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EU Officials Urge Albania Opposition Not to Block Reform

Supporters of the Albanian main opposition Democratic Party chant slogans during a protest in front of the government building in Tirana, Albania, Feb. 18, 2017.

A senior European Parliament politician on Wednesday called on the Albanian opposition Democratic Party not to block a judicial reform - the main step toward launching Albania's membership negotiations with the European Union.

Albania's Democrats, who have been protesting for a week for free and fair elections in June, plan to boycott parliament next week. That may stop the justice system reform, which aims to create institutions for the vetting of some 800 judges and prosecutors.

The reform seeks to root out bribery and ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics. Brussels says its implementation is key to Albania's effort to become an EU member.

Judicial corruption has plagued post-communist Albania, hampering its democratic processes and integration into the bloc. The country was granted EU candidate status in 2014 and hopes this year to get approval for launching membership negotiations.

‘Come back to work’

Knut Fleckenstein, rapporteur on Albania, on Wednesday said it was up to Albanian politicians to implement the reform and start negotiations.

“I really ask the colleagues and friends at the Democratic Party ... to come back to work,” Fleckenstein said.

European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also said the opposition should not boycott parliament.

“The political debate should not take place outside, but inside the parliament. Cooperation of government and opposition is crucial for the country's ambition to join the European Union,” he said.

EU and U.S. experts were directly involved in drafting the reform, which was verified by the Council of Europe.

Though lawmakers, including the Democrats, unanimously voted in the reform last year, the Democrats later abstained from voting on how to vet the judges.

Since Saturday the Democrats have blocked the main boulevard in the capital Tirana saying they don't trust the left-wing government to hold June 18 parliamentary elections fairly and want a caretaker cabinet instead.