The Franco-German partnership and lessons for the Western Balkans

The Franco-German partnership and lessons for the Western Balkans

Interview by the Tirana Times with the German and French Ambassadors to Albania, H. E Susanne Schütz and H. E Bernard Fitoussi 1 – This interview is taking place on the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, a treaty of friendship

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Journalist turned Socialist MP faces ‘wealth squad’ over millionaire status

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$1.2 million paid to Jan. 21, 2011 victims

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TIRANA, Jan. 17 – Three members of the Albanian diaspora launched Tuesday a new political movement called Bleta Shqiptare (The Albanian Bee), five months before the upcoming parliamentary elections that will be held on June 18. The founders of the

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                    [post_content] => Interview by the Tirana Times with the German and French Ambassadors to Albania, H. E Susanne Schütz and H. E Bernard Fitoussi 

1 - This interview is taking place on the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, a treaty of friendship between France and Germany signed by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Paris on 22 January 1963, less than two decades after the end of the Second World War. Franco-German partnership has been the bedrock of stability and prosperity in Western Europe ever since. What did this agreement do for Europe in the sense of cementing peace, reconciliation and reconstruction?

[caption id="attachment_130801" align="alignright" width="300"]French Ambassador to Tirana Bernard Fitoussi  French Ambassador to Tirana Bernard Fitoussi[/caption]

French Ambassador Fitoussi:

Less than 20 years after France and Germany had lost millions of people in the most dreadful catastrophe of their history, two heroes drew up an incredible plan, namely to make Franco-German friendship the cement of reconciliation between our two nations and the engine of European hope. The Elysée Treaty stands for a cement of peace and an engine of prosperity.

One of the fruits of this treaty is the Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO). In concrete terms, more than eight million young Germans and young French people have crossed the Rhine since 1963 to live in the neighbouring country for a few weeks. My own children experienced this adventure. This is undoubtedly the only case in history where a treaty has genuinely and profoundly changed the mentalities of entire generations. The Western Balkans have now decided to carry out a similar experiment by creating the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans (RYCO). This is a historical opportunity.

For more than 50 years, the Elysée Treaty has withstood all tensions and changes. During each period, a French President and a German Chancellor worked side by side. Franco-German friendship was thus able to face the greatest challenges after the fall of the Berlin Wall. German reunification and the reconstruction of Europe were gradually made possible thanks to the power of this friendship.

German Ambassador Schütz: 

[caption id="attachment_130800" align="alignright" width="300"]German Ambassador to Tirana Susanne Schütz German Ambassador to Tirana Susanne Schütz[/caption]

I would like to add that in my view it is a very good tradition to commemorate the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, as this provides us with an occasion to reflect on what has been possible and which great achievements have been accomplished in the past decades. Since the signing of the Treaty, the partnership between our two countries has become one of the cornerstones of European stability. The secret of the strength of the Franco-German engine within the European Union is that our governments work very closely together to establish common positions, which then very often serve as a basis for EU positions shared by all EU member states. The fact that France and Germany, as long-standing “sworn enemies”, were able to develop such a close friendship and partnership shows that nearly everything is possible through diplomacy and the will to overcome obstacles and prejudices.

 

2 - In essence, the same Franco-German partnership remains the engine that keeps the European Union going today. What does this partnership look like today?

German Ambassador: 

Our partnership is strong, dynamic and vibrant. And this is also necessary because we are facing many challenges in the world today. The Elysée Treaty became a foundation for intensive bilateral cooperation in politics, the economy, culture and society. Our cooperation is multifaceted and very concrete, with our governments meeting regularly in the Franco-German Ministerial Council and taking joint decisions on crucial issues for our countries. 

To give you just a few examples: since 2014 we have been working closely together in the framework of the Normandy format to tackle the Ukraine crisis. Other joint initiatives by our governments include a joint visit by our Foreign Ministers to Mali and the Niger in the framework of the EU Migration Partnership to address the root causes of migration. And the first Franco-German Embassy in the world, which will serve as a joint workplace for German and French diplomats, is currently being built in Bangladesh. 

In the face of the terrorist attacks that have hit both our countries, we are liaising closely to counteract the threat of terrorism. Of course, our economies are also closely interconnected and our Ministries of Labour are currently working on an action plan aimed at further enhancing labour mobility in our two countries. Our nations are also intertwined when it comes to culture, where we enjoy exchange on all levels. Since 1963, more than eight million young people have participated in exchanges organised by the FGYO. There are around 4,300 Franco-German school partnerships; some 2,200 towns are twinned; and of course French and German universities work closely together. In 2003, our governments also set up a bilateral cultural fund, which supports dozens of Franco-German cultural projects in various countries each year. And let’s not forget ARTE, the Franco-German television channel that was founded in 1991! All these activities show that our bilateral cooperation has a very special and wide-ranging quality of its own.

French Ambassador: 

As Susanne has just described in concrete terms, this Franco-German engine works every day. When an event occurs in the world, a French diplomat’s automatic response is to ask “What does Berlin think?” This means that French and German diplomats think simultaneously about the interests of their country and of the Franco-German relationship.

We confront major events, such as those that occur in daily diplomatic life, in constant exchange with each other.


3 - What does the future of the Franco-German partnership look like? Brexit shook the EU, but anti-EU forces have also gained ground politically in both France and Germany. Some fear that one of these forces could come to power, i.e. the French National Front, or play a role in future governments, i.e. Alternative for Germany. Is there a chance this scenario could lead to the collapse of the European Union, and what can be done to make sure that the European project not only survives but also thrives in the face of massive challenges?


