EEAS Answers EP Budget Control Committee on Vlahutin’s Villa

The Budget Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament has received a response from the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini regarding the acquisition of the residence of EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin. CONT had sent the questions on February 16, and the answers were received on February 24.

According to the answers provided by the European External Action Service (EEAS), which were forwarded to Exit by the office of CONT Chair Ingeborg Gräßle, the high price of the villa was determined by the “location, finishing, exposure, surface area, size of the plot, orientation, etc.” A cheaper location had been rejected because of security issues.

Five out of nine contacted real estate agents submitted a total of fifteen offers, from which five were selected for site visits. An independent evaluation by an external expert, a visit by EEAS staff, and an evaluation by the Regional Security Officer finally determined the villa in Rolling Hills to be the best offer, at a final cost of €1.649.000 for a living area of 585 sq.m. on a plot of 1,613 sq.m.

The price had been negotiated by the EU Delegation in Tirana before Ambassador Vlahutin took up her post on October 1, 2014, with final negotiations taking place on November 11, 2014. The contract was signed on February 27, 2015.

The EEAS argues that buying a property was cheaper than continuing the former accommodation of the Head of Delegation, which cost €101,488 per year. The new residence in Rolling Hills will be cheaper, even when €10,800 per year in maintenance costs are included. The EEAS expects to have amortized the building within 17 years.

This ignores a possible increase in property prices. This is not unlikely given that the country is on a clear path towards EU integration, having achieved candidate status in June 2014.

The answers provide several references to previous documents that informed the European Parliament about the EEAS’s plans to buy a villa in Tirana. In a letter to former President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, Patrick Child of the EEAS proposes to reallocate funds

to purchase a villa in Tirana offering a total surface above ground of almost 400 square meters and suitable for diplomatic activities. The price after negotiation is 1,649,000 euros. It represents the rent currently paid for the apartment over 19 years, although the villa is significantly larger.

Note that even though the price is similar, the size of the living area differs from the information provided to CONT.

Moreover, the policy of the EEAS to pursue “full ownership over renting if financially attractive” was only sent to the Budget Committee of the EP on July 7, 2016, that is nearly one and a half years after the contract for the sale was signed in February 2015.

Finally, the EEAS denies that one of the Tirana EU Delegation staff is a relative of any high-ranking member of the government, and dismisses reports in the media regarding possible corruption as an “aggressive disinformation campaign from local media.”

On February 17, Exit has filed a freedom of information of request at the EEAS to receive the full expert report and external evaluation, and has requested additional documents pertaining the decision making process of the EEAS to purchase the villa.