Editorial: Little Schengen’ Project : A useless idea at the worst of times

Editorial: Little Schengen’ Project : A useless idea at the worst of times

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The second meeting pertaining to the establishment of the so called ‘Western Balkans Schengen’ or as commonly referred mini-Schengen was convened last week in Ohrid with this time a slightly larger participation. Prime Ministers of North Macedonia

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Only the people of Kosovo can speak for Kosovo

Only the people of Kosovo can speak for Kosovo

By Harry Bajraktari* The President of Serbia and the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia are moving to unite their countries in some form of “Balkans’ Schengen”, which mimics the visa-free, open economic area that EU members enjoy. The

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Editorial: What Macron should have said

Editorial: What Macron should have said

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The week that is wrapping up in Albania was an extreme showdown of the reasons why this country is not only far away from any sensible progress related to European integration but is backsliding at breakneck speed.

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Brian J. Williams: “It’s climate action time”

Brian J. Williams: “It’s climate action time”

It is entirely appropriate that this year, we are focusing on the environment.  Yesterday, while we were enjoying yet another stunningly warm autumn day, one of my friends remarked on the irony of it, the day before organizing our UN

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Editorial: Neighbors to the rescue: why focusing on bilateral relations might save the EU perspective

Editorial: Neighbors to the rescue: why focusing on bilateral relations might save the EU perspective

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There is a flurry of high level meetings taking place between the Prime Ministers of the two countries that took a hard hit on their EU perspective after the refusal to open the accession negotiations, Albania and

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Turkish Ambassador: “We cherish our common history and friendly relations with Albania”

Turkish Ambassador: “We cherish our common history and friendly relations with Albania”

At the end of the Great War, Turkey was forced upon unacceptable conditions to bring to an end to our sovereign and independent country. Under the leadership of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades-in-arms, Turkish people showed an unprecedented

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Making the best out of a bad hand

Making the best out of a bad hand

By Mario Holzner* At the European Council meeting on 17th and 18th October it was concluded that: ‘The European Council will revert to the issue of enlargement before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020.’ This implies that

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Woulda, coulda, shoulda*

By Sidonja Manushi   Last week, France and its President Emmanuel Macron vetoed against Albania and Northern Macedonia – two of the Western Balkan candidate countries still to open accession negotiations – receiving a green light to their European path. 

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Mountain in labour a mouse is born: the Balkan Mini Schengen

Mountain in labour a mouse is born: the Balkan Mini Schengen

By Genc Pollo* “Mountain in labour a mouse is born” that Esopian fable came to my mind when I heard the news of the meeting in Novi Sad, Serbia of the government leaders from North Macedonia, Albania and the host

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Editorial: In the end, it is not Europe’s fault

Editorial: In the end, it is not Europe’s fault

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL By now the staunch French refusal to go forward with even symbolic milestones of enlargement as well as the remaining skepticism of the Netherlands and Denmark are clear and tangible. The meeting at the Council of the

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The second meeting pertaining to the establishment of the so called ‘Western Balkans Schengen’ or as commonly referred mini-Schengen was convened last week in Ohrid with this time a slightly larger participation. Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zaev and Rama and President of Serbia Vucic were joined this time around by Montenegrin Minister of Economy, Dragica Sekulic and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić.

It was very interesting to analyze the short comments of the Montenegrin Minister after this meeting. She said that for Montenegro this would be a waste of energy with no concrete additional benefits since her fellow citizens already travel in this region just using ID cards and in the context of CEFTA her country has already lifted trade and economic barriers.

The brief but extremely clear and on point reaction of Minister Sekulic wrap up indeed most of what is wrong with the mini-Schengen intuitive in general and not just for her country. The initiative screams “useless’ from every detail. Whatever is presented as future result has been achieved already, is in the plans to be achieved by other existing serious and legitimate platforms (such as Regional Cooperation Council , Regional Youth Cooperation Office, etc) or simply is impossible. Additionally there is a comprehensive, strategic and important European umbrella that is supposed to guide further integration in the region, the Berlin process, to which all the countries are bound.  

The intuitive is still unclear for most and not just in terms of membership. Fundamentally its proponents have failed to clarify whether this model is an exact replica of the original Schengen agreement between European countries or just borrows the core idea of erasing borders and applies it to the region.

The erasing of borders according to this advanced European model would require what Europe itself achieved only decades (Schengen was established as late as the mid-80s) of peace, collaboration and institutionalized collective decision-making.  None of this preconditions are in place in the region. The exclusion of Kosovo (self-inflicted or not) from this platform brings down its entire logic. How can borders be erased between countries that don’t recognize each other? How come that such lofty goals can be envisaged as realistic in a region where there is still frozen conflict and where reconciliation has still a long way to go? One needs to see the latest speech of Serbian president in Paris saying that Kosovo shouldn’t be part of UNESCO to be clear about it.

No wonder this initiative and especially the way Albania is going about it is wrecking the relations between Albania and Kosovo. The entire political class and not only in Kosovo is against it and they have not shied away from strong and vocal disapproval. Exchange of declarations on two sides of the Albanian speaking border has reached a new apex of hostility and tension. Indeed it is at least ironic that Albania looks at this initiative so enthusiastically when throughout the years it could neither ease up nor erase the border with Kosovo, a much less ambitious plan.

Furthermore the paternalistic approach towards Kosovo shown throughout the meetings and press conferences associated with this new idea is entirely unwarranted and not welcomed.

