Venice Commission backs President Meta in final opinions

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 19, 2020 22:24

Venice Commission backs President Meta in final opinions

TIRANA, June 19 - The Venice Commission adopted the final opinions on the 'anti-libel' package law and on the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, siding with Albania's President Ilir Meta.

In its final opinion regarding the anti-libel package, the Venice Commission stressed that the Albanian authorities have to deal with a problem of "irresponsible behaviour of some online media spreading slanderous attacks on public figures." The amendments, as they are formulated now, raise important issues and are not ripe for adoption. The currently discussed proposal consists of extending the jurisdiction of the Albanian Media Authority (AMA) and the Complaints Committee (CC) to the online media.

The VC encouraged the authorities to support the setting-up of an independent self-regulatory body capable of ensuring an effective and respected system of media accountability in the online media field.  Furthermore, it added also necessary to ensure that the existing legal and judicial remedies are effective in tackling defamation and hate speech in online publications.

In the second opinion focusing on the appointment of judges to the Albanian Constitutional Court, requested by both the Albanian parliament and the President, the Venice Commission noted The Judicial Appointments Council "created a major procedural incident" when it sent time lists of candidates first to the President and then to Parliament. According to the document, "it should be clear that the date of submission of the lists would have significant consequences due to the possible implementation of the automatic appointment, based on the 30-day rule." Moreover, for four vacancies there were only 6 candidates, whose names were on the lists of both institutions.

The Commission concludes that in a situation of unclarity and in the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, the nomination by default of Arta Vorpsi to that Court should not have been considered valid, as the President had raised a question relating to the interpretation of the relevant procedure.

According to the Venice Commission, "in these circumstances, and given the fact that overlapping procedures have not been clearly regulated, it does not seem unreasonable for the President to consider that he must respect the order of sequence. Moreover, if the President had elected two candidates, the Assembly would have had a list of less than three candidates minimally required by the Constitution. Reservations due to this perspective do not seem unjustified, "said the Venice Commission, adding that" regardless of which interpretation was correct, the two designating bodies should have met and reached a common position before proceeding with the procedure. "

Furthermore the VC experts recommend simplifying the constitutional model adopted in 2016, in particular by removing the sequence rule, suggesting that the quotas of the three appointing bodies may be maintained by allocating automatically the renewal of a mandate to the same authority which had appointed the outgoing judge.

Secondly, the Constitutional Court judges should always enjoy a full nine-year mandate, even if elected with some delay or if they took up a mandate that was terminated early according to the VC. "Once the sequence rule is abolished, this amendment would not only make the position of constitutional judge more attractive to qualified candidates, but also more meaningful."

In their conclusions, the VC points out the problematic situation in Albania, stating that the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are not yet fully operational. According to the experts, "the constitutional crisis in Albania is not caused by a specific act, but is a consequence of the interaction of several factors." The VC suggests that the "necessary vetting procedure has had broader effects than originally envisaged" as the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court have become dysfunctional due to "the all-inclusive verification procedure", adding that "the problems in the implementation of unclear (constitutional) provisions have been exacerbated by the fact that there is no Constitutional Court and the fact that the procedure has become the subject of a war between Parliament and the President. "

The appointments

The clash between the parties began after Meta decided not to appoint one of the candidates for the vacancy to be filled by the Head of State, arguing that he had already filled a vacancy and it was up to Parliament to proceed with electing a candidate from the lists. 

According to the majority, Meta failed to abide by the 30-day deadline set by the law, and as a result, the top-ranked candidate Arta Vorpsi was automatically named. 

The parliament followed with the election of two candidates, while Meta subsequently decreed from his list Marsida Xhaferllari who was invited to take the oath, along with the two candidates elected by parliament.

Meta spoke about an attempt by the majority to take over his powers and launched a fierce battle against the Chairman of the Justice Appointments Council, Ardian Dvorani, whom he described as the cause of the created situation and a man who had worked on behalf of the ruling majority.

All of this, as well as the further decision of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, set up to dismiss Meta as president, to expand the scope of his work, not only on the occasion of the decree canceling the June 30 elections, but also on the appointments to the Constitutional Court constitute the first part of the more than 40-page petition Meta filed with the Venice Commission.

'Anti-libel package'

In January, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approached the Venice Commission to seek an opinion on the so-called "anti-libel package" proposed by the Albanian government which has been widely criticized, not only by the community of Albanian journalists, but also by international journalist organizations as well as international institutions. 

Albania is among the member states still under surveillance and the last mission of two rapporteurs for Albania last October spoke of the necessity for amendments regarding the two laws "On audiovisual media" and "On electronic communications", one of the topics highlights of the meetings they had in Tirana.

The decision to seek the Venice Commission's opinion came at a time when  the parliament began reviewing the decrees of President Ilir Meta, who rejected the latest package adopted at the end of December as threatening media freedom, while the majority is insisting on passing the package as it is and amending it in the future. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 19, 2020 22:24