Hungary or Slovenia – Who will give the next enlargement Commissioner?

Hungary or Slovenia – Who will give the next enlargement Commissioner?

By Emina Muminović With only a month left for the nomination of candidates for the next European Commission, two countries have expressed their interest for their candidate to be in charge of the enlargement portfolio. While both are strong supporters of

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Because of all the trees, I couldn’t see the forest

Because of all the trees, I couldn’t see the forest

By Sidonja Manushi It is a well known fact that war tactics perfectly work in politics too, and the good old “divide and conquer” must be a favorite of Albanian politicians. As actions to demolish the capital’s National Theatre are

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The inability to win EU contracts and the PPP tricks

The inability to win EU contracts and the PPP tricks

By Ornela Liperi* Albania is ranked last among Western Balkan countries for attracting infrastructure projects, within the framework of the Liaison Agenda, a European Union initiative to improve transport and energy infrastructure in the region. This initiative aims to provide

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Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric

Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL For all the artists and the citizens who convened at the premises of the National Theater to oppose its imminent demolition, this act is the final straw of arrogance, corruption, lack of transparency and total disregard for

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Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum?

Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum?

By Bledar Feta * Greece went to the polls on July 7. After almost four years of a SYRIZA-led government, Greek people voted resoundingly for a transfer of power in elections deemed “Greece’s return to normality”. If Greece has returned

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Summertime and the living’s easy…

Summertime and the living’s easy…

By Sidonja Manushi The heatwave that has taken over Europe hasn’t spared Albania either and life seems to have paused as everyone is take refuge to the beach and refusing to think of the country’s problems, which have still not

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Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath

Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL    Under the scorching sun and the fooling disguise of life going on, the chaotic political, economic and social situation in Albania is deteriorating. There is a complete, deep and absurd disarray in the institutional interplay of

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Albania is in danger!

Albania is in danger!

By Prof. Sami Repishti* Today, Albania is in danger! Facing a self-inflicted conflict originating by the excessive partisanship of the two major political parties, Albania is calling: Please, help us before we destroy our own country! We should answer: YES!

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We study history so as to not repeat it

We study history so as to not repeat it

By Sidonja Manushi  What struck me as the most shocking news this week, although we are all still wandering around like headless chickens in the dusty aftermath of illegal elections, was the ruling Socialist Party’s intention to prevent a state

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Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that

