Linde: Albania, very successful in its new justice system 

Joint press conference of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde:

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Good afternoon everyone!

We just concluded a very fruitful and, of course, friendly meeting with the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs and, it is with pleasure that I can also say, also a precious friend, who is here today in her capacity as the incoming OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, as Sweden will take over the OSCE Chairmanship next year, and at the same time, as a committed partner of Albania and the Western Balkans in their European integration process. 

We discussed the OSCE issues. For months now, we have had continued contacts with Ann and we have established excellent cooperation to encourage a solution through dialogue in Belarus. On the other hand, as part of the handover process of the OSCE Chairmanship, we have a constant discussion on all issues, most of them quite complex issues about which we follow a 100% agreed approach.

I don’t want to take up any more of the time from Ann’s remarks on these issues. Of course we are discussing together also about what is a great challenge of Albanian OSCE Chairmanship, but it is also a cornerstone in the continued work of the OSCE on selecting the OSCE high-ranking officials after the initial package of candidacies was turned down, something that has never happened in the OSCE history before. We certainly discussed the preparations for the upcoming OSCE Ministerial due in early December in Tirana, where, of course, Ann will attend as the incoming Chairperson-in-Office.

We also discussed cooperation with Sweden in terms of European integration, which, as I said, is a process where our Swedish friends and Ann, in particular, are fully supportive and committed to advancing the process, but also in terms of bilateral cooperation, where we have reason to be very grateful to Sweden for standing by Albania as a true friend over all these years. The cooperation projects with Sweden are projects that have always delivered quality and have been always worth taking further steps.

We are very pleased that a very specific Swedish investment in the tourism industry will be officially launched in Albania very soon. We are looking forward to seeing this investment directly promotes, through a concrete example, tourist Albania in Sweden and other Nordic countries, as well as attract more investments from Sweden and Nordic countries.

Last but not least, we also discussed ways for a new cooperation in the area of security and the fight against organized crime, something we are successfully implementing with several countries, where cooperation has been taken to a whole new level, involving interaction of Albanian State Police officers in the respective states and the police officers from these respective countries in Albania to better coordinate the fight against organized crime, which is a coordinated system involving many nationalities and many points of action. In this regard, after having carefully listened to what my colleague said about the situation in Sweden, which is experiencing a difficult period with organized crime, and, as far as we are concerned, we have the opportunity to provide assistance and benefit from this cooperation to help ourselves for that segment of organized crime originating from Albania, we are absolutely ready to dispatch our officers to Sweden and welcome here Swedish officers to tight the grip on criminal elements from Albania involved in organized crime networks in Sweden.

Ann, thank you very much for your visit and, taking notice of the weather conditions, I believe you understand you are very welcome, since we welcomed you on a grey and sunless day and a colour that mainly prevails in Stockholm.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde: Thank you Edi!

I am very grateful for the warm welcome here and I always appreciate meetings with you. I last visited Albania almost a year ago and we have had an even warmer and closer relationship during our joint work in the OSCE Troika. I think people would be surprised if they knew how much we talk and communicate with each other, in a bid to solve different problems as it is clearly enough that many problems need to be solved for the OSCE.

Given that our country will take over the next Chairmanship, we should be aware of the problems. We discussed ways to resolve the Belarus crisis and I, together with the Prime Minister, also discussed ways to facilitate the dialogue between the regime and the opposition there. It is still an ongoing conversation and we think that we should always leave open opportunities open at the moment when we think that there are opportunities for dialogue for a democratic Belarus.

Another major problem is the ongoing situation in Nagorno-Karabakh region and I am extremely concerned about the situation and loss of lives, including many civilians. With its crucial role to play, Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, the Russian Federation, the United States of America and France, I fully support the efforts of the co-chairs and their representatives, who are seeking to halt hostilities and the ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Today, we also discussed the special process for selecting the OSCE Secretary General and the heads of institutions. It is a merit-based process, but we must also take into account the geographical and gender balance and it is important to have all the preparations in place ahead of the Tirana Ministerial Council in December.

