US State Department: “Corruption, lack of transparency continue to hamper business development”

US State Department: “Corruption, lack of transparency continue to hamper business development”

TIRANA, July 13 – The US Department of State published a report on the business climate in the world for 2019 on Thursday, saying for Albania that foreign investors cite corruption, especially in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public

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OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

TIRANA, July 12 – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards

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Court of Appeals rules former DP MP’s arrest was “illegal”

Court of Appeals rules former DP MP’s arrest was “illegal”

TIRANA, July 12 – Shkodra’s Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the arrest of former opposition Democratic Party MP Bardh Spahia on June, was illegal.   Spahia was arrested last month after the protest of a group of opposition supporters

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Socialist gov’t criticized by EC for all-time-high level of PPP contracts

Socialist gov’t criticized by EC for all-time-high level of PPP contracts

TIRANA, July 11 – The European Commission criticized the government for uncontrolled Public-Private Partnership contracts, which have already reached a historic high for Albania – as much as 31 percent of the country’s GDP.  What is more important, the EC

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President speaks against Kosovo absence at Sarajevo’s SEECP

President speaks against Kosovo absence at Sarajevo’s SEECP

TIRANA, July 9 – During the second day of the South-East European Cooperation Project, local and regional media reported Albanian President Ilir Meta publicly reacted to Kosovo’s “forced” absence in the summit.   Meta, who spoke after Turkish President Erdogan and

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Opposition holds another anti-govt protest after local elections

Opposition holds another anti-govt protest after local elections

TIRANA, July 9 – Albania’s opposition held  another peaceful protest on Monday evening, the first after the June 30 local elections, which for Democratic leader Lulzim Basha were “a referendum against evil.”  According to the opposition, low voter turnout, 15

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Lezha prison workers catch drug-carrying drone inside prohibited area

Lezha prison workers catch drug-carrying drone inside prohibited area

TIRANA, July 7 – Albanian police announced on Sunday the first case of an attempt to deliver, with the help of drones, narcotic substances and cell phones inside prison premises. In its announcement, the police said prison workers had spotted

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Police arrest state officers tied to marijuana cultivation in Fier

Police arrest state officers tied to marijuana cultivation in Fier

TIRANA, July 5 – Police said on Friday they arrested two police officers in the city of Fier accused of allowing marijuana cultivation in some of the city’s rural areas.  According to police, “the arrest of two police officers was

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President and EU Ambassador to Albania exchange comments regarding local elections

President and EU Ambassador to Albania exchange comments regarding local elections

TIRANA, July 3 – Following open attacks on the international community and claims the June 30 local elections were manipulated, President Ilir Meta engaged in direct dialogue with Ambassador of the European Delegation, Luigi Soreca, and his comments on the

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EC rejects Dutch request to suspend visa-free travel for Albanians

EC rejects Dutch request to suspend visa-free travel for Albanians

TIRANA, July 3 – The European Commission did not take into account the Dutch request to suspend Albania’s right to free movement to the Netherlands.  The news was originally reported by Tirananews and was subsequently confirmed by EU Ambassador to

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 13 - The US Department of State published a report on the business climate in the world for 2019 on Thursday, saying for Albania that foreign investors cite corruption, especially in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor implementation of contracts as problems that continue in Albania.

In 2016, the Albanian government adopted comprehensive constitutional amendments to reform the country's judicial system and improve rule of law. According to the report, the implementation of judicial reform is ongoing, including the verification of judges and prosecutors for unjustifiable wealth.

While many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed by an unexplained property verification committee or due to alleged relations to organized crime, foreign investors still perceive the investment climate as a problem and say that Albania remains a difficult place to do business.

Investors report ongoing concerns over the fact that regulators use laws and regulations that are difficult to interpret or inconsistent as tools to divert foreign investors and favor politically-tied companies, the report says.

The regulations and laws regulating business activity, the report follows, change frequently and without consultation with the business community; business owners and business associations often point out they have not received enough notice, time or opportunity to engage in changes to regulations and laws. 

Large foreign investors claim there is pressure to hire subcontractors associated with specific policies and express concern about compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act during operation in Albania.