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By Emina Muminović
With only a month left for the nomination of candidates for the next European Commission, two countries have expressed their interest for their candidate to be in charge of the enlargement portfolio. While both are strong supporters of enlargement, the real concern is whether both of them will support not only economic and political integration but also the ideological one. Liberal versus illiberal government, good integration student or the problematic one often criticised for violation of the EU’s core values. Who will give the next enlargement Commissioner – Hungary or Slovenia?
Prime Minister of Slovenia Marjan Šarec nominated Janez Lenarčič, Head of the Mission of Slovenia to European Union, as the new Commissioner. Member of the European Parliament from Slovenia Tanja Fajon believes he would maintain strong support for the Western Balkans’ accession to the EU. “Slovenia has the experience, it is close to the region, it would definitively be a positive thing for the Western Balkans because our country will be presiding over the European Union in 2021 and it will put the enlargement high on its agenda,” Fajon said for Avaz. On the other hand, Hungary nominated László Trócsányi, former Minister of Justice and current member of the European Parliament. He also expressed his interest in becoming the next European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. Why Enlargement Commissioner from Hungary would be a bad idea?  However, as each country that wants to join the EU should respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights as the core values on which the EU is built, it is difficult to see that a candidate from Hungary, the country that is strongly criticised by Brussels for violation of these principles, could become in charge of this portfolio. Professor of Southeast European History and Politics at the University of Graz and coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), Florian Bieber, believes that, although there are certainly professional candidates from Hungary who could handle the portfolio of enlargement, the signal of a commissioner for enlargement from Hungary would be fatal for the Western Balkans. “It would be a constant reminder to the countries most sceptical towards enlargement, like France and the Netherlands of the erosion of rule of law and democracy. In addition, the saying with friends like these…  enlargement is in bad hands,” says Bieber. He explains that while Hungary might support enlargement, its main goal is to weaken the EU with other illiberal governments. Professor Bieber points out that it will not succeed in bringing them in, but rather strengthen opposition among sceptics, and on top of that, it will strength authoritarian governments and contribute to undermining the reform logic of EU accession. “A country that is hosting and giving asylum to the former PM of Macedonia accused of serious abuse of office is not well placed to promote rule of law,” says Bieber. Commissioners - Independent or not really?  Member states have until August 26 to name candidates for Commissioners. Having been appointed as a Member of the European Commission by the European Council, following the vote of consent by the European Parliament in October, each member of the Commission has to take an oath. They will have to declare that they are going to be completely independent in carrying out their responsibilities, to work in the general interest of the Union and to neither seek nor to take instructions from any Government or any other institution, body, office or entity. But are they truly independent? Srđan Cvijić, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute and member of BiEPAG, believes that concerns that Commissioners are not be independent may not be founded. “If you look at the previous experience of Commissioners coming from countries with the problematic rule of law record, they had the tendency to be more loyal to the President and the Commission that they represent than the member state government that proposed them. In other words, I would not underestimate the power of socialisation in Brussels,” says Cvijić. Although a Hungarian Commissioner might seek to rise above the national position, it will be difficult, thinks Bieber. “There is on one side the perception which will make him or her viewed as a representative of Orbán and yet the Hungarian Commissioner. This is understandable due to the radical position of Orbán, both in the EU and regarding democracy at home,” says Bieber. Besides, he believes that the Commissioner will be tainted by his or her association with the regime as “we could not expect an independent candidate to be named.” “A Commissioner who enjoyed the support of a government that closes independent universities, controls academia and media and established an illiberal, nepotistic system of rule that has continuously moved away from being a democracy cannot be a credible Commissioner. It thus would be desirable that Hungary’s EU Commissioner administers an uncontroversial aspect of EU policy and not enlargement,” emphasises Bieber. On the other hand, analyst of the European Stability Initiative Adnan Ćerimagić recalls the recent political moves made by Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, who against Commission’s own assessment, said in Belgrade that Serbia deserves to become member of the EU as soon as possible, while adding that if it was up to Hungary Serbia would already be a member of the EU. “Szijjártó also said that some in the EU were artificially slowing down Serbia’s membership path and he warned against attempts to “lecture Serbia.” Such positions are the path towards loss of EU impact in the region and they work against the best interests of the EU and the Western Balkans. Turning them into the European Commission’s policy would be a huge mistake“, points out Ćerimagić. What should be the priorities of the new Commission?  However, Cvijić believes that the nationality of the future European Commissioner in charge of enlargement is of secondary importance, explaining that it is much more significant is that the new Commission has more efficient tools to make enlargement possible – namely, creating a new Directorate General Europe to deal only with the six Western Balkan countries and the three countries of the Eastern Partnership – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Cvijić also believes that it is important that the Commission and the Council follow up on two resolutions of the European Parliament (in 2017 and 2019) and suspend the accession negotiations with Erdogan’s Turkey and that the Council introduces qualified majority voting in all intermediary stages of the accession negotiations. “If all this happens it would matter little from which country is the new Commissioner,” Cvijić says. Ćerimagić also thinks that there is an important task at hands of the new Commission when it comes to enlargement, explaining that if in five years the EU wants to have meaningful and positive impact on the Western Balkans those in charge for the policy towards the region will have to be successful in addressing the erosion of trust that exists in the EU relations with the Western Balkans. To do that, he believes that the Commission’s main priority should be to succeed in fighting all those that have been working very hard to break the international consensus on the Western Balkans. “Foremost by closing all debates on changing borders along ethnic lines in the region, but also by strongly supporting multi-ethnic states, promoting minority rights, strong democratic institutions and turning Western Balkan borders into European borders,” says Ćerimagić. He also thinks that the Commission will have to convince sceptical EU member states that the Western Balkan states are capable to develop and implement sustainable and positive reforms. To do that, Ćerimagić notes that the Commission has to start by recognising different stages of the accession process, such that candidate status, accession talks and the number of chapters opened, do not reflect the level of preparedness for EU membership. “As only two Western Balkan countries engaged in accession talks, Montenegro since 2012 and Serbia since 2014, they should be best prepared for membership, but the Commission’s assessments from May 2019 showed a different picture, one where North Macedonia was ahead of Serbia, in particular in terms of the rule of law, public administration and the economic criteria,“ Ćerimagić points out. In addition to this, he emphasises that the Commission will have to become better in discovering, measuring and communicating, credibly and clearly, the gap that exists between Western Balkans and the EU, as well as in supporting those willing to work on designing proposals on how to decrease this gap. Who else is in the picture?  Aside from Hungary and Slovenia, other countries, although they have not yet publicly expressed their interest in enlargement, might become in charge of this policy. “If we follow the established practice since the “big bang” enlargement (Finland, Czech Republic, Austria) it is now the turn for the “new” EU member states to take the job,” notes Cvijić, adding that the unwritten rule after the 2004-2007 enlargement was that the enlargement portfolio is not given to an EU member state that neighbours candidate and potential candidate countries." He explains that the logic behind this is to avoid the possible conflict of interests that would come from potential bilateral disputes between these countries, which would give Slovenia some advantage over Hungary. “I would not exclude some other countries from Central and Eastern Europe (Slovakia or one of the Baltic countries) taking interest in the job. Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania would not stand a big chance from the above-mentioned reason of geographical proximity and I would assume that Poland would be interested in a more significant portfolio,” says Cvijić. Having all this in mind, the Western Balkans will certainly need a Commissioner that is willing to work hard to promote the enlargement in the EU that is preoccupied with reforming itself rather than enlarging, while at the same time insisting on the respect of core values and principles in the region. This time, the Western Balkans will not need a friend as much as they will need a strong hand and motivation to guide them towards the membership. *This article first appeared at the European Western Balkans 
