Leading non-governmental organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) has joined forces with senior European Union political figures in urging members of Albania’s opposition Democratic Party to back planned reforms seen as crucial in boosting the country’s EU accession ambitions, writes Martin Banks.
HRWF, a respected, Brussels-based international advocacy group, called the reforms "essential to guarantee the independence of the judiciary" in the country.
Its intervention on Friday comes after leading German MEP Knut Fleckenstein, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Albania’s EU accession, and the EU’s enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, made a similar response to current protests by Albania’s Democrat Party.
The Democrats (DP) have blocked the main boulevard in the capital Tirana for several days saying they do not trust the left-wing government to hold June 18 parliamentary elections fairly. DP plans to boycott parliament, a move which the EU fears could delay the planned implementation of a key justice system reform, which aims to create institutions for the vetting of some 800 judges and prosecutors.
The judicial reform is the main step toward launching Albania’s EU membership negotiations. It seeks to root out bribery and ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics.
The DP, which also warns if may boycott parliamentary elections on June 18, has been pushing for electronic voting to allay fears of vote manipulation. But the government has said there is not enough time to implement this for the elections.
The EU wants a revamped judiciary tackling widespread corruption before it starts accession talks with Tirana. The reforms will exclude criminal offenders from public office, provide whistleblower protection and re-evaluate judges, prosecutors and legal advisors.
Hahn told EU Reporter he “very much regrets” the parliamentary boycott announced by the opposition.
Hahn said: “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 EU. In particular, it is of utmost importance to maintain parliamentary continuity in a time where substantial reforms are on the agenda of the parliament, such as the setting up of the vetting bodies in the framework of the justice reform and the electoral reform including the follow-up of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation recommendations which are essential for ensuring free and fair elections later this year. These reforms are crucial for Albania to move forward on its EU integration path."
The Albanian PM Edi Rama and the country’s ruling party have been praised for pressing for the vetting law and justice reform and Hahn’s comments are endorsed by Fleckenstein, a Socialist MEP who said it was up to Albania’s politicians to implement the reform and start negotiations.
In a reference to the DP’s parliamentary boycott, Fleckenstein, who is deputy leader of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said: “I really ask the colleagues and friends at the Democratic Party to come back to work.”
Elsewhere, Willy Fautre, director of respected Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, also called on DP to call off its boycott.
On Friday (24 February), Fautre told this website: “The place of Albania is in the EU family of democratic states. The political debate about free and fair elections in June should not block the justice reform process.The new legislation which has been drafted by the EU and the US but also endorsed by the CoE is essential to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the non-interference of political and other actors in the administering of justice.”
Fautre said: “The opposition should stop boycotting the Parliament so that the democratic legislative process can be resumed and bring Albania closer to EU membership. The sooner the better for both parties.”
The EU’s ambassador to Tirana, Romana Vlahutin, agreed, saying: “We know there are some individuals that don’t want this reform and we know why. But justice will come, despite the repeated attempts to postpone it. There is no time to vote for a new draft and the actual one has our full support. The European future of Albania is more important that the future of some corrupted people.”
EU and US experts were directly involved in drafting the reform, which was verified by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.Though Albanian lawmakers, including the Democrats, unanimously voted in the reform last year, DP later abstained from voting on how to vet the judges.
Albania’s ruling coalition has won all recent local elections and the government led by Rama has overseen a spell of steady economic growth.This is part of its transition to a market-oriented democracy.
Rama said: “True reforms are not easy at all, and often very painful operations. But there is no safe future for the country, our society and children if we do not operate with courage on the rotten parts of the state organisation.”
MEPs from various parties have welcomed Albania’s progress on EU-related reforms and further efforts to reform the judicial sector, which is a key demand of Albania’s citizens and a factor in restoring trust in public institutions.
Fleckenstein, a foreign affairs committee member, adds,“Since summer 2014 Albania has been an EU accession candidate and since then it has been making constant progress. The adoption of a wide-ranging judicial reform is a milestone on Albania’s path towards joining the EU and becoming a modern country. Less corruption, less organised crime is crucial for everyday life in Albania. However, we should not put off the decision on the start of accession negotiations again and again.”
