Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair

Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair

The case of Agron Xhafaj, brother of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, has led to renewed conflict in Albania’s political scene. But, perhaps more importantly, it has raised questions among Albanians that require better answers than what the public has received

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By Robert Butler*  The recent occurrence of the violent reactions to the payment of tolls for the A1 motorway in northern Albania brings to the forefront the whole question of who should pay for road transport infrastructure; the provision of

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Editorial: New uncertainties hit Albania’s EU bid

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‘Institutional independence – a key factor for SAI effectiveness: Challenges ahead’

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 By Bujar Leskaj* The Albanian State Audit Institution (ALSAI) is a small SAI, established 93 years ago in 1925. Our independence is sanctioned in four articles of the Constitution and in the SAI law approved in 2014. In addressing SAI’s

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In the dying days of Albania’s brutal communist regime, the first Western television series made it to Albanian public television. “If one day you will knock on my door” was an Italian drama focusing on Claudia, a drug addict that

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Polish FM: No obstacles for Albania to catch up with EU bid frontrunners

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Interview by Ben Andoni   Your Excellency, Welcome to Albania! How do you see relations between the two countries so far? After the collapse of communism in Europe, we gained the freedom to develop our bilateral relations. I can say

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Hundreds of Albanian consumers were left holding worthless paid-for coupons this week as a major gasoline and a diesel retailer shut down its distribution centers around the country unexpectedly. Albania’s Gulf Oil Company is now under investigation for fraud in

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                    [post_content] => The case of Agron Xhafaj, brother of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, has led to renewed conflict in Albania’s political scene. But, perhaps more importantly, it has raised questions among Albanians that require better answers than what the public has received so far.  

Agron Xhafaj is now said to have gone to Italy to serve a prison sentence issued back in 2002 for drug trafficking. Albania’s opposition says his brother, Fatmir Xhafaj, first as a powerful Socialist lawmaker and then as minister of interior shielded him for years. 

Fatmir Xhafaj has denied the charges and said his brother was at the wrong time at the wrong place, and he had not been involved in anything illegal in more than a decade. And, regardless, according to the minister and Prime Minister Edi Rama, the brother has his own life and should not harm the political career of the minister of interior. 

However, an investigation performed by a journalist and then handed to the opposition for making it public has brought forward a series of pressing questions. According to a wiretap done by cooperator, the minister’s brother allegedly continued his criminal activity in drug trafficking until very recently. Based on the wiretap, the opposition alleges that the brother has strong influence in the criminal underworld of Vlora, Albania’s second largest port city and one with a long history of powerful organized crime networks. 

The opposition accuses the minister of in effect granting his brother immunity, not only through not sending him earlier to Italy to serve the sentence -- but also by allowing him to continue his criminal activity in a protected environment. These accusations have been called “nonsense” by the minister.  And the reactions to the accusations from the government have been that they believe the wiretap is fake. The prime minister says he has checked it with an unnamed expert organization and he believes it is not real, but has refused to divulge more details. However, he agrees a proper, thorough and independent investigation should now take place to determine the wiretap findings.  

The brother’s choice to go and surrender to Italian authorities also raises questions whether he did so to escape Albanian authorities, and the conflict of interest with the brother leading the Ministry of Interior. 

This is the second controversy in a few months involving a Socialist interior minister so questions abound: What kind of state is this and based on what standards? These questions are even more pressing as Albania hopes to open membership negotiations with the European Union. The EU is first a family of strong states and second a family of democratic states.

Rama says the DP has invented the scandal to hurt Albania’s chances of opening EU membership negotiations, while the Democrats say they want negotiations to open precisely so there can be more supervision and pressure on Albania’s government when dealing with cases such as this. 

Ultimately, all can agree that the Albanian public and its friends abroad need thoroughly-investigated answers on this case. That’s a good place to start. 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137271" align="alignright" width="300"]AIIS conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations: challenges of the present, prospects for the future” held in Tirana in March 2018. Photo: AIIS AIIS conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations: challenges of the present, prospects for the future” held in Tirana in March 2018. Photo: AIIS[/caption]

By Alba Çela

Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration process: gap between reality and perception 

Abstract:

Most of Albanian citizens asked in a national poll in 2013 about whether Greece would like to see Albania in the European Union answered no[1], an answer that might sound expected in the context of the difficult relationships but that actually sounds perplexing when compared to the past track record of relevant developments. This belief that Greece is out there to become an obstacle to Albania’s integration path is unfortunately present in segments of the population. Yet it sharply contrast to the real performance of the Greek state and representatives when it comes to Albania’s integration. Whereas it remains true that Greek politicians from time to time mention integration when complaining about the handling of some issues in Albania, Greece has not done any significant step to halter integration so far. Greece has never vetoed any significant milestone in Albania’s European path compared to let’s say other countries such as the Netherlands did when it came to granting Albania candidate status. On the contrary Greece, just like Italy and Austria, is one of the engaged supporters of Albania’s European path. This paper tries to analyze this gap between perception and reality and offer a rationale for efforts to improve communication related to this particular issue. 

Keywords: Albania-Greece relations, EU integration, bilateral disputes, communication challenges  

  Introduction

European integration is a complex and rich process that has the potential not only to transform countries internally but also to significantly improve the relations between neighbors sharing a tough history fraught with misunderstandings and even enmity. The European Union’s appeal stands first and foremost in its being a project of and for peace. When it comes to the process of European integration of the Balkan countries, the Union has been clear and determined to outline the condition that countries need to have normalized relations before membership. The solution of bilateral issues for example is one of the key components that has harnessed attention and effort during these years. [2] The solution of bilateral disputes is an unnegotiable condition that stems not only from the values of good neighborhood which are at the core of the EU, but also from the EU’s previous bitter experience with cases such as Cyprus.

Unfortunately countries have become veto-powers and obstacles when it comes to the progress of European integration and have continued their conflictual rhetoric even after becoming members such as the cases of Croatia and Slovenia show. The most obvious example is that of Greece vetoing any further steps of the European integration of the Former Republic of Macedonia based on the name issue.

The fear that something similar can happen to Albania is quite present in Albanians discourse, shadowing the real relationship that has existed these years between the two countries when it comes to EU integration.

The risk is alarming. The European integration process is not only a national aspiration with no political alternative in Albania. It is the process by which all important reforms are vested with legitimacy, assistance and are monitored. The EU conditionality pushes forward the transformation of the country. All delays and obstacles in this process are simultaneously delays in the overall progress achieved in the transformation of the country.

However the record has shown that Greece has had a different attitude towards Albania, at elats until recently. It has supported the reforms and shown considerable backing for Albania’s integration milestones in the past such as status issue or even visa liberalization.

As Albania approaches a hopeful time for the possibility of opening negotiations, with a positive appraisal from European actors[3] upon the solution of its recent political crisis and the regular held elections, the issue of guaranteeing the support of its neighbors becomes a primary importance item. In the first address to the Albanian Assembly, Prime Minister Rama said that the only country with which Albania had ‘issues’ was Greece and that he was determined to seek a collaborative relation while upholding Albania’s rights.

These declarations come at a time when the press is pushing hard once again the possibility of Athens blocking the integration path upon unresolved issues, including a recent one concerning properties in Himara. This context brings forward once again the persisting contrast between the fiery rhetoric of both countries when it comes to their relationship and the European integration framework and the previous experience of sustaining constructive assistance in the process of accession.

Brief history 

Despite many political problems, confrontations and unfortunate events, Greece has been a crucial partner in Albania’s transition. One need to remember the impact of hundreds of thousands of Albanian citizens who found an economic viability and then build a life in the southern neighbor, providing precious remittances to their parents; the important economic investments and assistance provided by the southern neighbor and most pertinently its continuous political and international support when it comes to both NATO and European integration processes.

More specifically during the decision making times in the Union regarding Albania, Greece has consistently fallen in the supporting camp.

Of course the complexity of relations between Albania and Greece has been often reflected in the EU integration developments. For instance right wing MPs in the European Parliament regularly debate and challenge the progress reports and relevant positive resolutions on Albania on grounds that they don’t reflect the problems of the Greek minority here or even worse raising issue about ‘Greater Albania’ aspirations. [4] However these claims are usually not getting in the way of real developments since they are clarified and dismissed by EU actors.

Furthermore recently there have been some promising attempts to address the outstanding issues in a more formal and constructive manner, the most recent one being the Bushati-Kotsias package which has been highly praised by Commissioner Hahn. However even in this case the debate has brought up sensitive claims on the Greek side that the Commissioner wrongfully addressed the Cham issue, which remains unrecognized by Greece. [5]

Political context and electoral rounds greatly influence the serenity of the relations and therefore the integration narrative as well. In the last elections round in Albania, the perception was that the political establishment was siding with the rhetoric of the PDIU, the political party in Albania most at odds with Greece since they represent the Cham community in the country. This was coupled with a decreasing frequency of high level meetings and   generally tepid bilateral relations.