[post_title] => Hungary or Slovenia – Who will give the next enlargement Commissioner? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => hungary-or-slovenia-who-will-give-the-next-enlargement-commissioner [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-05 11:05:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-05 09:05:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142839 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142833 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-08-03 09:18:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-03 07:18:25 [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi It is a well known fact that war tactics perfectly work in politics too, and the good old “divide and conquer” must be a favorite of Albanian politicians. As actions to demolish the capital’s National Theatre are well underway by now, one might be surprised to see the public debate does not revolve around the lack of transparency and democratic process, nor the corrupt affairs that are driving the entire project, but rather on whether the capital needs a new and restored NT, or not.  This is a perfect representation of the German idiom: “because of all the trees, I couldn’t see the forest,” meaning that sometimes, paying attention to the unimportant details makes us lose sight of the bigger picture.  By successfully concentrating the attention on whether the existing NT is falling apart and thus not providing a proper cultural space at this time and age, it seems the majority of Albanians has forgotten what the real problem with the new National Theatre is.  To begin with, there is only a minority of citizens and artists alike who would confidently argue the existing NT is perfect as it is, or that there is no place for restoration. Others would even support construction of a new building altogether, without blinking an eye.  However, the end result doesn’t always justify the means. There has been no transparency, no public consultation, no real race amid construction companies and no democracy at any of the steps the government has undertaken regarding this project. The only time it held mock meetings with artists was when it saw they would not give up their protests, or their fight.  There are countless EU reports to testify to the government's undemocratic process, from criticism towards the fake race among the companies bidding to construct it (Fusha sh.p.k. won, surprise, surprise!), to advises that no further steps should be taken until a Constitutional Court is back in order.  This leads to the second point the public debate seems to be missing out - it is not only a new NT being built. Amind the shiny cloud of propaganda claiming a modern building will vitalize the city centre, people have hurried to forget the new NT will be, in fact, part of a high-rise complex noone wants, or needs. So, the new NT is actually being used as a facade to justify even more concrete buildings, which have lately bloomed like mushrooms after the rain in already crowded and chaotic Tirana.  Surely, this is not a matter of a one-man’s-opinion, but it is not a matter of one government either. The Socialist government wants to make it seem as if the means justify the end - “some more buildings for a new and shiny NT.” In reality, the Socialist government wants the end to justify the means - “a new NT completely after its own vision, to justify ongoing corruption, lack of transparency and the overall death of democracy.”  As I can confidently say that the good intention of building a new NT could have been done by making all parties involved happy, by keeping old and making new or by restoring what is already there, I can also confidently say creating an even wider gap between where Albania is and where it should be should not be done in the name of art, or at the expense of Albanians.    [post_title] => Because of all the trees, I couldn’t see the forest [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => because-of-all-the-trees-i-couldnt-see-the-forest [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-03 09:18:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-03 07:18:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142833 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142806 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-07-29 16:33:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-29 14:33:43 [post_content] => By Ornela Liperi* Albania is ranked last among Western Balkan countries for attracting infrastructure projects, within the framework of the Liaison Agenda, a European Union initiative to improve transport and energy infrastructure in the region. This initiative aims to provide the region with grants worth 1 billion euros by 2020, which could attract up to 4 billion euros in funding. For the period 2015-2019, according to official data of the European Commission, Albania has managed to attract only 7.3 percent of the amount of nearly 3 billion euros, engaged so far within the agenda. Our country has benefited a total of 214 million euros, of which 36 percent are grants and the rest investments in energy and infrastructure. Concretely, there are three projects that have attracted grants and funding:  -The Albania-North Macedonia (I) interconnection line: The Albania section (Fier - Elbasan - the border between the two countries), which has received a grant of 14.3 million euros and can attract funding of 70 million euros. The project was selected in the period 2015-2016 and works are expected to begin in late 2019. - Reconstruction of the Port of Durres, approved in the period 2017-2018, with a grant of 27,7 million euros, which could attract funding of 62.4 million euros. - Mediterranean Corridor: Montenegro - Albania - Greece, the Railroad Interconnection, Tirana - Durres, the Albanian section, with a grant of 36.3 million euros, which could attract funding of 81.6 million euros. The country that has attracted the most projects is Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a total of 1.1 billion euros, followed by Serbia with 627 million euros; Montenegro (a country with a much smaller population than Albania), with 399.2 million euros; Kosovo, 330 million euros and the second to last, Northern Macedonia with 272.2 million euros. Ardian Haçkaj, Research Director at the Institute for Cooperation and Development (CDI), which produces the annual monitoring reports of the Berlin process, says that the main problem of why Albania fails to attract projects lies in the low technical and managerial capacities of local institutions. At the last Summit held in Poznan, Poland, Albania did not win any projects. One of the biggest beneficiaries was Bosnia, which received again funds for the Mediterranean Corridor (VC).  With a total length of 700 km, the VC connects Central Europe, specifically Hungary and Eastern Croatia, to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Adriatic Sea. The longest part of the road (approx. 335 km) passes Bosnia and Herzegovina, facing a demanding geomorphologic ground, which is the construction of tunnels and bridges. Investments received for segments of this road amount to about 430 million euros. Kosovo has attracted 56.2 million euros worth of investments for the rehabilitation and modernization of its 148 kilometer rail network, which constitutes the only railroad link between Kosovo and the region and is part of the Western Balkans Trans-European Transport Network. North Macedonia received 124 million euros in investments for the rail network linking the East and Mediterranean corridor, which has branches in Serbia and Macedonia. Another North Macedonia project is the gas corridor that connects it to Greece. Meanwhile, Serbia has received around 59 million euros to improve its energy transportation network.  Public-Private Partnership contract zeal  Albania is included in the European TEN-T interconnection network, through the Adriatic-Ionian highways (mostly in Albanian territory matched to the North-South axis) and which is the Corridor of the Mediterranean, starting from Spain (Almeria) and passing in six European countries (Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary) at a length of 6,000 km. The Adriatic-Ionian highway connects the Mediterranean TEN-T corridor, crossing the Croatian coast, with the roads along the Montenegrin coast and crosses Albania from Muriqani to Lezha -Tirana - Fier - Tepelene - Gjirokaster and ends in Kakavija. The Adriatic-Ionian highway was the only one that was assessed as a feasibility even by the 2014 Berlin Initiative for the Western Balkans, where the EU committed itself to its financing. Albania can benefit from grants and funding under the Connectivity Agenda, as Bosnia is doing to fund its part of the corridor. While Albania has not been very active in taking advantage of the “European generosity,” it has engaged in a wave of PPP projects to finance its infrastructure gap.  Only in April of this year  the route of the Adriatic-Ionian corridor was adopted by the Albanian Road Authority (ARA), paving the way for financing the preparation of the final project. But, meanwhile, the Albanian government is rushing to deliver some parts of this road through PPPs. The Albanian government has approved an unsolicited concession from the company A.N.K for the construction of the Milot - Balldren segment, with a total length of 17.2 km, worth 256 million euros with VAT, which is part of the Adriatic-Ionian corridor. This concession created numerous debates, due to the high cost of 15 million euros per kilometer and the way it would be funded. Another government effort for the construction and operation of the Tirana-Thumanë-Vora axis, worth 360 million euros and constructed by Gener 2, was suspended earlier this year. Another project to be awarded as a PPP is the Kashar-Rrogozhina highway, worth 678 million euros. Only by implementing these three projects it would cost the government nearly 1.3 billion euros - an amount experts have estimated as too big.  PPP projects are strongly opposed by international institutions. The IMF warned in the second review for Albania that the country faces significant gaps in infrastructure compared to the region - a gap currently being addressed through the widespread use of PPPs and projects worth about 15 percent of GDP which are underway.  