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EU Ambassador Christiane Hohmann’s interview with Vizion+ TV

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- Mrs. Ambassador thank you for the opportunity to talk about for the future of my country in the European Union. First of all I would like to ask you how you expected the appointment as the EU Ambassador to Albania? I am sure you heard before about my country. 

Oh yes, I heard a lot about Albania, of course everybody has. You may know that I was a couple of years ago, the German ambassador to Bosnia and Hercegovina. So I've lived in the region but I had never been to Albania, I admit that. So the first time I got into this country was on August 1st when I arrived here for this posting. But also being in Bosnia and Hercegovina we heard a lot about Albania being the country of hidden gems, about the warmth of people, about the excellence of food and also about the special vibe that is in the country, so in a sense that you know, there is movement. This is something, which we highly appreciated, particularly when we saw a lot of standstill in Bosnia, here we could see that things are happening and then afterwards of course everybody else in Western Europe heard about the devastating earthquake in 2019, and then Corona hit all of us. So there are lots of hardships that had to be carried by this country and I can tell you that we actually used the example of the reforms and rule of law, particularly vetting, as an example on how you can actually work to try and build a trusted sector of rule of law. 

 

Before I ask you for EU integration process of Alania, at first I want to ask you about the cyber attacks against Albania. Is declared that behind them is Iran. What do you think about their purpose and how the EU is supporting Albania?

The EU and that is the EU institutions, but also the EU member States have been in this country assisting Albania in building up a better cyber resilience particularly. The attacks in July, but also the recent attack now in September have shown us that we still have a lot to do. But it has been very clear you know the High Representative Borrell, went out with a statement condemning these attacks on behalf of the whole European Union, which means he speaks on behalf of 27 Member States. This is also where we are fulfilling our promise that we will continue to support Albania, and on top of it, stepping it up actually bringing in more experts, particularly now on the resilience of the systems, how to protect them better against malicious attacks.

 

- Let’s talk about the integration process. Now Albania has entered in its integration path, the first process is known as the screening process. What does it mean and what is the time needed to perform it or to fulfil it?

So you may know that there's something called the acquis, acquis is the legal body of the European Union. All the regulations, laws and procedures you need to abide by when you are a member or when you want to become one. Both, I mean the Member States have to abide by it too. So what is done at the moment and it's called screening, is actually looking at where does Albania stand in comparison to this EU acquis. So is the legislation in the framework or is it not and it also includes sort of the plans how to pick up and to actually transpose the European legislation rules and norms into Albanian rules and norms and laws. So it's a twofold thing: we look at what is the state at the moment but also how is the plan to actually catch up.

 

-And we need a long time to fulfil this process about one year, two years or it depends from the reforms?

It is two things, one is of course it takes time you have lots of so-called chapters because it's individual areas like agriculture, fishery, policies, labour laws, all of that. Everything is included; so it literally takes time to sit down and to compare this. So we calculate roughly a year for this whole process until we have gone through all of it. This will then give in total screening reports on each of the so called chapters we have put them in so called clusters, so a couple of chapters together are in clusters. We have 6 clusters which are now broken down in chapters, different numbers of chapters, and then this is a presentation to the EU Member States. The Commission does its job now, presents their results to the EU Member States, and that is very important, the EU Member States take this into consideration, plus the continued political rule of law, economic, social economic reforms here in Albania to add up and to see whether they agree that we can move on to the next step, which is the actual beginning of then sitting down and negotiating. 

 

When we are speaking about opening chapters, is there an order, which starts first? How is this process happening?  

So there is now a cluster order, it's not individual chapters anymore as it was done in the past. 

 

-With the new methodology?

Yes, the new methodology. To make it easier and easier to understand, we do have the so called clusters and there's one that is the crucial one, which we call the Fundamentals, that goes from rule of law, democracy, but also to public procurement, public administration, statistics, for instance. So this is cluster one which is the first to be opened but also the last to be closed, which allows then to respond to the ongoing developments in the country. That also means, if the reform process is proceeding properly, then this is going to be smooth, but if there are delays or backsliding, this also delays the whole process. It is really a combination of this screening but it's a very political process, because the political will to continue with full force the reforms is essential because if that stalls, the whole process will stall. 