More recently integration is coming up repeatedly in the complaints from the Greek side, as a potential negotiating chip further exacerbating existing perception and fears that Greece could indeed bloc Albania’s future in the EU.

Perceptions

There is a widely held perception among Albanians than when push comes to shove, Greece will block Albania’s entry to the European Union. This perception is comfortably nested within some other myths often perpetuated by the media or irresponsible politicians.  Quite a significant number of Albanians also mention Greece to be a threat to the security of Albania,[6] despite the fact that both countries have signed a Treaty of Friendship and most importantly that they are NATO members.

In general the perceptions of Albanian regarding Greece and relations with Greece reveal a very mixed picture. The results of a public poll in 2013 show that “45 percent of the citizens believe that these relations are normal. 22 percent believe they are in a bad shape and a small group of 5 percent say that they are in a very bad shape. Similarly 27 percent believe the relations are in a good or even very good divided respectively between 21 and 6 percent. Albanians seem to believe that governments of Albania and Greece enjoy a better relationship with each other than do the respective people of each state. While 52 percent of Albanians believe relations between Greek and Albanian government are normal only 42 percent say the same about the relations between Greeks and Albanians themselves.”[7]

When it comes specifically to the perspective of Albania’s integration within the European Union, the Albanian public opinion is fragmented and generally skeptical about Greek support. Hence when asked if their fellow citizens in Greece would support the European integration of Albania, Albanian themselves seem divided in almost there equal parts between those who believe in the Greek support, those who are afraid of a negative relation and those who don’t know. With a very small advantage of 37 percent Albanians are hopeful that Greek citizens would support Albanian E integration while 34 percent believe that Greek citizens do not support this aspiration of Albania. 30 percent is the group that does not have a clear opinion on this matter. Even grimmer seems to be the perception of whether the Greek government has been to help to Albania in its effort of European integration. In this case a majority of citizens , 46 percent, believe that this has not been in the case while 35 percent believe that the Greek government has helped. 18 percent do not know the answer.[8]

The difference in the perceptions about the role of citizens and government is particularly odd. Whereas skepticism and even dislike among the Greek population regarding Albania might be existing and might increase after specific incidents, the Greek government has had to surpass that in sustaining Albania’s effort to join the EU.

For a comparative perspective, an opinion poll undertaken in Greece has revealed that “About half of the Greek public opinion views current relations with Albania as neither good nor bad, while one third consider them as good.” When it comes specifically to questions about integration, “six out of ten (58%) [believe] that the Greek government has assisted Albania in its EU accession process. 32% of respondents believe that Greeks do not want Albania to become a member of the EU, while 56% disagree with that statement.”[9] It is interesting to note in the last result that the majority of Greeks seem to be of a positive attitude towards Albania’s European perspective.

Media role

Of course these perceptions are flamed by occasional media coverage of declarations of Greek politicians as well. For example in the case of the debacle about some properties of Greek minority citizens in the city Himara frequently generate strong statements. This is not the only time. European standards that have to be respected are brought up when it comes to complaints about Greek minority, properties of the Orthodox Church, Greek soldiers’ cemeteries on Albanian territory, etc.

There is no doubt that the long list of unresolved issues and long held misunderstandings puts this relationship in a far from perfect position. However the media articles also do not provide the right contextualization and use titles that sound more sensational than the coverage would warrant.

A previous study of the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), has shown that the percentage of articles and coverage with negative and quasi negative connotation in Albanian press when it comes to Greece and Greek-Albanian relations is double that of positive articles. The study also points to few positive stories while exposing some stories such as the infamous ‘Kareli case’ which poisoned relations in the public opinion for a long time. [10]

One example is the case of the declarations at the end of last year, of former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Kotzias about Greece not being generous with the vote pro opening of negotiations for Albania.[11] The most used title in this case was ‘Greece will block the European integration of Albania’, suggesting absolute certainty and not possibility.  In fact the full statement regards the necessity of Albania fulfilling the 5 conditions posed, monitored and evaluated by the institutions of the European Union and therefore it’s factually correct. Naturally the connotation given in the statement by highlighting the respect for minorities is not encouraging but the statement does not convey at all a certainty that a decision to block has been taken.

On the other side, many Greek politicians have not hesitated to come forward with strong support declarations in the time when the decision to grant Albania the official EU candidate status was being deliberated. Just before the meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, where the decision about granting Albania the EU candidate status was eventually postponed, the Geek ambassador to Tirana, Leonidas Rokanas, emphasized Greece’s firm support for Albanian’s EU integration. This statement was followed recently by another one that was made this time by the Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Venizelos, who reaffirmed Greece support and stated that “Albania should get the candidate status in June”.[12]

 

Not taking things for granted 

Through the timeline of Albania’s integration process, Greece has not been an obstacle or a delaying factor, on the contrary, it has been a de facto supporter. The gap that exists between the specific perceptions about its stance on Albania’s integration and the performance so far is a direct result of heated political declarations, faulty media coverage and lack of communication between other important social actors.

That said there are of course no guarantees that things will not go south. The rhetoric in the last months, mirrored by a media frenzy has been mostly negative. Integration is coming up again and again as a keyword for addressing how relations can become worse, instead of improving. The last declarations of President Pavlopoulos, that Albania does not seem to have a European perspective since it is infringing upon minority rights are an alarm bell since he is not considered an extreme voice. [13]

The risk that Greece can use its voice and decision making power to impede Albania’s goals or even veto its milestones is a real possibility. Indeed the most recent political class in Greece has been less patient and more aggressive with its rhetoric. Whereas in the past, Albanian politicians could count on matured and familiar political actors such as those from PASOK or New democracy, the relative new players are definitely more challenging. In this context the need for better communication becomes even more pertinent.

Communication challenges should be seen and targeted by a strategic approach that goes beyond the occasional friendly meetings, lunches and so on. The latter often do more to confuse the public than to reassure it that dialogue is on the way to resolve outstanding issues. The contrast between the way these symbolic milestones are presented (with outmost enthusiasm) and the subsequent or even parallel messages that come from the neighbors.

Improving communication both at the political and public level requires a long term investment also on key actors such as media which has been missing entirely. While there are several attempts of organizing regional exchanges with reporters and editors, or even bilateral from Albania and Serbia, the experience has not been replicated in the case of Albania and Greece.

Conclusions 

It is not just symbolic that the most public commitment taken by the Union to this region regarding its European future has been during the famous Thessaloniki Summit, albeit many years ago. The Stabilization and Association Agreement was signed with Albania in June 2006 and entered into force in April 2009. Albania became an official candidate country in 2014 and the next step is the opening of negotiations. The road has been long and will continue to be arduous. Albania largely benefits from having the support of Greece in this process and should be committed to preserving and deepening this support.

On the other side, the European future of Albania is also a desirable goal for Greece. A northern neighbor which is safe and stable, integrated in the Union and further developed represents a positive outcome for Greece, its politicians, investors and citizens.

The mutual support becomes even more necessary in a context where the internal developments in the EU itself have seen the enthusiasm and commitment to the enlargement policy weaken substantially and there is now a clear split between skeptical countries and countries that have been pushers of integration. Albania recently secured the public support from Italy to open negotiations[14] and should it get the same support from Greece it would send an unmistakably positive signal to European institutions to go forward with this step.

Both sides can and should do more to improve the official and public discourse when it comes to their collaboration in the context of European integration, this also includes an effort to refrain from emotional short term responses to occurring events in order to safeguard long term achievements  on both sides. The primary responsibility rests with the political class which needs only to keep in mind the long term mutual benefits of the process and use that framework when dealing with specific issues.

Media in Albania and Greece should be provided with information and opportunities to further explore the positive aspects of partnership in this regard rather than focus on sensational events that create misperceptions.  One illustrative example is the Cross Border Program between Albania and Greece financed by IPA funds, which best portrays the potential of European integration to assist the border regions and strengthen bilateral bonds. Successful project examples and their socio-economic or environmental impact need to have more highlight and presence alongside the inescapable political coverage.[15] Similarly there is a recent project that assist the Parliament of Albania to fine tune its role in the process of European integration, assisted specifically by the counterparts in Italy and Greece. [16]

Finally civil society on both sides has taken important steps to improve the communication and have genuine discussions even on difficult matters. CSOs should keep up the work done in the aspect of bilateral relations and therefore needs financial and technical assistance to continue increasing dialogue, awareness and collaboration between different social groups.

European integration should be the key positive realm of improving, developing and sophisticating bilateral relations between Albania and Greece. Unless the level of maturity in political and other forms of communication increases significantly we all risk to lose out on this enormous potential.

[1] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, A. Cela; S. Lleshaj http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf

[2] “Joint Declaration Adopted by Western Balkans Foreign Ministers in Vienna – Countries Will Not Obstruct Neighbours’ Progress in EU Integrations”, http://balkanfund.org/2015/08/joint-declaration-adopted-by-western-balkans-governments-representatives-in-vienna-countries-will-not-obstruct-neighbours-progress-in-eu-integrations/ Accessed on August 29, 2017.

