Opposition parties say only a national referendum can end years of arguments over whether the country should permit waste imports in order to aid the recycling industry.

Albania opposition parties have jointly called on the Socialist-led government of Edi Rama to put the longstanding argument over allowing the import of waste to a referendum.

A law on the matter is currently pending, after the President refused to sign it a year ago.

The waste import issue has been a “hot potato” in Albania for at least six years, with both centre-right and centre-left governments trying and failing to adopt laws permitting it as a result of environmentalist and public outcries.

The debate was rekindled again last week when the Rama’s ruling majority included a new law in the parliamentary agenda, despite a presidential decree in October 2016 that seemed to close the door against its adoption.

Under parliamentary procedures, if 71 out of the 140 MPs vote against the president’s decree, the law can still enter into force. If not, it cannot be adopted again.

Rama’s majority has the necessary votes to reject the decree. However, the public outcry over the return of a waste import law onto the parliamentary agenda persuaded the Socialists group to withdraw it.

“There will no longer be a draft law on waste. The Socialist parliamentary group is going to return it to the public for a full debate, based on arguments, not accusations,” the head of the Socialist group wrote on Tuesday on Facebook.

However, the opposition parties said they considered the withdrawal of the law a mere political maneuver.

Instead, the centre-right Democrats and the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, have demanded a referendum, as a final act to close the waste import issue in Albania for good.

Democratic Party MP Florjon Mima said: “This is a major, sensitive issue. We have to open the road for a referendum.” The chairman of the LSI parliamentary group, Petrit Vasili, asked for the same.

“The side-effects of this law [if it were adopted] would be huge when it comes to the health aspect….The only solution that remains is a referendum,” he said.

Albanians were ready to go to polls to vote for or against a law allowing waste imports in the autumn of 2013, after the then government of Sali Berisha backed a law on the issue in November 2011.

However, the referendum was not held after Rama took power in September 2013, despite his promise to ban waste imports while in opposition.

To the surprise of many, Rama’s MPs submitted a new law allowing waste imports in July 2016.

While environmentalists started to protest against it, the majority in parliament backed the law in September last year.

The government says adopting the law will help Albania’s recycling industry to develop — and that the waste will not pose a danger to people’s health.

Environmentalists insist permitting waste imports will turn the country into the “garbage bin” of Europe, and say the waste does pose a threat to health.

Fatjona Mejdini BIRN Tirana