West Balkans in the Spotlight

By Janusz Bugajski A landmark conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Balkan economic development, regional cooperation, and international integration was held in Washington on 5-6 October. The event generated substantial interest among the policy and

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EU single seat in the Security Council: too Kantian to be loved

By Albert Rakipi In March 1997 Dutch ambassador Jan de Marchant et d’ Ansembourg assured Albanian authorities on behalf of the European Union that “Albania is part of the great European family”. Situated in Europe’s backyard, the small Balkan country

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Changing Albania

By Sali Berisha I feel immensely indebted to the Council of Europe for the continuous support to Albania. Council of Europe was the first international institution I visited in 1992, only a few weeks after I was elected President of

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Close cooperation with the USA and NATO

By Sali Berisha Ten years have passed since the March of 1996, when we together here in Tirana launched the process of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial. This, was our common answer to the new security challenges that our region

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Albanian economy: advantages and incentives

By Ardian Fullani Recently Albanian economy has reached a commendable macroeconomic equilibrium, sustained by an economic growth of 5-6 percent, low inflation levels well contained within a 2-3 percent band, and continuously shrinking budget deficits. It is my pleasure to

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How much do we need foreign schools?

By Lutfi Dervishi In the media frenzy that ushered in the new academic year, the silence that shrouded the founding of the “Peter Mahringer” Austrian School in Shkodra brings to mind an expression of Bernard Shaw, “Sometimes reporters fail to

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Kiosk Universities-Out of Question

By Milazim Krasniqi Estimates reveal that the number of private universities in Kosovo, taking into account the very aggressive, constantly in-the-face advertising for them, particularly by electronic media, is the highest as against all the other countries of the region.

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Five years after September 11th

By Janusz Bugajski Five years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the United States is still dealing with the aftermath. Political leaders remain torn between two policies to combat international radicalism: aggressive engagement and painstaking coalition building.

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Does Fatos Nano want the Presidential Office or the Leadership of the Socialist Party?

By Tirana Times Editorial Staff A year ago, when Fatos Nano resigned from the leadership of the Socialist Party, few believed that the man that led the Albanian left through good times and bad would quit active politics forever. His

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Much ado, for 1 Euro

By Ilir Ciko The latest “Albania 1 Euro” proposal created an unnecessary debate among economists who struggled to argue about the cons and pros which this proposal would generate for the Albanian economy. Given the lack of long term vision

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                    [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski
A landmark conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Balkan economic development, regional cooperation, and international integration was held in Washington on 5-6 October. The event generated substantial interest among the policy and business communities.
The western part of the Balkan peninsula stands at an important crossroads between the past and the future. The one remaining status issue between Kosova and Serbia is rapidly approaching resolution by international actors. As a consequence, it is now clear that regional collaboration, business investment, economic progress, and eventual European Union assimilation are the most important challenges facing the entire region.
The Washington conference assembled several senior officials from the region, including Bosnia- Hercegovina's Prime Minister, Kosova's Deputy Prime Minister, Montenegro's Economic Minister, Slovenia's Economic Minister, and other officials from Greece and Serbia. U.S. and EU officials were also in attendance, including the Assistant Secretary for Europe in the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Western Balkans Director in the European Commission.
Even more significantly, the presence of representatives from U.S. business and major financial institutions, economic analysts, and NGO leaders also underscored that it was time to look ahead to promote self-sustaining regional development.
The CSIS conference focused on five sets of issues that are fundamental to the region's progress: the political and legal framework, infrastructure development, trade barriers and opportunities, the business environment and investment promotion, and banking and financial sector reform
Several recommendations were generated by the conference in a number of key areas. Three will prove the most significant. First,  a regional free trade agreement needs to be finalized by the end of the year through an enlargement and modernization of the CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Area). The highly successful Nordic Council can serve as a valuable model for the entire Balkan area. 
The European Commission is pushing for a free trade agreement between all non-EU states in the Balkans to replace the multitude of confusing bilateral arrangements currently in place. The EC also seeks to increase assistance for small businesses and encourage other initiatives for the free movement of labor and capital.
Second, the regional energy market must be expanded with the involvement of multinational energy companies. The Balkans can benefit from regional linkages and from the transit of oil and gas from the Caspian basin to the EU. And the region will need to be fully integrated with the EU's Internal Energy Market in all key sectors.
And third, all West Balkan countries need to create more favorable conditions for foreign direct investment. By working with neighbors, removing trade barriers and customs backlogs, and devising a regional investment framework, each country can become a hub for commerce and communications that can attract foreign business. 
Many local leaders now understand that the western Balkans is a significant market of over 25 million people on the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Together with the East Balkans and Turkey the market exceeds 120 million. Needed however are the structural and legal conditions that would significantly stimulate the developmental process.
The EU approach is rational and should not be seen as a substitute for Union entry. An economic boost around the region will help the advocates of West Balkan incorporation in the Union and undercut those who claim that the EU's absorption capacity has been exceeded. Pro-enlargers can argue that Balkan leaders are applying European standards in preparation for eventual EU integration.
The stage is now set for the next phase of Balkan development, where economic cooperation in areas such as trade, energy, communications, and infrastructure runs parallel with the process of "Europeanization." In sum, the CSIS conference has highlighted the imperatives of economic cooperation and business investment and generated positive recommendations for both government and business. "Independence without economic borders" should become the regional slogan.
                    [post_title] =>  West Balkans in the Spotlight 
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                    [post_content] => By Albert Rakipi
In March 1997 Dutch ambassador Jan de Marchant et d' Ansembourg assured Albanian authorities on behalf of the European Union that "Albania is part of the great European family". Situated in Europe's backyard, the small Balkan country was facing the most difficult challenge of its modern history. After the anarchy of the pyramid schemes, law and order was returning thanks to European assistanceطhich was precisely what the Dutch diplomat was referring to.  The multinational operation force code- named ALBA was composed almost entirely of troops from EU member states.  The successful operation was largely a European endeavor, - design, military contingent, technology, diplomacy- however it failed to be an EU collective security action. As the multinational  forces started  to be deployed in Albania, local citizens noticed that instead of the yellow starred flag of the EU, the European soldiers  raised their own national flags؇reek, Italian, Austrian, Spanish or Portugueseدn the territories that their national Governments had already agreed upon.
 Although this Albanian example may be insignificant in the larger scheme, it serves the purpose of illustrating the enticing possibilities and the practical impossibility of a successful European collective security system that would emerge from a Common Foreign and Security Policy.  On the other hand, the attempts towards CFSP as the most significant element of EU deepening are a test of the survival of the European project and the strengthening of EU itself.  In more than a decade and a half since the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed a dynamic process of enlargement and deepening of the great European project through the membership of new states especially in the 2004 big bang, and through the adoption of a common market and currency.  Looking at these processes, there is no doubt that the European worldدr, in the words of Robert Kagan, the Kantian worldةs becoming increasingly more real.  If the deepening of the European project continues at such a pace, the strategic weight of Europe would rise considerably and so would its contribution to global peace and development.
When Albanian citizens in March 1990 took to the streets in order to claim back their right to a normal life with the motto "We Want Albania to be like Europe," the perception of Europe was a mythical one.  According to Helene Ahrweiler,1 this is common to all Balkan countries including the ones that have been members of the EU for a long time now.  However, fifteen years later Europe and the European Union have gotten closer to constituting a "real world", while Albania's European perspective has become the driving force behind the process of state and regime building.  At the society level, during the last five years,2 the EU has topped the list of countries/organizations with which the government ought to have strategic relations.  At the elite level, it would be useful to look at the debate on the proposals for UN Security Council reform and the potential role of the EU in order to note Europe's metamorphosis from a "Kantian world" to a real one even for countries that are at the periphery of the EU.  Although Albania may carry little weight, its voting patterns mirror European ones.3 And, in the context of competing German and Italian proposals for UN reform, the dilemma of Albanian administrations may have been solved through a common European proposal. 
The need for a strategic role for the European Union and especially on UN reform follows quite naturally from the European project and the values that it upholds.  While the process of reform and the future role of EU present a difficult dilemma for countries like Albania, the dilemmas and responsibilities are even greater for the historical members of the EU and the EU itself as a global player.
From a theoretical and practical perspective is it possible and at the same time useful for the EU to possess a single seat on the Security Council since its reform is being considered?
 Having a single seat means possessing a single voice.  As such, a single vote in the Security Council would be the crowning achievement of the European projectشhe large member states would have to forego their seats and find the mechanisms of harmonizing foreign policy. But, it is too Kantian an idea to be realistic although it inspires the romantic love that may one day carry it to fruition.  At this stage, no one can seriously contemplate France with its Gaullist heritage or Britain with its soft Euro skepticism to give up one of their most prized foreign policy possessions, UNSC seats, in favor of as vague and altruistic a reason as EU CFSP.  No major EU member is ready yet to give up the holiest domain of national sovereigntyئoreign policyإspecially since it is unclear what they would give that up for. 
Secondly, the idea of   a single European seat is not a utility maximizing solution.  From a Realist perspective of international relations, by gaining a seat and giving up several European states' seats, Europe as a whole would have less weight in the Security Council.  And, if EU member states do achieve a common position in foreign policy, would they not be better positioned to project that common position through a caucus of permanent Security Council members?
However, despite the fact that a single European seat at the UN Security Council- is not possible and may not even be useful, the projection of power by the European World in UN reform is indispensable for global governance in the twenty first century. The job of figuring out how to turn that dream into reality, is one of the most difficult yet rewarding challenges facing European policy-makers.