[3] http://top-channel.tv/lajme/artikull.php?id=363977#k1

[4] http://top-channel.tv/lajme/english/artikull.php?id=13663&ref=ml#.WcN149VL-M8

[5] http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/eu-commissioner-caught-in-between-albania-greece-hot-topic-09-29-2016

[6] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, A. Cela; S. Lleshaj http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf , pg 31.

 

[7] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, pg 19, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf .

[8] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, pg 36-37.

[9] All results of the poll undertaken in Grece in 2013 are available at “he Greek Public Opinion towards Albania and the Albanians Social attitudes and perceptions “, Ioannis Armaklosas, ELIAMEP http://www.eliamep.gr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-Greek-public-opinon-towards-Albania-Final-report-Dec-2013.pdf. Cited numbers are in page 8.

[10] “Greece and the Albanian-Greek relations in the Albanian printed media 2014”, pages 10-11,  http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/11319.pdf

[11] Media coverage examples with titles saying Greece will block the European integration of Albania:

[12] Tirana Times, (2013). Albanian-Greek relations: Beyond the status quo. Tirana Times. (2014). Greece to support Albania’s EU integration process. www.tiranatimes.com

[13]“ Greek president uses harsh voice, conditions integration”, Ora News 8 September 2017  http://www.oranews.tv/vendi/presidenti-grek-ashperson-tonet-ndaj-shqiperise-kushtezon-integrimin/

[14] Tirana Times: “Gentilioni promises support for opening of the EU talks “ http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134135    (Prime Minister Rama official visit to Italy)  13 October 2017

[15] Recommendations also form the research study on Albanian media also pinpoint the fact that more articles of economic and social nature are needed to change perceptions on both sides. “Greece and the Albanian-Greek relations in the Albanian printed media 2014”, pages 10-11,  http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/11319.pdf

[16] https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/pdf/albania/ipa/2015/20160126-eu-integration-facility.pdf
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                    [post_content] => By Robert Butler* 

The recent occurrence of the violent reactions to the payment of tolls for the A1 motorway in northern Albania brings to the forefront the whole question of who should pay for road transport infrastructure; the provision of new roads, their management, operations and maintenance.

In the past all forms of transport infrastructure was predominantly built, owned, and operated by government institutions and departments. None of them more so than road networks. Roads have always been the original form of communication and as such their development and usage has been assumed as an indubitable right of the public with no direct costs or payments. The provision and use of roads traditionally assumed to be a public service obligation that was the responsibility of governments for all their citizens.

Other forms of transport, civil aviation, maritime and rail have however, increasingly become recognised as transport for which ‘the user pays’, with commercial air and ferry services leading the way towards the privatisation of infrastructure provision, management, and operations. Correspondingly, the management and commercial operations of the supporting infrastructure of airport and port facilities has increasingly passed over to the ownership of private sector commercial companies. The case in many countries with developed economies.

Even rail services are becoming progressively commercialised and private operators more prevalent in the provision of dynamic services, initially on commercial rail transport but also for passenger traffic. Generally, for the moment at least, rail infrastructure has been leased from government but the cost of rail tickets sold by the private rail transport companies also contains charges for track and station use.

Although In the past two decades in the transport subsectors of civil aviation, maritime, and to a certain extent rail, have required the user to pay in some form for the management and operations of the supporting transport infrastructure,[1] the road sector is the last subsector in transport to move towards the ‘user pays’ concept. Given the international trend however, it is inevitable that in future road users will pay directly for road use. Payments possibly based on amount of use. Albania cannot be an exception. New high speed efficient road infrastructure has to be paid for by the users, either in the form of tolls or indirectly in the form of road funds or vignettes[2].

The concession on the A1 motorway in the north of the country may have been a step in the right direction as this section of the road network will demand very serious maintenance and upkeep expenditures in the coming years and the traditional government department approach will not be appropriate for such a modern and sophisticated road link. It is therefore arguably only fair that those who make use of this particular road facility, either commercially or for private and social reasons, should pay some direct contribution for the use of the link.

Many motorways throughout the world, with their provision of fast, direct travel and time savings, are tolled. Many of them however are increasingly built through private financing, not government, with the original constructor retaining the responsibility of maintenance under a concession arrangement. In such cases, where the builder is also the investor, the constructor has a legal right to make a profitable return on his investment over a given period of time. This return on investment and risk is generally achieved through tolling. The concessionaire undertaking the public service obligations of government and being paid for this service provision in differing arrangements, on a commercial basis, part by the direct toll receipts and part by government subsidies.

During this time however, the concessionaire/developer also accepts full responsibility under the concession agreement for maintaining the facility at an agreed level of service; the level of service to be agreed with government as the client, agreed on behalf of the travelling public to levels that support safe and reliable travel.

In the case of the A1 motorway to Kosovo it was always known that the low traffic volumes would probably never make a tolling system a self-sufficient system of financing on this link, it would always require some form of additional financing from government, the concession being based on a single road model, i.e. just the motorway.

Single road concessions however have to retain certain characteristics to make them viable as a concession; namely higher than average usage and traffic volumes. The A1 motorway to Kosovo does not approach these financially viable traffic volumes when calculated annually. This situation will not change in the foreseeable future.

 

Possible alternative road sector concession arrangements better suited to Albania

In past studies in the country alternative forms of commercialised maintenance were considered a better option for the road networks of Albania. Successive governments were developing new roads as international transport routes and these were being constructed to the latest design and construction standards in line with international models. The study specialists were of the opinion therefore that the traditional maintenance service provision, as supplied by the General Roads Department[3], was not appropriate to fulfil the needs required from the new modern highways being built or existing roads that were being improved; the recently completed 1500 kms of rural roads is subject to a non-standardised maintenance approach and unknown management future. Modern road networks demand the application of sophisticated business systems to maintain them safely, the traditional maintenance approaches in the country were considered to be non-responsive to the needs of such networks.

Although the original GRD is now the Albanian Road Authority, the modus operandi of the department has not ostensibly changed, the authority still retains a public-sector approach to road management. Business systems and market driven innovations for better quality outcomes are not the core qualities of the authority. Going forward the authority has to see itself solely as a client-based organisation and no longer the service provider.

As with much infrastructure, whether transport related or not, the modern trend is for build operate and transfer under commercially viable business management models. A significant amount of modern town centre infrastructure in developed cities is maintained on behalf of the owner by the original constructor. The logic is self-evident, the builder knows the building and its peculiarities and special considerations better than anyone else. It is also considered a value-added approach to the provision and management of quality i.e. if the constructor is to take on the additional risks associated with maintenance of the facility over a given lengthy period, he will take extra care with the quality of construction of that facility at the time of construction, wishing to avoid the risk of costly and untimely and un-envisaged repairs or interventions at his own cost under his maintenance contract. It is generally acknowledged that this same principle applies to new roads.

The best models emerging world-wide for road management therefore are aimed at harnessing the inherent knowledge and experience of the road construction industry, contractor and knowledge-based companies, for the maintenance of the built facility. Modern roads and bridge stocks require the most modern approaches; a combination of innovative solutions and business management systems that are cost-effective. Only market driven enterprises can supply such business-like outcomes. Managing modern road networks is a business activity.

In the case of the A1 motorway to Kosovo however, the investor was the Albanian government; the road was built under contract by international contractors and the constructor did not have a long-term maintenance contract.

The newly released maintenance concession therefore is based on a clear commitment to operate and maintain a facility that has been financed and built ‘by others’. The risks of any inadequacies of quality are therefore transferred to the maintenance concessionaire. It can be assumed that the concessionaire would have a clear understanding concerning the ‘as built’ condition of the road and therefore the envisaged maintenance interventions and the risks associated with his projected financial planning and programming. The concessionaires setting of the toll tariffs for the road link would have to have include risk mitigation elements in the tolling targets and forecasts. And may to a certain extent point to the setting of higher than expected tolls, as it occurred. The concessionaire will have calculated the corresponding returns that would result as a result of different toll pricing scenarios to fund the needs of different levels of maintenance interventions.

The whole toll tariff pricing process would be based on varying levels of financial risk and this is something that both government and the concessionaire have to calculate. The government invariably having to provide some assurances for subsidising any shortfalls in available finance for maintenance in the case where the traffic volumes do not generate the required funding. The Government’s wish to keep their contribution to a minimum may also have influenced the toll pricing for the A1 to be fixed on the higher side; the higher the acceptable toll, acceptable to the road user that is, the less is the subsidy that the government budget has to contribute.

Concessions let on single road links, unless the roads concerned have significant average traffic volumes, when calculated over an annual period, are usually not the best concession option for the road owner. In such circumstances the government concerned may have to commit themselves to significant levels of subsidisation to make up the shortfall that is calculated as necessary to fulfil both the required level of service (to provide the public service obligation) and the agreed profitable returns for the concessionaire to take responsibility for the risks. The concession has to be profitable in order for concessionaire to undertake the considerable risks involved.

