Nearly six months after the former British prime minister was announced as an adviser to the Albanian government, he has yet to start work on helping Tirana’s integration into the EU.
“We remain in contact [with the Albanian government] and Mr Blair would of course still be happy to help, as both Albania and the region mean a huge amount to him, but there is no contract,” Cirian Ward a spokesperson for Blair told Balkan Insight.
“Any help would be done at no cost to the Albanian government,” Ward added.
Endri Fuga, a media adviser to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, confirmed that the relationship with Blair had yet to be “institutionalized.”
“We respect Mr Blair for his achievements as prime minister and above all for the positive role he played in the region,” Fuga said. “Prime Minister Rama is in continued contact with Blair and if there will be cooperation we will make it public,” he added.
Although Blair’s popularity in Britain has taken a nosedive since the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war, he is still revered by many Albanians for his forward role in Kosovo.
Together with former US president Bill Clinton, he spearheaded a 78-day NATO air war in 1999 against the forces of the former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The campaign terminated Serbian rule over Kosovo, where the population is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.
On October 4, 2013, Blair landed in Tirana to attend a cabinet meeting with Rama, who presented the former British leader as his newest adviser.
Rama said that Blair had come to Tirana to help set up a “delivery unit”, with the help of the World Bank.
“Prime Minister Blair is at our service personally but totally voluntarily,” Rama said. “We have discussed with Prime Minister Blair and the World Bank to set our short, medium and long-term priorities,” Rama added.
Blair explained that he would be working together with the World Bank and other donors to strengthen Albania’s reform efforts, and promote the goal of eventual EU membership.
“I am here because I believe in this country, its people and the vision of progress that has been laid down for it,” Blair said.
“The orientation [of Albania] toward Europe is immensely important, and personally I’d love to see this country join the family of European nations,” he added.
After leaving office in 2007, Blair set up his Government Advisory Practice, GAP, securing lucrative deals with governments in Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Brazil and Colombia.
GAP’s contract in oil-rich Kazakhstan alone was said to be worth as much as £16 million (€18.85 million), the British Sunday Telegraph reported on May 19.
According to the same report GAP’s contract to advise the government of Sao Paulo state, the economic powerhouse of Brazil’s economy, is said to be worth almost £4 million a year (€4.7 million).
Blair’s work in Albania was supposed to come through the framework of the Global Network of Delivery Leaders, an initiative agreed in late September after a meeting between Blair, World Bank President Jing Yong Kim and the leaders of Albania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Malawi, and Senegal.
According to the World Bank, the Network provides a peer-to-peer platform for political leaders to collectively share experiences and exchange ideas on how to make sure governments translate their policies into concrete results on the ground.
As the host, the World Bank helps convene the Network and provides support when needed.
Blair was expected to install a team of advisers in each of the countries to improve delivery of public services, ranging from education to vaccination rates of children and building bridges.
However, the delivery unit that was supposed to be set up in Albania with World Bank assistance has yet to materialize.
“Out of the six countries of the Network, we are providing some technical support in Albania and Senegal, where we facilitated the governments in identifying their key development priorities,” said David Theis, a World Bank spokesperson.
“The World Bank does not have a contractual relationship with Tony Blair’s team in any of the of the Global Network countries,” Theis added.(Caption: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at a news conference alongside Albanian Premier Edi Rama | Photo by: Hektor Pustina/AP)