French Ambassador:

Franco-German friendship is a major intrinsic fact that lies at the heart of the fundamental values ​​of our two nations. This friendship is not contingent on circumstances. It does not depend on majorities or a particular situation. Any French or German person who intends to participate in the government of their country knows that they will have to live not with, but in the Elysée Treaty.

For French people, Europe is not a diplomatic period like any other – it has become an integral part of our national project. It is true that some aspects, institutions and ways of functioning of the European project can be criticised or reformed, but not its essential spirit. Geography brought us together to make the continent a model of peace, prosperity and respect for human values.

German Ambassador: Without a doubt, the European Union is facing many challenges at the moment. But at the same time, all these challenges prove that the European Union is needed more than ever. Talking about security, migration, economic growth or climate change – to name just some of the pressing issues – it becomes obvious that these issues can only be solved if we work together. The EU is working to promote peace and stability in Europe and around the world through its Common Foreign and Security Policy. The fact that the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 is a recognition that also entails an obligation. By working together, our efforts to help shape tomorrow’s world can have a greater impact than if member states, even large ones such as Germany or France, go it alone.

4 - Let’s move on to some questions focusing specifically on the Balkans. What kind of lessons can be learned from Franco-German history on the benefits of moving from antagonism to friendship, especially keeping in mind that we live in the Balkans, where there was armed conflict just two decades ago? There have been efforts to apply lessons from Franco-German partnership to the region, such as in initiatives like the RYCO. Why are you supporting these initiatives and what is the end goal?

German Ambassador: I think everything my French colleague and I have said so far shows that there are lessons to be learned from Franco-German history and that these lessons might serve as an example for the Balkans. We firmly believe that the European Union remains the largest and most successful peace project since the Second World War – also with a view to the Western Balkans. This is also why our two countries are very active in the region, for example through the Berlin process launched by Germany, France, Austria and Italy in 2014. One of the initiatives within this process was the foundation of the RYCO, which we strongly support. In our view, this provides a unique opportunity to bring the young generation in the region closer together and to overcome prejudices and distrust. The last two years have already shown the benefits of such an initiative, with young people from the six participating countries of the Western Balkans working closely together in a working group to establish the terms and objectives for future cooperation. In the near future, an elected Secretary General will start working in the recently opened office in Tirana, and the first exchange projects will be carried out. The whole process has been monitored and supported by experts from the FGYO and I am happy to see that the experiences of French-German youth exchange and reconciliation work served to inspire the process in the Western Balkans. As Bernard already mentioned, one of the driving forces to achieve this special friendship has been the FGYO, ever since its foundations were laid by the signing of the Elysée Treaty by President de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer. Today’s Franco-German friendship is a friendship not only on the political level, but also a real friendship between nations and people in the sense that many Germans have very close personal ties with people in France and vice versa. This makes friendship between countries tangible and solid. 

French Ambassador:

As my German colleague expresses very well, we believe that the Franco-German example can serve as a role model for our friends in the Western Balkans. In every sense of the word, we ask that you do not follow the bad example of the relations between France and Germany, which were torn apart for centuries, leaving only full cemeteries behind them! Instead, please take the good example of the civilising invention that is the construction of Franco-German friendship, as no one has anything to gain from hatred or rivalry.

Following the summits in Berlin and Vienna, the Paris Summit between the EU and the Western Balkans held last July has led to concrete results: roads, railways and energy networks are being built at this very moment thanks to the Berlin process, which is rooted in a process initiated in Brdo-Brioni.

5 - Since we are speaking about the region’s EU membership bid, there is growing concern that the region is moving backwards rather than forwards and that an EU in crisis will mean membership will take another decade or two, if it takes place at all. From the German or French position this timetable might be fine, but it will be of great cost to progressive pro-EU forces in the region. Are the EU, and its key members, which you represent, applying more stringent criteria for the Western Balkans than they did for Bulgaria and Romania, as some believe? If so, is that fair?

French Ambassador:

Since at least 2003 and the Summit of Thessaloniki, France and Germany have made a firm commitment to integrating the countries of the Western Balkans into the European Union. There has not been a year since then without a politician, whether German or French, reiterating this commitment. Procedures, experts and significant amounts of money have been put in place to help these countries make their way towards EU membership.

Both France and Germany recognise the remarkable efforts made by Albania, for example regarding progress on the implementation of the rule of law. I know that, seen from Tirana, the road may seem long, but the dictatorship was abolished only 26 years ago. From one of the poorest countries in the world, Albania is now an emerging economy.

I understand Albania’s impatience as a sign of great interest in the EU, which is perhaps a little lacking in old Europe at times. But I say to our Albanian friends that I do not believe in the possibility of a reversal. What counts is not the date of arrival, which no one knows, but rather the fact that the country is continuing to advance, with its German and French friends at its side.

German Ambassador: 
Our countries are sticking to their firm commitment to the prospect of EU membership for all the Western Balkan countries if they so desire and if they meet the prerequisites. And we can see very clearly in Albania that the prospect of EU membership has so far been an important incentive for the implementation of tough but necessary reforms, e.g. in the justice sector. Much progress has been made in the past years. Albania was awarded candidate status in 2014 and is now striving to launch accession talks. But for all of these steps, clearly defined criteria must be met. And we can assure you that the German Government stands ready to support Albania and the other countries in the region in taking the necessary steps to move closer to EU membership. This is also in our own interest, as the Western Balkans are an integral part of Europe.