The alternative approach proposed during a capacity building project in the Ministry of Transport circa 2007 was for the use of a Management Agency Contract (MAC) form of concession. This is a more modern and holistic type of concession that is best suited to the case where a supporting feeder network that was historically provided by government, is gradually declining in service level due to the lack of applied investment strategies. Investment strategies that could benefit through the use of commercial business management processes and systems. The management of constrained budgets by traditional road departments lack policies that support innovation and asset management strategies to optimise available funding. Only the application of commercial business models can provide value for money in the management of the built environment.

The MAC type of concession involves the government letting the concessionaire manage and operate all the roads within a region or agreed area. The government correspondingly aggregating all the maintenance budgets that it provides for this complete network and making this aggregated funding available for the maintenance concession.

The MAC contractor takes responsibility not only for delivering an agreed service level of maintenance across the whole network but also undertakes the added responsibility for modelling and forecasting the future annual programmes of period maintenance interventions and minor improvements. Something that it can be argued is not carried out at the present time. The improvements to include the identification of improvements to safety as the concessionaire is also responsible for improvements associated with road safety programmes.

The programmes of continuous improvements provide an inbuilt profitability to help offset any losses or lack of financial returns from routine maintenance, helping the MAC to provide a full set of maintenance provisions.

The MAC model is increasingly becoming the model of choice by governments that require a guaranteed level of service across the complete public road network for their constituents and enables the policy makers to highlight the measurable improvements in road network provisions that the government provides.

The same consultant that recommended the MAC, made a recommendation to divide the country into three separate road network zones and consider letting three separate MAC concessions, one for each zone.

Whilst the government of the day accepted the recommendation of the consultant for dividing the country into 3 zones – they were created - the concessions that were contracted out only took in some of the network in each of the zones. This has limited the effectiveness of modelling of the overall network in terms of obtaining value for money from the overall road maintenance budgets that are available; benefits on all roads, local and national.

This part adoption of the recommendations, made a decade ago, left significant budgets available for road maintenance outside of a transparent system of road sector business management. A regularised and accountable system that could provide creditable returns for all road users no matter which class of road they used most or was beneficial to them. It could also, as this article mentions above, balance out the need for unacceptable toll levels on single road links.

 

The advantages of the MAC form of concession;

- The government obtains a given level of service across the whole network that is contract guaranteed;

- The concessionaire is customer focussed, the level of service confirmed in customer satisfaction surveys;

- The profit margins for the concessionaire are network based and do not depend from a profit for a single road;

- Network management through concession uses the latest models in order to be competitive and market based;

- The concession provides a programme of continual improvements for the road user that is market driven;

- The concession agreement provides for public consultation between concessionaire and local communities;

- The customer feels an integral part of the concession arrangement with his views reflected in outcomes;

- The Government can deliver their public service obligations without the overheads of larger public departments;

- The system is cost effective as it reduces the wastages in funding that are associated with government services;

- The whole programme is transparent as the concessionaire has to publish the annual network programme;

- Government overheads and direct involvement and commitments are reduced to a minimum.

 

The MAC form of contract, if applied to the northern region of the three regions that the government have adopted, would mean that through considerations on the profitability of the whole northern MAC economies of scale could underpin the costs of maintaining the motorway. The concession could evaluate and apply the lowest of profit margins on the motorway when balancing the returns on this road link against the overall business model and profitability of the complete MAC network.

A non-optimal profit target on the motorway link, when placed inside the whole profitability of the MAC, could still provide the required profit to set against the risks of the concessionaire, but importantly, for the Government, it would allow significant flexibility when agreeing to and setting the toll charges on the motorway.

Perhaps allowing the setting of what could almost be a ‘token toll’ with a break-even scenario. It could be significantly lower than the original toll that caused the upset for road users.

 

Going forward

There is a need to get the concessions in the road sector right, future BOT investors will be put off by a vision of toll booths in Albania being set on fire and destroyed. They will stay away and the country’s development aspirations will be set back. Viable road networks provide major contributions to any country’s development.

Additionally, the public will have to accept that the ‘user pays’ concept will inevitably have to come to the road sector as it has to the civil aviation and the maritime sector.

This correspondent does not believe that the government have considered enough the options that were presented for the road sector when concessions were just entering the diction of government policy. A re-visit to more suitably and internationally favoured models for road network management and operations is necessary. The experience of others can be adopted directly without the need for the present road administration to set out on a programme of ‘experimentation’ under the existing management status quo. Experimenting with the reduced budgets that are available is not an option given the less than best results from the past and current administrative set up; i.e. non-sustainable outcomes when external technical assistance is withdrawn. The ultimate loser has been and continues to be, the road user.

The use of MAC contracts across the whole network as the concession option, one applied separately in each of the three zones originally recommended and accepted by government, should be seriously re-considered as the most suitable model for a small country like Albania.

This concession option can be accomplished through concessions awarded to local contractors and without the need, initially at least, to majorly increase road maintenance budgets or use outside funding or loans. The aggregated road maintenance budgets available through the various funding mechanisms for roads, are sufficient to hold the serious deterioration of road asset values if they are placed in a transparent and accountable system. Concessions are always subject to publication and scrutiny in the public interest and transparent accountability. Where there are considered loopholes, these can be soon highlighted.

There is a general opinion in the profession that over the past two decades the overall performance of road maintenance budgets has been far less than optimal under the public-sector administration systems that exist; approaches and structure that have been bought forward from the past. The delay in real reform is hurting the country and its economic development, poorly maintained roads are a considerable hurdle to development.

The days of big government road departments are a thing of the past[4]; they cannot compete in a market-based environment and in many countries with developed economies have been re-structured as small, client-based units. Traditional road sector departments are too inefficient and expensive in terms of productivity and are not capable of introducing competitive environments as ‘the service provider’. In advanced countries the roles and responsibilities of previous road department is constrained to that of service manager. All road products and services being provided by commercial companies that utilise financially efficient business management systems.

Maintaining the status quo of the traditional public-sector service provider road department in Albania, as it exists at the present time, is not in tune with the leading European models; the existing departments carry too much historical baggage, with too many approaches that are not only not fit for purpose and as long as they remain they are facilitating a very visual and increasing deterioration of roads and road asset values across all classes of road. Many such examples are now very apparent to the road user both at national and local level.

The main problem in the road sector does not revolve around the setting of the correct tolls on the A1 motorway, the systemic problem is the lack of much needed and overdue major reforms of the whole sector.

The country will be a contributor to the overall European road network and European standards of both management and operations are therefore required as part of this transition.

The current overall depleted condition of the national and local road networks, especially the newly constructed roads and highways that have been built over the past 10-15 years, reflects the non-responsiveness of the current administrative setup for the management of the sector.

It is not question of ‘why’ were the toll booths on the A1 motorway trashed that should be debated in the press and televised media, the problem runs much deeper. The debate should be asking what model of road administration is best suited to Albania’s development needs and to provide efficient and effective use of available human, technical and financial resources and turn road round the current deteriorating condition of the network?

Adopting modern commercial and technically advanced international road management models, as continually recommended by the government’s lending partners, will again prove to be unsustainable and ineffective if government policy and the country’s road sector institutions are not re-orientated and restructured respectively.

 

*Road Maintenance Engineer

 

[1] Included within the cost of an airline or ferry ticket are taxes or charges for the airport or port services.

[2] Vignette is a form of road pricing imposed on vehicles, usually in addition to the compulsory road tax, based on a period of time instead of road tolls that are based on distance travelled. Vignettes are currently used in several European countries.

[3] Now the Albanian Road Authority (ARA)

[4] A generally accepted yardstick for modern public-sector management staff levels is 1 or 2 staff per 100 kms of road in the network.
                    [post_title] => Concessions in road sector management and operations – A contrasting view
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                    [post_content] => Optimism for anything happening fast on Albania’s bid to join the European Union has long evaporated, but even for the few remaining optimists that hoped to get a date on the decade-long horizon at a key summit in Sofia this week were disappointed. 

Touted as a way to refocus EU’s attention on the Western Balkans, the summit showed instead that the EU itself remains divided on how it sees enlargement and the region. 

This time the problem was not Brussels itself. The EU’s bureaucrats have gotten the message that if nothing is done to show the Western Balkans some actual light at the end of the tunnel, the bloc risks losing the region to instability, autocrats and meddling actors on the continent’s periphery and outside it. However, key member states like France, Germany and the Netherlands -- perhaps reflecting the feelings of their societies -- seemed to want to push the breaks rather than the accelerator on the EU membership bids of Albania and other states in the region. Others, like Spain, are projecting their own internal problems to the international stage by being as harsh on Kosovo as Serbia and Russia. 

Back to Albania’s issues, there is no logic in not opening negotiation in June, as the EU’s executive has recommended the move, and Albania has done enough reforms to warrant the opening of negotiations. 

