The Independent claims Albania has turned into ‘Columbia of Europe’ – but Brussels says the country is on track for EU membership

Tirana, Albania | 29 Jan 2019 (Tirana Echo) – UK based daily The Independent claims Albania has become the continent’s drug trafficking headquarters turning into the “Columbia of Europe”.

The special investigation by the UK’s daily, says that ‘Albania is no longer a hub of cultivation. It’s become a centre of investment,  distribution, and recruitment

The investigation sheds light on the growing networks and global influence of Albanian gangs, which are considered “among the world’s top heroin, cocaine and cannabis traffickers” quoting unnamed EU & US officials who describe the tiny Balkan country as an important transit territory for hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin as well as the largest provider of cannabis to the EU.

It’s the Colombia of Europe,” one ‘anonymous’ Western diplomat told The independent. “It’s the drug producer and distributor of Europe. It is a narco-state, and they’d lose too much money getting out of trafficking to get into the EU.”

However, the article contradicts recent statements and reports by the European Commission, which has noted significant results in government efforts to tackle the problem of cannabis cultivation.

While EU authorities acknowledge the tiny Balkan country has a drug trafficking problem, it does not report on Albania turning into a new Columbia of Europe. Quite the contrary, it notes the country is cooperating well with the EU to tackle the problem. 

The coordinated approach between the Albanian institutions, the cooperation with Member States (especially with Italy in carrying out airborne monitoring of the Albanian territory) and the controls and inspections by the Albanian police have brought positive results. Moreover, data show that cannabis cultivation in Albania significantly decreased in 2017 compared to 2016.” – says the latest EU progress report in April 2018.

Echoing such praise, during a recent meeting between the European Union and Albania held in Brussels, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini commended Albania on the achievements of the past year, particularly in the area of the justice reform and the fight against organized crime and promised the country can hope for a very bright and successful year ahead.

2019 presents the opportunity for the region and especially for Albania to have clear progress on its European Union integration. And this is what we agreed to working very closely together on in the year ahead. We on the European Union side remain determined to accompany Albania for a very successful 2019.” said Mrs. Mogherini during her remarks at the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Council in Brussels last November.

In similar praise, the EU Ambassador to Tirana Luigi Soreca told journalists member states expect Albania to consolidate its positive momentum in what is a crucial year for the country.

There have been very encouraging law enforcement operations over the last months, which should not only be continued, but followed by a solid track record of prosecution and final convictions.said Mr. Soreca last week at the launch of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union ceremony in Tirana.

Albania is an EU candidate country since June 2014 and hopes to formally open membership talks later on this year. According to the European Commission, the country has made progress towards meeting the political criteria for membership and, overall, steady progress continued in the five key priorities – reforming the judiciary and the public administration, fighting corruption and organized crime, and protecting human rights.

Following a positive assessment last year, the European Commission recommended opening EU accession negotiations with Albania, conclusions which were endorsed by EU heads of state during their European Council meeting in June 2018.

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