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Thursday 2 October 2014

Tony Blair to advise next government of Albania

Robert Mendick

Published 19/05/2013 | 12:38

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

TONY BLAIR has agreed to advise the next government of Albania, opening the way for a deal which could be worth millions of pounds.

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Edi Rama, leader of the country’s opposition Socialist Party, announced last week that Mr Blair will act as a consultant, starting next month after elections which Mr Rama is expected to win.

The former prime minister’s role was agreed at a meeting at his office in Grosvenor Square, central London.

Albania hopes to join the European Union and it is likely that Mr Blair’s advice on how to do that as well as how to implement New Labour-style domestic reforms will be high on his agenda.

Mr Rama is popular in Albania and polls indicate that, currently predicted to gain in the region of 49 per cent of the national vote, he is on target to win the election.

Mr Blair’s appointment follows lucrative deals with governments in Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Brazil and Colombia.

He set up his Government Advisory Practice shortly after quitting Downing Street in 2007, enlisting Jonathan Powell, his former chief of staff, and Alastair Campbell, his former director of communications. The Sunday Telegraph understands that the deal with Albania was first negotiated in February when Mr Campbell flew to Tirana, the capital, to promote his bestselling diaries. He is offering the Socialist Party strategic advice in the run-up to the election on June 23.

The agreement to hire Mr Blair and his team was announced last week after a meeting between the former prime minister and Mr Rama, the former mayor of Tirana.

Mr Rama said on Tuesday on Twitter: “An excellent meeting with Tony Blair. We agreed that after June 23, he and his team will work with us for good governance. Fantastic!”

The Socialist Party subsequently issued photographs and video footage of the meeting. In the video, Mr Blair said: “I will be very happy to help you, I am very interested in your country.”

The footage gives a rare glimpse into Mr Blair’s inner sanctum, where he has struck business deals worth tens of millions of pounds since leaving office. The two men stand in front of an Impressionist-style painting while photographs on the mantelpiece show Mr Blair with the world’s elder statesmen, including Nelson Mandela.

In a press statement, a Socialist Party spokesman said: “With Tony Blair and his team we will have on our side a very important partner, with a unique experience and all the right advice to build a successful government and to make a reality of our programme for an Albanian Renaissance.”

A party spokesman refused to say how much Mr Blair’s Government Advisory Practice (GAP) will be paid, although the figure is likely to be several million pounds.

GAP’s contract in Kazakhstan, an oil rich autocratic state, is said to be worth as much as £16 million – a figure Mr Blair’s office disputes, although it refuses to specify what figure it considers correct.

GAP’s contract to advise the state government of Sao Paulo, the economic powerhouse of Brazil’s fast-growing economy, is worth almost £4 million a year.

Mr Blair set up a complex web of companies to channel money from his various business interests after leaving Downing Street.

It is understood that fees earned through GAP, which employs several consultants, are administered through a company called Windrush Ventures. Windrush’s latest accounts show an income of more than £16 million for the year ending March 31 2012 and profits of £3.6 million.

While Mr Blair’s popularity has plummeted in the UK in the wake of the second Iraq war, he is considered a hero in Albania and in neighbouring Kosovo for coming to the aid of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war against Yugoslavia and its then president, Slobodan Milosevic.

It is said that hundreds of ethnic Albanian children in Kosovo are named “Tonibler” in his honour.

According to local media reports, Mr Rama first met Mr Blair in London in June 2010. The next month the Blairs visited Kosovo with Cherie Blair making a detour to Albania as the guest of Rezart Taci, an oil tycoon. She flew on a private jet paid for by Mr Taci to Tirana, where she opened a television station, which the multi-millionaire owns.

Mr Campbell visited Albania in February to promote his political diaries. At the time, he tweeted: “It is very wet. Here for publication of Albanian translation of diaries.”

But local reports suggest Mr Campbell was also helping the Socialist Party prepare for next month’s election.

Endri Fuga, media adviser for the Socialist Party, said: “Campbell is a friend with whom we exchange advice. Campbell does this because he believes in the Left.”

In February Mr Campbell said in an Albanian television interview: “I know Edi Rama well now, and I can tell you that he has a real programme for change. He is a person who understands what we did, from the creation of New Labour, which was a great strategic move. It’s not a secret to tell you that I like Edi Rama very much.”

The admiration is clearly mutual: after last week’s meeting, the Socialist Party described Mr Blair as “the man that transformed the European Left”.

Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, a legacy of nearly 50 years of rule by Enver Hoxha, a communist era hardliner who led the Workers’ Party.

It was the only legal party until the fall of communism, and in 1991 reformed itself as the centre-Left Socialist Party. Mr Rama was not a communist and another hard-Left party has laid claim to Hoxha’s legacy.

Another Briton to achieve cult status in Albania was Sir Norman Wisdom, the late comedian, His comedies were the only Western films allowed to be shown during Hoxha’s dictatorship as he saw them as classic illustrations of the struggle of a proletarian hero against the ruling classes.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “Mr Rama met Tony Blair in London last week. As was accurately reported on Albanian TV, Mr Rama said that if he became PM, he would like Mr Blair’s advice on how to modernise government and implement a reform agenda.

"Mr Blair said that he would be happy to help, as both Albania and the region meant a huge amount to him, the conflict in Kosovo having been an important period in his Premiership. That was the sum total of the discussion about any work that Mr Blair and his team might do there.

"It has also been accurately reported in the Albanian media that Alastair Campbell has been advising the Socialist Party on election strategy.

Telegraph.co.uk

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