6 - Franco-German partnership during the Cold War had the financial and security backing of the transatlantic partnership, while the Balkans now face a growing Russian influence that does not necessarily want Albanian and Serbs to follow the same model. The recent presidential elections in the US bring a lot of uncertainty. Are Germany and France willing to continue taking a leading role in the region as they have done in recent years?

German Ambassador: The European Union is more important than ever and Chancellor Merkel has just said that it is Europe’s responsibility to shape its own future. The Franco-German partnership will remain a strong foundation for the European Union – a project of peace and common values. The past years have shown that our commitment to the region is constantly growing. The Berlin process launched in 2014 reaffirms this commitment. This series of five summits planned until 2018 will bring together the Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ministers for Economic Affairs of all Western Balkans countries, as well as all relevant stakeholders from the European Union and international institutions. The objectives of the Berlin process are to highlight the substantial progress achieved in the region, to reconfirm and reinforce the prospects of all countries in the region joining the EU, and to accelerate reforms, enhance economic opportunities and encourage cooperation in the region. But apart from the Berlin process, our countries remain active in the region through a broad variety of activities, ranging from substantial development cooperation to support and assistance in the ongoing transformation of the political systems, economies and societies in the region. Peaceful, stable, and democratic Western Balkan countries are in the strategic interest of the European Union.

French Ambassador:

In a world that is changing so fast, there never are many certainties, so those that remain must be preserved. Franco-German friendship, the European project and our support for the European integration process of the Western Balkans are among these few certainties.

That is why we are convinced that the civilising model of the Elysée Treaty is also the best example for our friends in the Western Balkans. It is the only one that rejects internal archaic temptations and useless external pressures. It is the right path to peace, prosperity and the defence of human values.
                    [post_title] => The Franco-German partnership and lessons for the Western Balkans
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 16 – Albania’s High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets has launched a probe on the wealth of Socialist Party MP and former journalist Alfred Peza after the news of his US$1 million in assets made headlines this week.

Peza, who is also the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Media Committee, said that he and his wife, Mirela Ndini, who is a specialist at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “saved money through the years” and bought US$1 million in shares from a second tier bank.

In a press release, HIDAA said that its auditors will investigate Peza’s assets as well as their origins, with particular focus on the conflict of interest.

“The collection of data and information, verification and the administrative investigation will also extend to the family members, his wife, children and related persons,” HIDAA said in a press release.

The news was welcomed by the country’s opposition parties, which claim that Peza’s assets are only “the tip of the iceberg of corruption.”

A spokesperson of Democratic Party said Monday that Peza’s wealth accumulated in such a short time is a signal that shows how politics make people wealthy.

“This scandal reveals the extent of corruption amidst the ruling majority. Peza’s billions are a visible part of the billions that MPs, ministers and people close to Edi Rama have benefited since they came into power.” DP’s spokeswoman, Ina Zhupa said in a press conference.

“If Alfred Peza got rich in few years, you can only imagine how rich Ilir Beqaj, Damian Gjiknuri, Saimir Tahiri, Arben Ahmetaj, the mayor of Tirana Erjon Veliaj and Prime Minister Edi Rama truly are,” she added.

Prime Minister Rama also commented the news of Peza’s wealth saying that “Peza’s revenues were not increased after he entered politics” and that accusations against him “are politically biased.”

The former journalist and Socialist Party MP did not deny the purchases of shares of Credins Bank. He claimed that authorities have audited his wealth and assets and assured that neither him or his wife have abused public funds.

Peza said that he was ready to collaborate with HIDAA and encouraged authorities to investigate in a similar fashion all MPs, mayors and officials that might have benefited from public funds.

A survey published last year by South-East European Partnership for Media Development shows that in Albania there are three levels of salaries for journalists, depending on their position, media, and location. Data shows that the best paid journalists have an average salary of 550-600 USD, the second level reaches 450-500 USD, while the lowest level media pay their journalists an average of 300 USD per month. Another survey confirms this situation: 65% of journalists have a monthly salary of 400-700 USD.

 
                    [post_title] => Journalist turned Socialist MP faces 'wealth squad' over millionaire status
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 18 – Government of Albania has approved a 1.2 million USD fund for the compensation of the families of four protesters killed in the anti-government protest that took place on Jan. 21, 2011.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved the fund based on a request made by the Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri in the sixth anniversary of the 2011 protestwhen Guard of Republic officers shot and killed four protesters at the rally.

Minister Tahiri argued that the Guard of the Republic is obliged to provide financial compensation to victims’ families.

The four men were shot dead during the anti-government rally on January 21, 2011 organized by the Socialist Party and its allies. The protest according to former Prime Minister Sali Berisha was an 'opposition attempt to foment an Arab Spring-style uprising.'

Six years on, none of six guards initially investigated for the murder is in jail and the Supreme Court close the case causing anger among relatives of the victims.

They said that they were not going to abandon their efforts to find justice and would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The head of the Republican Guard at the time, General Ndrea Prendi, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 1 year in prison. The former chief of staff of a special unit of the Guard Agim Llupo, was sentenced to three years in jail.

However the two men were immediately released after spending the same amount of time in detention.

The prosecutor’s office asked a sentence of 23 years in prison for Prendi and 25 years for Llupo and appealed the ruling. The high court took more than two years to reach a decision and in April 2016, decided to reject the appeal and close the case.

 
                    [post_title] => $1.2 million paid to Jan. 21, 2011 victims
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130791" align="alignright" width="300"]Shenasi Rama  Shenasi Rama[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 17 – Three members of the Albanian diaspora launched Tuesday a new political movement called Bleta Shqiptare (The Albanian Bee), five months before the upcoming parliamentary elections that will be held on June 18.