Moreover this comes at what can be truthfully called the worst of times. The larger European context has turned sour after October 18. With the blunt refusal to grant the opening of accession negotiations to Albania and North Macedonia, the attention has been on whether these countries would seek other options. The ‘mini-Schengen’ can be interpreted as a potential alternative and reactionary move from the region. Then skeptics of enlargement are free to say “why not? You can integrate first between yourselves and then we will see.” This approach is certainly assisted by Rama’s frequent proclamations that Europe seems to have no time for the region and Vucic’s mantra that countries are on their own and should take care of themselves.

This approach could not be any more wrong. The time is for intensifying efforts and maximizing contacts to put back the issue of negotiations on the table sooner than later. Every lost day counts. Whereas the Serbian president can say that since his country has opened most of negotiations chapters anyways, his Albanian counterpart is in no similar position whatsoever.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the priority of the United States in our region, with now two special envoys, is to rekindle the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. The current tensions between Tirana and Prishtina certainly do not help the process.

Finally for Albania itself the timing is far from perfect. Such protagonist behavior at the regional arena at a time when the internal political crisis is unresolved and deteriorating, the new justice institutions are still on the horizon and continue to be contested and finally the social discontent is raging can be seen only as a cheap attempt at deflection

The region already has numerous platforms and mechanisms, abundant agreements and institutions that can secure intense and qualitative cooperation, exchange, trade, mutual projects and so on. The only thing needed of them to succeed is consistency and respect for commitments that have been already taken.

Anything else it futile and ill-timed. 

 
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                    [post_content] => By Harry Bajraktari*

The President of Serbia and the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia are moving to unite their countries in some form of “Balkans’ Schengen”, which mimics the visa-free, open economic area that EU members enjoy.

The initiative has been greeted with a lot of suspicion and criticism in Kosova and its leaders have rejected an invitation to join. To Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, this reaction seems like a mystery. It should not be.

The project reminds people of another failed project. It was called Yugoslavia and it had great aspirations, but it collapsed amid horrible wars and great tragedies. Now the region, like the rest of the former communist Eastern Europe, aspires to join NATO and the European Union, not a new regional union.

A political leader in Kosova has called the new project: “[A new] Yugoslavia, plus Albania, but minus Slovenia and Croatia.” This definition has upset Rama, but it rings very true. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, two other countries which have been invited and which have also gone through the Yugoslavian experience have refused to participate. They want to face West and move toward EU instead of returning to Belgrade’s orbit.

 

Neither Belgrade, nor Tirana can decide for Kosova

Prime Minister Rama claims to have Kosova in his heart. So, why are the people and the leaders of Kosova so upset with him?

The main reason is that Rama in Tirana, just like Vucic in Belgrade, refuses to see Kosova as an independent factor in the Balkans.

The Albanian Socialist leader makes often bold assumptions or talks loosely about what Kosova should do. He has clashed publicly in the past with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and with some of the opposition leaders, who won the last elections, including Albin Kurti and Isa Mustafaj. He has been accused of supporting the idea of border change between Kosova and Serbia, which many experts see as dangerous for the entire region and an offense to the territorial integrity of Kosova. Under his government, several trade barriers and tariffs have been placed between Albania and Kosova. President Thaçi has been one of the few leaders in Kosova, who kept a good relationship with Rama and that seems to have ended when he too rejected the “Balkans’ Schengen” initiative.

 

A pattern of behavior from Tirana?

To the people of Kosova, Rama’s behavior has revived old resentments about the behavior of previous leaders in Tirana and Albania in the last century, when Kosova was seen as expendable or was ignored in their decisions.

In 1912, when Albania declared its independence, the leaders of Kosova were part of the Declaration, but the Great Powers recognized only an Albanian state that left Kosova and more than half of Albanian-inhabited lands, outside its borders. Kosova and some of these lands became part of Yugoslavia, a Serbian dominated state created after WWI. Since then, Tirana has negotiated directly with Belgrade, sidestepping the Kosovar concerns.

In 1924, Zog, the future king of Albania, returned to power with the help of Belgrade, which worried about the strong Kosovar presence in the government of Tirana.

After World War Two, the communists in Albania, led by Enver Hoxha, agreed to make Albania part of the new federation of Yugoslavia. They helped Belgrade crush the resistance in Kosova and place it under its new rule. Eventually, Albania didn’t become part of Yugoslavia, but Hoxha continued to use Kosova as a tool in its relations with Belgrade.

In the 1990s as Yugoslavia was going through its self-destructing wars, Albania again was reluctant to support Kosova’s ambition to secede from fear of hurting its own chances to become a member of NATO and EU. Prime Minister Fatos Nano even met with war criminal Slobodan Milosevic while Kosova was descending in war and declared publicly that Kosova’s capital was in Belgrade.

These memories and others make people in Kosova see in Rama as a new example in a pattern of selfish behavior from leaders in Tirana.

Today this is even less acceptable. Kosova is now an independent sovereign country. No one else should speak in its name. And second, Albania is now a member of NATO. Its leaders should not be afraid to stand up to Belgrade and other neighbors on proposals which hurt ethnic Albanians or the region.

Serbia refuses to recognize Kosova as an independent country. So why should Kosova join another regional initiative if not treated as an equal partner?