Even Albania’s warring main political parties agree on this one thing: that opening negotiations should happen and that it will be good for the country. 

Of course, the reasoning differs. Prime Minister Edi Rama has tried to reflect legitimate opposition concerns about corruption and organized crime as mud slinging that helps those who want to stop Albania’s EU bid. Opposition leader Lulzim Basha of the Democratic Party, on the other hand, says the negotiations need to open so there can be stronger light on the government’s ills and change things for the better. 

In fact, Albania’s political class in general knows that it has failed to meet the expectations of the Albanian people in terms of the joining the EU, which an overwhelming majority of Albanians support. Much blame is placed on Brussels, Berlin or Paris, perhaps righteously so, but there is a fair amount to be shared among Albanian political elites as well. If they had done their jobs better, perhaps the country would be wealthy and modern in enough to be attractive rather than scary for EU member states. At the end of the day, local ownership is the only way forward. The EU owes the region nothing. Change should and must come from within first and foremost. 

Sadly, the new normal for Western Balkans in general is that what was once believed to be a process that would move at constant pace forward is now a process that can freeze for years and even move backwards. While the words of EU’s commitment to having the Western Balkans as member states have not changed in 15 years from Thessaloniki to Sofia, a broken record does not make for nice music to the ears of the region’s people. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: New uncertainties hit Albania’s EU bid
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                    [post_date] => 2018-05-17 20:49:13
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                    [post_content] =>  By Bujar Leskaj*

The Albanian State Audit Institution (ALSAI) is a small SAI, established 93 years ago in 1925. Our independence is sanctioned in four articles of the Constitution and in the SAI law approved in 2014.

In addressing SAI's independence, in our opinion, the challenges of ALSAI's independence consist in:
  1. Achieving Mexico Declaration standards
  2. Working to maintain these standards
  3. Using the Mexico Declaration to foster our role in regard to accountability and transparency.
 
  1. How to achieve Mexico Declaration standards
The crucial factor of SAI's independence is its legal framework, in particular the Constitution and its basic Law. They should reflect the precepts and principles of Lima and Mexico Declarations. This is rule of thumb. In this regard, the Albanian constitution has already four articles guaranteeing SAI's independence. Due to difficulties of amending the Constitution of 1998, we approached by updating our basic law. The framework of SAI's independence is fully consolidated now in our basic law of 2014. This legal framework is compliant to the 8 Mexico declaration principles: legal status, sufficient resources, head of SAI, operations, access to information, reporting audit results, content and timing of audit reports and effective follow-up mechanisms. We do not think that we are granted full independence as a privilege to us. We as SAI consider it important for the governance and the citizens and increased responsibility versus the citizens and the Parliament that have trust in us.  
  1. How to maintain Mexico Declaration standards
Preserving in real terms the institutional independence, guaranteed by the Constitution and by the SAI law, is considered a continued challenge and the most difficult and delicate one. The institutional independence of a SAI is challenged in every audit, in every finding, in every conclusion and in every recommendation. In this context, it may be challenged by:
  1. The auditees
  2. The Parliament
  3. The Government
  4. The opposition
  5. The media
  6. The SAI itself.
Preserving institutional independence is not only a question of maintaining the balance, but it also has to do with the institutional wisdom to choose the right moment, to choose the right words, to select the right recommendation and choose the strategic partners. Preserving the institutional independence may impose to a SAI to be quite vital in a potential judicial “battle”, therefore the SAI needs to have an institutional strategy and a risk analysis that can be used for the safeguard of this independence. Preserving institutional independence requires partners. Some of them need to be more powerful than the violators of SAI independence. For this reason, our SAI asked the assistance of international partners. So, DG-Budget and SIGMA supported us in the process of amending our basic law, that needed to be brought in full compliance with INTOSAI standards. This process initiated in 2012, with the organization of public roundtables and consultations with main stakeholders of the SAI. We sent the draft in Parliament, but different pressures kept it out of Parliament's agenda for a while. During this time, the Chairman of Parliamentary Commission on Economy and Finance, the Secretary of the Commission and the members of Parliament in the Commission supported us very much. Our philosophy is to be agents of change and not anchors dragging behind. In early 2014, the Chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Economy introduced the draft for approval. The process took almost one year. During the discussion, different members of Parliament were concerned that the right of the SAI to have access to any kind of information went beyond the content of the audit activity that the Constitution has recognized to the SAI. The pressure from segments of Parliament was high. They wanted ALSAI independent only in papers. In a lot of debated sessions, we used as arguments and found support from Lima and Mexico Declarations and from the UN Resolution of 2011 “Promoting the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration by strengthening supreme audit institutions”. We informed the members of Parliament and delivered to them the Albanian versions the above documents, as well as the conclusions of EUROSAI Congress on SAI's independence. We received support also from partner SAIs, such as the Supreme Audit Office of Poland (NIK), the SAI of Slovenia (especially the former President of the SAI, Dr. Igor Soltes who now is a member of the European Parliament, the Croatian SAI, etc.), helped us as well. The letter addressed to ALSAI from DG-Budget emphasized that having an INTOSAI compatible SAI law is one of the requirements under the openings and closure benchmarks for Chapter 32 of the Association and Stabilization Agreement of Albania with the EU.  We acknowledge that without the fundamental support from DG-Budget, the EU Delegation in Tirana and SIGMA, such a law in full compliance with INTOSAI standards would have not seen the daylight. The Albanian Parliament passed the bill in November 2014 and made it operational in early 2015. This Law provides in Article 6 ”Scope of activity”, point 1 that “ALSAI audits in compliance with the Constitution, the laws, the bylaws, the manuals in force and the INTOSAI International Standards of Audit” and point 3 “ALSAI in its operation should reflect the highest scale of International Standards of INTOSAI and IFAC, as well as the resolutions of INTOSAI and EUROSAI Congresses”. The Austrian Court of Audit (ACA), in its peer review report on ALSAI's independence presented in 2016, affirmed that "Independence, mandate and the organization of ALSAI are legally de facto established and protected by the Constitution and the SAI Law. With the entry into force of the SAI Law in 2015, ALSAI had significant improvements in its independence compared with the provisions of the previous law. The established legal framework is appropriate and effective and complies with the Mexico Declaration". In reference to the Peer review findings, we consider that there is a lot to be done in two pillars. In the pillar of financial resources, which need to ensure that ALSAI must have the proper monetary means to complete its mission, and on the effective follow–up mechanisms, that require Parliament to use more SAI's findings and reccomendations while controlling and making accountable the Government. In order to ensure full operational independence, we approach based on the SWOT analysis, in which we are able to identify the opportunities and use our strengths to reduce weaknesses, as SAI's performance improvement instrument.   ALSAI SWOT Analysis on institucional independence  
Strengths Weaknesses
Guaranteed SAI's independence in Constitution and basic law fully compliant with INTOSAI standards Impact of inherited tradition of financial inspection approach yet visible in some audit practices
Politically neutral and professionally objective audit staff
Well trained audit staff, including the young auditors Difficulties in implementing the ISSAIs
An individually tailored professional development and long life training approach Shortcomings in tracking audits after reporting
Ethic Code of ALSAI(2012) and Ethic Code of Chairman(2018), deciding not to run for a second mandate Limitation in financial independence due to ways of budget allocation
Opportunities Threats
The existence of an appropriate constitutional, legal and statutory framework for the effective realization of functional duties. (Constitution, Law 154/2014) Resistance to change from older auditors
Mandate in office and dismissal of the Chairman and governing structure foreseen in the Law as independent from the Executive Unprofessional and politically motivated offenses against ALSAI, including members of the Parliament, for personal or political party interests
SAI enjoys complete independence from the Legislature and the Executive in the planning, performance and reporting of audits Insufficient perception by the media and the public about how the SAI audit work should be used
SAI enjoys full mandate in carrying out audits Culture of impunity in the Albanian public administration
SAI does not make policies, but audits their implementation Some public institutions or entities obstruct the audit or the provision of information
Low level of implementation of ALSAI recommendations by the audited entities in regard to removal from office of high ranked officials caught in abuse
Insufficiency of financial resources
 
