When on March 25, 2020, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Albania, it formulated a long list of requirements that had to be fulfilled before the first intergovernmental conference – the official start of actual negotiations – could be held.
Several of these requirements concerned the justice system, with the European Commission being charged with monitoring the implementation of the Justice Reform and new legislation in the fields of minority rights, population census, and property rights, among others.
One of the major tools at the disposal of the European Commission to keep a close watch on the progress of the Albanian government in implementing these requirements is the EURALIUS V legal assistance mission, whose ostensible aim is to advise the Albanian government on legislation in all the fields relevant to the reform of the justice system.
Thus, it makes sense if the European Commission is closely informed about the activities of EURALIUS V, and specifically the nature and content of the judicial advise it dispenses to the Albanian government.
Indeed, it is through requesting access to its frequent reporting to the European Commission that media outlets such as Exit have been able to investigate the precise nature of EURALIUS’s activities, and its often close alignment with the aims and goals of the Rama government.
With the transition from the EURALIUS IV mission to EURALIUS V, access of independent media to the inner workings of EURALIUS have become increasingly limited. The website is much less transparent, and reports are released only heavily redacted, all in the name of “protection of the public interest as regards to international relations.”
Exit News sources, familiar with the functioning of EURALIUS, describe an atmosphere in which the access to and handling of documents is closely guarded to prevent any possible leaks.
The secrecy of the EURALIUS V justice assistance mission, which is operated by a private consortium, has taken on such a pervasive nature that even the European Commission itself is no longer informed about the mission’s concrete activities.
In an email seen by Exit, the European Commission admits that it no longer receives copies of the legal opinions drafted by EURALIUS V.
In response to a freedom of information request for those legal opinions, which have been honored in the past, the DG NEAR responded on April 3:
In relation to your latest request for information, please note that the provisions relative to Euralius IV, regarding the transmission of the documents to the EU Delegation in Albania, pointed out in your communication, are not applicable to Euralius V. In addition, no similar provisions have been identified as applicable to Euralius V.
With respect to your request of 13/12/2019, please allow us to reiterate the following clarifications:
In accordance with the Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, the concept of document applies to documents drawn up by the institution or in its possession.
In your request of 13/12/2019, you refer to “a list f the legal opinions / legal information note submitted by EURALIUS V to the Albanian authorities during the last two years”. Please note that the Commission has never drawn up or received a document, i.e. a list, which would contain this information.
Requests for information that is not contained in existing documents do not fall within the scope of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001. Subsequently, DG NEAR replied to you […], explaining that it does not have this information and asked you to contact directly the staff of EURALIUS V, which is a project implemented by a Consortium composed of the German Foundation for International Legal Cooperation (IRZ) as Lead Partner.
Of course, when directly contacting the staff of EURALIUS V, one is told that EURALIUS “has no public function.” The email from the European Commission also shows that the reporting requirements of EURALIUS V are different from those of EURALIUS IV.
For some reason, the European Commission (and by extension the EU Delegation in Tirana) no longer officially receives a copy of the documents prepared by EURALIUS V for the Albanian government, and as a result is less informed about the progress of the Justice Reform than it was before 2018 – right at the moment strict oversight over the progress of the Albanian government has become an explicit demand of the European Council.
One can only guess at the reasons why the European Commission has willfully blinded itself from the internal realities of the Justice Reform, but this almost certainly represents a form of maladministration. EURALIUS is a project that is funded by EU taxpayers in a country that is an EU candidate member.
To be not informed about the legal advise that EURALIUS dispenses to the Albanian government – especially considering the worrisome precedents – is a sign of great irresponsibility that the new European Commission would do well to rectify. Both Albanian citizens and EU taxpayers deserve the right to know what form of advise a publicly funded private entity is giving to the Albanian government.