Albania’s Prime Minister insists that his main goal is to open the border between Kosova and Albania, so that Albanians can be free to travel. But, why hasn’t he done this already? Why should Tirana and Prishtina need an agreement that includes Belgrade, to make the trade between them easier?

When Kosova is invited to join this union, it is asked to omit its high tariff on Serbia’s goods. This measure is taken, in response to Serbia’s effort to dismantle the international support for Kosova. Only a few days ago, another African country, Ghana, was pressured to withdraw the recognition of Kosova’s independence. This is not a climate for a new union in the region.

 

Edi Rama should mind his own business

If Albania was a regional success story, maybe his arrogance toward Kosova could have some explanation.

However, Albania has never been in a worse shape. The economy is failing while its foreign debts has escalated. The country is rife with social and economic conflicts. The image of the country has suffered terribly because of spiraling cannabis illegal production and traffic.

The entire opposition is excluded from the political system. A one-party rule is now cemented in government, parliament, and local administration. The last election was compared to those of Enver Hoxha, with candidates from only one political party. The Socialist Party is indeed a continuation of the old Labor Party with a different name.

By comparison, Kosova just went through a parliamentary election that was free and fair and now is proceeding with a peaceful and democratic change in government. Kosova is the greatest asset for Albania’s tourism industry. Yet the hundreds of thousands that travel there every summer are forced to spend hours in long queues and forced to pay punishing fees and tariffs, although they are there to bring more business to Albania.

Edi Rama is not in a position to lecture Kosova on anything and frankly, he should mind his own business. Let him fix the problems in Albania first, including this unprecedented political crisis. He should be ashamed for criticizing Kosova while accommodating the plans and interests of an autocrat like Serbia’s Vucic.

 

EU out but Russia in?

The opposition to this initiative is strong in all the region, because it is seen as a Plan B to EU integration.

The region has already too many initiatives: SEECP, CEFTA, regional forums on security and other fields of cooperation, the summits of the so-called Western Balkans, numerous bilateral trade agreements, and other mechanisms that have made it easy for people, goods, services to travel among neighboring countries. There is no need for a new initiative.

Albania and North Macedonia are unhappy because the European Union rejected again their application to start membership talks, but they should not rush into careless reactions.

Only a few days ago, Serbia signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This is a Russia-led economic union that stands as an alternative to the West.

Russia has now called on Albania and North Macedonia to join. Even if they don’t join EEU, Russia’s influence will enter their countries via Serbia’s membership to both EEU and the “Balkans Schengen”. This is exactly the danger about which many experts who have warned EU and the Balkans.

Instead of pressuring Kosova to join, Albania should understand why this project is a bad idea. It should learn to treat Kosova as an equal partner. Only the people of Kosova and their democratically elected representatives can speak for Kosova. And in this case, they have taken the right decision.

 

*Harry Bajraktari is the founder and publisher (1991-1998) of Illyria newspaper. He is a well-known Albanian-American businessman and activist. This article was first published at Illyria newspaper. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The week that is wrapping up in Albania was an extreme showdown of the reasons why this country is not only far away from any sensible progress related to European integration but is backsliding at breakneck speed. First a high level prosecutor that was blamed by the prime Minister and his deputy in the Parliament for being connected to criminals was ambushed and shot in the country’s busiest highway, connecting Tirana and Durres. Ina dark twist of events it turns out he was indeed connected to crime given that he was travelling with a well-known criminal, most likely the real target of the ambush, whose records are for lack of a better word impressive in the illegal activities field. To come full circle on the soap opera of crime and politics in Albania, the latest person arrested for this ambush was the nephew of the other infamous figure, the MP Rrahja of the Socialist Party, already a protagonist together with his son in an ongoing trial for violence.

The alleged and very probable common interest of the prosecutor and the individual of the Albanian underground world is properties at the coast. The criminal has been accused by the opposition of working to illegally change property claims whereas the prosecutor had just thrown to jail the head of the administration of the state’s land property agency in Durres. The Wild West is still on full frontal. Land is for grabs since the ages old property titles thorn in the heart of Albania’s economy and justice cannot be removed. Some experts and opinion makers rushed to proclaim that the prosecutor was attacked since he was vulnerable after the vocal and harsh allegations and condemnation of him by the Pm in a public session of the Parliament. Indeed attacking verbally a person of the justice system, yet to be vetted by the relevant reform, was a testimony of bad judgment and of the diehard tendency to subdue justice to political whim, the ongoing reform notwithstanding.  However the evidence points to the fact is that the prosecutor was hurt because he was in the company of the crime lord and because of their collaboration.  And this is even worse.

In seemingly unrelated news, another mayor lost his mandate within this week since it was proven that he had hidden his past court proceeding in Greece. De-criminalization law stipulates that candidates that hide from their self-declaration form previous arrests and court cases in or outside Albania are deemed unfit to serve. Yet another one bites the dust from the Prime Minister’s approved pool of candidates after the same happened to the Shkodra mayor elect. He is not going to be the last one and he joins an already long list of names including former MPs of the majority that had to resign due to their dark criminal pasts.

Let us now come to the core of the matter. This is what French president Macron should have said when he refused Albania the green light to opening accession negotiations: that this country is under the most evil of spells where crime rules unperturbed holding hands with politics and justice, that humans security is virtually zero, that the very basic and elementary rule of law assumption where properties and contracts are respected is nowhere.

Macron should have said that he does not find it in his heart to open the doors of the Union for a captured state, with frightening crime cancerous cells that have metastases all over.