A European Parliament resolution on Albania was approved recently by 546 votes to 85, and notes that credible implementation of justice reform, good progress in fighting organized crime and corruption, and holding free and fair elections in June 2017 could prove to be a key to advancing the EU accession process and starting negotiations.
Albania, once an isolated country in the Balkans suffering under one of the most severe Communist dictatorships after WWII, is now a member of NATO and a leading candidate for EU accession.
But adoption of the reform package last year, together with the constructive attitude that Albania has adopted in the context of the refugee crisis, serve as further examples of the strong national political momentum and desire to see the country advance on its EU membership path.While Albania hopes to be in a position now to be able to open accession negotiations soon, the EU is likely to first look for the proof of the pudding in the implementation of the reforms.
As Fleckenstein said: “It is important for Albania to maintain today’s reform momentum and we must be ready to support it as much as possible in this process”.
EU says it has resolved 17-year aircraft battle with US
The European Union and the United States have resolved their near 17-year conflict over aircraft subsidies, the EU said today (15 June), bringing to a close one set of Trump-era tariffs which had soured relations between them.
They agreed in March to a four-month suspension of tariffs on $11.5 billion of goods from EU wine to US tobacco and spirits, which they had imposed in response to the row. On Tuesday they were set to remove them for five years, while still working on an overall deal on what subsidies to allow.
"This meeting has started with a breakthrough on aircraft. This really opens a new chapter in our relationship because we move from litigation to cooperation on aircraft - after 17 years of dispute," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said before an EU-U.S. summit with U.S. President Joe Biden.
The agreement should allow them to focus on the threat posed by China's nascent commercial aircraft industry.
It will also remove one of two major trade irritants left over from Donald Trump's presidency, the other being tariffs imposed on grounds of national security on EU steel and aluminium imports.
The European Commission, which oversees EU trade policy, last month suspended for up to six months a threatened June 1 doubling of retaliatory tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, US whiskey and motorboats, and refrained from slapping tariffs on more US products from lipstick to sports shoes.
Brussels and Washington have said they would seek to address excess global capacity largely centred in China.
The United States may find it tougher to remove the metals tariffs, which also apply to other countries such as China, because they are still backed by many US metal producers and workers.
Brussels is also pushing what is dubs a new "positive agenda" on trade with Washington, including forging an alliance to drive WTO reform.
The two are also likely to agree to co-operate on trade and technology, such as for setting compatible standards and facilitating trade in artificial intelligence.
EAPM: A conference ‘bridge’ to better health during Slovenian EU Presidency, register now!
Greetings, and here we are with the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) latest update. Before we get into what’s been going on of late during these testing times (pun intended) here’s a quick reminder that registration is open for our virtual EU Presidency conference, which takes place on Thursday 1 July, writes EAPM Executive Director Dr. Denis Horgan.
Entitled “Bridging Conference: Innovation, Public Trust and Evidence: Generating Alignment to facilitate personalized Innovation in Health Care Systems – Registration Open”, it acts as a bridging event between the EU Presidencies of Portugal and Slovenia.
Alongside our many great speakers, attendees will be drawn from leading experts in the personalised medicine arena – including patients, payers, healthcare professionals, plus industry, science, academia and the research field. We’ll be discussing, at some point during the day, most or all of what we’ll be talking about below. The conference is divided into five sessions which cover the follows areas:
- Session 1: Generating alignment in the regulation of Personalized Medicine: RWE and Citizen Trust
- Session 2: Beating Prostate Cancer and Lung Cancer - The Role of the EU Beating Cancer: Updating EU Council Conclusions on Screening
- Session 3: Health Literacy - Understanding Ownership and Privacy of Genetic Data
- Session 4: Securing patient Access to Advanced Molecular Diagnostics
Presidency of health
And the upcoming conference ties in very well to the priority of the incoming Slovenian presidency, which is very much a question of health, said the country’s EU Ambassador Iztok Jarc on 10 June, speaking at an event organized by the European Policy Centre. The diplomat described the presidency, which will start at the beginning of July, as a “transitional” one: a bridge to a much-hoped-for return to normality. Jarc said that the hope is to hold an increasing number of diplomatic meetings in person starting in September, particularly high-level ones.
