First Progress Report

During this first reporting period (from the start of the project on December 16, 2020 until June 16, 2021) there were two main priorities. The first major focus was the Inception Report, which was delivered on time. Discussion around it focused on the chapters to be covered by the SEI project. It was finally agreed to change the initial scope of the project taking into account the new enlargement methodology. The project will thus cover all chapters under the cluster of fundamentals, plus chapters 2, 7, 11, 14, 15 and 19 (11 chapters altogether). It was also agreed that the project will principally aim at better preparation for the bilateral screening, especially in the cluster of fundamentals, and will put an emphasis on evidence-based prioritization of law harmonization, shared methods of law harmonization and institutions building.

The first major task after the approval of the IR was the quality check of the preparations for the bilateral screening. Sectoral experts (one external and one local expert for all 11 chapters) have been mobilised during the reporting period. The first stage of the quality check was completed by the end of the period. It resulted in an inventory of available information and its quality. Many other activities of the project have been linked to this exercise and proceeded in parallel, such as consolidation of law harmonization methodology (including institution building), prioritization of law harmonization, and others. Preparation for other activities, training in particular, coordination of other projects, involvement of civil society, and support to the development of the national version of the acquis has started.

Timely and effective conclusion of the quality check task will be a major challenge during the next reporting given the complex nature of the task and uncertainty with regard to the level of preparation in each individual area. Proper prioritizing over tools to improve will be necessary with beneficiary and will require close collaboration with them. Planning and priorities for further law harmonization might be particularly challenging as it involves decisions over policy priorities. It might be more difficult during the remaining summer period and during the government reshuffling. However, in most areas’ cooperation is good, and there is a good track record. Setting policy priorities based on evidence will remain a longer-term exercise.

Second Progress Report

During the first reporting period, the two major priorities were the approval of the Inception Report and the quality check of the preparation for the bilateral screening. The IR introduced our implementation approach highlighting our focus on the preparation for the bilateral screening, especially in the cluster of fundamentals, and the improvement of the overall system through the introduction of missing tools and processes or improvement of the existing ones (ensuring conformity and consistency), cost/benefit-based prioritization, and evidence-based interventions. This approach remains highly relevant and, as an added value, capacity building in the next planning period will be strongly emphasized. The first stage of the quality check was completed by the end of the first period, in July 2021, resulting in an inventory of the available information and a first impression of its quality detailed in the 1st interim report. During the second reporting period, the quality check was refined and also performed in chapter 18 (statistics). The quality check has served for the improvement of bilateral screening tools, especially of LGAs and IAGAs as well as for the prioritization of planning further work on approximation of the legislation as well as prioritizing actions to implement SAA obligations. SEI introduced the data resulting from the quality exercise in the list of bilateral screening tools and produced the first data quality reports for chapters 23 and 24. Further improvement of the LGAs and IAGAs was a particular highlight in the second half of the reporting period. In the first months of the second reporting period, prioritization of planning further approximation was a major focus of the support given by SEI. Proposals for priorities for the draft NPEI 2022-20224 were given to the beneficiary in all chapters covered by the assistance of SEI. A special event was organized to duly present them to concerned stakeholders. Other horizontal activities, namely, the preparation for the methodology of institution building, training, ensuring coordination with other technical assistance, the involvement of civil society, and providing support to the development of the national version of the acquis, have been linked to the prioritization exercise and proceeded in parallel.