However, the IMF warns, PPPs are not well integrated into the overall public investment management framework for assessing feasibility, affordability and risks. At the same time, the planned annual budget payments for PPPs (now funded by the government) are approaching the lawful limit of 5 percent of last year's fiscal revenues. Most projects are related to infrastructure and are still in the planning or construction phase. Accompanying fiscal risks could materialize in the medium to long term. The government, for its part, has again postponed the commitment not to accept any unwarranted bidding, as the law prohibiting them is not expected to be approved until at least the start of the new parliamentary session in the fall. Hackaj claims that the government's orientation towards PPPs is linked to two reasons. First, EU-issued grants must be met by credit, which is on average four times the grant value, which would directly increase public debt, while through PPPs public debt can be hidden, as only current payments rather than the full cost is reported.  Secondly, he says, "PPPs were also preferred because project preparation, including technical identification and design, was made by the proposed company directly to the Albanian government without going through the technical and financial verification links applied by international institutions in the case of projects, which they finance. This closed Albanian cycle has accelerated the implementation of the project, but has resulted in comparatively much higher costs, either financial (price per kilometer) or technical features of the project.”  While applications coming directly from Western Balkans authorities are controlled by the European Commission and other stakeholders, such as the Energy and Transport Community's Secretariats, against various criteria. The most important parameters are the maturity of the projects and their strategic importance.   [post_title] => The inability to win EU contracts and the PPP tricks [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-inability-to-win-eu-contracts-and-the-ppp-tricks [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-29 16:33:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-29 14:33:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142806 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142793 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-26 10:41:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:41:33 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL For all the artists and the citizens who convened at the premises of the National Theater to oppose its imminent demolition, this act is the final straw of arrogance, corruption, lack of transparency and total disregard for accountability of a government. This extremely one-sided determination to bring down a monument of history and of culture which has served several generations of citizens formed a strong coalition of discontents who did not shy away from confronting the police. For the masterminds of promotion propaganda at the government’s office and especially the rapid response video team at the municipality office (more efficient and quicker than all emergency teams in the Albanian territory combined), the protest is nothing but the latest reactionary move of the opposition and other Luddites who oppose progress.  Bringing the examples of past transformation projects in the capital which were also opposed (although truthfully not to this degree), the municipality believes this too shall pass. In fact it should not pass. There is a clear declaration of the European Commission who raises serious questions about the lack of transparency and disregard for competitiveness about the procedure with which the theater and most importantly the surrounding site have been given on a platter to a construction firm that intends to surround the new theatre with a bouquet of high rise towers.  Additionally, the law that enshrined this tender was yesterday submitted to the (albeit inexistent) Constitutional Court of Albania none less than the President of the Republic. However in addition to the institutional considerations, one remains perplexed at the indifference with which this majority is willing to push forward the polarization of this society, breaking apart and tearing away at the social fabric of the people: splitting them into passive bystanders of abuse or even worse cheerleaders who are willing or force to clap at the administration actions and opponents who are showered with tear gas. Indeed clappers abound in social media; typing enthusiastically in the comment section of propaganda videos: public administration employees, militants, ordinary citizens praising the visionary leaders of the majority for bringing Albania into the 21st century. On the other camp, their family members, neighbors, friends, colleagues and fellow ordinary citizens counteract by spilling all kinds of venom in return. This extreme division and partisanship, the arrogance in the face of discontent and protest has the potential to cause a long-term and maybe irreparable damage to the social collective. At the present this may be subtle to grasp but is for sure even more costly than the financial consideration of the corruptive affair of the theater should it prove to be so. The incompressible and even violent haste with which the majority wants to move forward on this issue is certainly no good omen on the correctness of this procedure. In this bitter context, the social media posting of the Prime Minister who begs God to increase the anger of the opponent since apparently it translates into more strength for him, sounds irksome and even dark. Be careful what you wish for.   [post_title] => Editorial: A tale of two cities: the painful fissure on the Albanian social fabric [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-a-tale-of-two-the-painful-fissure-on-the-albanian-social-fabric [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-26 10:42:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:42:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142793 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142790 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-26 10:35:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:35:07 [post_content] => By Bledar Feta * Greece went to the polls on July 7. After almost four years of a SYRIZA-led government, Greek people voted resoundingly for a transfer of power in elections deemed “Greece’s return to normality”. If Greece has returned to normality with the victory of the center-right New Democracy (ND) of Kyriakos Mitsotakis that held power before the far-left SYRIZA of Alexis Tsipras, the new normality could in some ways be a lot like the old one. The main question is whether the newly elected government will keep up the current momentum of change in Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans or it will reverted to old-fashioned geopolitics where Athens was more part of the Balkan problem rather than part of its solution. For a long time, Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans remained at the back burner of Greek politics, reflecting country’s economic agonies. At the same time it has been hostage to the populist version of Greek nationalism. As a result, no real progress was achieved in any of the longstanding bilateral disputes that Greece has with its northern neighbors. This stagnation is not only due to Greece’s preoccupation with domestic economic governance issues which in some way have diverted the political will. But it is also the result of political calculations. Country’s leading political parties have been reluctant to take the political risk of addressing issues of national interest. Greece’s foreign policy shift in the Balkans When SYRIZA unseated the New Democracy in January 2015, party’s anti-nationalist credentials were seen as a positive sign for the solution of Greece’s bilateral disputes with its neighbors. However, the expectations for major regional initiatives were extremely low due to the demands of domestic politics. Despite low expectations, the SYRIZA-led government found the political courage to tackle sensitive national issues at a considerable electoral cost. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias underlined the need for an active foreign policy in the region that will bring a more collaborative spirit. In that context, he articulated the solution of chronic problems, whose perpetuation had damaged Greece’s interests in the Balkans, as one of the main leading principles of SYRIZA’s foreign policy. In line with this principle, he tried to close all pending issues with North Macedonia and Albania in an effort to break the impasse in relation with them. The will to resolve the deep-seated and open issues that collides bilateral relations with neighboring Albania and the constructive engagement with North Macedonia for a compromise to the name issue as well as with Kosovo for stronger cooperation  were crucial indicators of Greece’s delicate foreign policy shift in the Balkans. The intense diplomatic engagement between Athens and its northern neighbors not only did much to live up to Greece’s traditionally active role in the Balkans but it also started to bear other significant fruits. The biggest success of this interaction is the Prespa Agreement which put an end to the diplomatic riddle over the name conundrum turning over a new page in Athens-Skopje relationship. Flirtation with populist nationalism a cause for great concern Greek political class did not manage to reach a political consensus over the Prespa Agreement. On the contrary, the political debate escalated as the then government and opposition became embroiled in an inflammatory rhetoric over the benefits or not of the agreement. While in opposition, the New Democracy rejected the deal voting against its ratification in the Greek parliament presenting this decision as the will of the vast majority of the Greek people. Now, under New Democracy government, the future of the Greece-North Macedonia Prespa Agreement remains uncertain. New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis not only is against it, but most importantly while in opposition he put the issue into a nationalist and patriotic gear considering the deal between Athens and Skopje as an act of betrayal to Greece. This tactic can be considered as an action of New Democracy to reap benefits in the domestic political competition. This approach left little space for rational argumentation in the public debate and fuelled nationalist tendencies in the country, complicating further Mitsotakis’s task to deal now from the position of Prime Minister with the future implementation of the agreement. Therefore, this nationalist rhetoric enhanced ND’ image as a force that is “more patriotic” than SYRIZA improving the image of his leader as a visionary pioneer with regards to national