It doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but maybe it does to the small number of sycophants that he retains in his court, or the officials at the EU Delegation in Tirana, which until recently appeared to be unable to pull itself out of Rama’s orbit and speak clearly and firmly about the conditions that the EU had set for the opening of accession negotiations with Albania: Rama’s anti-EU rhetoric of the last days.
For those who have followed Rama’s attitudes toward the EU for a bit longer, it is no surprise at all. Rama has always flirted with anti-EU rhetoric when it suited his purposes, and has several times “threatened” the EU with merging with Kosovo, should he feel that the EU is rejecting his country. He has also issued covert threats regarding the “stability” of the region, the “threat” of Russia and radical Islam, while cozying up to Turkish dictator Erdoğan.
Recently however, Rama’s rhetoric has started to exhibit signs of a stronger “demand” toward the EU for opening the negotiations, accompanied by a paranoia that may offer a hint of the underlying stability of the sole leader of the country. During the first session of Parliament on September 11, Rama said the following:
What I can say very openly and directly […] is that the opening of negotiations no longer is an issue that depends on what we are doing better. […] I remind you that the progress with the 5 priorities was such that the Commission decided as a final point the constitutional judicial reform to open negotiations. The constitutional judicial reform passed, the negotiations were not opened. Then vetting was imposed. The vetting passed and of course the implementation of the vetting is awaited, but that depends on how you see it, because vetting has started.
This is, to say it gently, not the entire truth. The fact is that the European Commission (EC) recommended in November 2016 to open accession negotiations that were “strictly subject to credible and tangible progress in the implementation of the judicial reform, in particular the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors (‘vetting’).” In any case, no “credible and tangible progress” whatsoever has been made.
But Rama is mistaken to see the recommendation of the EC as the “final verdict” of the EU. The subsequent debate on the EC report containing the recommendation significantly sharpened the language, as well as the strict conditionality of progress on all five conditions. Then in December, the Council of Ministers failed to approve the conclusions regarding EU enlargement because of a veto of Austria. In other words, there is no official consensus among EU countries about when and under which conditions to open accession negotiations with Albania.
In spite of all these developments, Rama continued to deny, even while standing next to EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, that there were any conditions regarding the opening of the negotiations. By repeating this denial over and over again, mainly to himself, Rama has now acquired the belief that Albania has fulfilled all the requirements of the EU, and that the situation therefore “no longer […] depends” on what Albania is “doing better.”
This idea is, of course, entirely misguided and phantasmatic, but it explains why Rama then claims that the problem of Albanian organized crime in countries like the Netherlands, France, and the UK would somehow be a “new excuse” of the EU to delay negotiations with Albania:
[The opening] of negotiations next year is what Albania expects and deserves and it is unfair that this issue continues to be dragged along for reasons that have no relation to Albania, bringing up at every turn new reasons.
Now has come up – they don’t say it officially, I cannot say it – but it has come up and is going around, the phantasm of “ethnically Albanian crime.” Of course in certain media and urged on by certain sources and forces, but the issue is how and how much this also will turn into a sort of conditionality of the sort “first solve the problem of ethnically Albanian crime, then we’ll see.”
Addressing organized crime, which surfing the wave of drugs money has now spread to EU countries, is in fact one of the five conditions that the EU, since the end of last year. It is not something new at all, it was a condition that was there all the time. Maybe Rama forgot to read the fine print on how the EU arrives at its decisions. Maybe Ambassador Vlahutin could have been a bit less openly choosing sides with the Prime Minister and actually doing her job.
What Rama’s recent speech shows is the delirium of self-delusion. This delusion has now brought him to blame other EU countries for hampering Albania’s integration. From there it is only a small step to saying: they don’t want us, we will never become a member. We should remind ourselves that something very similar happened not so long ago in Turkey. The results are by now obvious to all.