 

So the rule of law and the fight against corruption will be the most important and difficult ones for Albania?

They continue to be front and centre. They are in the centre of attention, and I can also tell you in the centre of attention of the EU Member States. Because it's again important to understand that the EU Member States in the end, take the decisions on how to move in this process and this is also the trust they put into the political will of Albania and into the development on the reform path, to actually then move forward in the process or to say no we haven't seen sufficient progress so we are not going to go on. So this is very important to understand that rule of law, fighting against corruption, organized crime, money laundering are essential and will remain essential. A lot has been achieved, nobody denies that, but a lot still has to be done.

- What does EU requires from political actors, especially from government and opposition to move faster with the process?

Well there are several angles; one is of course a lot of legislation will have to be passed. Therefore, Parliament plays a crucial role here in Albania, because if you take the example for instance agriculture sector, there over 70 laws will have to be drafted, discussed and adopted in Parliament and implemented. What is very important: is not only to tick the box of laws being passed, but they have to become the reality in this country, they have to be used and applied in reality. So this is sort of the checks and balances of how it works. The other angle which I think is very important beyond that, is in our view this accession process is one which should actually be actively discussed also with the population of the country. People need to know what is happening. People need to know what reforms are upcoming and there we see a responsibility, first and foremost with the government, with the members of Parliament, they are the elected representatives of the people of this country. We will also do our part that is for sure, but the first important step has to be done here in the country, by involving civil society, involving the public in this kind of discussion.

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Christiane Hohmann, EU Ambassador to Albania

-But this reform and laws will be tangible for citizens not just reforms and laws as we say in the letter, is very important this, that's because for example for 6 years we have made justice reform but now the citizens aren’t seeing the promised results.

It’s just been 6 years and this fundamental justice reform going through the vetting process, has of course, number one helped us to clean up the sector, but we're not done. Second, we now need to make sure that this is deeply rooted and that it's also practiced on the long run, not only on the short run. So to take this really seriously, that we have, you know, high professional standards of prosecutors, of judges so that this system can actually start serving justice, so that people actually have a feeling that now I do stand a fair chance going to court. So it is something which is important also to change for people in the reality. All these reforms - they will touch everything, I mean from traffic laws all the way down to product safety, think about sanitary or safety rules or for instance the rules for the safety of food. They will all have to be applied, which touches farmers who go to the market because their products will have to fulfil certain standards. So all of that will be applied step-by-step and will be valid which also means it is for each and every one in this country - it will have an impact on each and every one here in Albania. What is important for me also to add: this is going to be a very comprehensive process, but we are also here to assist the country, not only the government in drafting laws, but also in the implementation of this and also to help this transition process, which is going to be fundamental. This country will look different when it joins the European Union; that is for sure. 

 

-And the last question. In fact the government is undertaking some reforms as you know like golden passports, fiscal amnesty, legalisation of cannabis for purpose medical. Maybe you have not met all the actors that are involved in this process yet, but how important is that all the reforms that government takes will be in line with EU laws?

It is very important, because as I mentioned earlier, one is the legislative body and of course we expect that no laws will be passed that actually violate this EU legal body, the acquis, so that is one factor but the other one as I said early on, the EU Member States are looking very carefully on all the developments in the country and if you have legal initiatives that actually do not focus on aligning, and actually getting closer to the EU legal body but going exactly the other way, then this changes also the impression of the country. It’s a trust issue, it’s a perception issue in the sense: Is the political life in this country geared 100% to aligning and coming closer to the European Union? Which also means the expectations, that any action taken should only go into this way or are there other actions which actually allow to raise questions.

 

-Thank you, it was a pleasure and let’s hope that Albania will be member of EU not after 20 years, let’s hope.

The potential is really there, if the focus is really on this, there is a chance of Albania will be moving fast, so it’s up to the country, it's up to the political leadership, but also and that is so important for us to take the population along. You know this is a process where everybody will have to digest changes and the Albanian population has digested a lot of changes in the last 30 years, but this is again another of these far reaching reforms, that will touch really every area and that is so important that this is a public debate. People need to be engaged in this, because they now also feel that things are moving forward. Because we want to create quality jobs here in the country, we want to create a future here in the country for Albanian people and that we have to do together.

 

Thank you so much!

Thank you!