issues. Now, with the New Democracy return to power, the newly established government has to preserve a difficult equilibrium by addressing this very sensitive issue in a very measured way, recognizing the important of not angering Greek people especially ND’s right-wing voters by seeming too lenient, while preserving good relations with North Macedonia and at the same time not upsetting Greece’s western allies who strongly support the agreement as a pillar of stability in the region. Nevertheless, if one looks into the first steps of the newly elected government compromise rather than rupture or intransigence appear to be the rule. The declaration of Greece’s new Prime Minster that the New Democracy will respect the Prespa Agreement seems to be in this direction. The adoption of this moderate stance after the elections seems to eliminate any possibility for radical modification on Greece’s official position in relation to the agreement. The risk of losing his reputation abroad, where the popularity of his main political opponent Alexis Tsipras has increased significantly mainly because of the name deal, may corral Mitsotaki from adopting any radical action on the issue. However, any soft approach towards the issue will anger the million of Greek people and ND’s electorate damaging his reputation at home. The statement of Mitsotaki that his government will work to improve aspects of the agreement that are currently not in Greece’s interest may be interpreted as an effort to protect his reputation and satisfy his domestic audience. Keeping the international-domestic equilibrium will be a real challenging task for him especially after the emergence of a new far-right political party in Greece’s political landscape. Kyriakos Velopoulos’s Greek Solution has a nationalist platform geared towards the patriotic vote. He has already started to criticize ND officials for toning down their rhetoric against the Prespa Agreement characterizing the party as insufficiently patriotic, with the intention to make gains from the ND far-right electoral base. In any case, the rise of populist nationalism is a very worrying phenomenon. If the new government continues to flirt with nationalistic resentments, it will put the new positive momentum in the Balkans at risk. Agreement’s implementation intractably linked to accession negotiations In the coming months, all eyes in Greece will be in the implementation of the Agreement, a development that will determine Greece’s further steps in relation to the accession of North Macedonia into the European Union (EU). The scenario of blocking the accession negotiations with North Macedonia in October does not seem realistic, since Athens may find it more beneficial to actively promote its interests during the negotiations of each chapter. ND officials consider that the chapters negotiation process will create the necessary room for corrections or improvements in parts of the agreement that according to them goes against Greece’s national interests. It is likely that Western mediators actively wielding carrots and sticks will be the only hedge against the problems that could prolong North Macedonia’s accession process. In that case, the stick would be related to the full implementation of the agreement and to the address of outstanding issues not touched by it, and the carrot North Macedonia’s closing of EU accession chapters. It falls to Athens to deal with this issue in a very measured way without being perceived as standing in Skopje’s way towards the EU. A basket of problems that complicates Albania’s EU accession process The Greek diplomacy should also maintain a delicate balance of keeping Albania’s European perspective opened, while trying to resolve bilateral issues. During the last 5 years, Athens’s relations with Tirana followed a more cooperative track with many high-level contacts which have led to the establishment of joint expert meetings where bilateral open issues were discussed in details. The both sides were negotiating solutions for these thorny issues through the finalization of a mechanism that will result in a package agreement.  Bilateral issues were categorized on different baskets with the principle that nothing has been agreed as long as there is no agreement to all issues. Through this policy of small steps Tirana and Athens set the train in motion again but the train never reached its final destination. The resignation of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and the internal tensions over the deal with North Macedonia left  the completion of the agreement with Albania in a pending status. The main concern now is whether the new government could reverse this positive political momentum or will continue the progress their predecessors left. New Democracy has strongly criticized the way that SYRIZA was negotiating with Albania. ND politicians have raised doubts about the transparency of the all process. The mixed messages coming for ND officials does not lead to a clear conclusion of  whether the new government will continue to negotiate all pending issues with Albania: the unresolved maritime dispute, the cemeteries of Greek soldiers in Albania, the technical state of war still in place and the Cham’s claims of their confiscated property. So far, ND has remained adamant in Albania’s demands considering the maritime deal agreed by its officials a non-negotiable issue, turning down Tirana’s claims over the existence of war law and rejecting to include in the table of negotiations the non-existent for them Cham issue. There is thus an elevated risk these issues to remain unresolved for a long time. However, Athens knows that the longer the open issues remains at limbo, the more the danger increases of these issues being hijacked by extremist forces and this is not profitable for none of the states. Therefore, the new government will probably link the solution of pending issues with the fate of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania. Greek minority: a barometer of Athens-Tirana relations The safeguard of the Greek minority rights constitutes a significant foreign policy objective of Greece. ND has directly connected the question of Greek minority rights with Greek support for Albania’s European perspective. Athens has said Albania’s EU aspirations may be compromised if Tirana fails to protect minority rights, encouraging speculations the new government to block Albania’s start of accession negotiations in October. During a meeting with Greek minority representatives in Athens, Kyriakos Mitsotakis made clear that the progress in Tirana-Athens bilateral relations and the opening of EU accession negotiations will depend on the respect of the Greek minority’s property rights in Albania as well as on the Albanian government’s willingness to abolish the so-called minority zones. It seems that the new government will wait for Tirana’s concrete actions towards this direction to give the green light in October. If Athens is not convinced, it will reject the opening of accession negations with Albania following the example of other Member States such as the Netherlands and France which have declared to do the same depending on the progress made in the five key priority areas. Athens has wider strategic interests in promoting cooperation and the European integration of Albania, but frictions over minority rights cannot be precluded as uncontrolled local problems evolve especially in the predominantly ethnic Greek town of Himara, which plays a hugely disproportionate role for its size in Greek-Albanian relations. Tensions and ethnically related incidents do occur, particularly in Himara. Yes it is in neither side’s interest to allow them to sour relations at the international level between Athens and Tirana, and this should exercise a powerful moderating effect. Rejecting Albania’s EU accession dreams is not profitable for Greece. If the planned extension of EU membership extension to Albania is not becoming a reality or is being delayed, the country will suffer a long term political uncertainty and the emergence of an enlarged Albanian state will become even more likely. Therefore, Greece will have the very challenging task to pressure Albania over sensitive national issues keeping at the same time Tirana’s European path in track. In the light of recent developments, the prospect for opening accession negotiations for Albania is becoming significantly more distant. Kosovo: non-recognition but stronger cooperation Although Greece remains one of the five EU member states that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, Athens has followed a policy of engagement with Pristina and bilateral governmental communication has been quite intensive. It is exactly this policy of constructive cooperation that has made New Democracy more popular among Kosovars. It was the previous government of New Democracy that gave the first positive signals to Kosovo when it agreed to put Schengen visa stamps on Kosovo citizens’ passports. One other highly indicative example of this positive momentum is the agreement that was signed in March 2013 between the then Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos, a prominent figure of ND party, and his counterpart from Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj. The agreement set the stage for the establishment of a Kosovo Liaison Office for Economic and Trade Relations in Athens, a decision not having implemented yet. ND has no reason to abandon this policy of engagement with Kosovo remaining highly supportive of increased cooperation between Pristina and Athens, with a particular emphasis on strengthening economic relations and trade. However, the possibility of the new government to recognize Kosovo is extremely low as long as Pristina has not resolved its dispute with Serbia, in a way that is fully satisfactory for the latter. In essence, ND will hold a waiting stance allowing for the EU to conclude its conflict resolution initiatives vis-a-vis Serbia and Kosovo, before decides on its final position regarding Kosovo’s recognition. Despite the non-recognition status, there is quite some room for improving and expanding current relations. There is no doubt that the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia influences also EU-Kosovo relations. Kosovo’s commitment and constructive approach in the dialogue is seen to be a precondition for strengthening its path towards European integration. Athens has always supported the European perspective of Kosovo and the strengthening of EU-Kosovo relations as a necessity for the stability of the entire region. Keeping Kosovo on this track would be in the interest of Greece excluding the scenario of Kosovo’s unification with Albania. Outlook The new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised to return Greece back to normality offering a fresh perspective in all aspects of country’s political life. But no one is quite sure what that perspective actually entails and how fresh or old it really is. The fact that New Democracy did not diverge from domestic populism could be interpreted as a return to a more nationalistic foreign policy. If this is the case, Greece will stick again in the past, a development that will isolate Athens weakening significantly its international position. However, the Greek leadership has not the luxury to lose the great historic opportunity that has been created in the Balkan region after Prespa Agreement. On the contrary, it seems that the new government will take the advantage of this new momentum through the adoption of a more moderate foreign policy to reorient Greek interests towards the Balkans. The revision and the modernization of Greece’s foreign policy in the region would be the best scenario for returning to normality. The ideal normality will be to the large extent oriented towards the closing of all pending issues inherited by the past allowing Greek diplomacy to invest more capital in other more pressing issues in the east.   