The Author is Chairman of Albanian Institute for International Studies ( AIIS) . This  article is part of  an edited version of an essay to be appear  in the fall issue of Europe's world
1 Helene Ahrweiler " The making of Europe," Nea Synora" Athens 2002
2  See Tirana Times vol. 2 No.52 2006   at www. tiranatimes.com  or see AIIS,  Rethinking European Integration, AIIS: Tirana 2005  or at aiis-albania.org.
3 And, when they do not, as it has happened several times in the last fifteen years, it seems strange enough.  Most have considered such exceptions as mistakes that are not congruent with Albanian interests.
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                    [post_content] => By Sali Berisha

I  feel immensely indebted to  the Council of Europe for the continuous support to Albania. Council of Europe was the first international institution I visited in 1992, only a few weeks after I was elected President of Albania, asking your assistance for our project of building a democratic society based on the rule of law, upon the ruins of the most Orwellian dictatorship Europe had known. Since then the Council of Europe has always been by our side.I am deeply moved and proud to speak before you, all dear friends with whom I have had the opportunity and the privilege to debate and defend the democratic values and principles we hold in common. This enriching experience inspired and empowered me to lead the efforts of the Albanian citizens to vote out one of the most kleptocratic regimes of modern times, which was installed in Albania.  

Moving toward  a new European reality
I believe in your memory still linger on images of past unpleasant events and unhappy news about my country. I stand before you today to assure you that Albania has buried those events in its past and is swiftly moving forward toward a new and European reality.
Last year, overcoming the autocracy of country's kleptocratic regime, Albanians succeeded to produce a peaceful rotation of power. They voted in scores to tear down the wall of corruption, organized crime and poverty which was thrusting them away from the democratic world. The Council of Europe Resolution on Elections in Albania and its monitoring of last year's elections were a valuable encouragement and assistance to all Albanian voters. My Government took office pledging to restore the rule of law - an the essential condition for guaranteeing fundamental rights of citizens - fight with zero tolerance organized crime, uproot the kletpocratic system, and consolidate democratic institutions, as the foundation of all other reforms. A year ago, more then two thirds of all court decisions were not enforced, while the index of law enforcement in the country was amongst the lowest in the world. Since then, firm and fair application of law, enforcement of all court decisions and abrogation of hundreds of unlawful decisions, have made law prevail throughout the country. During past years, Albanians suffered more than many other people from organized crime, which due to its symbiosis and collusion with politicians and public officials in all levels of government, become so powerful that was practically the real power behind government decisions, thus managing to make Albania a major trafficking territory.Facing such reality, we adopted only one stand: zero tolerance towards crime. A year later, I am happy to inform you that thanks to the courage and high professionalism of our police forces and other law enforcement agencies and with the excellent cooperation of law and police agencies in other countries, more than 33 major criminal groups and organizations have been cracked down; hundreds of their members and all their bosses have been brought to justice, while their assets worth millions of euros have been seized and confiscated. In a drive to curb criminal trafficking, the parliament enacted a three year ban from our waters on speed boats, which were widely used for drug and human trafficking.  As result of these efforts, according to the International Center for Fight Against Organized Crime based in Bucharest, drug trafficking routes have moved outside Albania.  Albania is today a safe country and it is widely perceived as such. The fact that during the summer 30 percent more foreign tourists visited Albania is a clear indication of this new reality. 

