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EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn visits Tirana

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn visits Tirana

TIRANA, July 17 – The European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn’s visit to Tirana on Tuesday marked the beginning of the analytical assessment process, which will precede EU accession negotiations, scheduled to potentially begin next June. The official start of

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Two more High Court members ousted under re-evaluation

Two more High Court members ousted under re-evaluation

TIRANA, July 18 – On Wednesday, High Court members Tom Ndreca and Admir Thanza were also ousted by the Independent Qualification Committee, unable to justify their wealth and shady connections under the re-evaluation law. This decision officially places the High

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Italian police confiscate €3 million worth of alleged Albanian cannabis

Italian police confiscate €3 million worth of alleged Albanian cannabis

TIRANA, July 17 –  A speedboat filled with 262 kg of cannabis, which Italian media said was coming from Albania, was caught in Italy’s Bari port on Monday. A 26-year-old Italian citizen has been arrested, while the cannabis amount is

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Fifteen migrants stopped in Shkodra trying to reach EU

Fifteen migrants stopped in Shkodra trying to reach EU

TIRANA, July 16 – Albanian police continues to stop third-country refugees who, supported by local traffickers, try to use Albania as a transition country that will lead them to EU member states. On Saturday morning, Shkodra police stopped 15 refugees, mainly

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Biberaj Foundation co-sponsors $2,5 million to support Albanian professionals in US

Biberaj Foundation co-sponsors $2,5 million to support Albanian professionals in US

TIRANA, July 16 –  The Biberaj Foundation announced on Saturday its first project – the co-funding of the Albanian-American Development Foundation Master’s Degree Fellowship program. The Master’s and Internship Program (MIP) was launched in 2016 by the Albanian-American Development Foundation

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Appeals Court next in line to face vetting deadlock

Appeals Court next in line to face vetting deadlock

TIRANA, July 15 – General Inspector Shkelqim Ganaj said on Thursday that half of Albania’s judges and prosecutors appear to be having problems with the wealth declared by them under the country’s justice reform. According to the head of the

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Tirana’s transformation praised during 2018 World Cities Summit in Singapore

Tirana’s transformation praised during 2018 World Cities Summit in Singapore

TIRANA, July 12 – Tirana was selected as one of the cities that has made more progress in city management and drinking water. This assessment came from the 2018 World Cities Summit and the Annual Water Summit held in Singapore,

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Michel Setboun shows Albania during communist regime’s final throes

Michel Setboun shows Albania during communist regime’s final throes

TIRANA, July 12 – The Albanian Centre for Openness and Dialogue inaugurated on July 6 Algerian photographer’s Michel Setboun photo exhibition ‘The end. The start. Albania 1981-1991.” At the COD space, Setboun brings for the first time 99 medium and

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Second edition of ‘Za Fest’ returns to Albania’s Theth village

Second edition of ‘Za Fest’ returns to Albania’s Theth village

TIRANA, July 12 – The first modern-day festival dedicated to re-telling the traditions and stories of the Albanian Alps will return on July 20 under the Accursed Mountains, along the riverside of the Shala River. During its second edition, expected

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‘Kucedra’ photo book captures Vjosa, Europe’s last wild river

‘Kucedra’ photo book captures Vjosa, Europe’s last wild river

TIRANA, July 9 – Dublin-based photographer Nick St.Oegger traveled to Albania’s endangered Vjosa river to document life along its banks, and has now published the series of striking landscape shots of the environment, as well as the portraits of the

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 - The European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn’s visit to Tirana on Tuesday marked the beginning of the analytical assessment process, which will precede EU accession negotiations, scheduled to potentially begin next June.

The official start of this process, which aims to compare Albanian legislation with the European one through the 35 negotiating chapters, took place at a joint cabinet meeting with Hahn and other Commission representatives accompanying him. 

Hahn stressed the analytical assessment is a process which other Western Balkan countries have already gone through and which the remainder of candidate states will also be subjected to.

