About half a year ago, I wrote an essay under the title “Albania Is the Future of Europe.” Much of the text dealt with the common misconception among representatives of international institutions and foreign governments that they can decisively influence Albania and move it toward more “democracy,” while using the current framework of EU politics and policies.
Following an argument of economic sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, I claimed that, on the contrary, the economic and state model of Albania stands as an example for the future of EU nation-states.
I was somewhat amused to encounter a similar type of reversal recently in the media reports about the quickly expanding corruption scandal in Kosovo’s EULEX, the largest and most expensive foreign EU mission, meant to establish the rule of law and a functional justice system.
In a recent turn of events, chief judge of EULEX Malcolm Simmons resigned, unleashing a series of accusations about corruption and maladministration, stating, as Politico reports, that “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” In the same report, editor in chief of Kosovo daily Koha Ditore, uttered the following timeless words: “Instead of Europeanizing Kosovo, We Have Balkanized EULEX.”
There are two points that I want to make in relation to clear and precise statement: 1) the official discourse of the EU surrounding these (and other) scandals; 2) the actual politics within the EU.
Apart from the consequences that these new revelations have on the substantial role of EULEX officials in the monitoring of the (EU-drafted) Albanian judicial reform, the declarations of Simmons once again show the cramped reflex of the EU to shroud itself in verbose meaninglessness, which has slowly eaten away most of it credibility and appeal.
In response to Simmons’s declaration, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijančič released the following senseless statement: “The EU as well as EULEX operate a zero-tolerance policy towards allegations of inappropriate behavior and all mission members are accountable for their actions.” As with the previous EULEX whistleblower, the first gesture of the EU is to blame the messenger – and in this, it is no better than the Albanian government.
Another result of the inability to deal with facts – especially if those facts appear to go contrary to the self-image of the EU – is a retreat into metaphor and figurative language. For example, a common trope in the promotion of EULEX was that it would target the “big fish,” politicians with supposed links to organized crime. Also recently, in Albania, these “big fish” entered public discourse, with US Ambassador Donald Lu expressing his appetite.
But it seems that the internationals are unable to leave the realm of metaphors, of “big fish” and the like – because most of them, both in Albania and Kosovo, continue to swim freely. In fact, in Albania the ambassador even lives in a villa built by a shark!
In absence of any clear political line, or any will to truly advocate democracy and transparency (because doing so would immediately expose the hypocrisy of the EU), metaphors proliferate and language becomes ever more detached from lived, social reality. A very clear example of this was the recent electoral campaign in Albania, which operated nearly completely on the level of metaphors.
Perhaps we can refer to this tendency as the “Balkanization” of political rhetoric.
A second form of Balkanization has not only affected EULEX, but the EU as a whole, different forms of separatism and nationalism have come up with lightning speed across the union, in movements where traditional 20th-century categorizations of left and right are no longer functional. The EU’s meek response to the Catalan declaration of independence, its full support for exorbitant police violence, as well as its collision course with the UK in the Brexit negotiations show a “stabilocratic” monolith, paralyzed by internal strife, barely able to deal with externalities.
The only way to avoid the well-known fate of the Balkanic union of nations, also known as Yugoslavia, is to strongly reaffirm the EU’s commitment to democracy, rule of law, and transparent government. What this means can be nothing else than a radical overhaul of its internal governance structure and a broad expansion of the role of the EU Parliament at the cost of national governments.
Because for how much longer can we tolerate unelected Commissioners to implement botched reforms and interventions around the periphery, without any democratic accountability? For how long can we tolerate incompetent ambassadors, coordinated by an unelected High Representative, to misrepresent the values of the European Union? And for how much longer can we tolerate that not the European Court of Human Rights, but EULEX is becoming the image of European justice?