EU Prematurely Transferred Fund Management to the Albanian Government

In a decision from March 25, 2014, the European Commission (EC) decided to confer management powers over EU funding to the Albanian government (Commission Decision C(20141890), 25 March 2014). These funds were related to the so-called Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). The rationale behind such a decision is to transfer agency from the EU to aspiring member states and foster a culture of shared responsibility. However, a recent investigation of Exit in collaboration with legal center Res Publica, shows that the Albanian government, three years after the European Commission’s decision, still hasn’t “rectified” the “high-risk findings” discovered during audits in 2011 and 2013.

This investigation started when Exit discovered that the government had failed to open up a €2.8 million EU fund for the Civil Society Facility and Media Programme for 2016–2017, which was part of IPA 2016 and which was supposed to be launched in the third quarter of 2016, to applications from civil society. A letter from the European Commission (Ares(2017)1061452, 22 February 2017) stated that the program was “expected to start from 2017, but the calls for proposals have not been opened yet.” In the meantime, the calls still have not been opened, and we are now half-way through the year.

These funds, which because of the decision of the EC are managed directly by the Albanian government, were supposed to provide civil society organizations (CSOs) support “to take part in the policy dialogue and play their role of lobbying, advocacy and monitoring the implementation of reforms in sectors which are essential in the accession process.”

However, because the calls for proposals have still not been opened, the Albanian government is effectively delaying the EU funding of independent media actors during a year of crucial elections and the implementation of far-reaching judicial reforms. The entire point of the 2016–2017 Civil Society Facility and Media Programme was to support “policy dialogue” around these important developments, which, as most of our readers may have noticed, has been largely absent from the Albanian media.

In other words, this single case shows that the independent Albanian management of EU funds doesn’t seem to be up to EU standards at all.

In response from May 22, 2017, to our request for theFinal Compliance Assessment Report (2011) and Final Audit Report (2013) that stand at the basis of the EC’s decision to confer the management of IPA funds to the Albanian government, the EC denied access to these two crucial reports based, in part, on the following argument:

The audit reports were drafted in order to assess whether the Albanian national system complies with the key criteria and the provisions [of the Implementing and Financial Regulations.] The recommendations of these reports are still in the process of being implemented by the Albanian authorities, as the high-risk findings need to be rectified.

The procedure is still ongoing, as the responsible audit service has not yet validated all the follow-up actions.

In other words, six years after the Final Compliance Assessment Report, the Albanian government is still implementing the “recommendations” of the EC, and still hasn’t “rectified” the “high-risk findings,” which is apparently the reason that the EC refuses to disclose the two reports. And what could such “high-risk findings” be? Well, corruption, maladministration, fraud, falsification of documents, all of which are well attested within the Albanian government.

The results of the lagging implementation by the Albanian government of EC recommendations are clear for everyone to see: funds that were supposed to be allocated in 2016 and 2017 in order to aid civil society to inform the citizens about the judicial reforms, but also themes such as “economic development,” “environment,” and “transparency and oversight of public funds”! Meanwhile, it remains unknown how many other EU funds are “managed” by the Albanian government under the IPA. In any case, how can the EU possibly trust a government to support and fund free and critical media, when that same government forces private media companies, no matter how close they are to the government, to transmit political propaganda for free?

But it doesn’t stop here. As in the case of the acquisition of the EU Ambassador’s residence, the EU bureaucracy will use secrecy to cover up their own decision making processes. Apart from the above-mentioned reasons, the EC also argued that they couldn’t release the audit reports because they were “classified information.” This is simply a lie. Both reports are marked as “LIMITE,” which means they may only have a limited distribution. It is, however, not a classification level as the EC claims. The EC’s audit reports of the Albanian government are not classified; they simply don’t want the public to see them.

All in all this sequence of events shows unfortunately a familiar pattern: weakly informed decision making, badly monitored implementation, and subsequently hiding behind confidentiality and secrecy in order to prevent the scrutiny of European citizens and European Parliament whose tax money is spent (or not) in unaccountable ways.