He also pointed out that “the better the quality of this analytical process from all institutions involved, the more proactive and engaged we are during this phase, the better it will be for the opening of accession negotiations.”

On his part, Prime Minister Edi Rama said the government has already decided on the structures and institutions that will be involved in the process, which will be led by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati, while also giving each ministry its own say in negotiations. 

He added the government is ready to further assist the project financially, by adding funds and increasing human resources. 

The decision on whether to open accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia was postponed by the EU Council last month, due to internal EU problems and doubts on the stability of reforms undertaken so far by both candidate status countries.

Although representatives have said a final decision - and date - will be reached by next June, a number of additional conditions were placed for Albania, a big part of which requiring government-opposition cooperation, while upcoming European Parliament elections also make it unclear what the future holds for Albania’s and Macedonia’s EU future. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 18 - On Wednesday, High Court members Tom Ndreca and Admir Thanza were also ousted by the Independent Qualification Committee, unable to justify their wealth and shady connections under the re-evaluation law. 

This decision officially places the High Court’s functionality at risk, as it remains with seven judges out of 19. 

Both judges were already being investigated for issues related to their declaration of wealth, the cleanliness of their figure and their alleged inappropriate ties with the criminal world.

Thanza was accused of hiding a 1999 conviction for theft in Italy, which he said he’d taken upon himself covering for his sister in law. 

Wednesday’s decision complicates even further the functionality of a High Court which, since 2013, has been functioning with a limited number of judges. From 2016, clashes between the socialist majority and then-President Bujar Nishani blocked procedures to name judgies for vacancies. 

As the implementation of the Justice Reform began, appointments became impossible due to the lack of new institutions predicted under the new legislation. This has left the court with nine out of nineteen members. 

With the ousting of Ndreca and Thanza, the High Court is left functioning with seven members, while another member - Artan Zeneli - is also under investigation. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 -  A speedboat filled with 262 kg of cannabis, which Italian media said was coming from Albania, was caught in Italy’s Bari port on Monday.

A 26-year-old Italian citizen has been arrested, while the cannabis amount is estimated at a market value of around €3 million. 

The cannabis was hidden inside the double floor of the speedboat and was found by Bari Guardia di Finanza naval operators. 

The speedboat was allegedly arriving from international waters, most probably Albania, Italian media wrote, and was heading towards the Brindisi coast.

According to preliminary investigations, the speedboat driver was trying to transport the cannabis to Puglia, as during the summer cannabis trading opportunities grow bigger as the number of vacationers increases in both countries. 

Meanwhile, Greek police also announced the arrest of a 36-year-old Albanian in Northern Greece, close to the border with Albania, as he was trying to transport 112 kg of cannabis inside his car towards Ioannina. 

Greek police also said the Albanian, whose name has not been made public, was already wanted by police in the country for a drug-related crime.

It added that, in June only, in the Epirus area - neighboring Albania - 237 kg of cannabis have been stopped and 39 people have been arrested. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 16 - Albanian police continues to stop third-country refugees who, supported by local traffickers, try to use Albania as a transition country that will lead them to EU member states.

On Saturday morning, Shkodra police stopped 15 refugees, mainly from Syria, who were trying to illegally cross the border with Montenegro to reach Croatia, and other EU countries.

Refugees had illegally entered Albania’s territory through its shared border with Greece, and were being transported toward Montenegro in the cars of local traffickers residing in Tirana’s Shkozet and Bathore neighborhoods.

Police said it arrested the traffickers and seized the transportation vehicles.

This year has marked an increase in the cases of banned refugees, who enter Albania with the aim to move to European countries, although both Albanian and Montenegrin police have said the situation is under control.

Earlier this month, during a joint press conference for the media, the prime ministers of both countries admitted the existence of sporadic illegal border crossings, but denied the possibility of building border fences, like it was earlier suggested by Montenegro state representatives. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 16 -  The Biberaj Foundation announced on Saturday its first project - the co-funding of the Albanian-American Development Foundation Master’s Degree Fellowship program. 