The founders of the movement are Shenasi Rama, a distinguished former activist from the 1990s student movement, Grid Rroji, a former United Nations employee in New York and Valentina Karanxha, a former student who participated in the anti-communist protests in the early 90s.

During the launch ceremony, the founders of the Albanian Bee presented a manifesto calling for the ‘establishment of a modern state based on the rule of law’ and urged Albanians to be more active in pushing Albania towards a better future.

Shenasi Rama who worked as a political science professor at Columbia University in New York told reporters that situation in Albania is critical. He appealed to people of Albania to get together and get the country out of the situation.

“Our country has been governed by people who have stolen and forced Albanians to immigrate. We have to stop this from happening" he said at the launch.

Grid Rroji expressed regret that three decades after the fall of Communism, Albania has failed ‘to establish itself as a successful democracy.” He criticized the existing political class for “not securing a normal dignified life for the people.”

The third founder, Valentina Karanxha addressed the launch via Skype and underlined that the Albanian Bee manifesto is a “wake up call for Albanians.”

Albanian Bee is the third political movement launched in the past 12 months. Last November, former Socialist Party MPs Ben Blushi and Mimoza Hafizi founded the a new political party called Libra.

In January, the former chairman of Albania’s Power Corporation (KESH) Gjergj Bojaxhi formed the anti-establishment party called Sfida.

In the previous parliamentary elections of June 2013, a total of 68 parties and coalitions registered at the Central Election Commission. Despite the entrance of new parties, Albania’s new political scene, served as a battleground primarily between the two main ones, which have alternated in government since the fall of Communism.

The Socialists-led coalition 'Alliance for a European Albania' won the 2013 parliamentary elections and 2015 local elections. The coalition comprised of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), the Union for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDK).

The opposition coalition, the 'Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration', comprised of the Democratic Party, the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU) and the Republican Party (PR). Both coalitions ran on similar platforms, promising job creation, economic development and tax reform, and a shared vision to 'join Europe'.

The Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU) later quit the opposition and joined forces with the ruling coalition earning several government posts.
                    [post_title] => New political movement launches as election looms
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            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130787
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:27:59
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 10:27:59
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan.19 – Several Albanian politicians have traveled to Washington this week to attend events tied to the inauguration of Donald Trump's as the 45th President of the United States. 
Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, Opposition Leader Lulzim Basha, Minister Blendi Klosi, Socialist Party lawmaker Ervin Bushati will be in Washington for the affair. Albanian Ambassador Floreta Faber will be the official representative of Albania at the event, according to U.S. officials.

Basha, leader of Albania's center-right opposition, is using the trip to meet with several Republican officials. 
“I will go to the United States of America to attend the inauguration of President Donald Trump with an invitation of the National Republican Committee and the majority in the U.S. Senate,” Democratic Party chairman Basha said in a Facebook post.

Several media outlets reported that tickets to the inauguration of U.S President elect Donald Trump cost 500 USD each and even hinted that some politicians had ‘bought’ themselves an invitation.
Furthermore, a news report by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network revealed that the Socialist Movement for Integration has agreed to pay U.S. lobbyists McKeon Group 15,000 US dollars per month for six months to obtain invitations for LSI leaders to attend the inauguration and organize meetings with other political leaders during the visit.
McKeon Group based in Washington is led by former Republican Congressman Howard P "Buck" McKeon.

In a televised interview, Speaker Meta was asked to comment the news story and he said that “he does not pay attention to Soros Media.”
“I do not want to deal with media owned by or close to Soros. Socialist Movement for Integration is a very transparent political party that abides to Albanian laws first and then U.S. and European laws. Everyone who is interested can investigate the matter further,” he said.

According to BIRN reports, the Socialist Movement for Integration has spent 123,761 US dollars in the first six months of 2016 for the lobbying services of Global Security and Innovative Strategies which facilitated SMI meetings with high level officials and members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Blendi Klosi and Ervin Bushati are the only representatives of the Socialist Party to attend the inauguration ceremony. Prime Minister Edi Rama who is in an official visit to Singapore will not attend the ceremony.

Last year, Albanian Prime Minister made bitter public statements about the then U.S. Presidential republican candidate Donald Trump.
“I pray to God so that the American people would not elect him as president. Because if this were to happen, it would cause a great harm to the United States and it would be a serious threat to the US-Albanian relations,” he said.

                    [post_title] => Albanian politicians head to Washington for Trump’s inauguration
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                (
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                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:25:43
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 10:25:43
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 19 – Albania and Russia are looking for a fresh start in relations, as preparations to establish an intergovernmental commission for commerce, economic and scientific cooperation take shape as a first step. 

Work on the commission was made public by the Russian embassy in Tirana.
Russian Ambassador Aleksander Karpushin met with the Albanian deputy minister for economic development, commerce and enterprise, Adela Karapici, in order to discuss about the coming session of the Intergovernmental Commission, the first time since 2009 that such process takes time between the two countries. 

The meeting focused on the need for resuscitating the economic relations between the two countries, by elevating them in a different level. This would benefit the well-being of the citizens of both Russia and Albania, according a statement by the Russian embassy. 
Last year the Russian ambassador to Tirana also expressed high hopes for the Russia – Albania intergovernmental commission, which was scheduled to be held in 2016, but nothing came of it.

Recently, the Albanian Minister of Culture Mirela Kumbaro made a visit to St. Petersburg during the 5th International Cultural Forum. During her visit, she signed a program for the Albanian-Russian cultural cooperation in the next two years, 2017-2019.
Kumbaro’s visit and the meeting for the intergovernmental commission have passed in silence from the Albanian Government. On contrary, the Russian authorities have given ample space to these two events.