Energetic measures to overcome corruption 
In past years, corruption in Albania developed into a kleptocratic system. According to international reports bribing and illegal payments that Albanian citizens and businesses paid to officials in exchange for the very services and rights they were entitled to have freely were estimated at around 1.2 billion euros. Country's customs and justice system were amongst the more corrupted in the world, while the state capture was a wide phenomenon.Fight against corruption - the cancer that weakened and drained the body and the soul of my nation - has been another major priority for the Albanian Government. We have initiated thorough energetic measures to overcome corruption. As part of these measures:
ՠwe adopted a small government structure and put the government on diet, thus replacing the large and beefed up administration we found;
ՠwe instituted new administrative and ethical standards aiming to prevent use of public money for private benefits;
ՠwe decreased by 40 percent all administrative expenses, most of which saved by simply ending the mismanagement and abusive use of public funds by the administration;
ՠwe amended the law on the conflict of interest. While previous administration was built on the conflict of interest, today there are no reported cases of such conflict by any public servant or official;
ՠwe amended the law on public procurement. As result, 92 percent of goods and services are procured through open bidding compared to a mere 25 percent a year ago.
ՠParliament approved a law on whistle blowers and denouncers of corruption, which offers them special protection under law and rewards them with 6 percent of the recovered funds.
Our fight against corruption, smuggling and fiscal evasion has given significant and encouraging results. Thus:
ՠrevenues from tax collection have increased by 24 percent from the forecast, which allowed us to have a supplementary budget in June;
ՠcost of procurement has decreased by 25 percent for the same goods or services as before. 
ՠas I mentioned before, the administrative expenses of the public administration have decreased by 40 percent.
ՠbribing has also declined significantly.
Corruption is a cancer for the society. We have given a firm blow to the klecptocratic system we inherited and are continuing our efforts with zero tolerance for uprooting completely this harmful phenomenon. 

Creating a favorable business climate 
Creating a favorable business climate and making Albania the most attractive country for foreign investments is our Government's main objective in the economic domain.
To this end, alongside our efforts to restore and consolidate the rule of law, we have embarked on a truly fiscal revolution. Our goal is to implement a flat-tax, at the lowest rate in Europe. So far, we have considerably lowered all taxes. According to the KPMG ranking, in 2006, Albania was the country with the highest percentage rate of tax reduction in the world. In addition to fiscal measures, we lowered 33-35 percent the price of electricity for business; cut in half the cost of business registration and reduced the time required for business registration from 42 days to only 8 days.A thorough deregulatory reform aiming to widely liberalize the licensing and administrative business procedures is underway. Last but not least, the Government has launched a new initiative - Albania 1 Euro. From now on, investors from your countries can enter Albania paying only 1 euro at the border; register their business paying 1 euro, or rent for 1 Euro for 99 years the land necessary for investment in productive activities. Mines, hydropower plants, railways will be given out to investors for 1 Euro. A full range of other services will also be offered with the price of 1 Euro. I would like to use this opportunity to kindly ask you to encourage investors in your countries to consider the opportunities and potentials that Albania offers. Albania 1 Euro is our promise to them. In cooperation with the Council of Europe, Government has also embarked in meaningful reforms in the field of decentralization, education and other sectors, such as property reform and information technology. "Albania in the age of internet" is our new effort to boost the IT penetration in the Albanian society.As a result of all our round reforms our economy is performing well, is growing. This year we expect to have a significant growth estimated at least 6 percent. By the end of this year, Albania will hold local elections. The government is determined to take all the measures and make every effort to ensure that these elections are free and fair. I would like to ask the Assembly to monitor our elections.

Albania's western vocation
On 12 June 2006, Albania signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union. Ratification of this Agreement by the European Parliament, in the beginning of last month, was the ultimate recognition of Albania's western vocation and the common values that Albania shares with your nations. At the same time, it was the very appreciation of all 25 EU countries for the reforms undertaken by the government that I chair, and in general the appreciation for Albania's overall peaceful transformation during the past 14 years. During this period, Albania has changed from the most totalitarian communist country of coerced atheism and hyper-collectivisation into a country with consolidated political pluralism, remarkable religious pluralism and tolerance, with a flourishing private sector that counts for more than 80 percent of the country's total production and with an income per capita that has increased more than 11 times in 14 years.  Albanians marked these achievements due to their great and unwavering efforts, but also due to their generosity and exceptional solidarity. In this endeavours they greatly benefited by the overall assistance of your governments, your nations and the taxpayers of your countries. The assistance and the support of the Council of Europe has played a great role to this end, and we remain always grateful to you.
Seizing this opportunity, I would to reassure you that for my government the Stabilization and Association Agreement is the most significant contract of my nation with the member states of the European Union that constitutes the roadmap for Albania's full integration in the EU. It is for this significance that I kindly ask you to positively persuade your parliaments to ratify it as soon as possible. For 14 years Albania has build and retained an excellent and loyal partnership with NATO and the USA. Our armed forces are undergoing a deep transformation which aims to build a modern and professional army. Our soldiers are serving alongside NATO units in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and, in coalition with the United States, in Iraq.
My government is determined to take all necessary reforms and pay every price to deserve the invitation to join NATO in the first enlargement summit. Albania's membership in NATO is the most secure future for Albania and her citizens. The support of your governments and your parliaments to this process would always be highly valued and appreciated by my nation. The tragedies, wars and cruel dictatorships that the people of the Balkans experienced during the later part of the last century did not extinguish their aspirations to freedom, human dignity and integration into the EU and NATO. In a matter of few years, the Balkans leaped from the age of violent confrontations, wars, ethnic cleansing and blind nationalisms, paralleled only from those of East Africa, into the age of friendly political, economic and military cooperation and of irreversible regional and European integration. 2006 is an historical year for the peoples of the Balkans. They are today more united then ever in their European project.
Two important countries of the region, Rumania and Bulgaria, will become members of the European Union on the 1st of January, 2007. Croatia has opened its membership negotiations with the EU. Macedonia was given the status of EU candidate. Albania signed its Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. The SAA negotiations were opened with Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republic of Montenegro proclaimed its independence. Kosovo is moving towards finalization of its status as a free and democratic European country.