The Master’s and Internship Program (MIP) was launched in 2016 by the Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF) to give young professionals the opportunity to acquire a degree or experience in the fields of Business Administration and Management, Cultural Heritage, Eco-Tourism and Hospitality, Education, Public Policy, etc.

“The Biberaj family is honored to co-sponsor, with a $2,5 million, the AADF’s Master’s Degree Fellowship Program, intended for Albanian young professionals seeking to advance themselves through studies in the United States,” foundation spokesman Ken Biberaj said.

The Biberaj Foundation was established on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Biberaj family’s arrival in the United States in 1968. 

After fleeing repression in communist Albania, and arriving in the U.S., their story is a testament to the American Dream. Through their individual and collective hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, the Biberaj family established their own businesses and pursued careers ranging from education, technology, law, public service, finance, retail, real estate, philanthropy, and the arts.

As such, they know have a strong belief in supporting their communities and making sure the opportunities that higher education has afforded them continue to help others.

“We have deep gratitude to the United States for the success we have achieved, and great pride in our Albanian heritage. It is our hope that this Fellowship will empower a new generation of Albanian students to strive for excellence in academia, while fulfilling a commitment to giving back to their Albanian community,” Biberaj concluded.

Elez Biberaj, one of the initiators of the current co-sponsoring program and founders of the Biberaj Foundation,  is a prominent Albanian-American political scholar and thinker, who has also been essential in explaining post-communist Albania and has authored three very important books on the topic.

Biberaj’s book, ‘Albania in Transition: the Rocky Road to Democracy’, first published in 1998, to be republished by the Albanian Institute for International Studies in 2010, is an all-inclusive political account of post-communist transition. 

The book has served not only to clarify the Albanian transition, but also to foster international awareness of a small place like Albania, as well as the entire regionנcontributing to a sparking of Western interest for peace and stability in the Balkans.

His other works, also published by AIIS, include ‘Albania and China: a Study of An Unequal Alliance’ and ‘Albania: a Socialist Maverick.’ 

Elez has been Director of Voice of America’s Eurasia Division since 2005. He is responsible for planning, directing, and developing VOA’s radio, television, and Internet programming in Russian, Ukrainian, Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Greek, Macedonian, and Serbian, while holding a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.

He has also published articles in Encyclopedia Britannica, Conflict Studies, Problems of Communism, Survey, The World Today, East European Quarterly, The Wall Street Journal/Europe, etc.

The mission of the Biberaj Foundation is to support the pursuit of educational opportunities by Albanian students from the Balkans through study at American institutions.

After any course work, the Fellowship requires recipients to return to their country of origin and work there to strengthen the foundation of democratic societies. 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 15 - General Inspector Shkelqim Ganaj said on Thursday that half of Albania’s judges and prosecutors appear to be having problems with the wealth declared by them under the country’s justice reform.

According to the head of the High Inspectorate of Wealth Declaration and Control, Court of Appeals judges have so far had the biggest problems; on Thursday, the Independent Qualification Committee ousted Tirana prosecutor Adriatik Camaj, while the office of Constitutional Court member Gani Dizdari is also under risk.

“It turns out around 50% of them have problems with hiding their assets, either through fake statements or conflicts of interest,” Ganaj said at the Laws Commission.

This indicates that almost half of the country’s judiciary risks complete expulsion from the justice system only due to one out of three re-evaluation criteria. 

Ganaj said this situation is particularly concerning for Appeals Court members. 

“Appeals Court judges are the ones with the highest percentage of problems. Seeing how the Constitutional Court is out of order, the High Court is suffering big shortcomings, I think that next year, following this trend, we’ll be left without an Appeals Court too,” he added.

