From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
EU Commissioner Hahn, Divorced from Reality

During a press conference today with Prime Minister Edi Rama, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn spoke in the slipstream of the opening of the Media Days about the progress Albania has made on the road to accession negotiations, and about the need to communicate those results.

It is worth having a closer look at Commissioner Hahn’s speech, to understand how it is possible that the EU continues to support a government which according to all kinds of indicators – not least of all its recent legislative proposals and decrees – is moving to a consolidation of power in the hands of the Prime Minister.

When you are talking about the whole process of negotiations and everything that’s based on it is merit-based. Then this merit-based is based on facts, and we only rely on facts, not on rumors, not on allegations. Our assessment is based on proofs, on facts, on realities, and this is what counts. But this is also something which has to be communicated. It is so to say good to have the realities, the facts on paper but it is equally important to reach out and to communicate about the progress the country has made.

It is interesting that Hahn decided to start out with the opposition between “rumors” and “allegations,” and “facts” and “realities.” In politics, the difference between the two is unfortunately often made by those who utter those “rumors” and “facts.” The difference is mainly determined by questions of power, not questions of truth.

In Albania, the opposition is always thought to speak in “rumors,” whereas the Prime Minister thinks he always deals in “facts.” It actually often seems as if Rama sees himself as the sole source of truth, and if Hahn and EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin believe him, the “facts” in the EU Progress Report will be obviously very different than when they would have read through pages of legislative proposals, poured over hundreds of pages of public procurement announcements, or reports of the Supreme Audit Institution.

In fact, it appears as if the “reality” of Hahn is the same “reality” as Rama’s, as he continues:

I try to do this, the prime minister, other members of the government are trying to do this, but I think all of us can do more of this. Because, in particular, there is a story we both can tell in terms of progress, in terms of addressing issues, when it comes for instance the fight against drug cultivation and drug trafficking, when it comes to reduc[ing] significantly the number of asylum seekers in Europe which is another huge achievement and is important to change some reputational deficits are still there.

EU Commissioner Hahn speaks here about “reputational deficits,” without an irony, which – as we will see below – is reserved for later. We are at a moment where at least one former minister is implicated directly in drug trafficking. We are at a moment where several EU countries, including the UK, Netherlands, Greece, and Italy, consistently raise the alarm about significant increases in Albanian organized crime since 2013.

To be very clear: to call these issues “reputational deficits” is at best a rumor. To state them as they are, namely as the natural outgrowth of Rama’s government policy (and, may we add, personal choice), is stating a fact.

Hahn continues:

One of the main deliverables for getting this positive recommendation is the famous vetting process, and this is something which has just started and I expect first results already by the end of the year. The International Monitoring Operation is already operating, consisting of experts from all around the world […]. It will be very soon that we can see positive results.

It is also about progress in the famous five key priorities, because this remains crucial, to consolidate the achievements obtained so far and also here to move forward.

Rhetorically speaking, the usage of the word “famous” here is indeed a form of irony. It is ironic, because both the judicial reform and five key priorities have been repeated over and over again by only a part of EU representatives. Especially the European Commission, and its representative Ambassador Vlahutin, have until recently hardly spent a word on the five key priorities, on which the European Parliament insisted in February.

By calling both “famous,” ironizing very serious requirements imposed by the European Parliament, Hahn also highlights the difference between Parliament and Commission: the Commission, in particular Hahn’s DG, of course has an enormous self-interest in enlarging the EU; without enlargement no DG and no job for Hahn. The European Parliament, on the other hand, is a daily witness to the lack of internal democracy in the EU and has been much more critical about progress in the Western Balkans – because their jobs don’t depend on the enlargement process.

Note also how Hahn, just like Vlahutin, fails to spell out the five key priorities in the face of the Albanian press, so let me do that for him: fight against corruption; fight against organized crime; judicial reform; administrative reform; respect for fundamental human rights.

It is a fact that the fight against corruption and organized crime is now going to be waged by a Task Force, whose unconstitutionality poses a serious threat to the rule of law.

It is a fact that the judicial reform may have produced the vetting institutions, which indeed are operational, but many other key institutions continue be absent: the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Colleges, the Special Prosecutor, the National Investigation Bureau.

It is a fact that the administrative reform of Prime Minister Rama has led to mass dismissals in several layers of government without any recourse to legal procedures. It has also seen the establishment of an Agency of Co-Governance with public money, beyond any legal standard.

And it is a fact that property rights of minorities are violated on a nearly daily basis.

Johannes Hahn, these are and will be Albanian realities and not allegations, even if your Progress Report will include none of it.