Corruption reports on government procurements are also common, says the DASH report. The increased use of public private partnership contracts (PPPs) has narrowed competition opportunities, including foreign investors, infrastructure and other sectors. Poor cost-benefit analysis and lack of technical expertise in drafting and monitoring PPP contracts are ongoing concerns. By the end of 2018, the government had signed more than 200 PPP contracts.

Property rights, the DASH report continues, remain another challenge in Albania, as it is difficult to obtain a clear title of ownership. There have been cases of individuals manipulating the judicial system to obtain illegal land titles. Compensation for land confiscated by the former communist regime is difficult to achieve and not enough, for the most part. 

The agency in charge of demolishing illegally constructed buildings often operates without full consultations and does not follow the right procedures. 

To attract foreign direct investment and promote domestic investment, the Socialist government adopted a law on strategic investment in 2015. The law sets investment incentives and provides quick administrative procedures for domestic and foreign strategic investors, depending on the size of the investments and the number of jobs created. 

The government also adopted the legislation that creates areas of economic economic development (TEDA), as free trade areas. The development of the first TEDA in Durrës was awarded to a consortium of local companies in August 2017, but only after the tender failed three times. TEDA's development has not yet started, as one of the bidders has rejected the decision in court.

The Transparency International Indicator of Corruption Perception in 2018 ranked Albania at 99th place among 180 countries, a drop of eight points since 2017. Consequently, Albania is now perceived as the most corrupt country in the Western Balkans. While Albania has improved with two countries, bringing it to 63 in the World Bank Doing Business 2019 survey, it continued to be weak in the areas of enforcement of contracts, property registration, construction permits and electricity security.

The Albanian legal system does not seem to discriminate against foreign investors, the report says. The US-Albania Bilateral Investment Agreement, which came into force in 1998, ensures that US investors are treated under the most favored nation clause. The Law on Foreign Investments describes specific protection for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership in most sectors. 

Based on the IMF estimates, the DA report says that gross domestic product in real GDP grew by 4.2 percent in 2018 and growth is expected to fall in 2019 but remains at about 4 percent in the medium term.

The report states that the country received the European Union candidate status in June 2014 and has since asked to open accession negotiations. The EU has encouraged Albania to continue its progress in reforms related to the five main priorities: public administration reform, justice reform, the fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime and the protection of human rights, including persons belonging to minorities as well as property rights.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards in order not to interfere with freedom of expression.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vienna, Harlem Désir, published a statement and analysis of the Draft Law on Media Services in Albania.

“The new legislation should respect the OSCE standards and commitments on freedom of expression and not negatively affect the media freedom in the country," Desir said.

This document estimates the abolition of the previous provisions on registration and blocking of the domain name, and the OSCE welcomed the fact that the changes affect only the media legislation and not the telecommunications legislation.

Désir stressed that blocking or suspension of online publications is considered an extreme measure of the state towards the right to freedom of expression, and is accepted by international standards only in cases of serious violations of other human rights or democratic principles, or other measures can not be implemented.

“My office has been involved in a lengthy consultation process during drafting of this legislation and constructive cooperation with the authorities made numerous improvements. However, further improvements in the law are still needed during parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.

Another positive element, according to the OSCE, is the abolition of the Compliance Committee's competence to determine moral, ethical or professional respect, as well as the abolition of AMA's powers of blocking the media in cases of “violations of the provisions of the law.”

Désir further stressed that “the Audiovisual Media Authority should not replace the independent judiciary or self-regulatory mechanisms for freedom of expression issues,” adding that this also applies to the blocking of content, fines for violations of the law and modalities of the right to respond.

The OSCE Representative noted that AMA's powers regarding "temporary blocking or restricting access to the Internet" could only be applied in three clear cases defined by law: child pornography; encouraging terrorist acts; and national security breaches and when such measures are considered necessary and proportionate, taking into account the existence of a near danger.

Albanian media circles expressed their concern over the government's unobserved approval of a number of legal amendments coming as anti-defamation packages. 

The government said it took this step to avoid false news, bringing regulation into online media services, and electronic publications.

Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj said that Albanian society has recently been disturbed by the spread of fake news that affect the lives and dignity of family members.