The final status of Kosovo
A few months ago I visited Kosovo. With great pleasure I witnessed there that no other country has changed more than Kosovo in the past 7 years. Out of the scorches and ashes of hundred of thousands of burnt houses in its towns and villages, from the rivers of tears, enormous human sufferings and blood, out of the mass graves, the citizens of Kosovo rose like phoenix. With the precious help, generosity and extraordinary solidarity from your nations and governments, they built anew hundred of thousands homes, schools, kindergartens. They held fair and free elections. They built, with the assistance of the best western expertise, efficient democratic institutions and established the rule of law. I was particularly gratified to witness in my meetings with the common people from all ethnic origins and their political and religious leaders their firm will and enthusiastic efforts to built a European Kosovo, where all citizens are equal before the law. I was witness to the commitment and determination of the Albanian majority to forgive, but not forget, to respect and guarantee the freedoms of all the minorities and Serbs in particular, to respect their religious and cultural heritages and their languages.  
In the past century, Kosovo was the very heart of the Balkans crisis. I believe that a fair and just solution of the Kosovo issues, in respect of the will of the Kosovo people, is closely linked to the stability of Albania, but also other neighbors - Macedonia and Montenegro - as well as the stability of the region.
Regrettably, despite of all the changes that have occurred in Belgrade after the fall of the Milosevic regime and despite of all fundamental differences between the current Serbian leadership and yesterdays Serb communist nomenclature, still the ghost of the freater Serbia persists to be there and lack of realism still dominates Belgrade's stand towards Kosovo. As a witness to the Balkans developments during the last two decades, I would like to point your attention to the fact that there are no essential differences between the position adopted in the Serbian constitution in the 1980s and the present Serbian constitutional scenario of 2006. I would also like to remind you of the fact that in the years 1991-1995, Belgrade's only option on the Kosovo issue was its partition drawing up maps that they changed every three months. Still today, in 2006, partition of Kosovo remains Belgrade's only option for the solution of this crucial question of the Balkans.
Yet, I am deeply convinced that changing the existing international borders in the Balkans bears the danger of awakening the old conflicts with severe consequences for the region. Furthermore, more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population is Albanian, to whom Kosovo has been their home since the very beginning of time. Fancying its partition with the aim of creating a pure ethnic country, in a region where such homogeneous countries do not exist, would not only unhelpful, but also dangerous.
Albania has adopted and maintains a realistic stand for the solution of the final status of Kosovo. We have fully supported the mission of President Ahtisari and the Contact Group.We believe that the final status of Kosovo must guarantee the rights and freedoms of the Serbs and all other minorities in that country; it must guarantee full and effective implementation of the decentralization process in compliance with the European Chart on the Local and Regional Authorities; it should ensure full respect for cultural and religious heritage; it should endorse the expressed will of the Kosovo people for independence.
I think that the independence of Kosovo is essential to its economic and social development and crucial for its stability and the stability of the entire region. The independence of Kosovo will provide a permanent answer to the fluidity of the Albanian factor in the Balkans. This is why, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro share similar views with regard to the final status of Kosovo.
Furthermore, I believe that the independence of Kosovo would contribute to the stability of Serbia, as well, as it will help Serbia to depart from its past, marginalize its radical forces, speed up its demilitarization, thus helping Serbia to integrate in the Euro-Atlantic institutions and catch the future this country deserves. 
Nonetheless, due to the absence of realism in Belgrade, an agreement between Pristina and Belgrade seems illusive. That is why I believe that a the only alternative remaining is an imposed agreement, as has always been the case with all important agreements in the history of the Balkans during the past 150 years.
At the same time, I remain deeply convinced that Albanians and Serbs must follow in the great tradition of the European nations and start a new chapter of good and friendly neighborhood and cooperation to the benefit of our common European future.

This speech  was delivered  by the Prime Minister Sali Berisha  at  the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe October    3rd     2006
                    [post_title] =>  Changing Albania 
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            [3] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 100333
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-29 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-29 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Sali Berisha
Ten years have passed since the March of 1996, when we together here in Tirana launched the process of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial. This, was our common answer to the new security challenges that our region faced after the fall of the iron curtain, namely the war, ethnic cleansing and massive exodus of the population caused by policies of nationalistic dictatorships, but also our common answer to the new threats associated with the cold war arsenals, weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. 
Ten years later, our region has changed more than any other. It has emerged from the age of conflicts and hostility to the age of cooperation and regional and Euro-Atlantic integration. Still, even after ten years, unresolved issues and international terrorism make the security of our region fragile.
Facing our common security challenges successfully requires close cooperation between our countries. It requires the coordination of our defense and security priorities, policies, and strategies, the exchange of information, as well as common actions based on regional multinational structures. We remain convinced that only by employing such regional approach and through a permanent and close cooperation with the USA and NATO we are going to overcome today's global challenges.
During these ten years, the SEDM process remains one of the most successful regional processes. It has strengthened our cooperation and capacities in the field of defense and security through the promotion of good neighborly relations and joint initiatives. 
Based on our common Euro-Atlantic values, we are working together to perform our duty in the global fight against terrorism, as this was expressed also with the deployment of the SEEBRIG Headcounters in Afghanistan. 
On the other hand, the experiences gained through the SEDM various forums have offered us a great deal of help in reshaping and modernizing our defense sector as well as in the process of integration into NATO. This is why Albania advocates strongly for the intensification of our cooperation within the framework of SEDM. 
Albania has left behind the transitional period and entered a new phase in her relations with the Euro Atlantic Community and the countries of the region. Due to the success of the reforms undertaken by the government as regards the consolidation of the rule of law, democracy and market economy, the fight with zero tolerance against organized crime and other major reforms, Albania signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union. 
The achievements in the framework of Membership Action Plan as regards political and economic reforms as well the modernization and building of a professional defense sector is turning Albania's NATO membership into a tangible reality. We remain committed to make all efforts, undertake all reforms and pay every price in order to deserve the invitation to join NATO at the first enlargement Summit. We see NATO membership as the most secure future for Albania and her citizens. 
_________________
The speech of Albanian PM  Sali  Berisha at  SEED ministerial Meeting
                    [post_title] =>  Close cooperation with the USA and NATO 
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                    [ID] => 100347
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-29 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-29 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Ardian Fullani
Recently Albanian economy has reached a commendable macroeconomic equilibrium, sustained by an economic growth of 5-6 percent, low inflation levels well contained within a 2-3 percent band, and continuously shrinking budget deficits. It is my pleasure to emphasize that the Bank of Albania and its policy has been rightfully credited and earned accolades by established foreign and domestic institutions for its notable role in such accomplishments. Monetary policy has been designed and implemented in line with midterm country's macroeconomic program. With specific focus on price and financial stability

