The director of the German foundation in Tirana: Corruption drives the youth away from Albania
Tobias Ruettershoff, head of the office of the German “Konrad Adenauer” foundation in Tirana, thinks that the main reason for the departure of young people and qualified professionals from Albania is corruption.
DW: What is your opinion about the current political situation in Albania?
Tobias Ruettershoff : We welcome the opening of EU membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. This is a historic step on the way to the full integration of the Western Balkan countries into the EU and an important signal in turbulent global political times. Albania has always been very pro-European, but due to the deadlock and long delay in the opening of negotiations, we have recently experienced, in the country, a kind of “fatigue” and disappointment with the EU. Thus, negotiations must now begin quickly to foster a new positive dynamic. Furthermore, we hope that the opening of negotiations will maintain a constructive pressure on Albanian institutions and authorities to continue with reforms and convergence towards EU standards. Domestically, it also means that issues such as the incinerator scandal uncovered by the opposition must lead to more concrete action, including further investigations and an end to impunity for those involved in crime and corruption.
DW: What do you think about the reforms that Albania should undertake and deepen in order to move towards European standards now that the membership negotiations have opened?
Tobias Ruettershoff: It is important that the reforms continue to bring Albania closer to European standards and to guarantee the success of EU integration. Since Albania became a candidate for EU membership in 2014, we have seen the beginning of various reforms, the most important one in justice, in 2016. This has been a very painful process, but the important thing is that this reform not to be stopped in the middle of the road, but to be fully implemented. It is good to see that the Special Anti-Corruption Structure (SPAK) and the National Bureau of Investigation (BKI) are now fully staffed and operational, which should soon lead to more concrete actions against corruption and organized crime. .
Other reforms are also on the way, for example electoral and territorial reforms. I hope that in the end, both the opposition and the majority in the parliament will agree on proposals that benefit the Albanian people and bring Albania closer to the EU. Together with our local partners we monitor the design and implementation of both reforms. In general, any legislation that passes through parliament must always be considered in the light of European standards and in accordance with international agreements. Thus, for example, we share the assessment of the EU delegation and other international observers that the Government and Parliament of Albania should reconsider the adoption of the draft law on Fiscal Amnesty due to its inherent issues.
DW: You just mentioned the importance of concrete actions against corruption. Meanwhile, corruption in state institutions and impunity remain obstacles to Albania’s development. The new EU Enlargement Strategy envisages the return or termination of membership talks in the event of stagnation or lack of progress. What do you think are important actions that should be taken to avoid such a possible danger for Albania?
Tobias Ruettershoff: Having taken the first step with the First Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels, it is now time to get back to work. What seems to have been a bit out of focus recently is that the EU Council and the German Bundestag have set further conditions before we can proceed with the opening of the first negotiating packages.
The negotiation framework should reflect that Albania has successfully addressed priorities such as the initiation of criminal proceedings against judges and prosecutors accused of criminal conduct during the vetting process, initiation of proceedings against those accused of vote buying, progress in the fight against corruption and crime organized at all levels and further requirements. Furthermore, we share the concern of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German parliament that certain criteria such as the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and freedom of the press have not yet been met. The Albanian government must now implement these reforms with more determination. The EU and local partners should seek their fulfillment during the negotiations.
DW: What measures should be taken to curb the mass emigration of youth, the emptying of the country?
Tobias Ruettershoff: The emigration of youth and professionals is indeed a problem that we have seen growing over the past few years and is now becoming a very serious problem. This is not only related to the achievement of European standards, but also to the functioning of the state and society. For example, if you look at the number of doctors and nurses leaving the country, add to that those who retire, and compare it to the number of medical graduates leaving schools and universities, you can easily see that this is not stable. Therefore, the government must take action to make life and work in Albania more attractive. I believe that this can be achieved with some very concrete measures such as higher wages and better working conditions. But beyond that, we must move forward on the path of implementing European standards and fighting corruption, because this is what drives many people away from the country.
DW: Does the “Konrad Adenauer” foundation office in Tirana have projects to support the youth so that they can see the future in Albania?
Tobias Ruettershoff: Since the beginning of the work in Albania of the German foundation “Konrad Adenauer,” a decade ago, work with Albanian youth and its support have been essential pillars of the foundation’s commitment. We work with youth organizations, most importantly the youth wing of the Democratic Party, but also non-partisan youth movements such as the National Youth Congress to enable young people to have a stronger voice in the political debate. In addition, we organize several seminars every year for students and graduates, such as the European Summer School or the Summer School for Young Journalists. Last, but not least, we have a Master’s scholarship program for students in Albanian universities, for which we will soon republish our Call for Applications for the next academic year./DW/