At a work visit in Vlora today, EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin responded to questions of journalists about the current political situation in Albania. Her answer that whether the elections are held or not has no influence on the implementation of the EU’s tourism projects shows a deep disregard for democratic principles and the dynamics created by the representation of the EU in Albania.
First of all, it is unacceptable that a representative of the EU, whose Parliament has explicitly raised concerns about the upcoming parliamentary elections, so easily dismisses a possible annulation or postponement of the elections as irrelevant for the EU’s “business as usual.”
Throughout her tenure as Ambassador, Vlahutin has not once addressed the issues of the elections in any substantial way, and has instead elevated the judicial reform to a fetish object that would magically cure all the ills of the Albanian political system. This has encouraged Prime Minister Rama to make statements of the following type:
Even if no one wants to enter the elections, the PS will enter the elections and take 140 deputies in Parliament and with its votes it will pass the vetting and any other judicial reform law.
This is basically an argument for autocracy, but Vlahutin has remained completely mute about the disastrous consequences that the wilfully blind, one-tracked EU policy has had in Albania.
Perhaps we should remind her that any reform, especially as experimental and far-reaching as the judicial reform in Albania, ideally is supported by a broad parliamentary majority. Even though the (botched) constitutional reforms were passed with bipartisan support, all other legislation was pushed through by the Rama government, and Parliament is currently well underway to render the entire reform unconstitutional and therefore invalid.
But it should not surprise us that Vlahutin has such an ignorance about the value of democracy, and finds it so easy to brush aside the possibility of not having elections at all, or worse, elections without any representation of the opposition. After all, Vlahutin has never held an elected post in her life. She is not even a career diplomat, whose appointment would be based on merit. Rather, she is a political appointment from Croatia, after having been advisor to the President. Vlahutin has never had to defend her opinions, mistakes, or accomplishments in front of the voters, which has cultivated an arrogance that appears widespread in the circles of the European Commission.
This arrogance of unelected officials, who are basically parachuted in peripheral countries and have as their prime motivation furthering their own career, and not the well-being of the EU, their country of residence, or both, has led throughout Europe to the backlash of populist parties left and right, which with good reason claim that there is a severe deficit of democracy in a large part of the EU political infrastructure, especially its leadership.
Nowhere was this better on display than in Albania in the months leading up to the publication of the progress report. While the European Commission, spearheaded by continuous propaganda from spokesperson Maja Kocijančič and Vlahutin (both from former Yugoslavia) refused to focus on anything else but the judicial reform, the European Parliament, and in particular the German and Austrian MEPs of the EPP were much more vocal about their concerns with the Albanian political situation.
As per usual, this turned into a proxy war between the PS and the PD, with the PS hiding behind the European Commission, while the PD marshalled conservative MEPs. Even though the final progress report is a clear compromise between these two “factions” within the EU, the unelected Commission and the democratically elected Parliament, Vlahutin has repeated her mantra of the judicial reform like a broken record.
The point is this: Vlahutin has invested her entire political career in the judicial reform. Beside a few tourism investments, which suffer from the same delays and corruption as can be found all around the country, Vlahutin’s legacy in Albania – and thus her further career – will be fully judged by the “successful” implementation of the judicial reform. I put “successful” between quote marks, because the actual outcome of the reform is irrelevant. As long as can put it on her CV. Elections or no elections, decriminalization or no decriminalization, drugs or no drugs – anything must yield to her own blind and misguided ambition.
Unfortunately (for Albania), Vlahutin’s careerism has led to a disregard for democratic values that is so deep, and so thorough, that no one in this country dares to believe or even hope that the EU, whom she after all represents, cares at all about democracy in Albania. No matter how, if, or when the elections will be held, the EU will continue to invest in the government’s tourism projects (destroying priceless cultural heritage on the way), and will continue to support the implementation of a law that will turn out to be a dead letter.
And while every day it becomes more apparent how deeply the criminal world has taken root in the government, Vlahutin takes another swim in her private pool and eats a petit four behind her bullet proof windows. On the other side of the 2.5-meter wall surrounding her €1.6 million villa, Gjin Gjoni mows his lawn and dusts off his watch collection. All is quiet in Rolling Hills.
The political future in Albania is anything but certain, but whether it devolves into chaos, sees the rise of ethnocentric populism, or leads to an Erdoğan-style autocracy, part of the burden and guilt should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the European Commission and its incompetent and ignorant figurehead in Albania.
As a standard bearer for democratic values and a politics that is at the service of the public good, the EU couldn’t have done worse than “politically appoint” a person that understands neither of both, and will most probably get away with it.