Economic growth 
After the significant electricity shortages at the end of 2005, it appears that traditional growth promoting industries like services (tourism) and construction are growing at a stable pace, contributing at a sustainable economic growth. Building upon these developments as well as other positive indicators, we expect the economy will grow at a solid rate of 5-5.5 percent. The main challenge remains ensuring sustainability of these growth rates, even higher in the long run. I believe that respective Albanian authorities have already identified the major priorities of these challenges which fully converge with Bank of Albania views. Just to remind you I would briefly summaries some of these priorities. Building new, preferably alternative, energy sources and improving the efficiency of the existing ones. I will put at the top of the list. In our view, sufficient and reliable energy supply remains a main concern to achieving economic growth. Providing a solution to this problem is a priority in the verge of an ever increasing global demand and energy prices. Speeding up the privatization process of the remaining state assets is another important step forward. Special attention should be paid to structural reforms, particularly property rights and legal framework. In our opinion services, construction and in particular agriculture will remain driving forces of the GDP growth in the coming years. 
Therefore I would strongly agree with any initiative that encourages FDI's in these sectors through attractive laws and other measures. I believe FDI's are very important for providing long term stability of the foreign sector. Moreover the productivity growth that usually follows FDI's inflows will play e significant role in reducing current account deficit. Our economy needs more foreign direct investments hence Country Credit Ratings constitute a chief priority for our economy. It is my belief that FDI's represents a regional rather than an individual challenge for the South East Europe. Countries in the region must coordinate their efforts toward creating a regional market. Regional infrastructure projects will significantly increase attractiveness and competitiveness as well as international financial market awareness toward our region. It will improve confidence and provide necessary economic incentives to enter in the region leading to higher FDI's inflows for each economy.

Inflation 
Our economy has experienced a relatively long period of stable prices. Annual inflation figure as measured by the consumer price index, for the last 12 months is reported at 2.4 percent. Both monetary and fiscal policies have been important factors in keeping inflation low. However, recently inflation pressures have accelerated. The fast growth of credit to economy, the steep increase of oil prices, administrative increase of energy prices, as well as other risks have the potential to create inflationary pressures and pose risk to elevate inflation expectations. Bank of Albania will take all necessary actions to ensure an inflation rate of 3 per cent with a tolerance band of Ѡ1 percent, in the short and long run.  

Interest rates 
During the recent years interest rates have dropped reflecting the ease of monetary policy. This has been a general trend for all financial assets either in Lek or foreign currency. On average banking system applies 9.7 percent for loans in domestic currency. The yield of 12 month Government securities dropped at a minimum of 5.74 percent in June 2006. However, following the last decision of the Bank of Albania and latest trends in global markets, a modest increase in interest rates has been observed during the last three months for both domestic and foreign financial instruments. We expect this trend to persist within the next 6-12 months. 

Banking system
The Albanian banking system continues to expand and consolidated, it is solid, consolidated and fully capitalized. The system consists of 17 banks, of which only 3 are entirely domestically owned. Banking network has been extended continuously including remote areas. Banking products increased in number and improved in quality. Entrance in the market of important European financial groups created a better competitive environment and further enhanced efficiency. The expansion of lending portfolio and more competitive lending rates has deepened financial intermediation. Latest data show that in June 2006, the assets of the banking sector reached 60 per cent of the Albanian Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Rapid changes in the banking system in light of credit boom, and global market financial integration impose the need for higher standards of transparency, accountability and governance from the banking system itself. Not only with regard to Bank of Albania, but public as well. Banks should behave responsibly and must integrate the stability of the entire system into their utility function.