In the past months, the Russian ambassador has expressed Moscow’s willingness to organize a visit of Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama to Moscow.
All of this activity comes in the moments when political analysts and European politicians say that Russia’s influence in the Balkans is steadily growing. Rama has repeatedly emphasized this fact by demanding from the European Union to step up the integration process for the Western Balkans, before it is too late. 
The meeting in St. Petersburg and the intergovernmental commission shows that Albania is not shy of further developing the relations with Russia, according to experts with the Albanian Institute for International Studies. 

AIIS experts add that Albania should have a 360-degree foreign policy and work together with Russia in areas of common interest, just like EU countries like France and Germany do, keeping in mind not to compromise strategic imperatives in its Transatlantic partnerships.

Albania has supported the sanctions that the European Union has imposed against Russia because of the intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The relations between the two countries have been controversial in the last 25 years, with a lot of ups and downs. Albania has shown a reluctance to develop further relations with Russia.
The two countries have a past history of very close relations in the decades after the Second World War. The Soviet Union had an enormous influence in the economic development of Albania in the 1950s and 1960s of the past century. 


The Russian language was regularly taught in the Albanian schools at that period and a lot of young Albanians went to study in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
                    [post_title] => Tirana and Moscow look for fresh start
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                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:20:55
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 10:20:55
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan.18 – The head of OSCE Presence in Albania Bernd Borchardt has warned that there is not sufficient time for the application of technology in the upcoming parliamentary elections that will be held on June 18.

In a televised interview on Tuesday said that e-voting and e-counting has certain priorities but also several shortcomings.

“Electronic voting is a very complex process that requires thorough planning as well as an intensive campaign for voters awareness,” Borchard said.

The OSCE diplomat dismissed claims of Albania’s opposition parties that e-voting, e-counting and biometric voter identification can be put in motion in the June elections.

“Before the 2013 elections, the former opposition parties demanded e-voting few months before the elections. At the time, OSCE suggested that the country needed more time to prepare for the introduction of technology. We are now facing the same situation, and ever since October 2016 we have told parties that e-voting requires more time,”Borchard said.

The head of OSCE Presence said he was skeptical about the application of a system which “would need to transmit data from remote areas to the central servers in Tirana without prior and thorough testing.”

Borchard recalled that Germany banned e-voting based on a decree by the Constitutional Court following concerns on transparency of voters.

“E-voting not necessarily generates trust,” Borchard said adding that the system requires a preliminary trust between all actors in the administration of elections.

“If all challenges are not addressed, than the public trust on election results will be weak,” Borchard warned.

He called on Albania to respect the basic principles of democracy and highlighted that OSCE ODIHR “can not recommend a specific system to any country” because “it is the exclusive right of Albanian authorities to decide on the best available model.”

Last week, the Democratic Party walked out of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Electoral Reform, following debates over the demands for the application of technology in the parliamentary elections. Members of the opposition accused the government of not favoring e-voting which according to them “guarantees the accuracy of vote.”

Members of the Socialist Party called on OSCE ODIHR to provide an opinion on whether e-voting is applicable at the current time. The co-chairman of the committee, Democratic Party MP Oerd Bylykbashi opposed the request saying that OSCE ODIHR must be asked on how “e-voting and e-counting can be done at the current state.”

Democratic Party has made e-voting and e-counting as one of its main conditions for the parliamentary elections of June 18.

 
                    [post_title] => OSCE: No more time for electronic voting
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                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:17:37
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_124193" align="alignright" width="300"]Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan.16 - Albanian opposition parties signed Monday a memorandum laying out five key conditions for their participation on the parliamentary elections due on June 18.

“Biometrical identification of votes, electronic voting and counting is a nonnegotiable condition for the opposition ,” the memorandum signed by 22 political parties including the chairman of Union for Human Rights Party Vangjel Dule, reads.

In addition, opposition parties led by the center right Democratic Party, DP seek the implementation of the decriminalization law approved in Parliament. They insist on the expulsion of candidates with criminal record from the electoral process and the introduction of penalties for vote rigging and manipulation.

The opposition also demands a ban in the use of public administration funds for electoral campaigns.

The ruling majority and opposition parties are divided on the issue of electronic voting. The Socialist Party-led coalition claims that the implementation of an electronic system in the parliamentary elections is impossible five months before the elections.

According to the governing coalition, technology is not “ultimate key to free and fair elections”

Earlier this week, Taulant Balla, Socialist Party MP and co-chairman of the Ad-Hoc committee on electoral reform called on OSCE ODIHR to provide an opinion on the required changes to electoral legislation and whether the use of technology is implementable at the current stage.

In the 2013 parliamentary elections, authorities attempted to introduce electronic voting in a pilot project in the electoral units of Tirana and Fier.

Albania spent millions of Euros for the application of technology in the two regions, but the pilot project failed.

 
                    [post_title] => Opposition parties set electronic vote as condition for elections
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                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:15:00
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125008" align="alignright" width="300"]Prime Minister Edi Rama  Prime Minister Edi Rama[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan.17 – Prime Minister Edi Rama is convinced of a Socialist Party victory in the parliamentary elections of June 2017.

Addressing the 25th anniversary of the youth organization of Socialist Party, FRESH, Rama said that the left wing party is “bigger not just in numbers but also in terms of people’s trust.”