"Online platforms are neither transparent nor registered, so laws are being reviewed to avoid misinformation and false news," said Gjonaj.

The government said that with the anti-libel package, it is interfering in the law on audio-visual media, electronic communications and value added tax, and in a child protection decision.

According to her, the intervention provides for swift action on complaints to protect the rights of citizens complaining of fake news and creating a registry with these online media as taxable persons.

But Besar Likmeta, a representative of the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), says Albania does not have massive fake news from the media.

“Our biggest problem is the fake news and propaganda spread by the government, which copies laws from countries with autocratic tendencies like Russia,” said Likmeta.

The government says portraying records serve transparency, avoidance of conflict of interest, inadequate influence of politicians, journalists' independence, and pluralism of the media.

But the representative of the Albanian Media Council, Koloreto Cukali, says the amendments first presented in December were described by international organizations as anti-democratic and it is unknown whether the government changed them or re-approved the same yesterday.

“The fact that it does not consult with media and media representatives shows that the government's goal is to shut down the media online, while the new austerity amendments do not affect the personal online media of its prime minister,” said Cukali.

The government adopted these legal amendments a few days after meeting a mission of seven international media freedom organizations, which reported a deterioration of the Albanian media's state and freedoms.

In their report they called for new measures for compulsory online media registration and the creation of a body to fine-tune and shut down online and foreign media without a court order as steps that contradict the best practices international self-regulation and can have a detrimental impact on freedom of expression and information and freedom of the press in Albania.

"At our meeting with the prime minister, he informed us that an updated version of the amendments project will be made public soon, after international criticism. He stated that in the next draft the possibility of closure would be eliminated and fines would be much lower than they were in the initial project. We welcome these changes and recall international human rights standards that states ‘states should not impose compulsory online media registration as a prerequisite for their work because this can have a very negative effect on media freedom,” said the organizations’ report. 




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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - Shkodra’s Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the arrest of former opposition Democratic Party MP Bardh Spahia on June, was illegal.  

Spahia was arrested last month after the protest of a group of opposition supporters at Shkodra’s Commission of Electoral Administration Zone (KZAZ), located at the “Shejnaze Juka” High School, where he was accused of opposing police officers and damaging election materials.

Spahia was further accused by the police of “destroying property with fire,” “contradiction of police officer,” “threatening one’s duty,” and "disobedience to police orders regarding public safety.” 

Three days after the arrest, Shkodra’s First Instance Court sentenced Bardhi to house arrest, but the Court of Appeals changed this security measure on Thursday into “obligation to appear in front of the court.”

Five more people were arrested for damaging voting material’s at Shkodra’s KZAZ, while 14 other protesters were declared wanted by the police. 

Shkodra was one of the municipalities that recognized President Ilir Meta’s decision to cancel June 30 as the local elections’ date due to their illegitimacy in context of the opposition’s complete withdrawal from the parliament and refusal to participate into what it calls “rigged elections.” 

In this context, Shkodra DP Mayor Voltana Ademi has publicly announced after the local elections took place on June 30 - amind low voter turnout and many irregularities counted - that she would not be “handing in” the municipality to Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. 

Spahia lawyers described his arrest as political, while claiming they would seek compensation for the period spent in detention. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 11 - The European Commission criticized the government for uncontrolled Public-Private Partnership contracts, which have already reached a historic high for Albania - as much as 31 percent of the country’s GDP. 

What is more important, the EC predicts that only in 2019 the government will sign even more PPP contracts, worth as much as 15 percent of GDP.

"PPPs have reached a value of 31 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and are expected to increase by 15 percent in 2019,” the CEC report says. 

In the evaluation report of the fifth economic reform program covering the years 2019-2021, drafted by the Albanian government, the EC emphasizes that the further increase of PPP contracts will also bring an increase in public debt, which is already at a high level (about 70 percent of the GDP). 

The European Commission raises concerns that these contracts are being awarded without making the necessary risk analysis and without making a measurement of the cost-benefit ratio. In doing so, the state could reduce the many fiscal risks that come from these contracts, also highly criticized from other international financial institutions.