Financial System reforms.
Since years the banking systems has been in a constant process of transformation. The Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) marks a significant moment in this process. On behalf of the Bank of Albania I would like to thank IMF and WB, for their excellent efforts on this professional and transparent financial certification of the Albanian Financial System. 
Bank of Albania remains very much focused in fulfilling the recommendations of the FSAP following the priority and institutional hierarchy. 
ȠBank of Albania has increased the access and investment opportunities of commercial banks in the securities market.
ȠThe draft on Banks Law is completed 
ȠAutomated clearing house system is operational. 
ȠThe number of electronic transfers has increased significantly. There is concrete evidence that shows a continuous reduction of cash economy. 
ȠBank of Albania has extended its supervisory authority over all non-bank financial institutions that operate within the economic territory of the Republic of Albania.
ȠSupervisory Board of the Bank of Albania has further increased the transparency of its decision making process. Minutes are released regularly and Bank of Albania website provides fresh info on daily activity. 
ȠThere is significant progress on establishing the Credit Information Bureau. We hope by the end of next year that will be fully operational.
ȠLast but not the least I would stress out that we have already presented a detailed action plan for the remaining part of the FSAP recommendations.  
Designing and implementing monetary policy has become more challenging. Globalization in particular has exposed our economy to foreign shocks. In addition policy actions of ECB and FED, exert their impact on Albanian economy mainly due to high extend of currency substitution.Rapid growth of lending activity is the most notable development among domestic factors. According to our figures over the last two years credit to economy has expanded by an equivalent of 10-12 GDP percentage points. At this rate it is expected to reach 18-20 percent of GDP at the end of current year. Is worth mentioning that approximately 30 percent of the outstanding credit represents consumer credit, moreover 75 percent of the outstanding stock is loaned in foreign exchange currency.
This represents a very important development and deserves scrupulous attention. Our main concerns relate to inflationary pressures and non-performing loans that such credit expansion might generate. 
In the light of these developments Bank of Albania assessed that existing stance of monetary policy was not providing enough stimulus to curb aggregate demand. Therefore in July 2006 Bank of Albania decided to shift the course of monetary policy by raising the base rate (7 days repo rate) with 25 basis points. We are happy to observe that market is reacting following our decision. However based on our short term inflation forecasts and in presence of several risks, some of which I already explained above, Bank of Albania perceives that inflation pressures for the next 12 months remain elevated. Currently we are cautiously evaluating the extend of market response and assessing whether further action is needed.  
Simultaneously Bank of Albania is becoming increasingly concerned regarding the quality of loan portfolio. The accelerated pace of credit expansion, is posing challenges to both banks and to supervisory authority. The response to these challenges will aim at achieving macroeconomic stability, by means of a well capitalized banking system. With this goal in mind, the Bank of Albania, as the supervisory authority, has intensified the dialogue with the banks in order to find an adequate consensus for: setting realistic objectives of annual activity growth; containing the credit expansion and maintain good credit portfolio quality; strengthen the internal control and risk monitoring systems; and monitor carefully the capital indicators.
                    [post_title] =>  Albanian economy: advantages and incentives 
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            [5] => WP_Post Object
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                    [ID] => 100270
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-24 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-24 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Lutfi Dervishi
In the media frenzy that ushered in the new academic year, the silence that shrouded the founding of the "Peter Mahringer" Austrian School in Shkodra brings to mind an expression of Bernard Shaw, "Sometimes reporters fail to make the distinction between a bicycle accident and the collapse of a civilization." There can be shortcomings in any comparison, but the founding of the first foreign school by a Western European country, ever since the time of the French Lyceum in Kor衬 certainly deserved far greater media coverage, locally and nationally, both as an item of news and as an opportunity to open a debate on the usefulness of such incentives. The Austrian school, "Peter Mahringer," is a five year school (3+2), bilingual (German-Albanian), for Information and Communication Technology (TIK), where there will also be a focus on learning English. On the Website of the Ministry of Education, there is ample information on what will be achieved through this school. 
Pupils are qualified through three years of vocational schooling, focused on practice, as computer technicians (electronic data processing). The school's diplomas will be recognised in Austria, and subsequently in all the EU countries. (The idea to create this school was first raised during a visit to Albania of the Austrian Minister of Education Ms. Elisabet Gehrer, in November last year).
Businesses in Tirana are always complaining about the lack of technical specialists and managers on the market. Foreign companies, especially banks are always advertising vacancies in the newspapers for computer experts. The market in this field is empty, but what is of even greater importance for the present and future is the fulfilment of the growing demand on the home market and the possibilities of penetrating the European labour market. The founding of this school, once again emphasizes the need for education to gravitate more towards secondary vocational schools, to increasingly narrow the gap between theory and practice, so that a pupil does not go to school merely to obtain a diploma, but to acquire a more clearly orientated and secure future. Today, there is talk about the initiative, "Albania in the era of the Internet," - the founding of the "Peter Mahringer" school is an outstanding event, because the pupils who go through this school are eligible for a market, (technology of information), which grows by the hour, and for which the economy of the country will always have a great need. The founding of this school in Shkodra is also an opportunity to encourage the debate, at local and national level of the indispensability of more schools like this one in Tirana and other cities of the country too.
                    [post_title] =>  How much do we need foreign schools? 
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            [6] => WP_Post Object
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                    [ID] => 100207
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-15 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-15 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Milazim Krasniqi
Estimates reveal that the number of private universities in Kosovo, taking into account the very aggressive, constantly in-the-face advertising for them, particularly by electronic media, is the highest as against all the other countries of the region. 
Christened with all kinds of illustrious names and boasting qualities that leading world universities like Oxford or Cambridge would be envious of, the new private universities of Kosovo have become an integral part of Kosovo's paradoxes. For the first time the ads for these universities are a serious challenge to the record that advertising of concerts by visiting Albanian Diaspora pop groups, has held for years. The prices commanded to attend these universities are another expression of Kosovo paradoxes, because they are mind-spinning for low budget families or the unemployed. 
It appears that the Ministry of Education lacks any clear stand in relation to the aggressive advertising or the open examinations organized by these universities for student admittance in exchange for astronomical charges. 
The liberalization of granting work licenses should be accompanied by the activation of  an accreditation agency but this has not been done. However this is indispensable for the full and professional valuation of a school of higher education. The valuation, on merits, of the potential of each university to produce top level graduates; the valuation of the study programs and of the working conditions in these universities on the whole, is the only valid test that would indicate whether or not each of these universities offers adequate services to provide higher education. It is also indispensable that the branches opened adequately meet the requirements of the labour market and do not create disloyal contention between the private universities and the public University, because in this case, all you are doing is producing new contingents of unemployed. Following the successful elections that were held at the public University of Prishtina, the Education Ministry now has more time available to look into regulating the situation regarding the private universities. And this is more than urgent, because the machinery that churns out the advertising for the private universities, with unbridled competition and in very bad taste, runs the risk of upsetting the equilibrium of public university education. The truth is that Kosovo needs several private universities, staffed by a qualified professorship, with advanced study programs, it needs branches of higher schooling that the public university does not provide. 