During his speech at the ceremony, the Socialist Party leader praised government reforms but failed to mention the name of his junior coalition ally, Socialist Movement for Integration sparking speculations over a possible “freeze” between the two allies.

“Your vote is worth it when Albania managed to increase wages and reduce public debt. A vote for Socialist Party did this. People must vote for the Socialist Party to benefit from a better politics,” Rama said, hinting that the Socialist Party can win parliamentary elections without Socialist Movement for Integration.

During his speech, Rama drew comparisons between the Democratic Party chairman Lulzim Basha and current mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, hinting that the capital is better governed under the Socialist Party administration.

“How is it better to vote for a former mayor who slept during office hours instead of a mayor who starts working at 6.30 AM” Rama said. “It is a clear choice between the future and the past. Those who look into the future, have no other choice besides the Socialist Party,” he added.

The absence of Socialist Movement for Integration chairman Ilir Meta during the celebrations was perceived as a show of discontent over Rama’s decision to include the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity in the coalition without asking the opinion of SMI.

Recently, Prime Minister Rama warned of “three heads of the ruling coalition” while Minister Ylli Manjani responded to the statement saying that “SMI came to power with the Socialist Party and not with PJIU’s chairman Shpetim Idrizi.”

Political experts in the country have warned of a possible freeze between the two coalition parties which joined forced during the parliamentary elections of 2013. Some even hint that the ruling coalition between the two left wing parties has come to an end and the Socialist Party hopes to win elections with PJIU instead.

 
                    [post_title] => Rama ‘convinced’ of Socialist victory in 2017 election
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                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:11:52
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                    [post_content] => PRISHTINA, Jan. 17 – A major crisis between Kosovo and Serbia erupted this week, after Special Forces stopped a Serbian train bearing signs that read “Kosovo is Serbian” and Serbia’s national colors at the border between the two Balkan countries.

The slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" was written in 20 languages, while the train traveling the new service line from Belgrade to Mitrovica North was decorated with images of Serbian Orthodox religious icons, some from monasteries located in Kosovo. Train hostesses were also dressed in Serb national colors.

Kosovo authorities said the train was illegal and was banned from entering Kosovo. The train which later returned to Belgrade sparked a war of words and threats of igniting a new conflict in the fragile Balkans region.

Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic said that the fact that Kosovo deployed special forces to prevent the train from entering the country showed that “Prishtina wanted war.” He claimed that the train was “simply a celebration of its national heritage.”

The former member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party also warned that Belgrade would send its troops into Kosovo.

"We don't want war, but if it is necessary to protect Serbs from being killed, we will send an army to Kosovo. We will send soldiers; we'll all go. I'll go, and it won't be the first time that I go [to defend Serbs]. Serbia will act in line with the Serbian Constitution” he said after a cabinet meeting held on January 15.

Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa said in a press conference that the train “sent a message of occupation.”

He added that Nikolic’s statements were irresponsible but also “a threat to Kosovo and to Balkans.”

“We do not want to respond to that threat with the same language. We are interested in living in good neighborly relations with Serbia” Mustafa said.

President Hashim Thaci said that the train was donated by Russia. He accused Serbia of trying to provoke Kosovo and also “ creating a pretext for Belgrade to use the military and annex a part of Kosovo similarly to Crimea peninsula.”

"This train which was donated by Russia, first aims to help carve away the northern part of Kosovo and then ... attach it to Serbia. It is the Crimea model," Thaci said in an interview with Reuters.

Meanwhile, United States ambassador in Prishtina, Greg Delawie took to social media and called “for restraint from all parties.” “Normalization between Serbia and Kosovo is needed not confrontation” he said in a tweet.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, also called on both countries to “avoid escalation.”

“My message to the parties has been to avoid escalations, try to contain both acts and rhetoric, and try to see the common engagement through the dialogue as something that is delivering for both - not necessarily so much for both institutions but for both people - because the steps we have taken with Belgrade and with Pristina last year are somehow historical,” Mogherini said on Monday during a press conference in Brussels.

Mogherini urged both sides to continue the dialogue and be determined in the perspective of EU integration.

Both countries are seeking European Union membership. Serbia has already been granted candidate status, while Kosovo still awaits visa liberalization.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated recently following the detention of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in France, based on a Serbian arrest warrant over allegations of wrongdoing in a 1998-99 war. Haradinaj was cleared twice by the Hague tribunal of charges, but Serbia has insisted on his extradition.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but over 50,000 ethnic Serbs living in Northern Mitrovica still refuse to accept the independence of Kosovo and demand to be governed by Belgrade.
                    [post_title] => Promo train deteriorates relations between Serbia and Kosovo
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            [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:51:23
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            [post_content] => Interview by the Tirana Times with the German and French Ambassadors to Albania, H. E Susanne Schütz and H. E Bernard Fitoussi 

1 - This interview is taking place on the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, a treaty of friendship between France and Germany signed by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Paris on 22 January 1963, less than two decades after the end of the Second World War. Franco-German partnership has been the bedrock of stability and prosperity in Western Europe ever since. What did this agreement do for Europe in the sense of cementing peace, reconciliation and reconstruction?

[caption id="attachment_130801" align="alignright" width="300"]French Ambassador to Tirana Bernard Fitoussi  French Ambassador to Tirana Bernard Fitoussi[/caption]

French Ambassador Fitoussi:

Less than 20 years after France and Germany had lost millions of people in the most dreadful catastrophe of their history, two heroes drew up an incredible plan, namely to make Franco-German friendship the cement of reconciliation between our two nations and the engine of European hope. The Elysée Treaty stands for a cement of peace and an engine of prosperity.

