On April 20, 2020, the European Council decided to open membership negotiations with the Republic of Albania. This was a historic step on the country’s integration path to Europe. The current decision of European Commission was based on the progress made in the five priorities and was expected to further boost reforms in the country. The Council’s decision was also a sign of confidence towards Tirana and a great responsibility for the Albanian Government to continue to fulfill in time and qualitatively all the requirements of the EU membership process.
The decision taken by the European Council (EC) to continue with the enlargement process in the Western Balkans is based on the Commission’s Declaration on the new methodology entitled “Enriching the Negotiation Process – A Reliable EU Perspective for the Western Balkans”. This new methodology will make the process more reliable, predictable, reversible, and dynamic. Albania has stated its readiness to meet the requirements arising from the membership negotiations, according to the new methodology.
Following the decision of the European Council to open negotiations with Albania based on the new methodology, the Albanian Government stated that Albania: “will be fully committed to the timely fulfillment of the conditions required until the first Intergovernmental Conference … will continue its reforms’ agenda with unwavering commitment… will play a constructive role in the region and will continue to join the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy. (MEPJ, April 26th, 2020).
Since the EC decision to open membership negotiations with Albania, its government not only has not made any progress, but the main governance principles embodied by the European Union have been scoffed and abandoned. Time is running. The EU evaluation report for Albania will be released in September – 2020. So, the negotiations for membership in the European Union were opened to the country, but Albania’s current government is slowing down the dynamics of the implementation of reforms, refuses to implement other obligations set forth by the EU and is clearly avoiding the European integration agenda. The main responsibilities for this situation fall on the Edi Rama Government, which is clearly violating European governing principles, sanctioned in the Lisbon Treaty.
The main principle of European governance is legitimacy. In political science it is the right and acceptance of an authority that is elected by the people and that governs based on justice and legitimacy in full compliance with the laws, constitutionality and promises.
(“Legitimacy” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 9 (p. 244). New York: Macmillan, 1968)
In a democracy, legitimacy is very important because it produces political stability and social cohesion that stems from a government that is elected through democratic, pluralistic, free and fair elections and that exists based on respect for the constitution, the national laws and keeping promises before the people. So, legitimacy is the ideology of the people and not of the rulers. People are the main source of legitimacy. The people give it and the people take away this legitimacy. In a democratic system, legitimacy stems from ideas, popular support, representation, elections, leadership in majority, civil liberties, and valuable privileges for the people.
Analyzed through these scientific determinations of legitimacy, the central and local governments in Albania have clearly tarnished and placed into question their legitimacy. First, in the way the central and local bodies are elected. Secondly, in the way the country is being governed at the central and local level, in respect of the constitution and the national laws. Third, the government’s handling of promises made to the people during the election.
In the first aspect, in the way it has been elected, the current Government came to power in 2017 through a highly contested electoral process, with numerous violations and abuses that have been ascertained and criticized by local and international actors. (See: OSCE / ODIHR Report on the Elections in Albania, June 2017) These elections produced a non-representative parliament, with numerous individuals that were incriminated, incompetent and irresponsible for their role in the National Assembly. In the face of such representation, the central executive branch hijacked the attributes of the parliament, transforming the political system into an ‘executive branch republic’, thus distorting the foundations of the legitimacy of representative democracy. The political crisis of 2019 has exposed the parliament without opposition or with a quasi-opposition and with a number of deputies less than 140 thus violating the national constitution (the total number of Deputies must be 140 in the National Assembly, according to the constitution.
In the local government elections of 2019, democratic principles for pluralistic, free and fair elections were completely violated. Only the ruling party participated in those elections, without political opponents, without competition, without political alternatives. Even in the context of monistic elections, local and international observers found numerous violations and abuses, culminating in the election of mayors with national and international criminal records. The connection between politics and organized crime and corruption was clearly present in both the central and local elections’ candidates and political campaigns. Local elections buried the democracy of local government. The powers were monitored vertically. The system of democratic legitimacy collapsed. These elections were completely ignored by the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local Authorities, which did not send any observers. (Announcement of The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, June 26th,2019)
In the second aspect, legitimacy has to do with the way of governing, which is supposed to be based on justice, the rule of law and the constitution. Even in this aspect of legitimacy, the Albanian government is shifting away from European principles of governance. The Executive Branch of Edi Rama, at both the central and local levels, is abusively violating the constitutional order and delaying the creation of new justice bodies, starting with the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. In the absence of the Constitutional Court, the executive branch at both levels is passing laws and decisions, taking anti-constitutional measures and actions.
The President of the Republic, H. E. Ilir Meta, has refused to enact a very large number of laws, but the ‘executive parliament’ has passed them again. The country is governed in total violation of the constitutionality, completely ignoring the rule of law, human rights, freedom of expression and the media and the voice of civil society is subjugated. The political opposition is being completely ignored. Not only that; important constitutional institutions such as the President of the Republic, the Supreme Government Auditing Agency, the People’s Advocate are not being respected at all by the Rama Government at both the local government and executive branch levels. Any reform is slowing down, such as justice reform, and other EU-required reforms recommended by the German Bundestag are being blocked.
Third, the principle of legitimacy is dynamic, depending on the government’s promises made during the election campaign. American political scientist Robert A. Dahl explains legitimacy as a reservoir: as long as water is at a given level, political stability remains, if it falls below the required level political legitimacy is jeopardized. (Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (pp. 124–188). New Haven (Connecticut) and London: Yale University Press, 1971)
Looking at this theoretical concept, the Edi Rama Government, since the 2017 elections, came out with promises in the air, without any real political program. Then he significantly violated all kinds of promises, from employment, economic growth, education, public health to European integration. This breach of promises clearly shows that it has greatly reduced popular support.
The most obvious indicator of this decline in support for the Rama Government was the 2019 local elections, where the Socialist Party led by him was the only one to run. Only 21.6 percent of voters took part in the local elections, reflecting a drop of nearly 25 percent in popular support for the Rama government during the parliamentary elections in 2017. (Central Election Commission, Shqiptarja.com, 01 July 2019) After the local elections, the performance of the Rama government has been deteriorating, especially in the economic and social fields as well as other indicators deriving from them.
So, the Albanian Government under the leadership of Mr. Edi Rama is clearly governing without a legitimacy and is even deepening its de-legitimacy daily. The way it has been chosen, voted at the central and local government levels, the growing corruption and organized crime levels, the flagrant violation of the constitutionality and the rule of law, the severe violation of freedoms and human rights, constant blackmailing of the media, ignoring of civil society, the growing breach of promises made to the people in economic and social terms, are clearly demonstrating that the Edi Rama Government has lost its political legitimacy. This is already becoming more and more known by local, international actors and credible factors, media and political analysts, who are declaring that the Rama government is governing without legitimacy and is thus removing Albania from its path of European integration.
Translated from the Albanian Language by: Peter M. Tase
- Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lisen Bashkurti is the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, Epoka University, Tirana – Albania.