In addition, the EC wrote the Albanian government is increasing the award of PPP contracts, but does not add staff that monitors and evaluates these contracts and complex projects. According to the EC, “this means that PPP-related financial obligations are not being fully assessed and statistically recorded.”

The 2018 progress report, published in May 2019, also saw the European Commission criticizing the Rama government for awarding without control, without competition and without transparency PPP contracts. 

The EC criticized the government's approach to accepting any “unsolicited offer” from private companies, which has brought about a reduction in competition between companies during the bidding process - as the company making the unsolicited proposal almost always becomes the winner of the tender, other companies have no interest in participating in the race.

The same concerns about unsupervised and unproved PPPs have been raised earlier by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Their main concerns are the lack of transparency and competition, the lack of risk analysis and the acceptance of unsolicited proposals by private companies, which in most cases are non-for-profit contracts for the state and a burden on public property.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 9 - During the second day of the South-East European Cooperation Project, local and regional media reported Albanian President Ilir Meta publicly reacted to Kosovo’s “forced” absence in the summit.  

Meta, who spoke after Turkish President Erdogan and Montenegrin President Djukanovic, expressed regret that Kosovo representatives were not present because some of the participating states don’t recognize its independence.

"I want to express my regret for the fact that the Republic of Kosovo, our future chairman, was forced not to participate in this Summit. How can we claim to have effective cooperation where some of the participants in this forum do their utmost to exclude a nation and a neighboring state from benefiting from international cooperation and regional projects in such important areas as security, education, culture, etc,” Meta said. 

In this context, he argued that Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was the summit’s host country, should have done its best to ensure Kosovo’s participation and that all other states should work on recognizing independent Kosovo as a reality.

“The Republic of Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state and should be treated with respect, first of all by its own neighbors,” underlined Meta.

Meanwhile, Kosovo actually rejected the invitation to the summit, considering the letter addressed to Bosnian Presidency chairman Milorad Dodik as “denigrating”, as Hashim Thaci was not called President of Kosovo, and Kosovo itself was designated as a footnote, due to some participating countries not recognizing it. 

Right after Meta’s comments, Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic reacted.

“Our hosts do not recognize Kosovo. There are also some representatives who do not recognize Kosovo as a state in this round table. Representatives of Pristina's provisional institutions are not here - this is the attitude Pristina has held towards the region and now it shows how interested the country is,” Brnabic was reported saying. 

Actually, Meta was the only Albanian representative at the summit, as the Albanian foreign Ministry delegation also refused to attend. 

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has said his country didn’t attend the meeting because the invitation sent by the Bosnian presidency chairman Milorad Dodik, the longtime political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, did not treat Kosovo the same as the other participating states.

“Despite willingness to participate in the SEECP, the humiliating call by the current Bosnian presidency chairman prevented me from representing Kosovo at this meeting,” Thaci wrote on Facebook on Saturday.

Thaci said that Kosovo wants equal treatment with other participating countries.

“The behaviour of Bosnia and Herzegovina is unacceptable,” he added.

Albanian Foreign Minister Ghent Cakaj then announced that his country has cancelled its participation in the summit in Sarajevo in solidarity with Kosovo.

Dodik argued however that Kosovo was invited as a neutral entity, as at previous such meetings.

Like Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not recognised the independence of Kosovo, because the Bosnian Serbs oppose it.

The SEECP is intended to help its members get closer European and Euro-Atlantic structures by strengthening good neighbourly relations.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak told local media that the boycott by Kosovo and Albania was “a serious blow to the process of cooperation.” 

Milos Solaja, director of the Center for International Relations, said meanwhile that the boycott was “undermining the credibility of the entire process”.

“Regional initiatives [like the SEECP] are mostly a result of the EU’s desire to accelerate regional cooperation, and hence the EU accession process. But it is obvious that the countries of the region do not have a great desire to cooperate with each other,” Solaja told BIRN.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 9 - Albania’s opposition held  another peaceful protest on Monday evening, the first after the June 30 local elections, which for Democratic leader Lulzim Basha were “a referendum against evil.” 

