Last week, EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, in an interview with journalist Sokol Balla, addressed the enlargement of the EU and the possible opening of the accession negotiations for Albania.
In spite of the fact that the EU Council of Ministers emphasized five key priorities that need to be fulfilled before the negotiations can be opened, Ambassador Vlahutin failed to mention this clearly, downplaying their importance:
The Commission has published a positive recommendation, but there is a recommendation, a condition, which is the vetting law and other issues that have to do with the five key priorities. […] In order to open negotiations it is very important that the vetting law is passed.
In response to Balla’s further inquiry, Vlahutin continued to deny their conditionality:
The five priorities will continue to remain with us until the end. […] So there needs to progress, a little bit but apparent. As regards the elections, that has to with democracy. It is not a condition in itself, but we take it for granted, because free and fair elections have to do with the democratic values of a country.
The day after the interview, Prime Minister Rama posted Vlahutin’s comments on his Facebook account, reiterating his opinion that “vetting is the only condition” for the opening of negotiations. This post came several days after he censored a declaration of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his Facebook, removing the parts where she mentioned the fight against corruption, crime, and drugs, and the need for free and fair elections as conditions for the opening of negotiations.
Ambassador Vlahutin’s comments stand in stark contrast with the conclusions of the EU Council of Ministers, where the implementation of the OSCE-ODIHR recommendations in the electoral code are clearly mentioned as part of the five key priorities.
Moreover, these conclusions state clearly that progress on the five key priorities doesn’t only need to be “a little bit but apparent,” as Vlahutin claims, but rather “sustained, comprehensive and inclusive.”
Response from the EU Press Officer
Responding to queries from Exit regarding the conditionality of the opening of accession negotiations, EU Press Officer for Enlargement Evi Liaskou refused to comment on the statements of Ambassador Vlahutin, but confirmed that “As for the Presidency conclusions, I think that they are very clear,” and subsequently highlighted the following passages:
In spite of the progress Albania has shown so far, the five key priorities, which EU Ambassador Vlahutin and Prime Minister Rama has insistently denied are “conditions,” nevertheless need to be fully implemented before the opening of accession negotiations. Thus the opening is conditioned by the implementation of these five priorities, which makes them, logically, conditions.
This raises a problematic point, namely: whom does Ambassador Vlahutin represent? The EU or the Albanian government? How can it possibly be in the interest of the EU to misrepresent the conclusions of the EU Council of Ministers in order to mislead the Albanian population in thinking that accession negotiations are around the corner?
There has been a lot of confusion in the Albanian media as the precise difference between “priorities” and “conditions,” not in the least because the EU representation in Albania contributes to this confusion itself. This confusion, in turn, allows the Albanian government to blame anyone but itself for the indefinite delay of the opening of accession negotiations.
It should be the duty of the EU Ambassador in Albania to emphasize to the Albanian government the many steps that still need to be taken in the fighting of corruption, organized crime, free and fair elections, judicial reform, and the decriminalization of politics – all issues on which Vlahutin has largely remained silent so far.