Asylum seekers be damned, it’s the rule of law, monsieur le President! 
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                    [post_content] => It is entirely appropriate that this year, we are focusing on the environment. 

Yesterday, while we were enjoying yet another stunningly warm autumn day, one of my friends remarked on the irony of it, the day before organizing our UN Day event on the environment. 

Today’s beautiful October day is not disconnected from what we are doing to our planet.  Think about that, please, every time you enjoy a coffee outside. 

Globally, as you all know, the last 5 years are the hottest on record.  In Albania too – the last years are the hottest on record. Take a look at the screen behind me – from a global initiative called #showyourstripes. It dramatically displays the acceleration of the hyper-heating of our planet specifically on Albania. 

We know from Albania’s official communications to the United Nations Climate Conference that scientists predict hotter weather, especially in summer.  Precipitation will be generally reduced, with the remaining rain falling in more intense bursts, bringing with it higher risks of floods. And they predict more frequent droughts, bad for agriculture, bad for hydro-power.  

The climate crisis is why this year the Secretary-General of the United Nations convened a high-level summit in September, and asked nations not to come with pretty words, but with lists of concrete actions. 

The good news is that Albania has a wonderful starting point. 

It has many natural resources that make the country beautiful to live in for its citizens, and which, if used sustainably, can contribute to Albania’s development for generations to come.  

TTe electricity that Albania produces is entirely carbon-free (except when the dams are dry and Albania buys electricity off the market).  And Albania’s sunshine is a solar-energy resource with great potential. 

The Government is conscious of its obligations – for its citizens – and as a global citizen.  

For example, in 2016, a moratorium on logging was enacted to start reversing the drastic deforestation that has occurred in Albania over centuries.  In early 2019 it issued a national forestry plan. And just ahead of the UN’s climate summit this year, Albania produced its first climate change strategy, also a first for the Western Balkans.  The Ministry has recently launched an initiative to ban plastic bags – I am sure the Minister will say more. And as you just saw in the video, the Prime Minister has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. 

However, there is no time to lose.  Plans and laws need budgets and staff, or else they will have no impact.  

In fact, what is really needed is an overall budget analysis that can help create what we might call an “SDG investment plan” – so that Albania’s citizens can see how the Government intends to invest in the full range of SDGs – from social protection to health to education to the environment.  

And speaking of the SDGs…

As you know, it has been underlined since the inception of Agenda2030 that the SDGs are mutually reinforcing; they have linkages with one another; you cannot tackle them alone.

This is certainly true of the environment, and I want to give an example, which is the idea of “environmental justice. 

The concept of “environmental justice” highlights how the environmental SDGs – let’s say SDG 13 Climate Change, or SDG 15 protecting “Life on Land” – are linked to SDG 16, building accountable institutions.  “Environmental justice” is the connection between protecting the biodiversity in Albania’s rivers and forests, and the rule of law and democracy. It is the connection that says the resources of Albania belong to the people of Albania, and it is government’s job to manage those resources on behalf of its present – and future – citizens. 

In practical terms, what does environmental justice mean?  It means that the best possible science is used to prepare environmental impact assessments, and that those assessments are transparent and available for public debate.  It means that parliament creates forums to consult the residents and municipalities that have the local knowledge. It means that professional consultations are undertaken with the communities whose villages or farms might be affected for decades to come.  It means that the courts – and allow me here to recognize once again what I believe is the positive and valuable judicial reform process – are making judgements based solely on the law and on the well-being of Albanian citizens. 

In sum, if Albania is to move quickly and sustainably to protect its resources, then along with all the other judicial reforms, environmental justice is needed too.

And this is just one example of the inter-connectedness of the SDGs. 

Overall, development progress needs to be made on different fronts:  governance and democracy, the economy, investments in people and planet – all at the same time to create a positive, virtual cycle. 

 

*This speech was given by Brian J. Williams, UN Resident Coordinator in Albania, on 28 October 2018.

 
                    [post_title] => Brian J. Williams: "It's climate action time"
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            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 143422
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2019-11-01 16:55:18
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-01 15:55:18
                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

There is a flurry of high level meetings taking place between the Prime Ministers of the two countries that took a hard hit on their EU perspective after the refusal to open the accession negotiations, Albania and North Macedonia and their immediate EU neighboring countries Italy and Greece. Indeed both Greece and Italy are consistent supporters of the EU integration process of the Western Balkans region first and foremost because they have clear vested interest in the EU future of Albania and North Macedonia for both stability and development purposes.

A lot is at stake for the moment. Greece stands not only as the country of the Thessaloniki pledge but also as the signatory to the Prespa Agreement which resolved a decade’s long frozen conflict with North Macedonia and which now stands on shaky ground. Indeed Prime Minister Zaev during his visit in Italy mentioned that parts of the agreement may be suspended now that negotiations are not on the table.

On the other side, Italy has been the most disappointed member state after the failure to reach a decision about the opening of negotiations in the Council of the EU on October 18 so much that Italian PM Conte has vowed to keep the negotiations issue on the table for the next Council meeting during November. Although no one expects a 180 degree change of heart from France and the rest of the skeptics, the Italian determination is heart-warming at least. Italy also needs a peaceful and integrated region and a well anchored Albania as its most direct eastern neighbor.