According to the opposition, low voter turnout, 15 percent according to the Democratic Party but over 22 percent according to the Central Election Commission, were indicative that Albanians are refusing the Socialist government. 

“June 30 went into history as a national day of courage, when Albanians showed that they have the strength to separate from evil, was the day of the people when the Albanians showed that they are against the criminal regime of Edi Rama,” said Basha during his speech to the opposition supporters gathered in front of the PM’s office during the protest. 

The opposition has denounced the manipulation of local elections. A large ballot box, filled with sheets bearing the ‘RAMA IK’ inscription, was the symbolic selection of the opposition to show the ballot rigging that it claims was carried out on June 30.

“He ran himself, voted himself, counted himself and again stole his votes, but could not hide the abandonment and rejection of the people,” said Basha.

The Democratic leader reiterated several times that the battle for Rama’s departure will continue, despite the holding of local elections and Rama’s claims they were legal. 

“Today, Albanians are eager for change, they want a real, non-temporary change, not a fall or a façade, but a change that will put an end to crises and drama of transition, that will put us in the safe path of the EU and Western values. This change will come unless we repeat what we have done in the past. The crisis will be resolved by principles and not by bargaining, ending impunity. Who has brought the country to this point, those who have brought crime into politics will not emerge from the crisis as rescuers but as those responsible. Only this will save the future of the country - justice through law. So I want to say tonight to the world, until real justice comes to those who stole the votes of Albanians along with the crime, will not see a political solution.”

According to Basha, the solution should not be expected from the internationals but from Albanians themselves. 

“Salvation will not come from outside. The solution will not come with magic. Work will not be done by others. On our way we will have the help of friends. In our battles we will not be alone, but the battle is ours,” he stressed. 

Opposition protests took place shortly after parliament approved the establishment of an investigative commission for the dismissal of President Iir Meta in the evening, but in his speech, both at the protest square and at its closure at the headquarters of the Democratic Party, Basha did not mention this latest development.

 
                    [post_title] => Opposition holds another anti-govt protest after local elections 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-07 17:57:20
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-07 15:57:20
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 7 - Albanian police announced on Sunday the first case of an attempt to deliver, with the help of drones, narcotic substances and cell phones inside prison premises.

In its announcement, the police said prison workers had spotted a drone flying within the Shenkolli prison’s prohibited area, approximately 10 kilometers from the city of Lezha. Police forces managed to block the drone in the second outer prison district. During investigation of the object 7 packs on narcotics and three plastic bags were found in the drone’s body, wrapped inside a plastic bag.  

Police arrested three people in relation to this case, all caught inside a car about 1 km away from the prison. During the car’s control,  the drone bag and remote control were found, as well as three additional cell phones.

Those arrested are aged between 25-28, residents of Malesia e Madhe and Shkodra. They are accused by the prosecution for the criminal offenses "Manufacturing and sale of narcotics" and “the introduction or possession of prohibited items in the institution of execution of the imprisonment decisions, remaining in tentative.”

Recent years have seen numerous cases of attempts to introduce drugs and cell phones inside the prison. In March this year, six employees of this prison were suspended from duty for non-compliance with security regulations, which enabled prisoners' family members to put into prison narcotics through food.

 
                    [post_title] => Lezha prison workers catch drug-carrying drone inside prohibited area
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-05 17:55:30
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 5 - Police said on Friday they arrested two police officers in the city of Fier accused of allowing marijuana cultivation in some of the city’s rural areas. 

According to police, “the arrest of two police officers was done after when, abusing their position, they allegedly favored different residents of these villages for the cultivation of narcotic plants in exchange for financial benefits.” 

Police said Operation "Cakrani 2019" for the identification and disposal of some parcels planted with narcotics resulted in the arrest of five other people. 

The Fier First Instance Court charged the detainees, including the chief of Fier’s Cakran village, with imprisonment. Police said it had tracked some parcels planted with narcotic plants or in preparation for planting, while dozens of marijuana seeds were found in the apartments of the arrested.

