A green light and a temporary suspension: in the space of just minutes, the Prime Minister’s office received two radically opposite assessments of the controversial Italy-Albania agreement on migrants. One came from the European Union and one from Tirana.
First came the statements of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who, breaking a silence that has lasted more than a month, gave her blessing for the pact, calling it in line with “EU and international law.” Not even half an hour later, a very different ruling came from the Albanian Constitutional Court: the ratification was suspended until the agreement is examined on the merits, with a hearing set for January 18 at 10 a.m.
Giorgia Meloni, who on Wednesday evening was in Brussels at a Balkans summit also attended by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, touted von der Leyen’s words as high praise for the border externalization policy put in place by Italy. According to the letter sent by the Commission chairwoman to European leaders ahead of Thursday’s summit, that agreement is an “important initiative” which “serves as an example of out-of-the-box thinking, based on fair sharing of responsibilities with third countries in line with obligations under EU and international law.”
This endorsement is a win for the Rome government, but also applies for other states that will want to follow suit. Such as the Germany of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has never hidden his interest towards the pact signed with Tirana.
It’s true that the green light from Brussels was in the air. In recent weeks, positive words about the agreement had come first from EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, then from Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, had also joined in.
Beyond the public statements, however, the road to implementing the agreement remains fraught with legal, economic and logistical pitfalls. As of Wednesday, there was one more obstacle coming from across the Adriatic: the Albanian Constitutional Court agreed to consider the two appeals against the agreement filed by some 30 opposition MPs. This means the Court does not deem the appeals groundless or as having formal irregularities. The ruling on their merits will come only in January.
In their appeals, the Albanian opposition claims that the Rama-Meloni protocol violates the Albanian Constitution and a number of international treaties that the country has signed. The government led by the Socialist premier had pushed to schedule ratification as soon as possible, trying to take advantage of the Court’s delayed response. Parliament was supposed to vote on it on Thursday, but after the announcement by Chief Justice Holta Zacaj, the procedure will be postponed until after the ruling.
On the Italian side, Meloni is trying to conceal her fear that the project might be nipped in the bud – a project on which she has bet so much and personally tied herself to, going over the heads of the other majority leaders and the Interior Minister. The Prime Minister’s office had “no comment,” but Meloni also claimed she wasn’t particularly worried.
The news broke online by mid-afternoon, but by evening the only one from the majority who broached the subject was House Vice President Fabio Rampelli (Fratelli d’Italia): “It’s not a repeal, but a suspension. The procedures have been respected.” Curiously, he added that “we wonder whether the appeal by the leftist MPs to the Court is exclusively in order to exploit it politically.” He was perhaps confused by the name of Albania’s top opposition party, which is called the Democratic Party but has a right-wing political orientation (led by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha).
“Meloni is left looking terrible on the international stage,” said MEP Francesco Majorino from the PD (the Italian one), recalling the many legal and economic problems with the agreement and calling on the government to abandon it. Nicola Fratoianni, secretary of the Italian Left, accused the “incompetence and inadequacy” of the executive. Joining in on the attack was +Europa leader Riccardo Magi: “I hope this marks the beginning of the end for this legal and humanitarian disgrace. It is just a first obstacle, there will be others.”