This leads to an interesting observation which may have the potential to improve things if not turn them around gradually. It is natural that for both Albania and North Macedonia these neighboring countries present their best advocates. These countries have numerous intrinsic links in numerous areas: investments, cultural affinities, human exchanges and a lot of political interaction in recent history. They possess the best information about the state of affairs and the most genuine stake for things to go forward inside an EU framework.

The fact that there are unresolved bilateral issues with Greece should not become a deterrent in this case. On the contrary, the EU integration should be revisited as the unique platform to resolve these issues, putting EU standard at the forefront. Albania gives a small but clear example in this regard. The fact that property issues were raised frequently by the Greek government seeking to protect the due interest of the Greek minority have served all Albanian citizens who have pending property issues by keeping the focus on this priority.  The fact that Italy wants business standards to remain high and rule of law to be improved in Albania serve naturally both the EU perspective and the existing Italian investments in the country.

Albania has a high number of unresolved issues with Greece and has gone through several years with a serious lack of communication with its southern partner. Now it is the time to heavily invest in bilateral relations. The reviving of the EU perspective should be advocated also in these terms: as the only credible platform for resolution of conflicts, frozen or not. The history of many member states resolving their bilateral issues during the process of integration and even after as peer member states is an instructive lesson in this regard.

The first and most decisive step in this regard ifs for the Albanian diplomacy. Whereas the foreign policy position of North Macedonia has been much clearer, by refusing categorically class B alternatives to accession such a preferential relations or downgraded versions of integration; the key players of Albanian foreign policy have still to escape the absurd cycle of blaming exclusively EU’s own issues.

The role of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs is crucial and it is the right time for it to be reconsidered, increased and refined. Albania needs a more effective, robust and savvy leadership of the foreign policy. Now it’s the moment to understand and accept this need and move forward. Too much is at stake otherwise.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Neighbors to the rescue: why focusing on bilateral relations might save the EU perspective
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            [5] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 143404
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2019-10-31 19:46:09
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-31 18:46:09
                    [post_content] => At the end of the Great War, Turkey was forced upon unacceptable conditions to bring to an end to our sovereign and independent country. Under the leadership of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades-in-arms, Turkish people showed an unprecedented resistance with the War of Independence 100 years ago. It is followed by diplomatic efforts by our newly established Parliament in Ankara.

Under these dire conditions, our nation has shown great courage, strong will, wisdom and determination, which defined our character as a nation. This character is still very much alive today. After 100 years, we are equally determined to stand against all challenges towards our nation and our national security.

For the past 8 years, Turkey has faced the worst humanitarian crisis in the world since the Second World War. As a result, Turkey is hosting 4 million refugees, the biggest number of refugees worldwide for the 5th year in a row.

 Despite all our efforts, the threat of terrorism originating from Syria and targeting our country persisted. During the last two years, PKK/YPG terrorist organization attacked us more than a hundred times.

Under these conditions, the Operation Peace Spring aimed at ensuring the security of our people by driving out PKK/YPG and DAESH from our borders. Following an extremely meticulous operation, we have reached a deal with the US and Russia for the withdrawal of the PKK/YPG from a 30 km deep safe zone from our borders.

Turkey is neighbouring volatile regions with many challenges. We address these challenges in a determined and principled manner, guided by the founding dictum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at home, peace in the world”.

Since 2002, Turkey has been transforming its economy, strengthening its financial structure while implementing reforms for more democracy and better administration of the country.

We are implementing an “Enterprising and Humanitarian” approach to achieve security, stability and prosperity in our neighbourhood, in the Balkans, in Europe and beyond.

Today, as a member of G20, having the 6th largest economy in Europe and the 16th biggest in the world; having the 2nd largest army in NATO and being at the very centre of all Euro-Atlantic institutions, we keep walking towards our targets of 2023 with profound determination.

We cherish our centuries old common history and our friendly and fraternal relations with Albania in modern times. As we celebrate the 96th anniversary of our Republic, we also celebrate the 96th anniversary of the “Treaty of Eternal Friendship and Cooperation” between our two countries, which we signed right after the proclamation of the Republic in 1923.

We are proud to be the biggest foreign investor in Albania in many strategic fields such as finance, telecommunications, civil aviation, health, mining, industry, education, energy and infrastructure. We are proud to be the 3rd biggest trade partner of Albania.

Albania has a key role for peace and stability in the Balkans. We support the integration process of Albania with the EU. We believe that economically and politically stronger Albania as a full member of the EU, is in the interest of Turkey, as well as the Balkans and Europe.

While we are commemorating the founder of our Republic Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, his comrades-in-arms and all our veterans, we respectfully remember our martyrs who lost their lives defending our country, fighting against terrorist organisations and resisting the treacherous coup attempt of 15 July by Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation. 

*This speech was held by Turkish Ambassador to Albania Murat Ahmet Yoruk during the Republic Day Reception 

 
                    [post_title] => Turkish Ambassador: “We cherish our common history and friendly relations with Albania” 
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                (
                    [ID] => 143401
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2019-10-31 19:36:52
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-31 18:36:52
                    [post_content] => By Mario Holzner*

At the European Council meeting on 17th and 18th October it was concluded that: ‘The European Council will revert to the issue of enlargement before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020.’ This implies that Albania and North Macedonia will not start their negotiations for EU-enlargement, although they fulfil all the necessary technical requirements and have the support of the European Commission, the European Parliament and most of the EU member states – except France (and in the case of Albania also Denmark and the Netherlands). Under the pretence to first reform the accession process before allowing new countries to negotiate, French President Emmanuel Macron has abandoned the EU’s Balkans promise of 2003. (Although it might be too easy, to put all the blame on President Macron.)