Marijuana cultivation continues to be widespread in Albania. Criminal groups tend to exploit broken terrains near water areas to plant narcotic plants. Currently, it is the planting stage of seeds in these areas and police have launched operational actions combining information with airborne monitoring. In recent years, the cultivation of marijuana, according to the police itself, has also thrived due to cooperation with police officers who allowed traffickers to cultivate marijuana in return for financial gains. 
                    [post_title] => Police arrest state officers tied to marijuana cultivation in Fier 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-03 19:48:01
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-03 17:48:01
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 3 - Following open attacks on the international community and claims the June 30 local elections were manipulated, President Ilir Meta engaged in direct dialogue with Ambassador of the European Delegation, Luigi Soreca, and his comments on the need for both political sides to start cooperating.

Soreca also stressed that the electoral reform should resume rapidly, and underlined that the implementation of the justice reform is irreversible. 

Meta addressed a number of questions to Ambassador Soreca, concerning whether he had really been in favor of earlier dialogue between the parties and why he had not supported the president’s decision to cancel the elections’ date.

In his Facebook post, Soreca did not mention Meta’s latest public statements on Tuesday, when he said the elections were manipulated and that the international community turned a blind eye to what is happening in Albania, including the prolonged justice reform, but it seems his assessments were a straightforward reaction to Meta’s allegations. 

“It is time for the Albanian government, the opposition and the institutions to show maturity and urgently engage in dialogue to overcome the current political situation. It is also time to move forward with the rule of law reforms,” writes Soreca.

Soreca also emphasized that “the cross-party work on electoral reform must resume rapidly. All Albanian institutions and political leaders should focus their efforts on these goals, in the framework of the important decision of the European Council in October.”

Shortly after the publication of his comments, Meta personally addressed Soreca with a series of questions, where he sought to know whether Mr Soreca was really interested in the dialogue between the parties, and asked if he had taken any concrete initiatives in this regard and why he did not seek the support of the Albanian president.

Meta also seemed to be critical of why his decision to cancel the election date was not supported, or the subsequent decree on the new date on October 13, asking what the ambassador's position was regarding this date although the international community clearly lined up in favor of holding elections on the date set for June 30. 

However, Meta cited the position of two members of the German Bundestag who proposed postponing the election date as an opportunity to open the dialogue.

Meta further said he had made his remarks regarding the work of the EU Delegation in Albania clear to Soreca since he assumed office, consisting of his belief the delegation had not done its maximum to initiate dialogue between the parties. 

During his statement on Tuesday, Meta spoke harshly concerning the implementation of the justice reform which, according to him, was diverted by Prime Minister Edi Rama, while reiterating the allegations of political stances held by the European mission Euralius. 

Meta said he will resume this issue at a later moment, while Soreca wrote that “implementation of the justice reform continues and is irreversible. The focus is now the creation of SPAK and the restoration of the functionality of the Constitutional Court. Once the rigorous re-evaluation process is completed, SPAK will enable Albania to further enhance the fight against corruption and organized crime, while the Court will clarify all outstanding issues regarding constitutional rights, including election issues.”

Soreca also stressed that “the fight against corruption must continue on a daily basis. The prosecution should investigate any suspected corruption form, including electoral violations and vote-buying, pursuant to existing law.”

 
                    [post_title] => President and EU Ambassador to Albania exchange comments regarding local elections 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-07-03 18:13:43
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 3 - The European Commission did not take into account the Dutch request to suspend Albania's right to free movement to the Netherlands. 

The news was originally reported by Tirananews and was subsequently confirmed by EU Ambassador to Tirana Luigi Soreca.

On May 31, the Netherlands urged the European Commission to suspend the free movement of Albanians in the Schengen area. Its main argument was related to Albanians’ high criminality figures.

Robert de Groot, the Netherlands' permanent representative to the European Union, submitted a request to the Euro Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitri Avramopoulos, however, the deadline for reviewing this request is one month and during this period there has been no announcement of possible developments over this request.

A Tirananews.al source reported that the EC decided not to consider the Dutch request. Tirananews quoted a spokesman from the EC saying the conditions to abolish the visa-free regime for Albania have not been met. 

“Following a careful assessment of the content of the notification received by the Netherlands and based on the available information and relevant data, the Commission considers that in the current situation the circumstances to promote the visa suspension mechanism are not met. The Commission will continue to closely monitor compliance with visa liberalization standards for Albania and other countries benefiting from visa-free travel.”

