EC to evaluate possible violation of the EU-Albania SAA

Johannes Hahn; Photo: European Council

TIRANA – The European Commission announced in a letter responding to the MEP Paul Rübig of the European People’s Party that it will conduct a general evaluation of publicly-debated, Rama government procurements and those with respect to the construction of the Vlora airport and the establishment of the Air Albania airline in particular.

The answer was given by the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn on behalf of the European Commission, when Rübig raised the question as to what the EC thinks about the concerns raised by the media that Air Albania was created as a public-private partnership outside of the procurement rules and the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which obliges Albania to open public procurements and establish equal terms for European companies and non-European or Albanian companies, writes Tirana Times.

“The Commission is aware of complaints concerning the possible violation of the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with respect to the construction of the airport in Vlora and establishing Air Albania airline. According to the SAA, the award of public contracts on the basis of non-discrimination and reciprocity, in particular in the World Trade Organisation context, is a key objective. The services of the Commission regularly underline this in their discussions with the Albanian authorities,” the EC answer read.

As it points out, the role of the Commission services is to monitor the development of the legal framework in Albania, assessing its compliance with the EU acquis and the commitments undertaken by Albania towards the EU, supporting the Albanian authorities in this process. “While no outright breach of the SAA between the EU and Albania could be established in these checks so far, these cases will, of course, be considered in the overall assessment of Albania’s approximation to the EU acquis. A broader and deeper assessment of the public procurement and competition/State aid framework in Albania is already planned through various technical engagements in the upcoming months.”

The same question was raised about the Vlora Airport, for which the Albanian Parliament, upon the request of Prime Minister Edi Rama, approved an extraordinary law for direct negotiations with several Turkish companies. The deadline set by law for negotiation has expired a long time ago, while the government has not yet disclosed what outcome the negotiations had.

However, the approach followed for reaching this agreement known as the “Special Negotiation Procedure” has raised concerns about direct and unrestricted procurement, bypassing current public procurement laws and public-private partnership, as well as potential violations of the rules of the SAA and World Trade Organization rules.

The Albanian government has so far adopted five special laws that essentially skip the competition and appear to establish direct procurement in violation of the EU Stabilization and Association Agreement and the WTO membership rules. The laws have not brought any consequences so far, but the EU is involved in the debate on two of these four laws – that for the National Theater and the Vlora Airport.