One of the fruits of this treaty is the Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO). In concrete terms, more than eight million young Germans and young French people have crossed the Rhine since 1963 to live in the neighbouring country for a few weeks. My own children experienced this adventure. This is undoubtedly the only case in history where a treaty has genuinely and profoundly changed the mentalities of entire generations. The Western Balkans have now decided to carry out a similar experiment by creating the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans (RYCO). This is a historical opportunity.

For more than 50 years, the Elysée Treaty has withstood all tensions and changes. During each period, a French President and a German Chancellor worked side by side. Franco-German friendship was thus able to face the greatest challenges after the fall of the Berlin Wall. German reunification and the reconstruction of Europe were gradually made possible thanks to the power of this friendship.

German Ambassador Schütz: 

[caption id="attachment_130800" align="alignright" width="300"]German Ambassador to Tirana Susanne Schütz German Ambassador to Tirana Susanne Schütz[/caption]

I would like to add that in my view it is a very good tradition to commemorate the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, as this provides us with an occasion to reflect on what has been possible and which great achievements have been accomplished in the past decades. Since the signing of the Treaty, the partnership between our two countries has become one of the cornerstones of European stability. The secret of the strength of the Franco-German engine within the European Union is that our governments work very closely together to establish common positions, which then very often serve as a basis for EU positions shared by all EU member states. The fact that France and Germany, as long-standing “sworn enemies”, were able to develop such a close friendship and partnership shows that nearly everything is possible through diplomacy and the will to overcome obstacles and prejudices.

 

2 - In essence, the same Franco-German partnership remains the engine that keeps the European Union going today. What does this partnership look like today?

German Ambassador: 

Our partnership is strong, dynamic and vibrant. And this is also necessary because we are facing many challenges in the world today. The Elysée Treaty became a foundation for intensive bilateral cooperation in politics, the economy, culture and society. Our cooperation is multifaceted and very concrete, with our governments meeting regularly in the Franco-German Ministerial Council and taking joint decisions on crucial issues for our countries. 

To give you just a few examples: since 2014 we have been working closely together in the framework of the Normandy format to tackle the Ukraine crisis. Other joint initiatives by our governments include a joint visit by our Foreign Ministers to Mali and the Niger in the framework of the EU Migration Partnership to address the root causes of migration. And the first Franco-German Embassy in the world, which will serve as a joint workplace for German and French diplomats, is currently being built in Bangladesh. 

In the face of the terrorist attacks that have hit both our countries, we are liaising closely to counteract the threat of terrorism. Of course, our economies are also closely interconnected and our Ministries of Labour are currently working on an action plan aimed at further enhancing labour mobility in our two countries. Our nations are also intertwined when it comes to culture, where we enjoy exchange on all levels. Since 1963, more than eight million young people have participated in exchanges organised by the FGYO. There are around 4,300 Franco-German school partnerships; some 2,200 towns are twinned; and of course French and German universities work closely together. In 2003, our governments also set up a bilateral cultural fund, which supports dozens of Franco-German cultural projects in various countries each year. And let’s not forget ARTE, the Franco-German television channel that was founded in 1991! All these activities show that our bilateral cooperation has a very special and wide-ranging quality of its own.

French Ambassador: 

As Susanne has just described in concrete terms, this Franco-German engine works every day. When an event occurs in the world, a French diplomat’s automatic response is to ask “What does Berlin think?” This means that French and German diplomats think simultaneously about the interests of their country and of the Franco-German relationship.

We confront major events, such as those that occur in daily diplomatic life, in constant exchange with each other.


3 - What does the future of the Franco-German partnership look like? Brexit shook the EU, but anti-EU forces have also gained ground politically in both France and Germany. Some fear that one of these forces could come to power, i.e. the French National Front, or play a role in future governments, i.e. Alternative for Germany. Is there a chance this scenario could lead to the collapse of the European Union, and what can be done to make sure that the European project not only survives but also thrives in the face of massive challenges?


French Ambassador:

Franco-German friendship is a major intrinsic fact that lies at the heart of the fundamental values ​​of our two nations. This friendship is not contingent on circumstances. It does not depend on majorities or a particular situation. Any French or German person who intends to participate in the government of their country knows that they will have to live not with, but in the Elysée Treaty.

For French people, Europe is not a diplomatic period like any other – it has become an integral part of our national project. It is true that some aspects, institutions and ways of functioning of the European project can be criticised or reformed, but not its essential spirit. Geography brought us together to make the continent a model of peace, prosperity and respect for human values.

German Ambassador: Without a doubt, the European Union is facing many challenges at the moment. But at the same time, all these challenges prove that the European Union is needed more than ever. Talking about security, migration, economic growth or climate change – to name just some of the pressing issues – it becomes obvious that these issues can only be solved if we work together. The EU is working to promote peace and stability in Europe and around the world through its Common Foreign and Security Policy. The fact that the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 is a recognition that also entails an obligation. By working together, our efforts to help shape tomorrow’s world can have a greater impact than if member states, even large ones such as Germany or France, go it alone.

4 - Let’s move on to some questions focusing specifically on the Balkans. What kind of lessons can be learned from Franco-German history on the benefits of moving from antagonism to friendship, especially keeping in mind that we live in the Balkans, where there was armed conflict just two decades ago? There have been efforts to apply lessons from Franco-German partnership to the region, such as in initiatives like the RYCO. Why are you supporting these initiatives and what is the end goal?

