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“Hopes and concerns on justice reform” – An interview of Ambassador Alberto Cutillo to Albanian Daily News

The interview of Ambassador Alberto Cutillo to Albanian Daily News on joint police cooperation, Albanian students and Italian language, the new government in Rome, Albania’s integration itinerary and the three dimensions of the Justice Reform. 

– Mr. Ambassador, let’s start this conversation with the summer season: For the first time, Italian police agents are participating in joint patrols with Albanian colleagues in several Albanian tourist spots often visited by Italian citizens. Do you have any information how is this cooperation proceeding?

Tourism is rapidly rising in Albania, so as the number of Italian visitors, which already reached 140 thousands by end of June with an increase of 6.6% as compared to last year. To make them feel even more at home, the Ministries of Interior of our countries signed an agreement, which foresees the presence of six Italian police officers who, from July First to August 31st, together with their Albanian colleagues,will be patrolling beaches in areas, like Kavaja or Orikum, with high presence of Italian tourists. They also support Italian citizens involved in car accidents or victims of petty crimes and loss of documents, in coordination with the Tirana and Vlore Consulates, and the honorary consulates in Girokastra and Berat.  
In this very moment, there are Italian officers also in China, Poland, France, Croatia and Spain, in the framework of a strategy aimed at further improving police cooperation at “community” level.

– I would like to ask you about Embassy’s daily work in this hot August days and of course, your holidays. I understand we are bracing for a colorful cultural season in autumn…

Embassies never go on vacation, and when a sector is calmer, another one is busier! Within the activities of the Italian Embassy, consular field remains an important and demanding sector. In particular, the interest of Albanian students willing to attend Italian universities is remarkable: so far, 478 students have been enrolled, most of them enjoying the support of Italian scholarships. Legalization of documents that Albanian citizens present to Italian authorities also is peaking up, and we are very proud to process and return them within 2/3 working days. Moreover, also the number of Italian passports we issued doubled compared to last year, while visas increased by an average 40%, especially for employment and family reasons.
Finally, I would like to underline the daily monitoring of the Italian presence in Albania, which allows us to respond in real time in case of emergencies.
Regarding the cultural season in autumn, I am quite proud of the #vivereallItaliana 2018 programme that we are preparing in these summer days. I do not want to disclose the details, but we will propose to the Albanian public a unique week of Italian language and cuisine, accompanied by a rich calendar of theater, music and dance events.

– Since we are talking about the Albanian students in Italy, and of course the immigrants, what can you say about the Italian language usage in Albania?

Italian is the fifth most studied foreign language in the world, and Albania ranks eight by number of students, after countries with a much larger population such as the US, Argentina, Australia, France, Germany, Egypt. The Albanian Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth confirmed this year that about 73,500 Albanian students are learning Italian in Albanian public schools, not including students attending professional schools and Catholic institutes. Overall, Italian is the second foreign language most studied in Albania after English. The promotion of the Italian language is a priority for us since we see it as a unique vehicle for deepening the already very close relations between our citizens, as well as our economic and cultural relations.

– Mr. Ambassador, Italy has a new coalition government since June, with a clearly different profile regarding international relations. At first, there was a worry regarding Rome’s stance towards Albania, but of course the Italian support at Brussels meeting in June was staunch. Could you elaborate on that issue?

I have received many inquiries about the attitude of the new Italian Government Vis à Vis Albania, and the word I keep repeating is “continuity”. Since his first visits abroad, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, had the opportunity to reaffirm the bonds of friendship and the willingness to strengthen economic relations between Italy and the Western Balkan countries.
At the June General Affairs Council, his staunch support for the European path of Albania has played a key role in the final compromise adopted by the Council, as Prime Minister Rama has kindly acknowledged. Thanks to the Italian – and Greek – determination, the Council adopted Conclusions, which clearly reaffirm the EU’s commitment to the enlargement process and set out the path towards opening accession negotiations with Albania in 2019.
Ministers Moavero and Bushati agreed, in the context of their brief meeting in Brussels last month on the margins of NATO summit, to exchange mutual visits after the summer break.

– How do you see our remaining itinerary till next year, when Albania is hoping to receive the opening of membership negotiations with the EU?

Albania has now a date and a clear agenda. Over the next year, the country needs to consolidate the reforms in all key priority areas, although I believe that Member States will pay special attention to judicial reform and fight against corruption and organized crime. In parallel, Albanian administration will start engaging with the European Commission in the screening phase of national legislation in view of opening negotiations on specific chapters. It is going to be a very challenging year, but I am confident also a rewarding one.

– Tirana’s main political topic is and will remain for quite some time, the justice reform and the vetting process. How is this process going according to you, Mr. Ambassador?

Two years ago, the Albanian Parliament adopted – by consensus – a deep Constitutional reform, which opened the way to a very ambitious, much needed reshaping of justice institutions. Albanians should be proud of the results achieved so far. In my view, there are three dimensions of this process, which deserve a closer analysis.
First, I believe the vetting process is proceeding well and according to the relevant legal provisions. Since this is a long-term project, it would be premature to call it a success, but the first months of operations have produced a number of important decisions, which offer a key contribution to a sweeping regeneration of all judicial institutions. I expect that after the summer break the focus will shift in part from the Independent Qualification Commission to the Appeals Chamber, which will consider a number of important cases.
Secondly, on other main elements of the justice reform – besides the vetting process – my personal appreciation of the progress achieved so far is also positive, but with some concerns. I refer in particular to the timely establishment of new judicial bodies, according to the Constitution. I think it is fair to acknowledge that in several situations there are considerable delays with respect to legal provisions as well as to collective expectations. These delays are the result of procedures, which, in the real world, proved to be more complex than they appeared to be on paper. I am referring, inter alia, to the creation of bodies such as the High Prosecutorial Council, the High Judicial Council, the Justice Appointment Council, the Special Prosecution and the related National Bureau of Investigation. I understand that for some of them the installation could take place in the course the year, while for some it is difficult at this stage to set a reliable date.
Thirdly, and this is the area I believe requires the utmost attention, some fundamental institutions, like the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, are temporarily unable to function. Similarly, the School of magistrates lacks the authorization to enroll an adequate number of students. It is urgent to find a way to address these issues, since they are not only delaying the full implementation of the justice reform (as it is the case with the installation of the new bodies), but they create an institutional vacuum in the country, which is potentially harmful to all citizens.
In a recent interview, the President of the Republic has voiced his serious concern over this situation and has made an appeal to both majority and opposition to work together to address it, a concern and an appeal which I fully share. We all know that the opposition has been very critical of the implementation of the justice reform so far. Recently, the Democratic Party has made a number of specific proposals to address the alleged shortcomings. I hope that the majority will consider opening a serious discussion with the opposition to seek common ground. In this respect, I am encouraged by the reference the Prime Minister has made in an interview a few days ago to making public in September a platform of cooperation open to further proposals coming from all parties. I do not know whether he was referring to the justice reform specifically, but I think it would be a positive step if that platform would include this crucial issue.
We have seen in July 2016, and again in May last year that Albanian political parties, when confronted with systemic challenges, are able to find political compromise for the sake of the Country. I am confident that this will happen again in order to consolidate the progress of justice reform.

-Thank you!