But Kosovo definitely does not need kiosk Universities which are only designed to replace the bankrupt supermarket or swimming pool complex businesses that sprung up like mushrooms after the rain all over the country and which later on went bankrupt and collapse because of dishonest competition. The aggressive advertising of private universities forewarn the same epilogue in this field too, if the required government measures are not adopted to lay down the rules of the game.
                    [post_title] =>  Kiosk Universities-Out of Question 
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                    [ID] => 100134
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-08 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-08 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski
Five years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the United States is still dealing with the aftermath. Political leaders remain torn between two policies to combat international radicalism: aggressive engagement and painstaking coalition building. At the same time, the sources and manifestations of Islamist terrorism are growing and new dangers are looming from "rogue states" that challenge American primacy.
The Bush presidency based its credibility on eliminating terrorism and ensuring America's homeland security. But its success is coming under increasing scrutiny. The White House finds itself embattled by several domestic and foreign policy challenges. Three major issues preoccupy U.S. citizens and the approval ratings of both the President and the Congress in handling them has plummeted well below 50%: the war in Iraq, illegal immigration, and the state of the economy.
Over 2,600 U.S. soldiers have perished in the Iraqi guerrilla war and over 10,000 have sustained injuries. Although the scale of casualties has not reached that of the Vietnam war, the inability of the U.S. coalition and Iraqi military to eliminate a brutal insurgency is becoming evident to growing numbers of U.S. citizens. Many now question the wisdom of the Iraqi intervention and critics believe that it has further aggravated terrorist threats and anti-American sentiments. Calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops are escalating.
Even in combating the terrorist threat at home, an issue on which the President has based his leadership credentials, public trust in the administration is slipping. The government's inability to track and deport illegal immigrants has raised fears of terrorists crossing into the U.S. with impunity and questioned the commitment of the administration to border security and homeland defense. 
The slow reaction of the federal government to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans a year ago highlighted the country's lack of preparedness for a major disaster. The Department of Homeland Security is viewed by many commentators as a large, wasteful, and often incompetent government bureaucracy.
In addition to Iraq, two other international crises are brewing, over Iran and North Korea. Tehran and Pyongyang are developing nuclear weapons and there is little that the "international community" can do to stifle them. The UN Security Council is unwilling to impose meaningful sanctions because of opposition from Russia and China. Some policy advisors have urged military strikes against both regimes, but Washington is hesitant to act unilaterally against governments that could destabilize the Middle East and the Far East, while alienating its European and Muslim allies.
Iran wants to be recognized as a regional leader and is fixated on developing nuclear capabilities to match its strategic aspirations. North Korea is desperate for regime legitimacy and is using the nuclear threat as political blackmail. Both crises will preoccupy the last two years of the Bush administration. If America does not mobilize effective international action against both regimes, Israel and Japan may take matters in their own hands and precipitate regional conflagrations that will inevitably draw in the U.S.
All these issues impact on American politics and damage the chances for many Republicans in the congressional elections in November. President Bush himself will not be affected, as he cannot run for a third term in 2008. The only factor that may keep the Republicans afloat in November is the division and indecision of the Democrat opposition. 
No credible leader has emerged within the Democratic Party to effectively challenge administration policy and mobilize the nation. And among sizeable sectors of the population the Democrats continue to be perceived as ambivalent on questions of national security. 
If a major new international crises were to materialize or another terrorist outrage were to rock the U.S. the incumbent administration would likely benefit as citizens invariably rally around their leaders. Five years after September 11th the "war on terrorism" has clearly not been won either at home or abroad.
                    [post_title] =>  Five years after September 11th 
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                    [ID] => 100135
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                    [post_date] => 2006-09-08 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-08 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Tirana Times Editorial Staff
A year ago, when Fatos Nano resigned from the leadership of the Socialist Party, few believed that the man that led the Albanian left through good times and bad would quit active politics forever.  His resignation on September 2005 was seen as temporary or a tactical withdrawal in order to make a comeback at a more opportune moment.  One of the scenarios talked about was a return to politics after the possible loss of local elections by the Socialist Party.  According to this scenario, Nano would blame the new leadership of the SP and especially its young Chairman, Edi Rama.  Since Nano had created the precedent of leadership rotation after a loss in elections, the victory of the governing majority in the elections should have triggered Rama's resignation or increased pressures within the party for him to step down.  Rama is particularly vulnerable to such a defeat since he is also mayor of Tirana municipality.  
Yet, local elections have not taken place, the new leader of the Socialist Party has not lost any important political battles and Nano is already back in the limelight.  He has accused Rama of ineffective opposition to the present government although there has been no public test as yet of his ineffectiveness.  According to Nano, Rama is following Berisha's heavy-handed style of leadership within the SP.  Since the accuser has been unable or too lazy to elaborate on his accusations, they remain unfounded on hard facts or deductive argument.  But the rich political CV of Fatos Nano shows that he has quit the party twice and both times was able to comeback.  This is the third attempt, but circumstances have changed.
Since his resignation, the ex-Chairman of the Socialist Party has not been present in Albanian politics.  His chair as Member of Parliament remained empty and he was missing from the extra-parliamentary give-and-takes of political life as well.  It was as if he never existed.  Yet talk of his comeback as future President of the country never subsided. So, does Nano want to be President or leader of the Socialist Party?
Parliament will have to choose the new President next June and it seems unlikely he will come from the ranks of the center right coalition. The eighty four votes needed seem to necessitate a consensus with at least a faction of the 'united opposition.'  Will Fatos Nano provide that faction?
In order to be president, Nano need not seek the leadership of the Socialist Party.  All he needs is his own vote as a member of parliament, that of his followers in parliament and the blessing of the ruling majority which is one or two votes shy of the magical number 84.  The pie is large enough for both sides: if Nano becomes President, he can come back with the laurels of a "father of the nation" while Berisha dodges the bullet of early parliamentary elections.  Yet, the right-wing laurels would not fit well the traditional leader of the left.  This proposition is too unethical even for the strange habits of Albanian politics.  Nano would need a sizable backing from a considerable segment of the present opposition in order to become president.  In other words, he needs to dominate the socialist caucus and deny the presidential office to any candidate that does not get his approval.  
But, if Nano can go so far as to act as the referee deciding the presidential game, than why should he not attempt to get back the leadership of the party?  That way he would come to power not as a symbolic head of state but as a Prime Ministerشhe most important seat of power in the Republic.
In both cases Nano will need to dominate the socialist parliamentary group.  Whatever the early moves of his comeback, the real battle will be for the hearts and minds of the socialist members of parliament.  That is, Nano's reentry in politics will be a battle for the SP leadership that may harm the party's chances in the upcoming local elections and splinter its electoral message or the party itself.  We have to wait and see.
                    [post_title] =>  Does Fatos Nano want the Presidential Office or the Leadership of the Socialist Party? 