Third Progress Report

During the inception phase, it was agreed that the operational aim of the SEI project would be the better Albania’s preparation for the bilateral screening with the EU, especially in the cluster of fundamentals, by improving the preparatory tools and capacities. During the first year the project mainly dealt with the tools, improving LGAs and IAGAs in particular, and prioritization of further alignment with the EU standards. During this reporting period, in the first half of 2022, following the demand of the beneficiary, the project’s focus shifted more to capacity building. Capacity mapping started first with the approval of the methodology and testing of the approach in the chapter on statistics. Preparation of bilateral screening presentations and preparatory simulations of the bilateral screening started in the cluster of fundamentals and horizontally. 13 relevant capacity-building workshops were held, including a major workshop assessing the preparedness of Albania for bilateral screening and providing advice on its conduct, held on April 5, 2022. Development of tools continued in chapters 14, 18, and 32. The major work on the implementation data needs was completed. The need for the development of the management information system (MIS) was identified and its very development started. Major guidelines for the process of accession negotiations and the development of the rule of law roadmap were prepared. Further sectoral interventions were defined and started; all linked with preparation for bilateral screening and the NPEI implementation. Support to the adjustment of the system for the development of the national version of the acquis was provided, as well as assistance towards coordination with other technical assistance projects, and involvement of civil society. Further work will target the preparation of the bilateral screening presentations, mock exercises, data on implementation, and MIS.

Fourth Progress Report

During the fourth reporting period including a technical extension of three additional months, the project’s focus shifted more to capacity building, in particular for the conduct of the bilateral screening. Several sectoral interventions were also conducted, all to advance the implementation of the NPEI. The fourth phase of the project took place after the start of the accession negotiations in July 2022 and the project heavily concentrated on the preparation of the bilateral screening in the cluster of fundamentals. The project reviewed around 140 presentations and held around twenty simulation exercises, which helped to successfully complete the exercise on January 16, 2023 (final bilateral screening in the cluster of fundamentals in the area of democratic institutions), which was positively evaluated by the EC services.

While the substantial focus of the project agreed upon in the Inception Report went beyond the cluster of fundamentals, and the quality check as well as improvement of tools was undertaken in 11 chapters, during this reporting period the project has focused on the cluster of fundamentals, including previously excluded areas of (the non-numbered chapters of the Acquis), such as the Fundamental Democratic Institutions, Economic Criteria and the Public Administration Reform.

Apart from the immediate preparation for the bilateral screening, the project tackled many longer-term horizontal issues. The main focus was on the organization and conduct of the accession negotiations (methodological tools and training), methodologically sound law harmonization (methodology and training), more structured institutional and individual capacity building (methodological materials and evaluations), collection and use of (implementation) data/evidence (data quality reports), the buildup of the EU related information system (design and data input), better-organized system for making the national version of the acquis (methodological and organizational tools), and better involvement of civil society (methodological materials and training). The project also helped to coordinate other technical assistance projects by providing some uniformity to the methodological tools used to assist Albanian institutions in the preparation of bilateral screening.

In this reporting period, the technical extension in particular, the project went into a follow-up of bilateral screening, related to the opening benchmarks of the accession negotiations. Thus, the project helped to start the elaboration of the roadmaps in the area of the rule of law, PAR, and fundamental democratic institutions.

Fifth Progress Report

The second phase of the project started on March 16, 2023, immediately after the 1st phase and was a continuation of work. The project started in full swing in June 2023. A re-assessment of the situation took place and the project was re-focused.

It was agreed that the SEI project will support the negotiation process at horizontal level. As for the sectoral coverage, it was agreed that the project will support preparation of the negotiating positions in Cluster 1, 6, and 3, if needed within the available resources, as well as the preparation for the bilateral screening in Cluster 4, transport and energy in particular.

Thematic scope was re-focused on the relevant negotiating positions and the roadmaps as their integral part.

It was a focus of work during the Interim period altogether. The project team and later mobilized sectoral experts assisted in preparation of Cluster 1 negotiating positions (covering 8 topics altogether) and the respective roadmaps for PAR and the Rule of Law. Assistance to the definition of a horizontal part was also provided.

Assistance to the preparation of bilateral screening, including mock exercises, was provided in the areas of transport and energy.  

Initial preparation for the new NPEI based on the NPAA approach has also started, through an initial concept and then through sectoral work on planning.

Legal harmonization work proceeded through an input to a new version of the legal harmonization methodology and development of the ToCs in the area covered by the new Criminal Code.