PM says success in tackling drug related crime puts #Albania on road to meeting EU accession criteria

| November 22, 2017 | 0 Comments
The prime minister of Albania (pictured) says his country is “no longer the cannabis capital” of Europe, writes Martin Banks.
But, in a letter to EU leaders and heads of state, Edi Rama admits that “much is left to do” in the battle against drugs related crime in Albania.

His message comes on the eve of a summit in Brussels next month where EU leaders are expected to provide an update on the progress made by  Albania in meeting strict EU accession criteria.

Robust measures against organised crime, including tackling drug cultivation, was one five key conditions set by the Commission in granting candidate status to Albania in 2014.

Rama’s letter, a copy of which has been seen by this website, also comes in the wake of a recent major analysis of cannabis cultivation in the country.

The report by the Albanian interior ministry and based on data from the Italian Financial police says that “after a decade of uncontrolled cultivation and dispersion” of cannabis the situation is now under control.

It says this shows that “when and where there is political will, determination and dedication to objectives and lawlessness, everything is possible.”

A source close to the prime minister took aim at Lulzim  Basha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party in Albania who has been accused of running a campaign to discredit the government’s anti-drugs efforts. Basha has been accused of avoiding discussing the effective elimination of cannabis cultivation.

The source said, “Basha’s media push to discredit our efforts could put EU negotiations at risk. He’s really just trying to cover up his former government’s role in permitting this problem to develop in the first place.”

In his letter to EU leaders, Rama highlights “the often very difficult steps” taken to prepare his country for conformity with the EU acquis communautaire – the conditions which must be met for accession.

His said his government “understood the extraordinary challenges represented by these conditions. We had been given a responsibility. We chose to act.”

His comments come a year after the European Commission recommended opening of accession negotiations with Albania.

This came in light of the progress in meeting the key priorities and subject to “credible and tangible” progress in the implementation of the justice reform, in particular the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors.

Rama says his government initiated  “massive undertakings strongly opposed by vested interests whose resistance at times has even placed our young democratic system at risk.”

He adds, “We stood our ground and, based on the results of parliamentary elections earlier this year, I can say that Albanian citizens stood with us.”

Recently, the government, he says, had approved “ambitious” plans to combat organized crime.

“We have placed gang leaders on notice: Wherever they may be hiding, we will find and arrest them, and we will charge them, trusting our newly reformed justice system to send those convicted to prison. And we will confiscate their illicit assets. The criminal sub-culture Albanians have endured for years is coming to an end.”

He goes on, “We are in the process of building a nationwide law enforcement infrastructure specifically designed to root out this blight and to prevent it from infecting future generations.

The PM said there were some who were “thriving” in EU countries from the proceeds of illegal drugs, prostitution, human trafficking and other illicit activities.

“We want your help and offer ours in return, to catch these people and bring them to justice.”

The war against drugs had, he noted, been assisted by Italy’s financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, and the EU.

“We have had results. Last week, the Italian General Stefano Screpanti of the Guardia, disclosed a stunning change. Last year, the Guardia’s air surveillance over Albania reported 2,086 suspected cannabis plantations across Albania. The information led to scores of arrests and the destruction of crops.”

As a result, this year’s surveillance revealed just 88 suspected plantations, or 150 times less compared to last year.

“In other words,” he writes , “Albania is no longer Europe’s cannabis capital.”

But the premier admits, “There is much left to do and we are committed to working with all our international partners to eliminate this.”

He says there has been a step-change in Albania, “from the chaotic post-communist state of 27 years ago to the orderly, law-abiding and vibrant nation visible today.

“We owe much to the EU  for technical and economic assistance.”

But we owe even more to our own aspirations to engage with and be part of the EU community of nations.”

His message to EU leaders is that Albania’s success in the fight against drugs illustrates his country’s potential for “full accession and membership in the European family.”


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