Registry, drug trafficking threatens Albania’s chances of EU membership | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW


Prosecutor Altin Dumani knows there is a lot to do. A lot. His office in Tirana, the capital of Albania, is full of stacks of documents. All of the cases concern organized crime, particularly drug trafficking and corruption, issues that have hampered the small country in southeastern Europe for decades, Dumani told DW.

The 46-year-old is the deputy head of Albania’s relatively new Special Anti-Corruption Structure (SPAK), an independent judicial body formed in late 2019. The creation of such an agency was one of the preconditions of the European Union for Albania to start joining. talks.

Many Albanian traffickers are “very active” in EU countries. Dumani said he and his colleagues had stepped up their cooperation with their counterparts in Italy, Germany and other EU member states because of “the importance of the war on organized crime”. He said his agency’s efforts have already paid off. SPAK, for example, has confiscated large quantities of narcotics in Italy and Albania.

Dumani is deputy director of SPAK, which fights against organized crime and corruption in Albania

When the government turns a blind eye, “it gets dangerous”

Albania, a country of around 3 million people, has long been one of Europe’s hotspots for growing cannabis. According to the United Nations World Drug Report 2021, Albania was the sixth largest supplier of cannabis to the planet from 2015 to 2019, and the largest in Europe.

As the coordinator of the field network for the Balkans for the NGO Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Fatjona Mejdini followed the issue closely. She told DW that the drug problem had its roots in 1991, when Albania went from an isolated Communist dictatorship straight to capitalism. “It was a difficult time for everyone,” said Mejdini. “And, as many people have lost their jobs in the state, they have turned to growing cannabis to support their families.”

Over the years, the government has turned a blind eye to the company – and “in some cases we have seen the collusion of state structures with people cultivating cannabis,” Mejdini said. “And this is where it gets dangerous.”

Criminal groups have gained in influence. And, in the last 10 to 15 years, there has also been a new development: The networks have added cocaine to their business model. The networks and roads they had already built in Europe were the ideal starting point. “They had the infrastructure,” Mejdini said, “so now they wanted something that could make them rich even faster.”

Mejdini at a desk with a small Albanian flag and an open laptop, wearing a pink jacket

Mejdini is Balkan Coordinator for Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

After coming to power in 2013, the socialist government of Prime Minister Edi Rama declared war on drugs, trying to keep a campaign promise. The Albanian police YouTube channel now shows operations against cannabis producers and cocaine traffickers. But despite a decrease in cannabis plantations, drugs remain a big problem in the country. According to investigative press articles and Mejdini reports, state structures facilitate drug trafficking. Leading politicians have been repeatedly accused of being involved in the business.

And there is another problem that makes it difficult to successfully wage the “war on drugs”: even though Albania has made economic progress in recent decades, many young people are leaving for better economic opportunities elsewhere. It can be difficult to resist the drug money for the remaining Albanians.

Albania’s efforts within the EU

Fushe-Kruje is a well-known hotspot for cannabis cultivation north of Tirana. Raldi, a 26-year-old local and auto mechanic who asked that his full name not be used, told DW his life changed completely at 22 when he was arrested for dealing narcotics. Raldi said he had only ever consumed cannabis, never sold it. He said friends who had trafficked did so because they had nothing else to do. There are no jobs, no prospects. Raldi works 14 hours a day and receives € 500 ($ 580) per month.

People sit outside on opposite sides of a wooden table with a tree in the foreground

Raldi, a 23-year-old mechanic, was arrested for selling drugs in 2017. He claims to be innocent

Mejdini said the government has not done enough to help young people like Raldi. Like many, she placed her hopes in the European Union. According to polls, almost 100% of Albanians want to be part of the bloc of 27 member states. And the country’s leaders are growing impatient because they feel they have kept their promises, fulfilling all the EU’s criteria to start accession negotiations.

Zef Mazi, Albania’s chief negotiator with the EU, told DW that drug trafficking is not just a national problem. “The transport of cannabis or other drugs is an international problem,” he said. Mazi is in constant contact with European leaders and has said that, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have repeatedly stressed that Albania is ready to start the process. negotiation.

In fact, all EU countries have approved the opening of talks with Albania. The only reason the talks haven’t started has nothing to do with Albania. EU member Bulgaria blocks neighboring North Macedonia over language conflict. The countries being treated as a whole by the European Union, negotiations with Albania are again at a standstill.

Von der Leyen stands on a podium with Edi Rama, flanked by masked honor guards

Von der Leyen said she supports Albania’s candidacy for the EU, which officially started in 2009

Some EU countries, in particular France and the Netherlands, remain skeptical about the bloc’s enlargement. One of the reasons is general enlargement fatigue after Brexit. But there are also growing frustrations with the rule of law in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The fear is that attacking countries like Albania – where drug and corruption problems are so prevalent – will only create more cracks within the union.

Dumani said he and his team at SPAK were doing their best to tackle these issues. Forty-one percent of people polled in a recent Euronews Albania TV channel poll said they trusted SPAK. “We are not yet satisfied with what we have accomplished,” said Dumani. But, he added, SPAK is still a new agency and with a little more time to establish itself there will be more results.

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