Following this report, the official confirmation came from Soreca, who in his Twitter profile reiterating parts of the quoted circulation in the media.

“It is now time, after this reconfiguration, for Albania to further the significant achievements it made in 2010 and move forward with renewed energy, given the important decision of the EU Council in October,” Soreca added. 

If the EC would approve the Dutch request, free movement for Albanians would be suspended for a period of nine months, a period in which the EC would require Albania to correct the controversial circumstances of the claimant.

 
                    [post_title] => EC rejects Dutch request to suspend visa-free travel for Albanians 
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            [post_date] => 2019-07-14 10:04:31
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, July 13 - The US Department of State published a report on the business climate in the world for 2019 on Thursday, saying for Albania that foreign investors cite corruption, especially in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor implementation of contracts as problems that continue in Albania.

In 2016, the Albanian government adopted comprehensive constitutional amendments to reform the country's judicial system and improve rule of law. According to the report, the implementation of judicial reform is ongoing, including the verification of judges and prosecutors for unjustifiable wealth.

While many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed by an unexplained property verification committee or due to alleged relations to organized crime, foreign investors still perceive the investment climate as a problem and say that Albania remains a difficult place to do business.

Investors report ongoing concerns over the fact that regulators use laws and regulations that are difficult to interpret or inconsistent as tools to divert foreign investors and favor politically-tied companies, the report says.

The regulations and laws regulating business activity, the report follows, change frequently and without consultation with the business community; business owners and business associations often point out they have not received enough notice, time or opportunity to engage in changes to regulations and laws. 

Large foreign investors claim there is pressure to hire subcontractors associated with specific policies and express concern about compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act during operation in Albania.

Corruption reports on government procurements are also common, says the DASH report. The increased use of public private partnership contracts (PPPs) has narrowed competition opportunities, including foreign investors, infrastructure and other sectors. Poor cost-benefit analysis and lack of technical expertise in drafting and monitoring PPP contracts are ongoing concerns. By the end of 2018, the government had signed more than 200 PPP contracts.

Property rights, the DASH report continues, remain another challenge in Albania, as it is difficult to obtain a clear title of ownership. There have been cases of individuals manipulating the judicial system to obtain illegal land titles. Compensation for land confiscated by the former communist regime is difficult to achieve and not enough, for the most part. 

The agency in charge of demolishing illegally constructed buildings often operates without full consultations and does not follow the right procedures. 

To attract foreign direct investment and promote domestic investment, the Socialist government adopted a law on strategic investment in 2015. The law sets investment incentives and provides quick administrative procedures for domestic and foreign strategic investors, depending on the size of the investments and the number of jobs created. 

The government also adopted the legislation that creates areas of economic economic development (TEDA), as free trade areas. The development of the first TEDA in Durrës was awarded to a consortium of local companies in August 2017, but only after the tender failed three times. TEDA's development has not yet started, as one of the bidders has rejected the decision in court.

The Transparency International Indicator of Corruption Perception in 2018 ranked Albania at 99th place among 180 countries, a drop of eight points since 2017. Consequently, Albania is now perceived as the most corrupt country in the Western Balkans. While Albania has improved with two countries, bringing it to 63 in the World Bank Doing Business 2019 survey, it continued to be weak in the areas of enforcement of contracts, property registration, construction permits and electricity security.

The Albanian legal system does not seem to discriminate against foreign investors, the report says. The US-Albania Bilateral Investment Agreement, which came into force in 1998, ensures that US investors are treated under the most favored nation clause. The Law on Foreign Investments describes specific protection for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership in most sectors. 

Based on the IMF estimates, the DA report says that gross domestic product in real GDP grew by 4.2 percent in 2018 and growth is expected to fall in 2019 but remains at about 4 percent in the medium term.

The report states that the country received the European Union candidate status in June 2014 and has since asked to open accession negotiations. The EU has encouraged Albania to continue its progress in reforms related to the five main priorities: public administration reform, justice reform, the fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime and the protection of human rights, including persons belonging to minorities as well as property rights.

 
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