  1. Using the Mexico Declaration to foster our role in regard to accountability and transparency
The fact that a SAI enjoys by Constitution and by law the required institutional independence, according to the eight principles of the Mexico Declaration, does not necessarily mean that the independence is effective. The UN Resolution of 2011Promoting the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration by strengthening supreme audit institutions” and the UN Resolution of 2014 "Promoting and fostering the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration by strengthening supreme audit institutions" are good tools in maximizing the institutional independence of a SAI. We use them in any case that we want to advocate for our independence and receive support from main stakeholders to implement our recommendations.  We consider as the main instrument for achieving effective institutional independence the strengthening of relations with Parliament. Recently, ALSAI is approaching based on SIGMA's White Paper on the Relationships between SAIs and Parliament, aiming to increase the pressure on Government to properly respond to its recommendations. Comparing with the previous experience, when we went only 2 times in front of Parliament and the Commission on Economy and Finance, when reporting on the execution of the State Budget of previous year and on SAI's performance, starting from 2014, the situation changed. Referring to last year, 12 hearing sessions have been held in Parliament's commissions, in regard to high public interest audits. This indicates Parliament's growing confidence on SAI work. In 2016, the Parliament adopted the Resolution on SAI activity for 2015 and acknowledged the need to set up a Parliamentary Subcommittee to cover the findings and recommendations of SAI audits, which has the potential to increase SAI's work impact. Although the Government and the majority in Parliament are not quite supportive to ALSAI's work, the former and present President of Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chairman and the Secretary of the Committee on Economy and Finances have participated in various SAI's activities and have encouraged the SAI in its mission. The Commission on Economy and Finance is the biggest ally of ALSAI after media, contributing in every case there was need for their support. The words of a personality of supreme audit such as Dr. Josef Moser, former Secretary General of INTOSAI, can lead us to further foster our independence to the benefit of effectiveness of our work: “Independence of SAIs is a cornerstone for the functioning of States. It strengthens parliaments in their oversight and control function and is only guaranteed if established in law and enshrined in the Constitution” Today all the SAIs face more or less the same challenges. For this reason, we are in the same roundtable, united in ambition and determination, considering that sharing experiences would bring out the added value of our daily work, based on INTOSAI motto “Experentia mutua Omnibus Prodest (common experience benefits all)”.  *Presentation by Bujar Leskaj, ALSAI Chairman, made in the High-Level Conference under the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union “The role of the supreme audit institutions in enhancing accountability, transparency and integrity in the Public Sector”, Sofia, May 15, 2018.   [post_title] => 'Institutional independence - a key factor for SAI effectiveness: Challenges ahead' [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => institutional-independence-a-key-factor-for-sai-effectiveness-challenges-ahead [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-18 10:00:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-18 08:00:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137181 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137044 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-05-11 00:07:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-10 22:07:40 [post_content] => In the dying days of Albania’s brutal communist regime, the first Western television series made it to Albanian public television. “If one day you will knock on my door” was an Italian drama focusing on Claudia, a drug addict that had thrown her formerly model family into turmoil due to her heroine habit. The message of the communist censors in allowing the show was subtle but clear: This is what Western Europe and democracy bring. It targeted Albania’s young who at the time were starting the chant: “We want Albania like the rest of Europe.” At the same time, a young communist apparatchik was leaving the provincial town of Tepelena to become the last interior minister of the communist regime. Tepelena had many years earlier been the site of one of the most brutal internment camps of any communist regime in Eastern Europe, a site where family members of anti-communist dissidents were interned. An untold number of children died there from disease and malnutrition in conditions rivaling concentration camps of an earlier era. It was only one of many stories and sites of communist brutality. This week, that same former communist interior minister is Albania’s Speaker of Parliament. And Gramoz Ruci has apparently not forgotten the message of his youth on the “dangers of Europe.” Forced to explain to European lawmakers why there is such a big problem with drug trafficking and criminality in Albania, he said this week that Europeans were to blame. “Someone might call me nostalgic, but that [communist] system didn’t have drugs, criminality, corruption or any of this phenomena. We made a choice to topple dictatorship and open Albania up, instead of staying as we were. And this phenomena wasn’t brought by Albanians, it was found among Europeans,” Ruçi said during a media conference on Europe Day, responding to the issues raised by eight Dutch MPs that visited Albania on a fact-gathering mission in the context of the country’s EU integration, but who remain skeptic concerning the surge of criminality, corruption and cannabis trafficking. “I’d tell my Dutch colleagues that if cannabis is a black stain in Albania, the technology and the market come from the Netherlands. I am not accusing the Netherlands, but we have the right not to be identified with this, but rather with what we have achieved,” Ruçi added. Ruci’s tirade is nonsense as order in dictatorships is achieved through the brutality of state and oppression of basic human rights. And the poverty and valueless atheist society the Albanian communist regime created are far more to blame for today’s criminality. But nostalgia for communism is more dangerous for another reason: It tears the social fabric of the country and it pins the descendants of the victims against those of the perpetrators, as violent clashes this week between nostalgics and anti-communists show. Albania has not done enough to address its communist past. It needs to do more. But the last thing it needs is to have the second man in the hierarchy of state glorify the communist regime and blame Europe for Albania’s own problems, starting with his own party’s failures to at best fight organized crime and at worst assist in it.    [post_title] => Editorial: Nostalgia for communism a sign of dangerous times [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-nostalgia-for-communism-a-sign-of-dangerous-times [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-11 09:39:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-11 07:39:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137044 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137067 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-10 08:48:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-10 06:48:10 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137070" align="alignright" width="300"]Nikollaq Neranxi, the head of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market of Albania Nikollaq Neranxi, the head of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market of Albania[/caption] By Nikollaq Neranxi A few days ago, I was watching Premier Rama on a TV broadcast and I really felt very disappointed and disgusted by the fact that how he tries to protect Tahiri as often as he is provided with the possibility to do so. "The Prosecution of Severe Crimes of Albania does not have any single evidence to prove the implication of Saimir Tahiri in the cannabis trafficking," Rama said adding: "Tahiri has done good deeds during his 4-year work as Interior Minister." The great attempt of the Premier to convince the public opinion that Tahiri is clean adds more to the suspicions that Saimir's  sins are not only of his. When I listened to Rama as he labored hard to convince us, I recalled a survey made some years ago in Germany where there were still people thinking that Hitler had been a criminal with regard to the Jews but sometimes good for the Germans! So, he had also done some good jobs!!! As a matter of fact, which is the measuring meter of the work of a minister according to Rama's confirmation? How come that a Prime Minister can use the logic of the 'half empty or half full glass' according to which someone sees the empty half and another one sees the full half?  How can subjective assessments be interpreted on the work of a person having such very high responsibilities in a country's governance? For how many wrong home works can one be punished? If it is required today the thought and the perception of many citizens, mainly of those who are intellectuals, who follow the course of the events and make analysis, the majority think that Tahiri will not be sentenced. Today there is only an ongoing process against the former interior minister. His name is mentioned in the eavesdroppings of the Catania Prosecution which were carried out for the Habilaj groups (Tahiri's cousins), who moved by his car. Albanian justice expects from the Italian one if it has testimonies that Tahiri was implicated in this traffic or not. And if Italy does not bring any testimony Tahiri will come out clean and will be the person being blamed in vain without having any fault in the eyes of the public opinion! As a matter of fact, does the former interior minister have any guilt because the entire Albania was planted with cannabis? Does the former interior minister have any responsibility for the chiefs of the commissariats involved in the traffic, who left the country a few hours after arrest warrants against them were issued? So, when an institution degrades to such a level the question rises if the head does not have any mistake? But the friend of Tahiri, Rama says that the minister has done a good job and as a matter of fact we all understand that how much is being invested so that both of them support each other. Personally, I have been faced some times with Tahiri's police during the time that he felt himself strong and unconquered as minister. The chief of the Kucova Commissariat, Vojo Peci,  along with some other people, offended and threatened me close to my house in Porto Palermo about four years ago, and I will take the opportunity to reveal more details at another time. They fought hard to make me leave that place. Later, as all know, it was learned that Porto Palermo was one of the places where drug substances were transported and as evidence has shown even police were used to transport the stuff. And moreover it was the place where the radars were put off. Later I was attacked and looted by masked people at the Company and the police, who were informed, came 35 minutes later. The car by which the looting of my company was made was seen before the Police Department a few minutes later. When I denounced publicly this event I was arrested amidst an event in the company because, according to them, some clients had wrongly parked their vehicles!!! All of these were pressures of an incriminated police that was stimulated by its leaders. Then why should I expect that any evidence can come from Catania on Saimir when I have experienced myself how he incriminated the institution he led? Which is the need to expect evidence from Catania when we have most stubborn testimony of the cultivation of the entire Albania with cannabis? Is there any stronger evidence how the money profited from this traffic was put in the Albanian economy harming our businesses and spoiling the rules of competition? So, under these circumstances, when we see many attempts to close this story, the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market of Albania headed by Nikollaq Neranxin has decided to sue the former minister Tahiri as the guilty person for this great economic, social and psychological damage because of the great economic harm caused on the business due to the drugs cultivation, the trafficking and injecting of the dirty money as well as the creation of an insecure climate because of the growth of the criminality. Only in this way the expectations can be brought back  to us that this country can be 'done' and who wrongs should be faced with the responsibilities.   [post_title] => We cannot expect from Catania evidence and harm caused by Tahiri! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => we-cannot-expect-from-catania-evidence-and-harm-caused-by-tahiri [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-14 19:25:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-14 17:25:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137067 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136941 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-04 10:11:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-04 08:11:42 [post_content] =>

Interview by Ben Andoni

 

Your Excellency, Welcome to Albania! How do you see relations between the two countries so far?