This is particularly depressing for North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who has made great efforts and who has taken a lot of personal risk by fulfilling Greece’s condition of changing the country’s name. He nevertheless remains a steadfast optimist, despite being forced to try his luck in snap elections which have the potential to reverse the whole reform process. In political terms everything was already said and most to the point by outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who stated that: ‘I am very disappointed by the result of the EU enlargement discussion. It is a grave historical mistake not to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. A grave historical mistake’. Overall, our assessment from before the General Affairs Council in June 2019 remains valid: further delaying the opening of accession talks sends a terrible signal to the Western Balkans.

 

NATO matters

 

However, despite all the justified disappointment, there is also reason to support Prime Minister Zaev’s optimism. Although even starting the process of EU accession is off the table, the same is not true of NATO (accession to which for North Macedonia Greece had also been blocking). The US Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify North Macedonia’s entry into NATO as the alliance’s 30th member, with 91 Yea’s against only 2 Nay’s (Albania already joined NATO in 2009).

In economic terms, we find that NATO accession is even more important for the country than entry into the EU, at least in the sense that it provides the most serious security guarantee available to foreign investors (i.e. US military support). This then helps countries to attract much needed foreign direct investment (FDI). Given that the economic model of Central, East and Southeast Europe (CESEE) has been based, from the very beginning of transition, on capital and technology transfers from Western Europe via FDI, this is of utmost economic importance.

We find that, on average across CESEE, being a NATO member increases the share of FDI in GDP by 11.4 percentage points. This is slightly more (by 1 percentage point) than what can be expected from an EU-membership. In both cases we only compare for the years since the first CESEE countries joined the respective institutions – i.e. since 1999 for NATO and since 2004 for the EU.

However, it could be many other factors that are responsible for these marked differences. We control for these in an econometric model.

Our model indicates that NATO membership is much more important for FDI inflows than EU membership, in the years immediately before accession. FDI inflows into CESEE economies picked up significantly three years before NATO accession, in anticipation of the strong security guarantee that this would bring. Presumably, NATO’s Article V—which effectively gives all members US protection in the event that they are attacked—made foreign investors more comfortable about committing their capital to these countries over a long time horizon. 

As a result, despite the further delay in the start of EU accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia, the direct economic impact of recent developments does not have to be wholly negative. This is especially true for North Macedonia as a soon-to-be-member of NATO. This assumes, of course, that there are no negative political developments and backsliding on reform progress as a result of the unfortunate decision in Brussels. 

 

*Mario Holzner is the Executive Director at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies 

 
                    [post_title] => Making the best out of a bad hand 
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            [7] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 143348
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2019-10-24 23:06:34
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-24 21:06:34
                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi

 

Last week, France and its President Emmanuel Macron vetoed against Albania and Northern Macedonia - two of the Western Balkan candidate countries still to open accession negotiations - receiving a green light to their European path. 

Following this decision, which many analysts and experts ‘blamed’ on France alone, Macron gave a statement saying the majority of EU member states favored the opening of talks with Northern Macedonia, believing in the credibility of its reforms much more than Albania’s.

According to Reuters, Macron said that “opening negotiations with Northern Macedonia, while having to leave Albania outside, would be a fatal mistake for the region.” 

Contrarily to what one might have expected to happen following Macron’s words, it was Northern Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev who proposed his own resignation under snap elections and the establishment of a caretaker government on Friday after Brussels decision, while Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama did the exact opposite, blaming the rejection on internal EU issues alone and categorically refusing any resignation talk. 

“We have not firmly promised that negotiations will open. This is the first factor. The responsibility levels facing internal opinion are completely different. The second factor is structural, as in Albania there is no place for resignation. In Bundestag’s stand, Albania is obliged to address ODIHR recommendations for electoral reform, which is ongoing. Albania cannot hold electoral elections while the reform is still under process. We are at a situation where we don’t have a functional Constitutional Court,” said Gent Cakaj, the acting Albanian foreign minister, a day after the country failed to open negotiations yet again.

The underlying paradox in this situation is blatant, to say the least. 

Although EU member states have continued being critical towards N. Macedonia’s reforms, which also still have a long way to go, none has argued against the weight of the reforms undertaken, or the leadership of Zaev, who was reportedly even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras for ratifying the Prespa agreement and reaching a consensus on the name change. 

For Albania, in addition to France, other EU member states have constantly urged further progress in ongoing reforms, while, recently, the German Bundestag agreed on conditionally granting Albania the green light - adding solving the political crisis and punishing high-ranking corruption and vote rigging in the long list of things to be figured out by the government and the opposition. 

In this context, saying Albania’s fate was sealed by internal EU issues alone is looking at the world through pink colored glasses. But assuming that N. Macedonia got the short end of the stick in this entire situation is good intuition and the political reactions in each respective country only testify to this fact. 

However, what might be the worst in this situation, is Cakaj’s statement that the Socialist Party did not make any specific promises to open negotiations (although the government’s foreign policy mantra has been EU membership since the start), followed by arguing it can nevertheless not resign, because then reforms would halt. 

Although sidetracking is possible, Cakaj’s words bear a bigger danger - that of tying up the European perspective with one party. 

