Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) opened its office in Tirana on 23 January to support the Albanian parliament, political parties and civil society improve democracy on the country’s path to greater integration with Europe.

The opening of the office is part of the Western Balkans Democracy Initiative which was made possible through UK government funding. It aims to strengthen political parties, parliamentary practice and democratic institutions and culture in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.

In the opening ceremony, WFD Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Mr. Christopher Levick welcomed the guests saying that the renewed engagement with Albania comes at a very important moment for the country which is passing through a crucial period of internal reforms.

The ceremony was attended by high level representatives of Albanian political life, civil society organizations and the diplomatic offices in Tirana.

WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith spoke to guests in a short video about the importance of transparency, accountability and human rights as common democratic values that bind us all together:

“Albania has made progress in all these areas and other important issues like justice reforms. We applaud advances, while recognising the considerable challenges ahead. That’s why we are launching our Western Balkans Democracy Initiative.”

“WFD is excited to renew our partnership with Albania. Launching our new country office today, we have the opportunity to work together to promote strong democracy.”

 

Albania’s challenges

Albania’s path towards future EU membership was paved by the passage of a comprehensive judicial reform package in 2016, the final institutional barrier towards opening accession talks. This process outlines five key priority areas: anti-corruption, rule of law, public administration reform, fundamental rights, and fight against organised crime.

Alongside this, the June 2017 elections posed serious questions about equal application of the law and demonstrated a largely superficial policy debate, limiting citizens’ choice.

Within parliament, the political parties lack the capacity or will to constructively engage on policy issues as well as the weak use of policy and analysis within parliamentary processes. There is limited access to the institution, which scores lowly against transparency indicators, as other regional parliaments also do.

Speaking at the ceremony, the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament Mr. Gramoz Ruçi welcomed the opening of the WFD Albania office:

“The Westminster Foundation has done its best to sow the seeds and flourish the fruits of democracy. We welcome them in Albania to support the enhancing of our Parliamentary procedures for a better governance in our country. Democracy is not only a value, it is also a procedure which requires efforts from all the institutions of the country.”

 

Support through the Western Balkans Democracy Initiative

In the upcoming three years, the WFD Albania office will provide collaboration and support to the country’s key stakeholders in tackling complex problems that lie in the path of its democratic consolidation and European integration, including:

  • Supporting accountable governance which is more transparent and open to citizens;
  • Enhancing youth and women’s political participation;
  • Strengthening parliamentary processes particularly oversight mechanisms and post-legislative scrutiny;
  • Increasing civic participation;
  • Supporting political parties in addressing cross party dialogue, governance; challenges and issue-based politics.

The Western Balkans Democracy Initiative will help Albania to address these issues, which are strongly linked to the EU integration process and the beginning of accession talks. WFD will ensure these initiatives and themes align with local ambitions. This will align the initiatives with national ownership, while creating incentives for real change to realise their impact. In practice, the programme will trial multiple approaches, testing local ownership and traction towards its aims.

The office has a permanent staff of three and will engage with many experts and active people in the fields of politics, education, social policy, human rights and others.