Bledar Feta* International Relations Analyst Research Associate, South East Europe Programme Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) [post_title] => Greek Policy in the Balkans: Old Fashion Politics or New Momentum? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => greek-policy-in-the-balkans-old-fashion-politics-or-new-momentum [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-26 10:35:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:35:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142790 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142784 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-26 10:26:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:26:04 [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi The heatwave that has taken over Europe hasn’t spared Albania either and life seems to have paused as everyone is take refuge to the beach and refusing to think of the country’s problems, which have still not magically disappeared. Actually, now that everyone has their guard down and their mind towards holidays, now that the opposition-free parliament will also go on break and our TV-screens won’t be taken over by politicians, protesting Albanians or the slow progress reports towards the EU - now is the time to grow a second pair of eyes towards the political developments. With very little noise, two major developments took place right under our noses this past week. The first was the approval of the two controversial road concession projects, under the Public-Private-Partnership framework the entire international community is advising Albania to watch out for regarding financial risks.  The Socialist government has reached a point where it can approve these kinds of projects, which undergo very little scrutiny and are awarded to dubious companies, only with the majority’s vote - something disturbing in itself. This way, it will now be “constructing” the Milot-Balldren road, 17,2 kilometers long for a value of 256 million euros and the Orikum-Dukat road in the country’s south, 14,7 kilometers long, for a value of over 60 million euros. Similar in character to the Great Ring project, among other PPP construction contracts, this development seems to almost have relied on the easy-going season to go by unnoticed and further uncriticized. Second comes the situation taking place in front of the National Theatre building, for the protection of which actors and citizens have been protesting for over a year now. Earlier this week, police authorities approached the building - which is to be demolished so that high-rise concrete buildings can take its place and spare a place for a ‘modern theatre facility’ most Albanians haven’t been consulted for - seeming determined to proceed with the municipality’s plan for the city centre. This led to clashes between actors and activists and the state police, which did not refrain from using tear gas against them, as a number of local media reported. Not that this was necessary - there were pictures circling the internet of police punching citizens trying to enter the theatre, distrusting their own government officials and their intentions. This in itself should have sparked anger at least among the capital’s artists and intellectuals, but the reactions have been minimal as news reach Albanians soaking in the sun somewhere away from the hurricane’s eye.  Most people hope for an endless summer, while the rest of us with a task of monitoring the world around us with a critical eye find ourselves hoping September comes as fast as possible, before irrevocable damage is done while everyone is tanning.    [post_title] => Summertime and the living’s easy… [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => summertime-and-the-livings-easy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-26 10:26:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:26:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142784 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142740 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-19 09:43:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-19 07:43:58 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL    Under the scorching sun and the fooling disguise of life going on, the chaotic political, economic and social situation in Albania is deteriorating. There is a complete, deep and absurd disarray in the institutional interplay of politics, electoral institutions and judiciary system.  In the last 48 hours there have been at least three diverging decisions by first instance courts regarding the recognition of the mandates of the mayors that claim to have won in the June 30 elections. The decision of a judge in the jurisdiction of Durres claims that the electoral materials are invalid and therefore the outcome of the decision cannot be certified by the court. This decision taken at large would mean that entire process was illegitimate. Her colleague at the very same building of the Durres Court however do not see this glitch and has ruled in favor of other candidates recognizing their mandate. In another court, the judge claimed “incompetence” of the Court to decide upon such matters and referred the material to the Administrative Court. Same case, three opinions, unknown future. On another level the intensive yet senseless fight goes on between the Prime Minister who makes fun at the President’s decreed date of October 13 and the latter who keeps sending back draft laws to the Parliament. The majority on the backstage keeps consolidating and centralizing all powers in its hands. The Wild West adventure of having PPPs run all the economy is in full swing. A new one is being proposed to manage the fuel reserves and potentially increase once more what is already a record high price of fuel compared to the region and to most European countries. Every dissenting voice, even the most minimal and symbolic is shut down with full force. The example of former Socialist economy minister and current member of the Central Bank Board, Arben Malaj, is very illustrative in this regard. The majority has initiated formal steps to remove him from his position only due to his Facebook posts against the Tirana mayor.  It seems that we live in a republic where every powerful man keeps rewriting the rules and bending them to their will, where every institution’s fragility stands in the way of its minimum functionality and where the theater of the absurd keeps reaching lower. Despite the country being deep in the dark well everyone keeps digging. In the meantime the indicators that reveal the real state of affairs are in free fall. Foreign investments are at a historic low level. Tourism which was supposed to be in the peak season is once again feeling the impact of the political instability and most importantly of the lack of sustainable and systematic investments in infrastructure. In the meantime our neighbors keep their competition fierce. Tourism operators in a desperate trial to make what they can, respond by raising prices so at to make holidays almost unaffordable for most Albanians themselves. Deprived of any hope for the future, Albanian young people are more than ever eager to leave. Only a few hours after finishing their graduation exams, the number of high school students who had applied for studies abroad was already in the thousands. Young professionals also follow suit with numerous applications to leave towards countries with friendly migratory policies like Canada and Germany. This leaves us with a quest for a spark of solution.  Prior to the elections of June the international community kept repeating the mantra “elections first, dialogue next”. The second part seems to be forgotten. The sides have not moved one inch from their trenches. The premises for dialogue are even less now one the majority considers itself the ultimate winner. This does not change the fact though that it is the Albanian citizens who are the losers in this game. The instability, the chaos, the image of a country running blind in the dark, growing more authoritarian and less institutionalized is ultimately against the interest of the citizens. The solution is not needed as some argue to give a chance to the opening of accession negotiations in October. It is needed to bring the governance of this country within the rails of the constitutional order, within the margins of normality.  [post_title] => Editorial: The prevailing chaos dragging the future underneath [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-prevailing-chaos-dragging-the-future-underneath [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-19 09:43:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-19 07:43:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142740 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142743 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-19 08:01:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-19 06:01:00 [post_content] => By Prof. Sami Repishti* Today, Albania is in danger! Facing a self-inflicted conflict originating by the excessive partisanship of the two major political parties, Albania is calling: Please, help us before we destroy our own country! We should answer: YES! By Presidential decree, local elections were to be held on June 30, 2019. For lack of trust on the part of the opposing Democratic Party, fearing election-rigging for good reasons, irregularities, stealing and buying of votes, a practice confirmed by outside observers, the PD refuses to participate, counter-offering to change the Government of E. Rama and replace it with a technical government- which excluded him. The leader of the Socialist Party refused, thus becoming the target of the opposition attacks. Considering the gravity of the situation, the President of the Republic cancelled the date, and fixed a new date, October 13, 2019, requesting from the two parties to enter into new negotiations. Mr. Rama refused net. The leader of the PD, L. Basha, insisted on his opposition. No compromise was reached, as the country faces a confrontation that does not exclude bloodshed. That’s terrible! We should not allow it! On June 23, 2019, the Catholic Church of Albania declared a day of prayers for all churches and dioceses, to help the difficult situation”….praying that God may enlighten the minds of the leaders responsible”. Bad news reach us day after day, Yesterday, it was announced that 26 percent of Albania’s population are asking to emigrate from Albania. In the eyes of the normal people this is the final punch affecting Albanians as a result of bad government. We have now in Albania domestic political radicalism, social unrest, institutional fragility. Trust in the political parties has been the first victim, opening the door to a militancy that predominates, affecting leaders’ decisions. The PD has abandoned the Parliament and chosen the street to protest. Both political parties are engaged in a struggle to replace each other in leading a Government, where the leaders enjoy an unchecked authority. Some results are: – a regional instability will be created, affecting Kosova and N. Macedonia- – closing the door to Albania’s membership to the EU, and the reputation of Albania deeply affected as a country that does not belong to Europe. – Entering a new phase of political chaos with unpredictable consequences; – Opening a window for Russian interference – Economic decline, social unrest, and deeper division of our wounded country Today,  a firmer diplomatic initiative by the international community is urgently needed, pushing both sides towards dialogue, by avoiding venomous speeches and reigning on militants – by excluding them! We implore one and each one of you to visit, call on the phone, email, fax and use of all means of communication available, with your representatives in the US Government and ask for their contribution to prevent a civil war and bring peace to the country of our fathers—Now and until we succeed!   *Sami Repishti has a Ph.D. from the Univ. of Paris and Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is the Co-founder and First President of the National Albanian American Council.    [post_title] => Albania is in danger! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-is-in-danger [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-19 12:01:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-19 10:01:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142743 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142787 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-18 10:27:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-18 08:27:56 [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi  What struck me as the most shocking news this week, although we are all still wandering around like headless chickens in the dusty aftermath of illegal elections, was the ruling Socialist Party’s intention to prevent a state institute tasked with probing Communist-era crimes in Albania from studying incidents that happened during World War II. The head of this institute - the Institute for the Study of the Crimes of Communism - told BIRN that the legal amendments, proposed by ten Socialist MPs, are unacceptable. In brief, the Albanian parliament is expected to approve amendments aiming to ban the study of WWII as part of the Communist period, while also demanding the 15 professionals hired at the institute receive security clearance.  “The Communist regime cannot be linked with the Anti-Fascist and National-Liberation War, because the elimination of political enemies only started after the war,” the proposed legislation states, claiming that research proving otherwise could shed dirt on the liberation fighters. Regardless of whether the parliament approves this law - it arguably will as it is practically under the government’s control - the initiative itself is revolting on two different levels. This is not the first time that this discussion leads to law amendments which affect the lives of citizens who suffered from communist crimes. For example, the law on the status of the persecuted persons recognizes the period between November 8, 1941 and March 22, 1991as the official communist era. However, the law regarding their compensation was changed several times (this has also been reported by other media), and currently recognizes the communist period from November 30, 1944 to October 1, 1991.”457 cases were affected by these amendments according to the National State Control, ending up without compensation. It is nowhere near democratic or just that a group of ten men can cause that in a country whose communism wounds are still fresh.  It is even less democratic, or intelligent, that a group of men with little-to-no historic knowledge and research experience do this. None of the ten MP-s who undertook the initiative has a degree in History, while Head of the Laws Commission Ulsi Manja even less. Meanwhile, one of the institute’s 2014 publications which had listed 265 war leaders for different crimes and which was in the centre of debates regarding the issue, was at least put together by a researcher and expert in the field. Whether these lists and other facts are true depends on researching the existing archives, but keeping history experts from doing that does not assist in Albania’s road towards healing its communist past by coming to terms with it. On the contrary, it adds a layer of communist mentality in this already-flawed Albanian democracy by protecting secrets and secrecy.   Apparently, the Socialists were inspired due to 2019 marking 75 years since the country’s liberation, and these developments just got me wondering whether the country was ever really liberated.  [post_title] => We study history so as to not repeat it [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => we-study-history-so-as-to-not-repeat-it [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-26 10:30:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-26 08:30:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142787 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142612 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-07-11 18:27:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-11 16:27:57 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that puts forward the plan for using shared spaces, exchange of personnel as well as joint cultural diplomacy calendar of events. Despite the pomp and fanfare that is ever present in these presentations once again it remains unclear what exactly this agreement will achieve for the relations between the citizens, the economies and the cultures of the two countries. A large number of agreements have been signed, most of them during equally spectacular bilateral government meetings. All of them lack teeth: concrete implementation mechanism, responsibilities and budgetary provisions. They resemble shallow Memoranda of Understanding that are usually signed by organizations that implement a modest joint project. This paper has written before about the façade character being prompted between the two countries where in the background the number of barriers for concrete relations and exchanges is multiplying. The situation is even worse now. There is a silent trade war raging in the background of this glossy shows of brotherly cooperation. Kosovo has threatened to impose the same tariff on Albanian goods as it has done with Serbia. The toll fee in the Highway connection Kosovo to Albania is a permanent pestilence on Kosovar travelers. Recently book publishers who retuned from the Book Fair in Prishtina revealed hefty customs fee sums that they had to pay. Indeed in addition to several disagreements and the field of economy and culture, the political relations themselves are not blooming. There have been several and repeated tensions between Tirana and Prishtina especially in the realm of key strategic decisions about the potential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia as well as about the nature of the relations between Albania and Serbia. It is even ironic that these agreements are dubbed by furious politicians in the region then as attempt to create “Greater Albania”. If they only knew the level of seriousness of the walls being reinforced between the two countries: the trade disagreements about all sorts of goods and services, the lack of systematic cultural exchanges and the deep discontent that citizens on both sides of the borders periodically vent off faced with the polices, taxes, tariffs, tolls and all kinds of impediments and costs at every interaction step. ‘Greater Albania’, which is not the case at all anyways, would for sure require a much more systematic and serious effort to be realized than the one we see unfolding in the last two decades. One can only hope that this recent agreement for cooperation in foreign policy is at least a bit more successful than Albania’s previous repeatedly failed attempts to assist Kosovo in its international efforts. Those failed attempts stand as reminders of mismatched grand ambitions when there is some much more concrete work to be done at home. A real strategic document for the relations between the two countries outlining priorities and detailing concrete mechanism for implementation is the real starting point that needs to be completed. The agreement signed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs cannot take its place.     [post_title] => Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-albania-kosovo-relations-the-show-goes-on [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-11 18:27:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-11 16:27:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142612 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142839 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-08-05 11:05:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-05 09:05:42 [post_content] =>
