During his recent trip to Brussels, Prime Minister Edi Rama met with all the people he needs to provide a positive recommendation for the opening of the EU accession negotiations in Spring 2018, when the European Commission’s Progress Report is going to be presented.
He met with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, who joined him in some good ol’ press bashing, and at a meeting organized by the Friends of Albania, Rama repeated his “ironic” threats that Russia and China offer “interesting” alternative country models should the EU think of withdrawing from or drawing out the enlargement process. In short, nihil sub sole novum.
— Maja Kocijančič (@MajaEUspox) December 5, 2017
Also High Representative Federica Mogherini made her mandatory appearance next to Prime Minister Rama, after she had declared a few weeks ago that Albania would at some point be “ready to run, hopefully, inshallah!”
It is painful to again wade through the bureaucratic word salads she continues to toss, but let’s read what Mogherini actually said:
It is a pleasure for me to welcome again Prime Minister Rama in a moment that is particularly important for Albania’s way into the European Union. Albania has, under his leadership, made enormous work, especially on the justice reform, the fight against drugs and corruption – a work that we support and that needs to continue and this is a work that can open the way to further steps towards the European Union integration path.
That’s a certainly a lot of steps! But what does Mogherini actually mean when she says “enormous”? What “enormous work” has been done in the justice reform? Indeed, the Constitutional reform providing the basis for the reform of the judicial system was passed with a bipartisan vote, and also the vetting committees were approved by both parties after “enormous” pressure from the EU and US. But everything else has been pretty much a disaster.
The government single-handedly slashed the budget and employees of the vetting institutions – against the advice of international experts – effectively undermining the independence of the vetting process and making those involved in vetting more vulnerable to corruption.
Meanwhile progress on the installation of the High Prosecutorial Council (KLP) and High Judicial Council (KLGj), two other institutions that are an essential part of the judicial reform has been stalled indefinitely by Parliament, which is currently ruled by Rama’s Socialist Party with an absolute majority.
On October 4, the National Ombudsman had to reannounce the competition for the single civil society member of the KLP for the fourth time, after the three previous rounds yielded no suitable candidates. With all those NGOs (in)directly controlled by Rama and his clan, one would think they would be able to find at least one person who would formally qualify?
Meanwhile, PS parliamentary group leader Taulant Balla seems to know more than the National Ombudsman by declaring they found 5 suitable candidates. Perhaps these are as “suitable” as those chosen by Parliament from the ranks of the university, with several of the candidates showing serious deficiencies and perhaps actual brain damage if one judges them from from their total amnesia regarding personal possessions.
In fact, it appears that the stalling of the instalment of the KLP has been a conscious political effort, because in absence of the KLP to nominate a replacement for current General Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla, whose mandate ends on December 7, the government now claims it is legally allowed to choose a “temporary” successor of Llalla with a simple majority.
Apart from the serious question of the legality of such a move, which is curiously supported by both the international missions of the EU and US, EURALIUS and OPDAT, it seems remarkable that the actual result of the judicial reform is not an increased independence of the judiciary, but has rather created a situation in which a simple parliamentary majority can nominate the highest prosecutor in the country – making the judiciary more dependent than ever on politics.
How anyone can call this “enormous progress” is beyond me – unless, of course, you’re the one hand-picking the next general prosecutor. Perhaps Mogherini is simply confused, and messes up the act of passing a law in parliament with the actual upholding of the rule of law, a word that appears to have disappeared from the EC’s vocabulary.
The controversy over Llalla’s successor is linked to this other “enormous work” of Rama, namely his so-called fight against corruption. Since 2013, I have seen exactly zero of Donald Lu’s fish being fried in front a judge. Nothing. Nada. Not a single case. In fact, corruption remains widespread and is in reality the main reason for the total absence of any new foreign direct investments in Albania.
In fact, the situation only became worse when serious suspicions arose with the prosecution that Rama’s right hand and former Minister of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri was implicated in massive international drug trafficking, for which he was handsomely compensated by his criminal cousins. As of this moment, 7 high officials from the previous Rama government, including a former minister, former deputy minister, and 3 police chiefs, are implicated in the investigation of the prosecution, just at the moment that Rama is about the change the general prosecutor with one of his own.
Again, how this is “enormous progress” is beyond me. But what matters is that such statements end up hurting Albania, because they encourage Rama to carry on along the corrupt and autocratic path he has embarked on, blaming the country’s lack of progress on everyone except himself. After all, the European Commission does not have the final say on the Progress Report, and it is quite likely, as happened last time, that well-informed MEPs in the European Parliament will severely amend the report, and that the European Council will think long and hard before it adopts it. And remember, the last time it wasn’t even formally adopted.
The only way to avoid such unfortunate outcome is for the Commission to face the reality and pressure Rama to fight crime and corruption and stop threatening the justice system, because propaganda is not going to pave Albania’s way into EU.