I would also like to avail myself of this opportunity to renew our congratulations to the incumbent OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and his team. It has been a tough period due to the COVID pandemic and it has been a very constructive Chairmanship. We will follow this lead when we assume this position and we will continue the work. 

As far as the European Union integration process is concerned, Sweden fully supports Albania’s bid to open the EU accession talks and we also praise the serious and hard work your government has done to prepare candidacy and membership in the future. When we look at the EU Progress reports, one of the areas where Albania has been successful is the area of the rule of law and the new justice system. I am therefore very confident that one of the reasons why I am here together with the Minister for Home Affairs is how we can discuss how we can work more closely together on organized crime issues and crime-related issues. Unfortunately in Sweden we have been experiencing organized crime problems and now we will try to garner support from various countries in the fight against this problem, because it is a borderless problem, and as Prime Minister Rama said, unfortunately, criminal gangs are cooperating in European territory and if we fight this phenomenon together, then we can bring about some changes. We will have the opportunity to make a difference regarding what they are doing, destroying our society. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for being so open and constructive, trying to work together in this regard. 

These were my opening remarks.

Thank you very much!

–I want to ask Mrs. Linde a question. I would like to know what is the current status of Albanian asylum seekers in Sweden and is Sweden ready to repatriate them if required by Albanian justice.

Second question; some Albanian journalists have applied for residence permit in Sweden and some of them have been granted this permit, but in its report on Albania unveiled a day ago OSCE continues to draw attention on the media law in Albania. Do you think that Albanian journalists can be silenced?

Minister Ann Linde: Regarding the asylum seekers in Sweden, a process takes place regarding this issue. We have experienced problems, for example, from a number of countries, with their nationals filing ungrounded asylum applications. In Sweden, if no asylum is granted, then you should be repatriated and this rule applies to all baseless asylum applications. At the same time we provide equal opportunities for everyone to seek asylum under international law. 

As far as the second question is concerned, as you know, Sweden is a strong supporter of the freedom of the media and I think that it is important for the government to consult with the civil society and journalists in this process, acknowledging that media freedom is one of the fundamental rights in any democratic country, as well as in the EU candidate countries like Albania.

PM Edi Rama: I want to intervene, although the question was not addressed to me. When you head to a press conference between the Prime Minister and a Foreign Minister, you should at least not confuse the OSCE with the EU. As far as the media law is concerned, the legislation has undergone a yearlong consultation process with the OSCE and it has been approved by the OSCE. In the meantime, the Venice Commission recommendations are being adapted and the law will be adopted, not to silence journalists, but to build an ethical environment, with everyone allowed to speak, but all of those who become prey to unfounded allegations, will be provided the opportunity to defend themselves.

– A question for Mrs. Linde. Starting next January when you will take over the OSCE Chairmanship. Do you have any opinion regarding the legal amendments Albania has approved to its Electoral Code, since the country will hold elections next spring? Thank you!

Minister Ann Linde: Thank you for the question! No, I am not familiarized with this problem. The priorities of Sweden’s OSCE Chairmanship will focus on the basics when it comes to issues, we will focus on security in the European context and the concept of detailed security, and we will try to move forward when it comes to internal conflicts in the OSCE area. Also, I represent a feminist government and also part of the issues to consider during our Chairmanship will be gender and women issues.

– A question to you Mr. Prime Minister. As soon as you assumed OSCE Chairmanship, one of the priorities was enhancing human resources, financial and technological resources for the OSCE monitoring missions in conflict zones. Is this priority fulfilled and what unfulfilled tasks that your successor will have to deal with and what is expected next?

PM Edi Rama: The Ministerial Council will take place in early December and it is there where we will take stock of the tasks and priorities we have set, the fulfilled priorities, the addressed problems, the problems we inherit and I believe you would have to wait for the Ministerial in order to have a complete picture of our accomplishments during entire year of Albania’s OSCE Chairmanship.

– I want to ask PM Rama two questions and one for the Minister. First question goes to you Mrs. Minister. You affirmed strong support for Albania’s bid to join the EU and highlighted progress with the justice reform in particular. In Sweden’s opinion, would the establishment of the Constitutional Court be sufficient for Albania to have the first intergovernmental conference with the EUO opened?

