By Ramesh Jaura
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Since the political turbulence of 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which engulfed entire Eastern Europe, Albania has been resolutely sailing west. In 2009 the country became a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and it has made great strides towards membership of the European Union. The accession negotiations are expected to open in June 2019.
Accession to the European Union (EU) is “an over-arching priority with full political consensus and nationwide support,” said Deputy Prime Minister Senida Mesi in an interview with IDN. The focus, she added, is on “strengthening democracy, with a competitive, stable and sustainable economy, and with guarantees of fundamental human rights and liberties.”
Mesi was in New York at the United Nations headquarters on the occasion of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development from July 9-18, 2018.
She presented the Voluntary National Review (VNR) on implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on behalf of Albania. The report tells the journey of Albania towards the achievement of SDGs from the moment –three years ago – “when we embarked on Agenda 2030 and placed it at the centre of our country long term-development prospects, until today.”
“We have worked to integrate the Agenda 2030 with the EU integration, as key processes that are mutually reinforcing,” Deputy Prime Minister Mesi said. For this purpose, several important initiatives have been undertaken, she added.
One of these is the establishment of a multi-stakeholder, high level Inter-Ministerial Committee on the SDGs in 2017 tasked with overseeing the SDG achievement process. Mesi chairs this Committee comprising key government institutions as well as representatives of the business community, civil society, academia and international organizations.
With a view to strengthening the institutional framework, the Albanian Parliament has unanimously approved a resolution committing to the promotion, implementation, and monitoring of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs in which the civil society has a say.
The UN agencies, led by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and other international organizations in Albania are supporting the country’s efforts in achieving the SDGs.
Albania hosted a side event as part of HLPF 2018, in collaboration with two Western Balkan Countries – Serbia and Montenegro – on July 18 at the UN headquarters. It was co-organised by the UNDP and Switzerland.
“We wanted to show to all our partners how much important the SDG acceleration and EU integration in accession countries is for Albania and for Montenegro and Serbia,” the Deputy Prime Minister told IDN.
The Voluntary National Review explains that Albania has achieved considerable progress in integrating with other countries in the Balkan region. “Albania is part of the Regional Economic Area (REA) for the Western Balkans, a regional initiative supported by the EU for the six Western Balkan Countries (WB6), part of the Berlin Process Agenda.”
The Berlin Process is a diplomatic initiative linked to the future enlargement of the European Union. It started with the 2014 Conference of Western Balkan States in Berlin, followed by the 2015 Vienna Summit, 2016 Paris Summit and the 2017 Trieste Summit. The last conference was held in July 2018 in London.
REA represents a joint approach to furthering economic cooperation in the Western Balkans, complementary to the European integration process for the Western Balkan-6 countries.
“Being part of this initiative represents a step forward for Albania and will deepen regional economic cooperation based on EU rules and standards, while further contributing to integration into the EU,” Mesi said.
The 2030 Agenda and the accompanying SDGs present a vision to integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions of development into a sustainable global society, she said at the side event.
It encourages leaders and citizens to envision what kind of society they would like to live in over the long term and reflect on how to adjust their actions to realize this vision. In the specific context of enlargement countries, this agenda closely interacts with the EU integration process.
Besides, the EU is a strong supporter of the 2030 Agenda and has developed its own strategies for its implementation and promotion. “EU accession is a common strategic priority for Albania, Serbia and Montenegro for a range of critical reasons, such as sustainable peace and rule of law, increased economic integration leading to growth, improved competitiveness of the sub-region and Europe as a whole, and many others,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
In addition, these countries and their development partners in general, share the common interest about the stability and prosperity of the sub-region alongside the SDGs and are engaged in supporting innovation on their path towards European integration. For example, Switzerland invests in fostering regional integration, democracy and inclusive market economies, reinforcing regional and national initiatives and policies.
Together with its partners, UNDP has actively supported socio-economic reforms and transformations in the Western Balkans, including through the integration of the SDGs into the development policies and plans, using the multisectoral MAPS (Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support) approach. These efforts aim to closer align the SDGs with the EU accession priorities thus ensuring a comprehensive and long-term approach to sustainable development.
Brian Williams, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Albania, said the MAPS mission in the country had identified three clusters of acceleration.
One was good governance and the rule of law. “There I think Albania does deserve a lot of credit for its judicial reform policies,” Williams told IDN. “They really are quite deep in their constitutional reforms and it’s a very complicated structure that is vetting and looking at potential corruption and so on in the judicial sector.”
Expanding on the theme, the VNR presented by the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that a transformative Justice Reform agenda approved by the Parliament is under implementation. It will ensure strengthening the independence, efficiency and accountability of judicial institutions.
The reform envisages amendments to the Constitution of the Republic, development of new legislation, and reform of key judicial institutions. “The results are encouraging,” Mesi said, adding: “As of today, a number of judges and prosecutors have withdrawn from the vetting process, whilst out of 15 vetted judges, only 9 have passed.”
“In the same time,” she added; “we have been focusing on the fight against corruption and fight against organized crime, whereas positive trend is observed, towards a solid track record of investigations, while prosecutions and convictions in corruption and criminal cases are continuing.”
The second area the MAPS mission identified is around the green economy, Williams added. “Yes we need to be looking at the employment for sure but let’s look also at building the economy in a green way.” This is partly about a sort of circular economy but it’s also about environmental protection. Williams noted that one of Albania’s biggest exports is tourism and it earns foreign exchange.
“I see people come to Albania for the beaches; they come for the food; they come because actually you can see both beaches and mountains; and mountains of Albania are quite extraordinary; it’s a beautiful country,” the UNDP Resident Coordinator said.
The third area that the MAPS mission identified as an SDG accelerator is human capital development. “It’s true that enrollment rates, for example, are very high for schools, but last year the United Nations education policy review in Albania found that the quality of the education still could do with a lot of enhancement,” Williams noted.
There’s still too much rote memorization or downloading of knowledge as the basic purpose of education. “However, in today’s world what we need to be teaching our young people is how to learn because knowledge is available with the touch on the top of a screen. “So it’s more about how to learn about new things, how to respond quickly. So there’s a lot of work to be done inside the social human capital formation,” Williams said.
On the other hand, Albania has to a certain extent proved to be a model. As the VNR points out, it achieved significant success and results in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in eradicating extreme poverty and reducing the risk of social exclusion, ensuring high quality basic universal education, and promoting gender equality and empowerment of women. These correspond to SDGs 1, 4 and 5.
Nevertheless, the VNR admits, limited progress was achieved in addressing the challenges of creating a global partnership for development and improving governance for all citizens, and particularly for the most disadvantaged groups – corresponding to SDGs 17 and 16.
Albania has prepared a final report on the MDGs that describes in detail the achievements and challenges, paving the way to the introduction of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the eight international development goals to be achieved by the year 2015 that had been established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 July 2018]
Photo: Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed (right) meets with Senida Mesi, Deputy Prime Minister of Albania. 16 July 2018,. United Nations, New York. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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