On May 19, the US State Department announced the appointment of former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and members of his family for involvement in significant corruption. Such designations under US law prohibit such named persons from entering the United States.
The explanation provided by the State Department contained relatively few details about the information and procedures used to effect the designation, but the explanation of the Department was clear enough to send a simple message to the political elite and to the government. Albanian electorate. In the press release announcing Berisha’s appointment, the state noted: “In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha has been implicated in acts of corruption, such as embezzlement of public funds and interference in public processes, including using its power for its own benefit. and enrich his political allies and members of his family to the detriment of the confidence of the Albanian public in their government institutions and officials. Furthermore, his own rhetoric demonstrates that he is prepared to protect himself, his family members and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anti-corruption efforts and accountability measures.
As leader of the Democratic Party of Albania, Berisha was the first president of Albania after the fall of communism from 1992 to 1997, then as head of the opposition from 1997 to 2005, and finally as the first Minister in the period 2005-2013. after which he remained active as a Member of Parliament.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, then President George W. Bush made the first historic visit to Albania by a US president. In 2013, Berisha lost the legislative elections to Edi Rama, who is still the current Prime Minister of the country.
Washington’s mandate is relatively weak
Under Section 7031 (c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, the United States Congress provides that officials of foreign governments and members of their immediate families are not eligible for entry into the States. -United when the Secretary of State is credible. information that a foreign official has been involved, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption and / or gross human rights violation.
Changes to section 7031 (c) have been included in the annual appropriation legislation for state and foreign operations since fiscal 2008. Section 7031 (c) requires the Secretary of State to publicly or privately designate those deemed ineligible to enter the United States and report those designations to Congress on a quarterly basis. For those publicly nominated, as in the case of Berisha, the Department had the option of issuing a public statement naming the nominees ineligible for entry into the United States under Section 7031 (c).
In its public statement, the State Department further explained: “This designation reaffirms the commitment of the United States to support political reforms essential to democratic institutions in Albania. The United States continues to stand with the Albanian people. The Department will continue to use such authorities to promote the accountability of corrupt actors in this region and around the world. “
Impact on EU enlargement?
The timing of a State Department designation / announcement always raises questions and can have a major impact on local politics in the country concerned. Washington’s decision to act now to keep the issue of corruption in Albania at the forefront will not be ignored in Brussels. The designation clearly reinforces those who hope to go as slowly as possible in launching accession negotiations with Albania through a so-called intergovernmental conference, the formal procedure used by the EU to start negotiations for membership. It becomes doubly interesting as pressure mounts within the Commission to move forward with these conferences for Albania and North Macedonia, so that the two countries can undertake the first stages of membership in tandem.
North Macedonia’s accession trajectory is frozen, however, until a dispute with Bulgaria can be resolved, and some voices have argued that the countries should be ‘decoupled’ and that the accession negotiations of Albania – which face no external obstacles – could be launched in the coming months. Intentional or not, Washington’s designation of Berisha is currently serving to bolster those around the EU who already argue that Albania is simply not ready to be placed at the head of the queue.