The response of the European Commission to the decision of all opposition parties to resign from their mandates has been, as expected, swift.
In the early evening, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijančič gave the following statement to news agency ATSh:
“Parliament is the basis for any European democracy – it is a place where the debates about the reforms and pertinent developments have to be discussed and taken forward, and not boycotted. The calls of several members of opposition parties to boycott Parliament and for MPs to resign from their current mandates are counterproductive and go against the efforts of reforming the country in the EU. We expect the government and opposition to engage in constructive discussions with the aim to overcome the current political situation.”
The reality, however, is that the “several members” mentioned by Kocijančič were in fact the opposition leaders and MPs themselves, choosing to resign from their mandates, as is their Constitutional right.
Kocijančič’s statement can be taken as the first salvo in what no doubt will become a diplomatic offensive directed at PD leader Lulzim Basha and LSI leader Monika Kryemadhi, as well as individual opposition MPs. As I explained yesterday, the actual procedure to resign from a parliamentary mandate and appoint new MPs can be lengthy and will require at least several weeks. This will provide ample time to pressure current PD and LSI MPs and their potential replacements from party lists to ignore their party leaders’ decision. The result may be a “ghost opposition” filling the opposition seats in Parliament without any backing from a party apparatus, or, depending on the how it plays out at the level of the Central Election Commission (KQZ), a Parliament occupied by 140 MPs of the Socialist Party.
The main question, however, is to what extent the European Commission and various international diplomats in Tirana still have the actual leverage and credibility to broker a second McAllister+ agreement.
In 2017, in the months leading up to the National Elections, the opposition PD boycotted Parliament, but shied away from resigning from their mandates. Heavy international pressure by US Deputy Assistant Secretary Hoyt Brian Yee and US Ambassador Donald Lu, coupled with an EU mission led by MEPs David McAllister and Knut Fleckenstein, finally manage to pressure Prime Minister Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha into accepting the so-called McAllister+ Deal that postponed the elections and installed a multi-party “technical” government.
The current situation is quite different. The opposition PD and LSI are united not only in their boycott of Parliament, but also in their aim to resign from their mandates. The heavy diplomatic artillery brought on by the US in 2017 no longer exist. The US has currently no ambassador in Albania, while current Deputy Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell is expected to resign soon.
On the EU side, elections are approaching and EU Commissioners are already busy looking ahead. Reportedly, Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn is aiming to oversee economic policy, whereas it is highly unlikely that High Representative Federica Mogherini will be proposed by the new Italian government to continue in the Commission. In other words, both Hahn and Mogherini have less incentives to assert themselves than they did in 2017.
Furthermore, a wave of Euroskepticism is threatening the centrist majority in European Parliament, which means that both Fleckenstein and McAllister have little to win by spending valuable campaigning time on a country most of their constituents don’t even want to join the EU.
Finally, EU diplomats have lost valuable credibility with the Albanian public over their collective response to the opposition protest last Saturday. Their preliminary “warnings” about opposition violence were widely mocked online and contrasted with the complete silence of all diplomatic missions during the protests of miners, students, Astir inhabitants, and actors against the various policies of the Rama regime. And their collective denunciation of the violence against Carsten Höller’s art work “Giant Triple Mushroom” has done little to contain the widespread perception of international diplomats as government-supporting hypocrites.
Analyst Fatos Lubonja recently correctly pointed out that by resigning from their mandates, the opposition basically acts on the premise that the internationals will bail everyone out, just like in 2017. My question is whether the internationals still have the credibility to do so. In the context of another regional conflict, the Kosovo–Serbia border, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj recently stated that Mogherini was the “enemy of Kosovo,” a statement that would have been unimaginable a few months ago and indicative of the changing perception of the EU as neutral arbiter.
The underlying reason may be that the European Commission itself has been blind to how its executive-based integration approach has in fact led to widespread state capture in the Western Balkans. In a recent article, Jelena Pejić argues that the structure of chapter-by-chapter alignment with the acquis communautaire “misses broader trends” and fails to capture “processes of gradual and almost indiscrete merger of the state and the ruling party.” Pejić further claims that in Serbia, “under the guise of accession negotiations measures lacking transparency and inclusiveness are implemented for the sake of quantity, disregarding quality altogether.” The same could be easily claimed about the Albanian situation.
All of this together – the unified opposition willing to resign from its mandates; the weakened diplomatic infrastructure of the EU and US; and the emerging realization that the EU has largely facilitated Rama’s state capture against which the opposition protest – creates a political dynamic that is significantly different from that in 2017. And this makes a political solution all the more unlikely.