Failure to pass legislation on immunity reform for MPs will seriously set back the country's EU accession.
By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 13/09/12
Albania's opposition, led by Edi Rama, argued that parliamentary immunity reform is insufficient without guarantees for institutional freedom. [Reuters]
A European Commission official is urging Albania to remove the immunity status that MPs and other high-ranking government officials hold before the issue derails the country’s EU accession.
Albanian officials said their goal is to achieve EU candidate status in October, and Brussels has signalled the country's reforms must continue.
"Limitation of immunity is very important for us; it is a key element in the fight against corruption," Stefano Sannino, the EC director general for enlargement, said. "But Albania's political class is transforming every issue into a battle."
The Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party agree in principle to approve the constitutional changes leading to immunity reform; both said the prosecutor's office can sue MPs, but must seek the parliament's approval to arrest them.
The opposition, however, demands changes to the constitution that would have that the attorney general and constitutional and high court judges appointed by an overall majority -- a move that would give the opposition a say in the appointments.
Limiting MPs immunity is important but is not sufficient to stop corruption, said Saimir Tahiri, Socialist Party MP.
"If we only limit immunity, think how inefficient the fight against corruption will be when the prosecutor's office, the information and judicial services are all under the prime minister's rule," Tahiri told SETimes.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha has threatened to call a referendum, but Tahiri said that wasn’t needed.
"We have agreed on immunity reform and can not ask the people to vote in a referendum on an issue with which everybody agrees on," he said.
MPs immunity has been subject of debates and varies across the region. In Kosovo, MPs can be arrested or detained after parliament authorises the action.
Kosovo MPs can also be arrested and detained without parliament's approval if they are caught in the act of committing offences punishable by five or more years in prison.
By contrast, in Greece authorities cannot even investigate an MP unless the parliament withdraws immunity.
Representatives of the ruling coalition said the opposition is using the immunity reform issue to deny Albania EU candidate status this year.
"This is a very dangerous game they are playing, because of the open account they have with the Albanian people. The latter will pay them back with the same currency in the 2013 parliamentary elections," Enkelejd Aliberaj, Democratic Party MP, told SETimes.
Aliberaj explained the governing majority did not say it will not vote on the additional issues concerning the revision of the constitution.
"We have been and still are open to discuss other issues the Socialist Party invokes. But we do not agree that the opposition conditions the passing of immunity reform with other issues," Aliberaj said.
But some experts like Milva Ikonomi, executive director of the Agenda Institute, an NGO that analyses democracy and good governance in Albania, argued that preserving political and institutional freedom is as important as immunity reform.
Ikonomi explained the system of checks and balances has been ruined and all appointments are done by the dictates of the ruling majority.
"Immunity limitation is an issue closely related to the power balance and should be equally protected, above all, by avoiding [the institutions'] political instrumentalisation," Ikonomi told SETimes.