After the collapse of communism in Europe, we gained the freedom to develop our bilateral relations. I can say with all certainty that today our relations are very good. Since 2009, we have been NATO allies. Poland appreciates Albania’s engagement in strengthening the Eastern flank and fight against terrorism. We are a steady supporter of Albania’s European aspirations. Therefore, we are very glad that last month the European Commission in its progress report recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania. Our bilateral economic cooperation is also developing well. Later this month the third Polish-Albanian Business Forum will be held in Tirana.

 

Poland is very connected with the Balkans. The proof of this are your Embassies in every single capital in the Balkans. How you see specifically the role of Albania in the Balkans?

Poland appreciates the role of Albania as a country which – thanks to good relations with all countries in the region – contributes significantly to stability and security in the Western Balkans. I would also like to underscore that we are both NATO allies which implies closer military cooperation. I had an opportunity to speak to FM Ditmir Bushati at the recent NATO meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs held on April 27 in Brussels. At the meeting we decided on maintaining NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities, which are important for both: Central and Eastern, as well as Southern Europe.

 

Brussels has forecast that the earliest the Western Balkans can join the European Union is 2025. Does this harm the hope of people who see their common future in Europe?

The year 2025 is indeed presented in the European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans published in February as an indicative date of EU accession for the frontrunners (now Montenegro and Serbia) and potentially other candidate countries. Indicating a specific date is a positive sign because it makes the European perspective tangible and realistic for the public opinion. The strategy provides as well for beginning negotiations with Albania and Macedonia, which should happen this year. All Western Balkan countries have a lot of reforms ahead of them. Our experience tells us that in such a case time runs fast. Much depends on determination, however there are no obstacles for Albania to catch up with today’s frontrunners or even overtake them. Of course we are ready to share our experience in introducing necessary reforms of public administration required by the Commission.

 

What are Poland’s views regarding the EU’s Balkan enlargement?

Poland strongly supports the open door policy of the EU. Enlargement is one of the most powerful and successful EU policies. It contributes to the security and prosperity of the whole continent. It encourages long-term political stability, economic development, security and good neighbourly relations in countries aspiring to join the EU. Most importantly, in our opinion Albanians and the citizens of other Western Balkan countries are fully entitled to choose their own development path. They are Europeans and the EU has got an obligation to accept them, of course if they meet the obligatory criteria. Enlargement is about high-level political meetings, setting benchmarks and opening chapters. But first and foremost, it is about changing people’s lives for the better thanks to reforms, modernisation, good governance, bringing economies and people together.

 

You’ve said: “We have to find the criteria how to elect the body that’s going to rule a federal Europe,” adding EU needs reforms. Does this mean that nowadays the European Union does not function properly?

Indeed, the EU requires reforms. The European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. We advocate enhancing the role of national parliaments. Further deepening of European integration is possible insofar as it is accepted by the states and peoples that participate in the process. The European Union can be strong only thanks to the real support of its citizens, who are able to confer a democratic mandate on their elected governments. In our opinion the European Commission should return to its technocratic role instead of making attempts towards a more political one. The role of the European Council, which is composed of state leaders chosen in democratic elections, should be decisive.

The issue of EU reform is being discussed among its members nowadays. We actively participate in this debate and present our position. However, we are open to the arguments put forward by other countries. Together we can reform the EU so that it best suits its citizens.

 

The Albanian public is very curious about your tensions with European Union. Could you explain them to us more clearly, please?

First of all let me stress that the European Union should be founded on universal rules that are equally applied to all. We are concerned that unclear criteria could lead to the arbitrary limitation of Member States’ rights. Due to the European Commission’s concerns about the independence of Poland’s judiciary system, it decided to launch the procedure set forth in Art. 7 of the Treaty on the European Union. In the framework of Poland’s dialogue with the Commission in this respect, we outlined our position in a White Paper, in which we present our arguments explaining the necessity of having launched the reform of the judiciary.

We defend our right to carry out reforms, as they respond to the expectations of Poles voiced in the latest elections. In our opinion they do not violate the principles of a democratic rule of law. On the contrary, they strengthen them. However, Poland remains open to a dialogue based on the merits with the European Commission and other EU Member States. We exchange opinions hoping that we will find a compromise.

 

Why does Poland not want to take in refugees?

Anybody who appears at the Polish border has a right – in accordance with international law – ­to apply for refugee status. However we oppose to a mandatory refugee relocation to countries they do not want to go. The problem is that for most refugees Poland is solely a transitory country: they prefer to go further to Western European countries, those with higher living standards.

In our opinion we should focus first on the root causes of migration. We are engaged in border protection efforts and participate in initiatives such as the European Union’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. Mandatory redistribution of migrants can be considered as a pull factor to deepen the crisis.

We have to remember as well that there are over one million Ukrainians in Poland and some of them come from regions touched by war.

 

Despite your good efforts, collaboration between our two countries is not high. Where you see real interest of Poland in Albania with respect to the economy and tourism?

With regard to the economy, I agree that the trade turnover between Poland and Albania, although on the increase, does not yet match the potential of our countries. In order to boost economic cooperation a Polish – Albanian Business Forum was established. Over 130 Polish and Albanian companies participated in the first two meetings, accompanying the Polish Prime Minister’s visit to Tirana in 2016 and the Albanian Prime Minister’s visit to Warsaw in 2017. The next Forum will take place in Tirana later this month. I hope that such frequent meetings of Polish and Albanian entrepreneurs will contribute to the increase of economic cooperation between our countries.

I am aware that tourism is an important sector of the economy. Albania is a beautiful country and Poles appreciate it, which is confirmed by an increasing number of my compatriots among tourists visiting your country.

 

You are one of the very active and respected ministers of the current Poland government. You are very connected with art too. You often speak very clearly and hard. Should you explain more about your point of view for the future of the European Union after Brexit? What doesn’t work in the Balkans?

Western Balkan countries are confronted with a number of challenges in different areas which have to be tackled through reforms. From our perspective, it is equally important that the EU maintains its political will to continue the enlargement process. We cannot miss this perfect moment. Poland has also experienced a challenging process of economic and political transformation - from communism to democracy, and from a controlled economy to a free market economy. I am very glad about Albania’s steady progress in the implementation of key reforms. We need Albania in the EU, as it certainly would enrich our community. And of course we will continue our close cooperation with the UK after Brexit, although in a different form.

 

Your Embassy is working hard to promote Poland in Albania. Your huge culture is very common in Albania, translated from the original but also from second languages? Will you continue to support your culture in Albania?

Cultural ties between our countries are just as important as cooperation in the political and economic sphere. I am very glad that Polish literature is so well-known in Albania, thanks to brilliant translators. I would like to single out Mr. Astrit Beqiraj who has established himself as a translator of contemporary Polish literature. I was really happy to learn that on the Albanian book market in the last 15 years Polish literature has gained first place among literature from Central and Eastern Europe. And now, with the Polish Language Studies recently re-established at the University of Tirana we may soon expect more readers reaching for Polish authors in the original version. I would also like to remind you here that Poles have also got an opportunity to learn the Albanian language in our country as two renowned Polish universities: in Toruń and in Poznań offer Albanian in their curricula.

 

What can the Albanian public expect from your visit?

It will confirm that Poland supports Albanians’ European aspirations and is ready to share its experience as regards the preparation process on the way to the EU. We cannot miss this opportunity for the EU’s enlargement.

