From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Fleckenstein Still Doesn’t Get It: There Is No More Opposition in Parliament

The relation of the European Parliament’s Special Rapporteur on Albania Knut Fleckenstein with the government of Edi Rama has always been a warm one.

In both 2017 and 2018, Fleckenstein proposed to adopt a progress report on Albania that was overtly positive, and neglected many of the systemic problems in the country. In both cases, Fleckenstein’s proposal was heavily amended by his colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Last year, Fleckenstein also had a key role in establishing the McAllister+ agreement after massive opposition protests in 2017, even though a few months earlier he had stated that he was “not negotiating about the protest.”

After the elections, in which the Socialist Party won an absolute majority – as it turns out, in part through vote buying supported by criminal organizations – Fleckenstein stated: “An absolute majority is not a risk to democracy.”

Unfortunately, this is precisely what it turned out to be. With its absolute majority, the Socialist government not only butchered several bylaws of the judicial reform, leading to serious constitutional problems (which still have not been resolved, merely forgotten), but also used its majority to reinforce the parliamentary immunity against the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office (SPAK), which Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi today claimed will be operational before June.

As a result, the opposition decided to resign from their mandates. The wisdom of this gesture remains to be seen, but once they had threatened it so many times, not doing so would certainly have led to their annihilation at the local elections on June 30.

The result is now a rather unpredictable political situation, in which holding the elections itself has become questionable. Supposing that indeed all opposition candidates resign from their mandates – which is not a given – Parliament itself will have become potentially unconstitutional. The Electoral Code gives no solution to where to assign mandates once a party’s entire candidate list has been exhausted, while the Constitution states that Parliament should consist of 140 members. And in absence of a Constitutional Court – yet another result of the mismanagement of the justice reform – no solution is in sight.

The bottomline is that the “die has been cast.” The former opposition MPs have no legal possibility to undo their resignation, and to suggest, as some members of the European Parliament mission to Albania just did, that the candidates lower on the list could take over their seats and form a “new” opposition is simply ridiculous. Thanks to the “closed” list system so often criticized by the OSCE, only the top of each candidate list actually consists of realistic MPs. The lower you go, the less qualified (or poorer, or weaker, or less criminal) the candidate. Without a network within their party or in their electoral zones, these “new” opposition MPs would immediately be ejected from their party if they assumed their seat, resulting in a Parliament filled for 50% by unqualified parliamentary zombies without party support. None of this is a realistic solution to the current situation.

Yet Fleckenstein somehow found it in him to say: “I am losing my patience with the position of the opposition MPs. The protests should remain peaceful. The images of the protests delay integration.”

First of all, there are no longer any opposition MPs. That is a simple fact. Second of all, this is no longer about integration. The gesture of the opposition clearly showed a calculation in which “obstructing” integration weighed less than leaving the government of Albania to Edi Rama. In short, they no longer care about Fleckenstein’s “patience.” Why would they?

Of course, this must be an enormous hit to the no doubt well-developed ego of Fleckenstein, used as he is to order an entire country around to do his bidding for the sake of integration. But this is the reality of the current Albanian political situation: integration is no longer a priority for the opposition, removing Rama is.

Thus, any appeal – be it from MEPs or EU Ambassador Soreca – that is based on the old tune of integration will no longer work. Instead, they will have to get down and dirty and figure out how the EU itself was able to create the pressures and conditions that have, in part, led to the current political crisis. But such introspection, I think, would be expecting too much.