Albania faces serious organised crime challenges and should pursue reforms that place it on a path of transparency, accountability, and growth.

That is the bottom line argument of   Ms. Monika Kryemadhi, the leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration, that is, the third biggest in the Albanian Parliament. The most powerful woman politician in Albania argues that Tirana needs a clear path of conditionality both for the sake of the process as well as the end destination. In other words, reforms have a value in their own right — for the sake of Albania — over and beyond EU membership aspirations.

Q: Mrs. Kryemadhi, what do you view as your mission as the leader of the third biggest opposition political party in Albania, especially in view of critical negotiations with Brussels? What does “constructive opposition” mean in a political system where winner takes all?

A: Our party is one of the youngest in Albania, but we have prioritised moving forward with a European Integration agenda.

Currently, Albania is experiencing serious existential challenges: from the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking to tackling mass unemployment and high youth emigration.

Our mission as the opposition is not merely to denounce these negative phenomena as the result of poor governance, but rather to provide viable policy alternatives to address the people’s concerns.

The democratic political system is not a winner takes all system. Democracy works best when there is a functioning system of checks and balances, where both the majority and the opposition contribute to the economic and social development of the country. We have been very constructive in our political stance, extending the consensus on policy initiatives that facilitate progress. And we have certainly extended the consensus to policies advancing the process of European integration, including rule-of-law reforms.

Unfortunately, this stance has not be recognised by the government, which retains its arrogant stance. But make no mistake: reforms of this kind have as much to do with the social cohesion of Albania as they have to do with accession negotiations.

Q: In your view, is the conditionality that Brussels presents to Tirana fair? Has there been any progress as regards to the conditions being set? Is there any scope to be ambitious and hopeful in this regard?

Unfortunately, reaching the next stage to open the accession negotiations has been a “moving target,” mostly due to the resistance to structural reforms and the poor performance of the Albanian government. “It takes two to tango,” as it’s often said, so we need to understand that it is the Albanian political class that must responsibly address the conditions set by Brussels. A failure to do “our homework” was a key finding in the European Commission “Strategy for the Western Balkans” report released a few days ago.

Despite the lack of progress and the government’s failure to address an urgent demand for reforms, we the opposition, are calling for Brussels to open accession negotiations by mid-2018. That will kick off a process that will provide Albania with the necessary impetus to efficiently address the problematic issues of corruption, the weakness of the rule-of-law, and the fragility of institutions. Success in securing public order, the fight against drug trafficking, the attraction of foreign direct investments, and ending the mass exodus of youth must be prioritised. In view of these priorities, this is the time for a leap of faith, extending a “carrot” that will allow for more effective “sticks,” accelerating our journey towards European integration.

Q: Is the Albanian government capable of shaking off allegations of links to organized crime before June 2018?

A: There is evidence to suggest that our former Minister of Interior (Saimir Tahiri) – a close political ally of our Prime Minister (Edi Rama) – masterminded drug trafficking in our country; there is added credence to this evidence as it originates from foreign intelligence services.

These findings present grave concerns, as it shows the lack of political will to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. This also discourages foreign investors from coming to Albania, holding back the creation of good paying jobs so that our children may hope for a better future in this country.

If we are serious about getting rid of organized crime and its political links we need resolute action by the government. Now is the time for bold action, irrespective of a particular date. That is a responsibility that we need to assume vis-à-vis Albanian citizens.

Q:  Is there time for Albania to reach the 2025 deadline? What will it take?

A: There is no fixed deadline for EU accession. If Brussels were to set a specific date, it would be a positive development. Unfortunately, I am worried about the slow pace of progress in Tirana and, to be frank, the “enlargement fatigue” in Brussels.

Personally, I think it is helpful to anchor our expectations for EU accession on a specific timeline. But it is more important that we follow through with the reform agenda on all the sensitive issues as the negotiation. We have to prepare ourselves for a change of mindset if we want to accelerate our path towards the EU.

We have to carry on with the implementation of our justice reforms, consolidate the rule of law, showing zero tolerance against organised crime and drugs. We also have to embrace economic reforms that increase the competitiveness and attractiveness of our market. Obviously creating synergies for accelerated regional economic integration and securing finance for strategic infrastructural projects would facilitate the integration of the Western Balkans as a whole by 2025. Ultimately, Albanians need to carry out these reforms for their own well being, irrespective of the EU integration process.

Q: Can Albania facilitate a diplomatic resolution in either Kosovo or FYR Macedonia? Absolutely. Albania has played and will play a constructive role in promoting regional stability. We have learned from past experience that it is harder to secure peace than start a war. In these cases, Albania is contributing to a fair and peaceful resolution…without victors and vanquished, so that we can all focus on making the Balkans a safer and more prosperous region of Europe.

*EDITOR’S NOTE:  Details of this story have been changed since its original publication on February 12. The original story incorrectly provided the wrong name for Albania’s former interior minister. The individual that the story makes reference to is Saimir Tahiri, interior minister from 2013-2017. The current interior minister is Fatmir Xhafaj, who has been in his position since June 2017.