[post_title] => Polish FM: No obstacles for Albania to catch up with EU bid frontrunners [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => polish-fm-no-obstacles-for-albania-to-catch-up-with-eu-bid-frontrunners [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-14 16:36:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-14 14:36:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136941 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136937 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-04 09:58:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-04 07:58:20 [post_content] => By Johann Sattler On May 3, the Austrian Embassy organized an International Conference on Interfaith Dialogue with the signature of a joint statement about “Interreligious Dialogue.” Below are some of the remarks at the conference by Johann Sattler, Ambassador of Austria to Tirana.   I wanted to start my speech, with a quote by the Albanian cleric and patriot, Father Gjergj Fishta, who said about 100 years ago: "It’s true we have Eid and Easter, but we all have Albanianess too!" That statement is still expressed today in the mosaic of religious beliefs in Albania. Religious coexistence, harmony and peace in Albania are tremendous values and an excellent example to be followed by both the Eastern and Western countries. In achieving this standard of coexistence and harmony an extraordinary role was played by simple Albanians, by ordinary members of the various religious communities in the country through their actions and their example. But a very important role was also played by the clergy, by the hierarchy of the communities. So let me express my deep respect and acknowledgement to you and your brethren, to the representatives of the religious communities for your extraordinary contribution to the preservation of this climate of harmony, which – by the way - should not be taken for granted. This exemplary state of good relations needs – like any good human partnership – a steady investment and refining. I am very grateful to the religious communities represented here who have agreed to our proposal for a joint statement on coexistence, harmony and interreligious dialogue, which gives to this conference an added value and promotes future co-operation and dialogue. Because, if there is one thing which can be improved in the multi-confessional Albania of today, it is more of a regular dialogue. This conference offers a platform for doing so, for speaking your mind, but also for listening to the suggestions of the other and for exchanging best practice. We as Western and Central Europeans can learn a lot from the experience here in Albania. Let me give you a few examples in the field of religion, which I personally came across over the last two years and which left a deep impression on me:
  • First is the way you celebrate your religious feasts (inviting each other on Christmas, Easter, Kurban Bajram, Sulltan Newroz, and exchanging visits from other communities on these occasions).
  • Second example: I was impressed when father Mirazh from the Franciscans order showed me around the most important pilgrimage site in Albania: Shnan Ndou (Saint Antony) in Laç – run by the Franciscans, visited by 2 ml. visitors (with a majority of Muslims/Bektashi visitors).
The pilgrimage mountain of Tomorri is also another example, which is massively visited in August by 300.000+ visitors, not only Bektashi, but also from other religious groups (Thanks for hospitality Baba Mondi).
  • Third: language is a good indicator of societal conditions. So representatives of different religioius communities not only celebrate together, they even combine their religious beliefs through language, adding to the most important Christian feast (Easter) a Muslim wish (inshallah) – Gezuar Pashket inshallah.
Let me give a final beautiful example of religious harmony and diversity – from my own biotope so to say, my own team at the Austrian Embassy: apart from the Austrian employees I have 10 Albanian employees – and within these 10 people you have the whole mosaic of diversity of religions in Albania. I have devoted Muslims, active Orthodox, faithful Catholics, traditional Bektashis, and a also a theologian Protestant. This mosaic of faith can be found in the society as a whole, in small communities and sometimes even in families. Albania on the other hand can also learn from our experience. Let me give you a few examples:
  • First – from our long Austrian tradition of dialogue (the first tolerance decree called “patents of tolerance” came out in the early year 1781/82 from the emperor Joseph II, which was the first step in constitutionalizing the platform of religious communication and coexistence. The real interreligious dialogue started from the time when Islam was recognized officially in 1912.
  • Second example: the Austrian religious education – the religious communities receive religions education for their pupils in their own confession and the teachers are paid by the State – expenditures of approximately 100 mln € per year by the Austrian state.
Our joint conference is organized in the framework of the Austrian-Albanian Cultural Year 2018. Our slogan for this year is - te rizbulojme te perbashketat -  ‘Lets rediscover what unites us’, and religious co-existence and harmony is definitely a topic which unites us. But 2018 is also important in other ways: Albanians throughout the world celebrate their national hero Skanderbeg, a larger than life figure, whose contributions to creating an Albanian spirit cannot be overestimated. And lastly, 2018, will be important also on Albania’s European path with a hopefully positive decision about opening accession negotiations with the European Union. Not only do I believe that this step is deserved, I am also convinced that Albania will contribute positively to the European family, not least through the example of interreligious harmony, especially between Muslims and Christians. We are happy to have here among us some of the best theologians and experts in their fields, from Albania, Austria, Italy, Greece and Turkey. I would like to thank my Ministry in Vienna for supporting this conference. A big thanks goes to the Albanian Minister of Culture. Thanks Mirela for being here: your presence gives this conference another dimension and shows that for a well-functioning society, it is very important to have a certain separation of state and religion [post_title] => Albania, a model of interfaith harmony in Europe [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-a-model-of-interfaith-harmony-in-europe [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-04 09:58:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-04 07:58:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136937 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136833 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-27 10:05:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-27 08:05:36 [post_content] => Hundreds of Albanian consumers were left holding worthless paid-for coupons this week as a major gasoline and a diesel retailer shut down its distribution centers around the country unexpectedly. Albania’s Gulf Oil Company is now under investigation for fraud in the €1.5 million worth coupon scheme that were sold below market price in the past few months when managers likely knew bankruptcy was near. That’s on top of employees not having received any wages in recent months, according to local media reports. The prosecution is currently investigating the company’s manager Albano Aliko as the main suspect who allegedly committed the fraud scheme. He is part of a larger group of suspects both locally and internationally, as the company is owned by a shell company which media reports link to shady business owners and politicians from Georgia, the former Soviet republic. Albania is no stranger the shady ties of politics and business, so it is no wonder that beyond the obvious fraud of a failing business, there are allegations of money laundering and political ties. In fact, the fraud likely perpetrated by Albania’s Gulf Oil is not simply a business letting down consumers, it is a failure of the government and its regulators and prosecutors need to look in depth at those ties. An Albanian online outlet critical of the government published a video this week showing the opening ceremony for Gulf in Albania three years ago. A high-production piece of marketing, it showed speeches from company representatives endorsing Gulf as a strategic foreign investor. The audience (and some of the speakers) included Albanian politicians ranging from Socialist ministers and mayors to the then the speaker of parliament representing the ruling coalition. Gulf tried to sell itself as a large international company, when in reality a simple online search reveals that it is a simple brand with a loose affiliation of businesses operating under the brand of what used to be a major American global company that no longer exists. This week, the Socialist minister in charge of oil concerns simply replied to media questions saying the businesses do fail and that an investigation needs to take place, a standard reply from a member of government facing allegations and charges that go far beyond the type of fraud investigation of an oil company that steals money from consumers. The eppitemy of the dark comedy being played on Albanian consumers and voters came as Bes Kallaku, one of Albania’s top comedians and the advertising face of Gulf Oil, told fans on social media that he was suing the company for money owed to him. There were reports that instead of money for his services, he had been paid in coupons. The sad fact is that this is not the first time that this happens. Gulf allegedly sold fuel from a local ARMO refinery, another blackhole for Albanian taxpayers as state regulators failed to collect taxes that resulted in the loss of millions of euros. Instead of focusing on places like ARMO or Gulf, which cause the state budget and consumers millions of euros in damages, Albania’s tax authorities are preoccupied with auditing small businesses with no political ties over and over, setting the wrong priorities for the country’s economy and state coffers. It is no wonder then that a recent report by the EBRD showed that more than half of Albanian businesses believe that political connections are key to success. But in the case of Gulf and ARMO success for the businesses and their political backers means a failure for Albanian consumers. [post_title] => Editorial: The Gulf Oil affair: When ties between business and politics go wrong [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-gulf-oil-affair-when-ties-between-business-and-politics-go-wrong [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-27 10:05:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-27 08:05:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136833 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137265 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-05-25 09:40:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-25 07:40:52 [post_content] => The case of Agron Xhafaj, brother of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, has led to renewed conflict in Albania’s political scene. But, perhaps more importantly, it has raised questions among Albanians that require better answers than what the public has received so far.   Agron Xhafaj is now said to have gone to Italy to serve a prison sentence issued back in 2002 for drug trafficking. Albania’s opposition says his brother, Fatmir Xhafaj, first as a powerful Socialist lawmaker and then as minister of interior shielded him for years. Fatmir Xhafaj has denied the charges and said his brother was at the wrong time at the wrong place, and he had not been involved in anything illegal in more than a decade. And, regardless, according to the minister and Prime Minister Edi Rama, the brother has his own life and should not harm the political career of the minister of interior. However, an investigation performed by a journalist and then handed to the opposition for making it public has brought forward a series of pressing questions. According to a wiretap done by cooperator, the minister’s brother allegedly continued his criminal activity in drug trafficking until very recently. Based on the wiretap, the opposition alleges that the brother has strong influence in the criminal underworld of Vlora, Albania’s second largest port city and one with a long history of powerful organized crime networks. The opposition accuses the minister of in effect granting his brother immunity, not only through not sending him earlier to Italy to serve the sentence -- but also by allowing him to continue his criminal activity in a protected environment. These accusations have been called “nonsense” by the minister.  And the reactions to the accusations from the government have been that they believe the wiretap is fake. The prime minister says he has checked it with an unnamed expert organization and he believes it is not real, but has refused to divulge more details. However, he agrees a proper, thorough and independent investigation should now take place to determine the wiretap findings.   The brother’s choice to go and surrender to Italian authorities also raises questions whether he did so to escape Albanian authorities, and the conflict of interest with the brother leading the Ministry of Interior. This is the second controversy in a few months involving a Socialist interior minister so questions abound: What kind of state is this and based on what standards? These questions are even more pressing as Albania hopes to open membership negotiations with the European Union. The EU is first a family of strong states and second a family of democratic states. Rama says the DP has invented the scandal to hurt Albania’s chances of opening EU membership negotiations, while the Democrats say they want negotiations to open precisely so there can be more supervision and pressure on Albania’s government when dealing with cases such as this. Ultimately, all can agree that the Albanian public and its friends abroad need thoroughly-investigated answers on this case. That’s a good place to start.   [post_title] => Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-thorough-investigation-needed-on-xhafaj-affair [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-25 10:35:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-25 08:35:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137265 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 30 [name] => Op-Ed [slug] => op-ed [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 30 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 755 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 755 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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