When the democratic movement began, he and a friend formed a group called Reflexione to explore Albania’s troubled past. When one friend first met Rama in 1993, he was walking down the boulevard in shorts and a T-shirt with stick figures in different sexual positions. The shorts alone were radical at the time. At the same time, Rama craves to keep things under his control. He works hard to manage his image as what one American journalist called a “Balkan original.” He decorated the prime minister’s office with wallpaper of his own doodles. His friends call him bombastic. U.S. ambassador John Withers took it a step further, saying in a 2009 cable to Washington that both Rama and Sali Berisha have a “distinct authoritarian streak.”
More concretely, during his political rise, Rama gained support from a host of powerful tycoons. Critics say he owes these men a lot in return.
Now the artist-politician must lead, and the challenges are immense. Albania survived Europe’s financial crisis because its economy is largely detached from the Euro-Atlantic system. Still, remittances from immigrants in Italy and Greece have dropped. Growth in 2013 dipped to a meager 0.4 percent-the lowest it had been in more than fifteen years. Unemployment rose to 15.6 percent. Tranparency International ranked Albania the fourth-most corrupt country in Europe, ahead of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
On the other side, the fate of the Democratic Party remains unclear. Berisha acknowledged defeat and Tirana mayor Lulzim Basha became the official party head, but the relentless doctor will never stop. And he has apparently amassed great wealth. At seventy years old, he could aim for another return to replace what he calls “the failed painter” and his “neoblockmen.”
A key player going forward is the businessman and parliament speaker Ilir Meta, who is influential and rich. And he has Rama in a tight spot. His break with Berisha showed that he will jump from side to side when it suits his needs.
The bigger problem is weak institutions. The judiciary is politicized and corrupt. Criminal groups hold sway over politicians and have little interest in deep reform. It is not that Albanians do not know how to hold fair elections or run independent courts. It is that influential stakeholders have no interest in seeing such change.
After three rejections, in June 2014 the European Union approved Albania’s application for candidate status, which means Albania is allowed to knock on the club door. The E.U. called it the “logical consequence” of reform efforts, and at the same time made clear that membership remains many steps away.
The incentive of E.U. membership can pull the country forward. But change will be slow so long as powerful business interests, legal and illegal, hold sway over political life. The new cast of officials, some of them open-minded and well-meaning, must overcome layers of bad practices and policies, and the power brokers that support them.
Albania is a candidate country following the Brussels European Council of June 2014. The country became a potential candidate country for EU accession following the Thessaloniki European Council of June 2003. On 18 February 2008 the Council adopted a new European partnership with Albania. TheStabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA)with the country was signed on 12 June 2006 and entered into force on 1 April 2009. It supersedes the Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related aspects, which entered into force in December 2006. The EU-Albaniavisa facilitation agreemententered into force in January 2008 while the readmission agreement entered into force in 2006.
27 June 2014
Albania receivesEU Candidate status
12 November 2013
The EU and Albania hold the first meeting of the High Level Dialogue on Key Priorities
10 October 2012
European Commission recommended that Albania be granted EU candidate status, subject to the completion of key measures in certain areas
1 March 2012
A revised National Action Plan is adopted followed by consultation meetings with the Commission on its implementation
1 November 2011
Ruling majority and opposition reached a political agreement on cooperation on EU issues.
10 June 2011
Adoption of the Action Plan addressing the 12 key priorities of the Commission Opinion on Albania's application for membership to the European Union
15 December 2010:Visa Liberalisation with Albania enteres into force
9 November 2010:The Commission issues its Opinion on Albania's membership request
16 November 2009: Council approves Albania's application for EU membership and invites the European Commission to submit an opinion on the application.
28 April 2009: Albania submits its application for EU membership.
1 April 2009: Entry into force of theStabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).
June 2008: The European Commission presents a road map identifying specific requirements for visa liberalisation with Albania.
March 2008: Visa liberalisation dialogue launched.
18 February 2008: Council decision on a revisedEuropean partnershipfor Albania.
22 January 2008: Albania and the EC sign the Financing Agreement for the instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) 2007 National Programme.
January 2008: Thevisa facilitation agreemententers into force.
18 October 2007: Albania signs the IPA Framework Agreement.
September 2007: Signature of avisa facilitation agreementbetween Albania and the EU.
May 2007: Adoption of the Multi-Annual Indicative Planning Document (MIPD) 2007-2009 for Albania under the IPA.
January 2007: Entry into force of the new instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).
December 2006: Entry into force of theInterim Agreement.
June 2006: Signature of theStabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA)at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg.
May 2006: Entry into force of the EC-Albania readmission agreement.
January 2006: Council decision on a revised European Partnership for Albania.
June 2004: Council decision on a first European Partnership for Albania.
June 2003: AtThessaloniki European CounciltheStabilisation and Association Process (SAP)is confirmed as the EU policy for the Western Balkans. The EU perspective for these countries is confirmed (countries participating in the SAP are eligible for EU accession and may join the EU once they are ready).
January 2003:Commission President Prodi officially launches the negotiations for a SAA between the EU and Albania.
October 2002: Negotiating Directives for the negotiation of a SAA with Albania are adopted in October.
2001: The Commission recommends the undertaking of negotiations on SAA with Albania. The Goeteborg European Council invites the Commission to present draft negotiating directives for the negotiation of a SAA.
2001: First year of theCommunity Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation (CARDS)programme specifically designed for the Stabilisation and Association Process countries.
June 2000: Feira European Council states that all the countries under the SAP are "potential candidates" for EU membership.
2000: Extension of duty-free access to EU market for products from Albania.