The question for you Mr. Rama is about the same issue. Last time I was given the opportunity to ask you about a possible date of the first intergovernmental conference, I recall that you declined to set a date, but perhaps a deadline by the end of the year. Do you think the end of the year could be the deadline for the first intergovernmental conference?

I am talking about the European Commission’s report presented a day ago. Let me go back to the issue of media law again, Mr. Rama. Few days ago, I had the opportunity to communicate with the PACE Rapporteur on media freedom, who urged the majority to forward the proposed legislation for a final review to the Venice Commission before finalizing the changes to the media law in the Albanian Parliament. Do you think you can make that choice? Thank you! 

Minister Ann Linde: Thank you very much! We support the enlargement package and we discussed the enlargement package for the Western Balkans yesterday and the continued reforms will certainly be part of this process, the merit-based progress and at the same time I can point out that justice reform projects are one of the positive aspects the report noted about Albania. The vetting process of judges and prosecutors has progressed very well to date. It is definitely something we look at with a lot of positivity. 

PM Edi Rama: I do not know how you could possibly ask me for a conference date when it should be set by the European Union. I cannot set the date. If it was for me, the date of the first intergovernmental conference should have been December 2017.

As to the second question, no, we will not forward it to the Venice Commission again.

– My question goes to PM Rama. Mr. Prime Minister, OSCE/ODIHR is a body with freedoms and rights on its very foundations. As the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, you will hand over Chairmanship to Swedish Minister next year. Are you proud that while heading the OSCE Chairmanship during this period you are passing a law that infringes the media freedom and, on the other side, it has been you the person who has also made unilateral changes to the Electoral Code and the Constitution? Thank you!

PM Edi Rama: Yes, I am.

– I want to ask Foreign Minister Linde a question. Assumption of the OSCE Chairmanship makes you actually aware of commitments undertaken by the OSCE Participating States, especially regarding the freedom of speech. You know that the European Council has set it as a precondition before the first intergovernmental conference with Albania can open as part of the accession negotiations. Albanian government needs to heed to the Venice Commission appeal regarding the law on the media. I heard the Prime Minister saying that he would adopt the version of law that has been approved by the OSCE, but the European Council and the Venice Commission said it was not in compliance with the international standard. It is an issue you would inherit. Do you have any position regarding this law whether it complies with the international standards?

Minister Ann Linde: Thank you very much! I took this question five minutes earlier and I already answered it. Sweden, I said, is a staunch supporter of media freedom and it is important for the government to discuss with journalists and the civil society in this process.

PM Edi Rama: I would like to add something that what was already said is false, completely false, because the draft law went through an open discussion process for more than a year, also with the OSCE presence here. We started with the German model, but we were told that the German model is not democratic. Then we went on with the French, Croatian and a third model that I do not remember and we were again told that they are not democratic either. We then drafted a very democratic one, based on our consultancy with the OSCE, which basically, in my view, does not address that wound in the Albanian debate over the fake news, defamation, personal assaults and discrimination against people and so on, but still it offers, at least, the opportunity for people, not me, but people to defend themselves when found attacked. Guess what! When the discussion about the law was going on, the biggest support came from the business people. Why?

This is because they are blackmailed on a daily basis. However, we forwarded the law to the Venice Commission. Because, you just asked how come that we didn’t send the law to the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission didn’t rule that the law runs counter to democratic principles. The Commission has made some recommendations we will treat one by one. So, I am talking about the Venice Commission recommendations. And we will adopt the law, because in this jungle of disinformation, fake news, assaults against the people’s personality and ill-education of young people through the daily violation of media ethics, individuals in this country should have at least the right to hold accountable in court anyone who attacks and hides behind anonymity, or outside sources that in fact attack people as if they were worthless in our society.

This cannot go on this way. It is as simple as that.

By the way, I suggest you all watch the movie entitled “Social Dilemma”. Watch it and let’s then discuss together.

Thank you very much! 

* Simultaneous interpretation