EU Commissioner Hahn in Open Letter: “Leaders Will Be Held Accountable” – But to Whom? High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

In an unexpected and unprecedented move, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn has written an open letter to all Albanian citizens.

The letter arrives after the failed elections in Kavaja and at a moment the negotiations between opposition and government have little chance of succeeding. Prime Minister Edi Rama has departed today to visit the opening of his show at the Venice Biennial and is busy enlarging his cultural (and financial) capital, while the opposition is mounting a rearguard action at the Electoral College with little hope of success.

Commissioner Hahn stresses that he “ha[s] to respect” the decision of the opposition to boycott the elections, but at the same “deeply regret[s] this decision.” However,

Democracy and democratic standards shall not be held back by boycotting institutions and democratic elections. The elections will be assessed on their own merit, based on international standards.

The letter come across as painfully aware of the incompetence the EU has shown in the recent months in containing anti-democratic forces in the region. With the election of Aleksander Vučić in Serbia, the continuing political crisis in Macedonia, and, most importantly, the referendum in Turkey, the EU has not only shown that it will tolerate autocratic tendencies, but that it is even willing to sacrifice serious democratic concerns for “stability,” while its internal union is becoming ever more fragile.

The “sincere” tone of the letter – such as “I strongly condemn any announcements to call for ‘actions’ that would undermine each citizen’s right to vote and other fundamental freedoms” – appears to overcompensate for the fact that EU hardly has any pressure methods left to steer Albania away from a prolonged political crisis. Its continued and myopic focus on judicial reform, a theme which is surprisingly absent from the letter, has made it blind to the larger political context. Nearly all carrots have been given away, and hardly any stick is left.

Commissioner Hahn states:

[I]t is a fundamental European value that political ideas and proposals – no matter whether you like them or not – are being discussed within the democratic institutions, notably the Albanian parliament. This has been stressed in all the meetings with the political leaders of your country, from all sides.

Unfortunately this statement is incorrect, even for the EU. All around Europe, large-scale protests – for example in Greece, Romania, and Poland – have become increasingly the real bearers of democratic values, while “democratic institutions” have become increasingly helpless against the demands of both supranational austerity politics, international commercial interests, and unelected bureaucrats, including EU Commissioner Hahn.

He closes his letter as follows:

Dear citizens,

I have full confidence that the people of Albania will demand from their political leaders to demonstrate the restraint and democratic maturity expected in a country that aspires to be a Member of the EU. 

Let’s be clear: Leaders will be held accountable if they try to derail the legitimate aspirations of the Albanian people for a better future. 

The EU will follow and monitor closely the electoral process. And even more fundamentally: we will continue supporting you on the path towards EU membership.

Whom will these “leaders” be held accountable to? To the Albanian people, who have long given up hope that their leaders will show any basic respect or responsibility? To the EU bureaucrats, for whom the enlargement process is a source of jobs and income? Or to the oligarchs and mafia bosses, who will expect continued and uninterrupted access to the political system and natural resources of the country?

Hahn says that “[t]he EU will follow and monitor closely the electoral process.” I am sure that Prime Minister Rama will allow it the monitor as closely as they want. OSCE observers would be even allowed to count the votes by themselves if they wanted to, because Rama is basically assured of an absolute majority in his pocket after June 18.

This “fundamentally” at the end, which implies that the EU accession process would be a guarantee for the freedom and fairness of the “electoral process” is therefore painfully mistaken. The EU accession process is essentially anti-democratic in nature, and therefore it can never in itself guarantee proper democratic procedures and institutions or the rule of law. 

As long as the EU – and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn – fails to understand this, he can write a lot more “serious” letters full of “grave concerns,” but to no avail!