By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
EC Progress Report Likely to Ignore Reality High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

On April 17, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn will arrive in Tirana for an official visit to present the European Commission’s (EC) Progress Report on Albania.

The previous EC Progress Report dates to late 2016, which passed European Parliament after extensive amendments on February 15, 2017. The report was however never officially adopted by the European Council due to a veto of Austria.

Nevertheless, the five key priorities included in the 2016 Progress Report at the insistence of the European Parliament (reforming the judiciary and the public administration, fighting corruption and organized crime, and protecting human rights) have remained as the major yardsticks against which Albanian progress will be measured.

Objectively speaking, the progress of the Rama government on all five key priorities has been below the targets set by the European Union and does not warrant opening of the accession negotiations.

The Five Key Priorities

– Although the main legal framework of the judicial reform was adopted with bipartisan support, subsequent bylaws were passed unilaterally by the Socialist Party, while the installation of all new judicial institutions, such as the High Judicial Council, High Prosecutorial Council, Council of Judicial Nominations, National Bureau of Investigation, and Special Prosecution Office have been (unconstitutionally) delayed, and the government has unilaterally and unconstitutionally installed a Temporary General Prosecutor.

– As regards the public administration, a report supported by the EU and OECD shows that no progress has been made in the professionalization of the public administration. The reform presided over by former Minister of Innovation and Public Administration Milena Harito has been a complete failure, while since the elections of June 2017 it has been the target of a number of dubious “vetting” initiatives and personal attacks of the Prime Minister. Moreover, a recent Freedom House report explicitly cites the danger of Albania sliding into an autocracy.

– No progress has been made in the area of the fight against corruption. The judicial reform has completely crippled the judiciary branch of government, with a Constitutional Court that lacks quorum and an understaffed High Court with a backlog of thousands of cases. Moreover, the Special Prosecution Office, which is supposed to investigate high-level corruption, will most probably not be installed until 2019 earliest, as vetting of prosecutors is progressing only slowly. Meanwhile, the Socialist majority has prevented the arrest of  former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri, accused of corruption and international drug trafficking. Other cases involving minister from Rama’s (former) government have not progressed since the election of Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku.

– Similarly, no progress has been made in the fight against organized crime. Not a single Albanian high-level criminal has been arrested, in spite of recent assurances of US Ambassador Donald Lu that drug lord Klement Balili would be arrested “in the coming days.” Although cannabis production seems to have slowed down after the 2015 record production year, it appears that the proceeds of this lucrative trade have now been invested in trafficking network transporting cocaine and other hard drugs, with record-high finds in Italy of shipments of marijuana and cocaine that still seem to elude the Albanian police forces. Meanwhile, Albanian organized crime has soared in the UK, France, and the Netherlands, leading to alarm with EU ministers.

– Finally, the human rights track record of the Albanian government shows no signs of improvement. Especially in terms of the protection of property rights and minority rights the Rama government has showed no adherence to international conventions. Private property has been the subject of arbitrary demolition, seaside properties are expropriated by a government-sanctioned “seaside property vetting,” and properties of minority groups are destroyed to make way for infrastructural projects. Furthermore, in a recent debate about a Council of Europe sponsored LGBT awareness project officially approved by the Ministry of Education, the government disavowed any involvement, while officials remained completely silent in the face of rampant hate speech throughout the Albanian media.

European Commission: Positive in the face of reality

In spite of all these negative indicators, the European Commission, represented by EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, has overall failed to address any of the above issues, putting up a remarkable good-weather show over the last one-and-a-half years. In January, a timeline of the EC put opening of the accession negotiations with Albania in 2019, while Exit has received several signals from the EU Embassy that the Progress Report indeed will recommend opening of accession negotiations, and will make no mention of for example the increased drug traffic or the involvement of former Minister Tahiri in an internationally operating criminal organization.

In a series of tweets from April 7, independent investigative journalist Vincent Triest cites sources from inside the EU Embassy in Albania, stating that the Progress Report will not be an accurate depiction of reality:

“Progress report from European Union on Albania is one big lie”, said a foreign source inside EU mission in Albania, who didn’t want to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject. “The report contain many lies, just to allow quick enlargement. The mayority  [sic] of conclusions are not really true.

As in 2016, it will come down to the European Parliament to thoroughly and critically assess the EC’s Progress Report, which unfortunately will be more self-serving whitewashing of a state captured by crime than an accurate, and painful, portrayal of its own diplomatic failure to steer Albanian politics into a different direction.

Finally, with the ascendency of nationalist and fascist tendencies throughout the EU, in Hungary, Austria, and Poland, and a white nationalist opposition in Germany breathing down Angela Merkel’s neck, it is unlikely that the European Council will not view the Progress Report with the utmost circumspection.