On March 31, 2017, the EURALIUS IV mission to Albania will end. EURALIUS is an EU-funded technical assistance project that aims at strengthening of the Albanian justice system. As such, the mission has been heavily involved in the judicial reform, an involvement that in the final months of its existence has been publicly tarnished by its controversial, if not unconstitutional, legal opinion that has sent the Prosecution Office on a track of consecutive breaches of the Constitution.
The reason this legal opinion, the only one written during the entire mission, was all the more dubious, is that it was issued while the tender for EURALIUS V had already been opened. As I argued before, the consortium of companies running the EURALIUS IV mission had a strong incentive to issue the legal opinion, which was favorable to Prime Minister Edi Rama and strongly supported by EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin; it would guarantee them the continuation of the project, at a value of €7.5 million, nearly double the budget of EURALIUS IV.
Indeed, the continuation between EURALIUS IV and V seemed to be of paramount importance to various EU diplomats, including German Ambassador Schütz, who stated at the final meeting of the EURALIUS stakeholders’ committee meeting on November 8, 2017:
I feel privileged to participate today at this final Steering Committee on behalf of the German Government. Together with Austria and the Netherlands, for almost three years, we have supported Albania’s Justice Reform through EURALIUS IV, a reform which by some has been called the Mother of All Reforms. This actually is only a very slight exaggeration as the reform of the entire justice system – once implemented – will be a real game changer!
Thanks to the dedication and the professionalism of all actors this project progressed – in spite of numerous attempts to derail or, at least, to delay the reform. Now, more than a year after the decisive constitutional amendments the vetting process has come under way and is, finally, has entered its operational phase. We hope that first real results of the vetting process will still be coming through before the end of the year.
Four months later, the only results of the vetting process have been: a disciplinary procedure against one of the main officials of the vetting procedure, Public Commissioner Heral Saraçi and Parliament ignoring the International Monitoring Mission by electing High Prosecutorial Council Members that didn’t pass the vetting. Meanwhile, another non-vetted official, Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku, is wreaking havoc in the Prosecution Office. Ambassador Schütz continued:
The justice reform and, above all, the strengthening of the justice systems as well as all juridical institutions is still not finalized. After EURALIUS IV is before EURALIUS V! For the next mission experience and continuation will be of key importance. We all know well that any “cracks” or gaps will be seen by the reform’s enemies as an open invitation to bring their negative influence to bear.
In other words, if EURALIUS V is not continued by the same consortium as EURALIUS IV, the “enemies” of the judicial reform will win! They will slip through the cracks and place their henchmen in key positions of judiciary! They will nominate officials that didn’t pass the vetting! Except… that already happened.
Indeed, the same consortium led by the German IRZ appears to have won the contract for EURALIUS V, even though no official announcement has yet been made.
Meanwhile, the EU has completely absolved itself from any responsibility or accountability about the functioning or success of the EURALIUS IV mission. In response to a freedom of information request of Exit, the EU claims not to hold any documents regarding the judicial experts hired by EURALIUS, which means that they apparently don’t know who is actually drafting these famous “legal opinions.” The EU also denies possessing any accountant reports regarding EURALIUS IV, or any evaluation of the way in which its budget has been spent during the period of the contract. Meanwhile, EURALIUS itself refuses to provide any documents.
This is all the more disconcerting, as Exit has received several indications from officials connected to EURALIUS IV of financial malpractice and maladministration.
One example of such possible malpractice was the hiring of Birgit Grundmann as “external expert” for the reorganization of the Ministry of Justice in October 2017. From 2009 to 2014 Grundmann had been a State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Justice in Germany. In September 2014 she moved to insurance company Allianz, which caused a scandal in Germany as she would be in a position to sell her insider knowledge and network at the federal government to a private company. Several German watchdogs spoke out against her new work as lobbyist. She left Allianz at the end of 2015 and reappeared as board member of IRZ, the leading partner in EURALIUS IV.
First of all, it is questionable whether someone accused in Germany of conflict of interest, and an example of exactly the type of “revolving-door” career that stimulates corruption and nepotism, should become an “external expert” in Albania. Second, Grundmann was no “external expert” at all; she was in the board of the leading partner in EURALIUS IV, IRZ, and therefore basically hired herself. This is an illegal profit made by IRZ, which, according to its contract, is allowed only a 7% profit invoiced directly to the EU. Hiring its own board members as external experts is therefore a questionable, if not illegal, way to earn something “extra.”
However, it appears that the EU is not terribly interested in how EU tax payers’ money is spent. And so, IRZ is back in saddle for another €7.5 million ride through the Albanian political landscape, shielded from any of the real-world consequences of its behavior.