Health care de-‘Luxe’
Luxembourg is playing host to the bloc’s health ministers on day two of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council. Up for discussion are the three planks of the health union legislative file: There will be an update on the proposal to amend the regulation establishing the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), as well as the proposal on serious cross-border threats to health. Meanwhile, the Portuguese Presidency is aiming to reach a Council consensus during the meeting on draft rules to reinforce the role of the European Medicines Agency.
Better access to medicines is paramount, EU capitals to urge as an outcome of Luxembourg ministers' meeting
The EU needs to put in more work to ensure access to fairly priced medicines throughout the bloc, according to a draft text authored by EU ambassadors. When it comes to equity and access to health care, the EU could do better. Inequalities around diagnosis and access to drugs and treatments persist; European citizens are not all benefiting equally from universal healthcare services. In addition to these inequalities, one can add another: the discrepancy in detection and diagnosis according to one’s country of residence. Thus, cancer survival rates are often worse for patients in eastern Europe than those being treated in western Europe. Member states do not have the same management tools at their disposal because they do not benefit from the same investment capacities.
Rather than making sustainable investment in community-based services and facilities and re-establishing equality of access to treatment and the early detection of diseases, the European Commission is moving to a ‘Europe of digital health’ model, relying on ‘virtual’ consultations, based on a telemedicine or telesurgery approach. Ryan Reynolds wants to destigmatize mental health “The pharma industry emerges the winner in this misguided system, but what are the benefits for European public health?”
Furthermore, between 2000 and 2008, shortages of medicines increased by 20 percent, and - according to the European Commission in April 2020 - these were continuing to increase. In France, for example, supply interruption has trebled in just three years.
More than half of the medicines in short supply are for cancers, infectious diseases and neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. How can we explain these shortages? The relocation of production sites, particularly of active ingredients, to countries outside Europe, has weakened our healthcare sovereignty. Among the solutions undertaken by the EU, it is essential that the wholesalers provide a reliable, controlled distribution chain for pharmaceutical products to the pharmacies. However, we have seen an increase in alternative and direct channels of distribution between the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacies.
Focus on own failures, not Commission
German MEP Peter Liese of the European People’s Partythinks individuals should focus on their own failures during the pandemic, rather than the Commission’s. Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas is set to present a Commission document on early lessons learned from the pandemic. Liese pointed to MEP Beata Szydło, former Polish prime minister and vice-chair European Conservatives and Reformists Group, as an example: “She very much criticized the European Commission, but the truth is that the main problem in this advanced purchase agreement with vaccine companies was that some member states, and among them very prominently the Polish government, argued against any contract with BioNTech/Pfizer.”
EU proposes extending vaccine export scheme to September
The European Commission is proposing to extend its temporary vaccine export authorization program for an extra three months through September, according to EU diplomats.
The Commission has taken the decision to support various vaccines based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, and capacity to supply the whole of the EU. Vaccine development is a complex and lengthy process, which normally takes around 10 years. With the vaccines strategy, the Commission supported efforts and made the development more efficient, resulting in safe and effective vaccines being distributed in the EU by the end of 2020. This achievement required running clinical trials in parallel with investments in production capacity to be able to produce millions of doses of a successful vaccine. Strict and robust authorisation procedures and safety standards are respected at all times.
EU diplomats are expected to vote on the Commission’s proposal this Friday (18 June).
And EU institutions to get cyber bill…
The European Commission is also “preparing a proposal for cybersecurity for the EU institutions, bodies and agencies, which is expected for October this year,” Administration Commissioner Johannes Hahn told MEPs earlier this week. Such a bill would fix a hole in the Commission’s proposed NIS2 Directive for cybersecurity in critical sectors, like health care.
And that is all from EAPM for now – enjoy your start to the week, and don’t forget, now is the time to register for our upcoming conference on 1 July here, and download your agenda here. Have a great week
Joint statement by EU institutions: EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate
On 14 June, the presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process.
On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said: “The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.
"We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”
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