The European perspective does not belong to political sides, but to the Albanian people - treating it as such only deepens the already-rooted tendency to think in two-party terms here and in lack of an alternative, which could be a caretaker government, a government of experts, political scientists, activists, civil society members, etc. In reality, reforms are not tied to any political side, but are only a logical outcome of Albania’s long transition into a functioning democracy, as is its European path.

Preferring to go down this path by turning a blind eye to issues is harmful, just as much as being happy with receiving a ‘yes’ even if we all know Albania will still need years to actually become an EU member state after opening negotiations. 

In doing so, the morale is fed with lies, issues are not truly resolved and the opportunity for choosing an alternative on how to reach the citizen’s European future will get buried under the stash of increasing homework for Albania, which will probably continue to accumulate through the years. 

*An expression of dismissiveness or disappointment concerning a statement, question, explanation, course of action, or occurrence involving hypothetical possibilities, uncertain facts, or missed opportunities.

 
                    [post_title] => Woulda, coulda, shoulda*
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            [8] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 143298
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2019-10-18 09:48:11
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-18 07:48:11
                    [post_content] => By Genc Pollo*

"Mountain in labour a mouse is born" that Esopian fable came to my mind when I heard the news of the meeting in Novi Sad, Serbia of the government leaders from North Macedonia, Albania and the host country in order to discuss a Mini Schengen Agreement.

Maybe that is because of the rather misplaced and pretentious name or maybe because of some creeping fatigue with photo op summits that one barely remembers the day after. Some would counter that it is nice to see leaders talking in friendly get togethers in a region that saw bloodshed not so long ago. In this spirit a few years ago the European Commission officials and Western Balkans politicians played football in Vienna with then Prime Minister Gruevski scoring goals. Not being nihilistic by nature and hoping for an added value I perused the page long Novi Sad statement. The only new and specific thing I could find was the commitment to have until 2021 the nationals of the three countries cross the respective borders by using only the ID card.

Well, fact is that since 2009 Albanian citizens travel to North Macedonia and also to Kosovo and Montenegro, by showing their ID at the border. North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro have the same border regime while Kosovo has it with North Macedonia and Montenegro. Again since 2010 Albanian citizen travel visa free to Serbia and vice versa. If they would be able to use just the ID as promised in Novi Sad this would be the only concrete improvement in regional cross border travel requirements. It may boost the numbers a bit since for instance only 55 000 Serbs visited Albania this year so far.

All this is not much but is still fine. It has little to do with the EU Schengen system. In the EU it meant long years of hard work to harmonise police and border control standards and to put in place an information exchange regime coupled with personal data protection until the border post were removed. Such a process is not very likely in the Western Balkans not simply because of distrust rooted in history but also because it could interfere with the EU integration of each country.

The most quoted reference in Novi Sad was a World Bank study which had found out that truck drivers wait for 20 million hours annually for border and customs inspections. While enhancing border infrastructure and simplifying border trade procedure without assuming unnecessary risks in smuggling criminality and terrorism prevention would be welcome there was nothing specific about it in the Novi Sad declaration. We shouldn't also forget that Western Balkan countries and Moldova are already in a free trade area called CEFTA.

News had it that those issues would be tackled in the follow up meeting in Ohrid next month where all six Western Balkans countries would be invited. But here we start really talking about the obvious elephant in the room; which is the unresolved issues left over from the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Kosovo and Serbia after a long and ineffective Brussels facilitated dialogues don't really recognise travel and vehicles documents and work on impromptu and unreliable arrangements; mutual official recognition will require heavy lifting that no Ohrid participant can shoulder. Add to that Bosnia-Hercegovina with her internal problems that mean limited ability to engage in such external relations and the picture becomes complete.

The Novi Sad leaders can meet and talk without EU and US chaperones and this is fine. Whether such talk can bring about positive change and meaningful benefit for their people has yet to be proved.

*Genc Pollo MP

fmr. Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration

fmr. Deputy PM, Minister of Education, Minister of Telecom&IT

Tirana, Albania

 
                    [post_title] => Mountain in labour a mouse is born: the Balkan Mini Schengen
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                (
                    [ID] => 143295
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                    [post_date] => 2019-10-18 09:43:42
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-18 07:43:42
                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

By now the staunch French refusal to go forward with even symbolic milestones of enlargement as well as the remaining skepticism of the Netherlands and Denmark are clear and tangible. The meeting at the Council of the European Union has very little chance of producing a surprising outcome since the majority of the signals are negative.

In the face of yet another missed opportunity, domestic majority politicians have already geared up their alibis: it is Europe’s fault! It is the internal situation of the EU, the position of France and even personal crusade of Emmanuel Macron, it is the myths of the Dutch media, it is the aloofness of Denmark towards our region…The list goes on.

There are elements of truth in this alibi as in every alibi. Of course the situation of the EU does not help. There are multiple other focal points counting the much more pressing matters of looming Brexit, security concerns of the situation in Syria and lack of unity between member states over several pending issues.

But you know what else does not help? The situation in Albania. It is exactly what even all the most ardent supporters of the opening accession negotiations including Commissioner Hahn has said in this very same words. The situation of Albania is not helping!