1999: Albania benefits from Autonomous Trade Preferences with the EU.
1999: The EU proposes a new Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) for five countries of South-Eastern Europe, including Albania.
1997: Regional Approach. The EU Council of Ministers establishes political and economic conditionality for the development of bilateral relations.
1992: Trade and Co-operation Agreement between the EU and Albania. Albania becomes eligible for funding under the EU PHARE programme.
Since March 2002, the Commission has reported regularly to the Council and Parliament on the progress made by the countries of the Western Balkans region. These progress report largely follows the same structure.
Progress Report 2014[2 MB]
§ Progress Report 2013[712 KB]
§ Progress Report 2012[320 KB]
§ Progress Report 2011[361 KB]
Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union. In view of the country’s European perspective, human rights and the protection of minorities play a central role in EU-Albania relations. The role of EU Delegation to Albania is to continue promoting fundamental rights and supporting their advocates. In this regard, the EU Delegation has three main missions:
Monitor the human rights situation
The EU Delegation collects, verifies and shares information to identify human rights violations, in cooperation with civil society organisations dealing with human rights. It maintains an active dialogue with the Albanian authorities on human rights protection and cooperates with other relevant international organisations, in particular UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe, in promoting international norms and standards.
Maintain a permanent dialogue with human rights defenders
The EU Delegation consults and involves human rights defenders in issues related to human rights. It informs and assists them on the financial resources available and the means of applying for them. The EU Delegation is focused in understanding their needs to help shape EU financial assistance, and stresses the need for further cooperation among human rights defenders. The EU Delegation provides its political support to relevant activities and initiatives organized by the human rights defenders. In addition, the EU Delegation supports the work of national bodies for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Delegation encourages the Albanian authorities to guarantee a favourable environment for human rights defenders and to further involve civil society organisations in the policy-making process.
Provide support to civil society organisations
The EU Delegation provides recognition and support to civil society actors actively working for the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Albania, including funding opportunities and public awareness activities. In this regard, the EU Delegation provides financial support to civil society organisations under a number of instruments. Information on funding opportunities in the field of human rights and strengthening of civil society is regularly published on the website of the EU Delegation.
Human Rights in the EU
European External Action Service, Human Rights Section:
• The EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy (adopted on 25 June 2012): http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/131173.pdf
• EU Agency for Fundamental Rights:http://fra.europa.eu/en
• EU institutions and bodies dealing with human rights:http://europa.eu/pol/rights/index_en.htm
EU strategic documents for Human Rights in Albania
2012 Progress report of the European Commission (the section on Human Rights is part of the Political criteria):http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2012/package/al_rapport_2012_en.pdf
2010 European Commission´s Opinion on Albania´s application for EU membership – Analytical Report:http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2010/package/al_rapport_2010_en.pdf
Local strategy for the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (2010):http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/albania/documents/eu_albania/local_strategy_hrd_sq.pdf
Local strategy for the implementation of the EU Guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them (2010):
EU financial assistance for Human Rights in Albania
Overview of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR):http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/how/finance/eidhr_en.htm
Albanian Human Right Bodies:
People's Advocate (Ombudsman):
Office of the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination:
Office of the Commissioner for Data Protection:
Links to international organizations mechanisms dealing with Human Rights in Albania / Country reports:
2009 Universal Periodic Review:
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, September 2012:
UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women:
UN Committee against Torture:
List of all UN Treaty Bodies:
Council of Europe
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities:
European Court of Human Rights – Albania Country Profile:
Commissioner for Human Rights – Special report following the events of 21 January 2011:
Commissioner for Human Rights –Report following the visit in 2007:
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Presence in Albania
Rule of Law and Human Rights:
The EU has close links with the countries of the Western Balkans. It aims to secure stable, prosperous and well-functioning democratic societies on a steady path towards EU integration.
The conditions for establishing contractual relations with these countries were first laid down in the Council Conclusions of April 1997. In 1999, the Council established theStabilisation and Association Process(SAP). It was confirmed that the countries of the Western Balkans would be eligible for EU membership if they met the criteria established at theCopenhagen European Councilin June 1993.
TheEuropean Council'sdetermination to fully and effectively support the Western Balkans on their path towards European integration was reiterated by the Thessaloniki European Council of 19-20 June 2003, which endorsed the ‘Thessaloniki Declaration’ and the ‘Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration’. These documents were adopted at the EU-Western Balkans Summit held on 21 June 2003 inThessaloniki.
TheEuropean Council of 14-15 December 2006also reaffirmed the need for fair and rigorous conditions in line with the Copenhagen political criteria, the stabilisation and association process and the renewed consensus on admitting new countries to the EU (EU enlargement).
The EU's approach takes the form of a comprehensive set of policy instruments based on
· The Stabilisation and Association Process
· The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
· The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSPD).
EU enlargement policy also includes financial assistance, channelled mainly through theInstrument for Pre-accession Assistance(IPA).
Each autumn, the European Commission adopts its annual Enlargement Strategy and Progress Reports on individual countries.
Under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the EU retains a key supporting role in stabilisingBosnia and Herzegovina, through a military-led mission (EUFOR/Althea). Between 2003 and 2012 the EU also deployed a police mission (EUPM) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. InKosovo*, the EU has deployed a mission to support the Kosovo authorities in upholding the rule of law (EULEX). CSDP missions have also been deployed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Within the Stabilisation and Association Process, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are essential for stability and the region's ongoing reconciliation process.
For further information, see:
* This designation is without prejudice to position on status, and is in line withUN Security Council Resolution 1244/99and theInternational Court of Justice Opinionon the Kosovo declaration of independence.
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