From: Genc Pollo
Comment: Leading by Example, Unfortunately Not the Case of Albania’s OSCE Chairmanship

Recently the OSCE could not reach the required consensus to reappoint its Secretary-General and the current heads of its three institutions: the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media as the Albanian Chairmanship proposed. 

The proposal was objected by a Central Asian member state; following this the resisting list of governments grew East and West, for different reasons probably, eventually killing the offer.

Until a possible compromise by the end of the year, the organization will be run by caretaker officials. In an OSCE area where human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance are challenged like never before since the end of the Cold War, calls on member states’ ministers to find a solution have become louder. In an open letter, five former ODIHR directors stress the seriousness of the matter and appeal for a breakthrough. 

Some also lament that Albania, a small country, didn’t have the diplomatic resources needed to reach consensus. While this could be true it is certainly not the country’s fault. Many other small-sized countries held the OSCE chairmanship and no one could foresee in 2018 the crisis looming in 2020.

And the Albanian small team of dedicated diplomats has worked hard to manage the burdensome chairmanship.

Some criticism would, however, relate to the Albanian Chairmanship priorities and their fulfilment. Upon taking over from Slovakia, Edi Rama, the Albanian Foreign Minister who is also the Prime Minister, said he would focus on promoting women, fighting human trafficking, tackling corruption and also on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

So far I am unaware of anything done related to the promotion of women, and fighting human trafficking. I am also aware that Albania couldn’t do much about Donbas: much more influential states have not managed yet to bring peace and stability there.

But the choice of the fight-against-corruption priority looks very curious. In the last years, official corruption including grand corruption has been rampant and rapidly deteriorating according to a growing number of recent international reports.

As PM Rama said in the OSCE anti-corruption conference on 6 July “combating corruption is ultimately a question of political will.” However, there has been no political will in Tirana to stop dubious Public-Private Partnerships which the IMF and the European Commission have called risky and the country’s civil society has branded as pillage of the public purse. Even a few days before this conference PM Rama announced another € 1,2 billion road construction PPP where the kilometre cost is six times the usual one.

Unfortunately, there is even more serious criticism. The OSCE has been chaired by four former Communist countries where no one reasonably would expect the standards of a seasoned democracy. It started with Kazakhstan (2010), Lithuania (2011), Serbia (2015) and Albania in the present year. None of the first three countries violated any OSCE principle or norm during the chairmanship as it obviously expected to lead by example. Ignoring a specific OSCE recommendation has been unthinkable for any chairmanship to date.

In Albania however, the government adopted a media law that was repeatedly criticized by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and by the international community including the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Further to that, the ruling majority instigated and supported unilaterally constitutional amendments aiming to disadvantage the opposition parties in the upcoming general elections. They did so immediately after an internationally mediated cross-party consensual agreement on electoral reform. An OSCE official telling the parliamentary Constitutional Affairs Committee that the amendments would run against OSCE norms failed to impress the Socialist MPs.

Many senior politicians in Brussels and Berlin from a broad party spectrum criticized that such a move is unfair as it breaches the recent bipartisan accord in its letter and spirit; they also warned it would earnestly imperil the start of Albania’s EU accession talks. Rama responded to their words with scorn.

Albania’s Council of Europe presidency back in 2012, admittedly less demanding that OSCEs, went smoothly. The current performance, unfortunately, has severely dented Albania’s reputation. It will require “exemplary behaviour” from the subsequent governments to repair the damage. The OSCE’s image has also suffered as a consequence. Which brings the question of why back in 2018 the obvious erosion of the rule of law and the official collusion with the underworld didn’t make the Albania proponents think twice. The writing on the wall was there for everyone to see and looking away didn’t do anybody a favour- neither Albania nor the OSCE.

Genc Pollo
Former Minister and MP