It might be that France’s historic myopia towards Albania limits its concerns over the number of asylum seekers. However those numbers do point to one salient truth: the crisis that is raging in Albania even though many internal and external key actors continue to pretend to ignore it. A political crisis that has left the country bereft of any democratic or even constitutional order. A set of local elections inspired by monism three decades after the fall of communism. An unrepresentative and even ridiculous parliament. No Constitutional Court. No High Court. A majority that spends most of its energy on impeaching the President, the last standing yet truncated figure in the checks and balances game.

In the background the economic stagnation, lack of hope and utter disappointment sends droves of Albanians, young, educated, uneducated, abroad. Some of them end up seeking asylum in France. Apparently enough of them to jump in the statistics Syrians notwithstanding.

The decision to delay the opening of accession negotiations for Albania is still the wrong one. It will take away whatever hope is left that change might come. However if there is to be one silver lining in this development it is in the soul searching that should follow to arrive at a correct understanding and reflection. This is important first and foremost for the country itself, for its future whether there is any integration perspective left or not. Even if we are to stick to the narrative of troubled and undecided Europe, we still have to draw a path forward for Albania’s own destiny.

The recognition of the fact that unless the normal democratic institutional system starts working again, we cannot pretend to be a normal country that is taking progressive steps towards accession.

We are not there yet. This is not Europe’s fault.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: In the end, it is not Europe’s fault
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    [post] => WP_Post Object
        (
            [ID] => 143501
            [post_author] => 29
            [post_date] => 2019-11-15 09:43:10
            [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-15 08:43:10
            [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The second meeting pertaining to the establishment of the so called ‘Western Balkans Schengen’ or as commonly referred mini-Schengen was convened last week in Ohrid with this time a slightly larger participation. Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zaev and Rama and President of Serbia Vucic were joined this time around by Montenegrin Minister of Economy, Dragica Sekulic and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić.

It was very interesting to analyze the short comments of the Montenegrin Minister after this meeting. She said that for Montenegro this would be a waste of energy with no concrete additional benefits since her fellow citizens already travel in this region just using ID cards and in the context of CEFTA her country has already lifted trade and economic barriers.

The brief but extremely clear and on point reaction of Minister Sekulic wrap up indeed most of what is wrong with the mini-Schengen intuitive in general and not just for her country. The initiative screams “useless’ from every detail. Whatever is presented as future result has been achieved already, is in the plans to be achieved by other existing serious and legitimate platforms (such as Regional Cooperation Council , Regional Youth Cooperation Office, etc) or simply is impossible. Additionally there is a comprehensive, strategic and important European umbrella that is supposed to guide further integration in the region, the Berlin process, to which all the countries are bound.  

The intuitive is still unclear for most and not just in terms of membership. Fundamentally its proponents have failed to clarify whether this model is an exact replica of the original Schengen agreement between European countries or just borrows the core idea of erasing borders and applies it to the region.

The erasing of borders according to this advanced European model would require what Europe itself achieved only decades (Schengen was established as late as the mid-80s) of peace, collaboration and institutionalized collective decision-making.  None of this preconditions are in place in the region. The exclusion of Kosovo (self-inflicted or not) from this platform brings down its entire logic. How can borders be erased between countries that don’t recognize each other? How come that such lofty goals can be envisaged as realistic in a region where there is still frozen conflict and where reconciliation has still a long way to go? One needs to see the latest speech of Serbian president in Paris saying that Kosovo shouldn’t be part of UNESCO to be clear about it.

No wonder this initiative and especially the way Albania is going about it is wrecking the relations between Albania and Kosovo. The entire political class and not only in Kosovo is against it and they have not shied away from strong and vocal disapproval. Exchange of declarations on two sides of the Albanian speaking border has reached a new apex of hostility and tension. Indeed it is at least ironic that Albania looks at this initiative so enthusiastically when throughout the years it could neither ease up nor erase the border with Kosovo, a much less ambitious plan.

Furthermore the paternalistic approach towards Kosovo shown throughout the meetings and press conferences associated with this new idea is entirely unwarranted and not welcomed.

Moreover this comes at what can be truthfully called the worst of times. The larger European context has turned sour after October 18. With the blunt refusal to grant the opening of accession negotiations to Albania and North Macedonia, the attention has been on whether these countries would seek other options. The ‘mini-Schengen’ can be interpreted as a potential alternative and reactionary move from the region. Then skeptics of enlargement are free to say “why not? You can integrate first between yourselves and then we will see.” This approach is certainly assisted by Rama’s frequent proclamations that Europe seems to have no time for the region and Vucic’s mantra that countries are on their own and should take care of themselves.

This approach could not be any more wrong. The time is for intensifying efforts and maximizing contacts to put back the issue of negotiations on the table sooner than later. Every lost day counts. Whereas the Serbian president can say that since his country has opened most of negotiations chapters anyways, his Albanian counterpart is in no similar position whatsoever.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the priority of the United States in our region, with now two special envoys, is to rekindle the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. The current tensions between Tirana and Prishtina certainly do not help the process.

Finally for Albania itself the timing is far from perfect. Such protagonist behavior at the regional arena at a time when the internal political crisis is unresolved and deteriorating, the new justice institutions are still on the horizon and continue to be contested and finally the social discontent is raging can be seen only as a cheap attempt at deflection

The region already has numerous platforms and mechanisms, abundant agreements and institutions that can secure intense and qualitative cooperation, exchange, trade, mutual projects and so on. The only thing needed of them to succeed is consistency and respect for commitments that have been already taken.

Anything else it futile and ill-timed. 

 
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