German Ambassador: I think everything my French colleague and I have said so far shows that there are lessons to be learned from Franco-German history and that these lessons might serve as an example for the Balkans. We firmly believe that the European Union remains the largest and most successful peace project since the Second World War – also with a view to the Western Balkans. This is also why our two countries are very active in the region, for example through the Berlin process launched by Germany, France, Austria and Italy in 2014. One of the initiatives within this process was the foundation of the RYCO, which we strongly support. In our view, this provides a unique opportunity to bring the young generation in the region closer together and to overcome prejudices and distrust. The last two years have already shown the benefits of such an initiative, with young people from the six participating countries of the Western Balkans working closely together in a working group to establish the terms and objectives for future cooperation. In the near future, an elected Secretary General will start working in the recently opened office in Tirana, and the first exchange projects will be carried out. The whole process has been monitored and supported by experts from the FGYO and I am happy to see that the experiences of French-German youth exchange and reconciliation work served to inspire the process in the Western Balkans. As Bernard already mentioned, one of the driving forces to achieve this special friendship has been the FGYO, ever since its foundations were laid by the signing of the Elysée Treaty by President de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer. Today’s Franco-German friendship is a friendship not only on the political level, but also a real friendship between nations and people in the sense that many Germans have very close personal ties with people in France and vice versa. This makes friendship between countries tangible and solid. 

French Ambassador:

As my German colleague expresses very well, we believe that the Franco-German example can serve as a role model for our friends in the Western Balkans. In every sense of the word, we ask that you do not follow the bad example of the relations between France and Germany, which were torn apart for centuries, leaving only full cemeteries behind them! Instead, please take the good example of the civilising invention that is the construction of Franco-German friendship, as no one has anything to gain from hatred or rivalry.

Following the summits in Berlin and Vienna, the Paris Summit between the EU and the Western Balkans held last July has led to concrete results: roads, railways and energy networks are being built at this very moment thanks to the Berlin process, which is rooted in a process initiated in Brdo-Brioni.

5 - Since we are speaking about the region’s EU membership bid, there is growing concern that the region is moving backwards rather than forwards and that an EU in crisis will mean membership will take another decade or two, if it takes place at all. From the German or French position this timetable might be fine, but it will be of great cost to progressive pro-EU forces in the region. Are the EU, and its key members, which you represent, applying more stringent criteria for the Western Balkans than they did for Bulgaria and Romania, as some believe? If so, is that fair?

French Ambassador:

Since at least 2003 and the Summit of Thessaloniki, France and Germany have made a firm commitment to integrating the countries of the Western Balkans into the European Union. There has not been a year since then without a politician, whether German or French, reiterating this commitment. Procedures, experts and significant amounts of money have been put in place to help these countries make their way towards EU membership.

Both France and Germany recognise the remarkable efforts made by Albania, for example regarding progress on the implementation of the rule of law. I know that, seen from Tirana, the road may seem long, but the dictatorship was abolished only 26 years ago. From one of the poorest countries in the world, Albania is now an emerging economy.

I understand Albania’s impatience as a sign of great interest in the EU, which is perhaps a little lacking in old Europe at times. But I say to our Albanian friends that I do not believe in the possibility of a reversal. What counts is not the date of arrival, which no one knows, but rather the fact that the country is continuing to advance, with its German and French friends at its side.

German Ambassador: 
Our countries are sticking to their firm commitment to the prospect of EU membership for all the Western Balkan countries if they so desire and if they meet the prerequisites. And we can see very clearly in Albania that the prospect of EU membership has so far been an important incentive for the implementation of tough but necessary reforms, e.g. in the justice sector. Much progress has been made in the past years. Albania was awarded candidate status in 2014 and is now striving to launch accession talks. But for all of these steps, clearly defined criteria must be met. And we can assure you that the German Government stands ready to support Albania and the other countries in the region in taking the necessary steps to move closer to EU membership. This is also in our own interest, as the Western Balkans are an integral part of Europe.

6 - Franco-German partnership during the Cold War had the financial and security backing of the transatlantic partnership, while the Balkans now face a growing Russian influence that does not necessarily want Albanian and Serbs to follow the same model. The recent presidential elections in the US bring a lot of uncertainty. Are Germany and France willing to continue taking a leading role in the region as they have done in recent years?

German Ambassador: The European Union is more important than ever and Chancellor Merkel has just said that it is Europe’s responsibility to shape its own future. The Franco-German partnership will remain a strong foundation for the European Union – a project of peace and common values. The past years have shown that our commitment to the region is constantly growing. The Berlin process launched in 2014 reaffirms this commitment. This series of five summits planned until 2018 will bring together the Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ministers for Economic Affairs of all Western Balkans countries, as well as all relevant stakeholders from the European Union and international institutions. The objectives of the Berlin process are to highlight the substantial progress achieved in the region, to reconfirm and reinforce the prospects of all countries in the region joining the EU, and to accelerate reforms, enhance economic opportunities and encourage cooperation in the region. But apart from the Berlin process, our countries remain active in the region through a broad variety of activities, ranging from substantial development cooperation to support and assistance in the ongoing transformation of the political systems, economies and societies in the region. Peaceful, stable, and democratic Western Balkan countries are in the strategic interest of the European Union.

French Ambassador:

In a world that is changing so fast, there never are many certainties, so those that remain must be preserved. Franco-German friendship, the European project and our support for the European integration process of the Western Balkans are among these few certainties.

That is why we are convinced that the civilising model of the Elysée Treaty is also the best example for our friends in the Western Balkans. It is the only one that rejects internal archaic temptations and useless external pressures. It is the right path to peace, prosperity and the defence of human values.
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