By Emina Muminović
With only a month left for the nomination of candidates for the next European Commission, two countries have expressed their interest for their candidate to be in charge of the enlargement portfolio. While both are strong supporters of enlargement, the real concern is whether both of them will support not only economic and political integration but also the ideological one. Liberal versus illiberal government, good integration student or the problematic one often criticised for violation of the EU’s core values. Who will give the next enlargement Commissioner – Hungary or Slovenia?
Prime Minister of Slovenia Marjan Šarec nominated Janez Lenarčič, Head of the Mission of Slovenia to European Union, as the new Commissioner. Member of the European Parliament from Slovenia Tanja Fajon believes he would maintain strong support for the Western Balkans’ accession to the EU. “Slovenia has the experience, it is close to the region, it would definitively be a positive thing for the Western Balkans because our country will be presiding over the European Union in 2021 and it will put the enlargement high on its agenda,” Fajon said for Avaz. On the other hand, Hungary nominated László Trócsányi, former Minister of Justice and current member of the European Parliament. He also expressed his interest in becoming the next European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. Why Enlargement Commissioner from Hungary would be a bad idea?  However, as each country that wants to join the EU should respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights as the core values on which the EU is built, it is difficult to see that a candidate from Hungary, the country that is strongly criticised by Brussels for violation of these principles, could become in charge of this portfolio. Professor of Southeast European History and Politics at the University of Graz and coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), Florian Bieber, believes that, although there are certainly professional candidates from Hungary who could handle the portfolio of enlargement, the signal of a commissioner for enlargement from Hungary would be fatal for the Western Balkans. “It would be a constant reminder to the countries most sceptical towards enlargement, like France and the Netherlands of the erosion of rule of law and democracy. In addition, the saying with friends like these…  enlargement is in bad hands,” says Bieber. He explains that while Hungary might support enlargement, its main goal is to weaken the EU with other illiberal governments. Professor Bieber points out that it will not succeed in bringing them in, but rather strengthen opposition among sceptics, and on top of that, it will strength authoritarian governments and contribute to undermining the reform logic of EU accession. “A country that is hosting and giving asylum to the former PM of Macedonia accused of serious abuse of office is not well placed to promote rule of law,” says Bieber. Commissioners - Independent or not really?  Member states have until August 26 to name candidates for Commissioners. Having been appointed as a Member of the European Commission by the European Council, following the vote of consent by the European Parliament in October, each member of the Commission has to take an oath. They will have to declare that they are going to be completely independent in carrying out their responsibilities, to work in the general interest of the Union and to neither seek nor to take instructions from any Government or any other institution, body, office or entity. But are they truly independent? Srđan Cvijić, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute and member of BiEPAG, believes that concerns that Commissioners are not be independent may not be founded. “If you look at the previous experience of Commissioners coming from countries with the problematic rule of law record, they had the tendency to be more loyal to the President and the Commission that they represent than the member state government that proposed them. In other words, I would not underestimate the power of socialisation in Brussels,” says Cvijić. Although a Hungarian Commissioner might seek to rise above the national position, it will be difficult, thinks Bieber. “There is on one side the perception which will make him or her viewed as a representative of Orbán and yet the Hungarian Commissioner. This is understandable due to the radical position of Orbán, both in the EU and regarding democracy at home,” says Bieber. Besides, he believes that the Commissioner will be tainted by his or her association with the regime as “we could not expect an independent candidate to be named.” “A Commissioner who enjoyed the support of a government that closes independent universities, controls academia and media and established an illiberal, nepotistic system of rule that has continuously moved away from being a democracy cannot be a credible Commissioner. It thus would be desirable that Hungary’s EU Commissioner administers an uncontroversial aspect of EU policy and not enlargement,” emphasises Bieber. On the other hand, analyst of the European Stability Initiative Adnan Ćerimagić recalls the recent political moves made by Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, who against Commission’s own assessment, said in Belgrade that Serbia deserves to become member of the EU as soon as possible, while adding that if it was up to Hungary Serbia would already be a member of the EU. “Szijjártó also said that some in the EU were artificially slowing down Serbia’s membership path and he warned against attempts to “lecture Serbia.” Such positions are the path towards loss of EU impact in the region and they work against the best interests of the EU and the Western Balkans. Turning them into the European Commission’s policy would be a huge mistake“, points out Ćerimagić. What should be the priorities of the new Commission?  However, Cvijić believes that the nationality of the future European Commissioner in charge of enlargement is of secondary importance, explaining that it is much more significant is that the new Commission has more efficient tools to make enlargement possible – namely, creating a new Directorate General Europe to deal only with the six Western Balkan countries and the three countries of the Eastern Partnership – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Cvijić also believes that it is important that the Commission and the Council follow up on two resolutions of the European Parliament (in 2017 and 2019) and suspend the accession negotiations with Erdogan’s Turkey and that the Council introduces qualified majority voting in all intermediary stages of the accession negotiations. “If all this happens it would matter little from which country is the new Commissioner,” Cvijić says. Ćerimagić also thinks that there is an important task at hands of the new Commission when it comes to enlargement, explaining that if in five years the EU wants to have meaningful and positive impact on the Western Balkans those in charge for the policy towards the region will have to be successful in addressing the erosion of trust that exists in the EU relations with the Western Balkans. To do that, he believes that the Commission’s main priority should be to succeed in fighting all those that have been working very hard to break the international consensus on the Western Balkans. “Foremost by closing all debates on changing borders along ethnic lines in the region, but also by strongly supporting multi-ethnic states, promoting minority rights, strong democratic institutions and turning Western Balkan borders into European borders,” says Ćerimagić. He also thinks that the Commission will have to convince sceptical EU member states that the Western Balkan states are capable to develop and implement sustainable and positive reforms. To do that, Ćerimagić notes that the Commission has to start by recognising different stages of the accession process, such that candidate status, accession talks and the number of chapters opened, do not reflect the level of preparedness for EU membership. “As only two Western Balkan countries engaged in accession talks, Montenegro since 2012 and Serbia since 2014, they should be best prepared for membership, but the Commission’s assessments from May 2019 showed a different picture, one where North Macedonia was ahead of Serbia, in particular in terms of the rule of law, public administration and the economic criteria,“ Ćerimagić points out. In addition to this, he emphasises that the Commission will have to become better in discovering, measuring and communicating, credibly and clearly, the gap that exists between Western Balkans and the EU, as well as in supporting those willing to work on designing proposals on how to decrease this gap. Who else is in the picture?  Aside from Hungary and Slovenia, other countries, although they have not yet publicly expressed their interest in enlargement, might become in charge of this policy. “If we follow the established practice since the “big bang” enlargement (Finland, Czech Republic, Austria) it is now the turn for the “new” EU member states to take the job,” notes Cvijić, adding that the unwritten rule after the 2004-2007 enlargement was that the enlargement portfolio is not given to an EU member state that neighbours candidate and potential candidate countries." He explains that the logic behind this is to avoid the possible conflict of interests that would come from potential bilateral disputes between these countries, which would give Slovenia some advantage over Hungary. “I would not exclude some other countries from Central and Eastern Europe (Slovakia or one of the Baltic countries) taking interest in the job. Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania would not stand a big chance from the above-mentioned reason of geographical proximity and I would assume that Poland would be interested in a more significant portfolio,” says Cvijić. Having all this in mind, the Western Balkans will certainly need a Commissioner that is willing to work hard to promote the enlargement in the EU that is preoccupied with reforming itself rather than enlarging, while at the same time insisting on the respect of core values and principles in the region. This time, the Western Balkans will not need a friend as much as they will need a strong hand and motivation to guide them towards the membership. *This article first appeared at the European Western Balkans 
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