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                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2006-09-01 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2006-09-01 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Ilir Ciko
The latest "Albania 1 Euro" proposal created an unnecessary debate among economists who struggled to argue about the cons and pros which this proposal would generate for the Albanian economy. Given the lack of long term vision on Albanian economic perspectives, the debate needs to be focused on these perspectives and not miss the point.
The 1 Euro proposal is not an idea of Mr. Berisha, - neither is it new. Promotions aiming to attract investments, both domestic and especially by foreign sources, have been used in many transition countries in the past and often they have been successful. Albania is not an exception. The Albanian legislation is considered to be very supportive for the promotion of foreign investments and even more generous in this aspect as compared to other countries in the region. By the same token, similar promotions have been used in the past and thanks to their success some hundred million Euros have been injected in the Albanian economy and as a result, more than ten thousand Albanians find themselves employed at fruitful partnerships between private investments and public properties. No matter that today that exactly such successes in the past have been a preferred target for political criticism.
If it is true that in other countries in the past and in Albania as well, such methods for investments promotion proved to work, then there should be no question on their validity for the future. Whilst it is useless to debate on the ownership of such ideas, which are explained in details in every undergraduate microeconomics textbook, the key point with the 1 Euro idea at this moment is not in what it brings, but in what it is missing.
This because businesses in Albania have repeatedly said that their problems have nothing to do with the costs of registering a business, nor with the costs of physical entry to Albania, nor with the high cost of land or water. The problems of Albania are those which everybody foreign or not knows: lack of secure electricity supply, inadequate infrastructure, lack of water, lengthy and bureaucratic procedures, weak capacities of public administration and even worse of political parties, uncertain land ownership, non-performing and deformed market institutions mainly due to existence of artificial monopolies and (wrong) state interventions in the market, in addition to the corruption which is invisible and everywhere found. All these problems are the main theme of every international report on Albania, including reports prepared by the Albanian Government.
Under such conditions and constrained by limited budget, every government has to set priorities for intervening in the market. If aiming to make any correction at all, every step made must take in consideration the real needs the private investors have in Albania; otherwise everything would be just waste of efforts. In other words, not 1 Euro nor a 1 cent incentive - but even paying foreign investors to come to Albania simply won't work if they will not be sure if tomorrow they'll have 10 or 15 hours electricity supply.
The latest proposal on 1 Euro package is missing the real debate with what problems businesses have to invest in Albania. All such promises were part of the electoral promises that brought victory to the DP in the last elections and most of them were part of the government's program which is approaching its first year of implementation. Sadly, on all such promises, very little if anything at all has been achieved. You could just travel from Shkoder to Saranda to observe how many hours per day of electricity supply receives the national economy or try to get a birth certificate and see how much time, efforts and money is wasted. More than enough to understand that whilst others are progressing ahead, we stay in stand-by position and in some aspects, regress. Another example: although much has been said about monopolies, they are still alive and perhaps even in better shape than a year ago. Because for a careful analyzer it is not difficult to find out that not only promises are not maintained, but in cases such as monopolies, there is clear evidence for the consolidation of new monopolies of different types, which today dominate the Albanian market.
For this reasons the 'new reform' 1 Euro doesn't bring anything new for the Albanian economy but it sounds more as the latest invention which is expected to fascinate and make us forget about past promises on monopolies, corruption, electricity, land for emigrants, VAT and tax reductions etc. And as such it is not difficult to imagine that a few months later it would be followed by some other promises. Sort of like offering electricity for 1 Euro or anything else that may be thought up by a state which continuously reinvents the wheel on paper but forgets to do the basic things which the people demand of it.
                    [post_title] =>  Much ado, for 1 Euro 
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            [ID] => 100454
            [post_author] => 68
            [post_date] => 2006-10-13 02:00:00
            [post_date_gmt] => 2006-10-13 02:00:00
            [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski
A landmark conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Balkan economic development, regional cooperation, and international integration was held in Washington on 5-6 October. The event generated substantial interest among the policy and business communities.
The western part of the Balkan peninsula stands at an important crossroads between the past and the future. The one remaining status issue between Kosova and Serbia is rapidly approaching resolution by international actors. As a consequence, it is now clear that regional collaboration, business investment, economic progress, and eventual European Union assimilation are the most important challenges facing the entire region.
The Washington conference assembled several senior officials from the region, including Bosnia- Hercegovina's Prime Minister, Kosova's Deputy Prime Minister, Montenegro's Economic Minister, Slovenia's Economic Minister, and other officials from Greece and Serbia. U.S. and EU officials were also in attendance, including the Assistant Secretary for Europe in the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Western Balkans Director in the European Commission.
Even more significantly, the presence of representatives from U.S. business and major financial institutions, economic analysts, and NGO leaders also underscored that it was time to look ahead to promote self-sustaining regional development.
The CSIS conference focused on five sets of issues that are fundamental to the region's progress: the political and legal framework, infrastructure development, trade barriers and opportunities, the business environment and investment promotion, and banking and financial sector reform
Several recommendations were generated by the conference in a number of key areas. Three will prove the most significant. First,  a regional free trade agreement needs to be finalized by the end of the year through an enlargement and modernization of the CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Area). The highly successful Nordic Council can serve as a valuable model for the entire Balkan area. 
The European Commission is pushing for a free trade agreement between all non-EU states in the Balkans to replace the multitude of confusing bilateral arrangements currently in place. The EC also seeks to increase assistance for small businesses and encourage other initiatives for the free movement of labor and capital.
Second, the regional energy market must be expanded with the involvement of multinational energy companies. The Balkans can benefit from regional linkages and from the transit of oil and gas from the Caspian basin to the EU. And the region will need to be fully integrated with the EU's Internal Energy Market in all key sectors.
And third, all West Balkan countries need to create more favorable conditions for foreign direct investment. By working with neighbors, removing trade barriers and customs backlogs, and devising a regional investment framework, each country can become a hub for commerce and communications that can attract foreign business. 
Many local leaders now understand that the western Balkans is a significant market of over 25 million people on the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Together with the East Balkans and Turkey the market exceeds 120 million. Needed however are the structural and legal conditions that would significantly stimulate the developmental process.
The EU approach is rational and should not be seen as a substitute for Union entry. An economic boost around the region will help the advocates of West Balkan incorporation in the Union and undercut those who claim that the EU's absorption capacity has been exceeded. Pro-enlargers can argue that Balkan leaders are applying European standards in preparation for eventual EU integration.
The stage is now set for the next phase of Balkan development, where economic cooperation in areas such as trade, energy, communications, and infrastructure runs parallel with the process of "Europeanization." In sum, the CSIS conference has highlighted the imperatives of economic cooperation and business investment and generated positive recommendations for both government and business. "Independence without economic borders" should become the regional slogan.
            [post_title] =>  West Balkans in the Spotlight 
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