Only two Constitutional Court members have passed the re-evaluation so far, while the position of Gani Dizdari, whose hearing also took place on Thursday at the presence of his lawyer, is also at stake.

According to the IQC, investigations have found issues with his daughter’s wealth, while he is accused of having inappropriate ties to crime due to a past conviction of Dizdari’s nephew, the vehicle of whom he’s frequently used.

Another panel of judges dismissed today Tirana prosecutor Adriatik Cama, also for being unable to justify his wealth and for having shady ties to criminality. Meanwhile, prosecutor Kosta Beluri was reconfirmed to duty, although his decision to pause investigations towards High Court judge Adrian Thanza in the past was being verified. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - Tirana was selected as one of the cities that has made more progress in city management and drinking water.

This assessment came from the 2018 World Cities Summit and the Annual Water Summit held in Singapore, where the head of the Municipality of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, presented the achievements and changes that the Albanian capital has undergone.

"I am very happy that Tirana is highly valued at the Annual Summit of Cities here in Singapore and at the same time at the Annual Water Summit. So, it is for both processes, city management and water management, that Tirana is being assessed as one of the cities that has made more progress,” Veliaj said.

During his speech at the Summit, Veliaj emphasized that the Water Supply and Sewerage Enterprise, which was bankrupt only three years ago, is now ready to start working on doubling the Bovilla Lake capacity and setting up a new transmission line for drinkable water throughout the Unaza e Re area.

“I am also pleased that Tirana today leads in Albania: 98.5 percent of water bills are paid. So, when people see that services are delivered, they are ready to pay the modest fees they owe to the state,” Veliaj said, while expressing his conviction that the best praise for Tirana is its labeling as an innovative city, the way the communication between state and citizens has transformed, starting from kindergartens, schools, sports grounds, playgrounds, bicycle paths, planting trees, etc. 

However, Veliaj also expressed his regret for the statements of various past politicians saying, even today, they will ruin the public work that has been done in Tirana during the last three years, such as the Skanderbeg Square, or that they will hinder the development of other projects, such as the new National Theatre building.

“I feel sorry when I see past leaders of Tirana swearing they will ruin public works that have taken place in Tirana, or that they will not allow future projects, such as the new National Theatre. Today, Tirana is enjoying this reputation due to the courage that was displayed from 2000 to 2011 and during the last three years. So, when Tirana had governments that supported it, that have made bold decisions, it received a reputation as a country that is being transformed galopantly, beyond the capital,” Veliaj said.

Finally, the mayor ensured citizens of the municipality’s commitment to continue transforming Tirana, one neighborhood at a time. He said the world will not stop even during his last year of mandate, while, during the new mandate, attention will be paid in equally developing all rural areas. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - The Albanian Centre for Openness and Dialogue inaugurated on July 6 Algerian photographer’s Michel Setboun photo exhibition ‘The end. The start. Albania 1981-1991.” 

At the COD space, Setboun brings for the first time 99 medium and large dimension images as emblems which hold, in their essence, memory and documentation, the evolution of a dramatic decade, filled with events of an extraordinary importance for Albanians’ history.

The substance of this exhibitions retrospectively pauses to inspect strong contrasts, vivid tabloids focusing on post-80s Albania with demagoguery, banners, communist parades, bunkers in every inch of the surface, cult objects transformed in theatre halls, coffeeshops, abandoned culture hubs, economic hardship, political and social oppression during the autocracy period, the figure of the Albanian woman, children and school students, among others.

For Setboun, the country’s beginning of the 1990’s was equally shocking - as the communist regime was coming undone - in his documentation of the Albanian exodus, the overcrowded migrant ships at the Durres port, the reception of Mother Teresa in her home country, the revitalization of religion, reopening of religious cults, discovery and first face-off with capitalism, the shocking situation in centers for children with disabilities, weddings and funerals, and many other aspects of Albanian life.

“I’ve seen many things, from the beginning to the end of two eras. It was very important for this exhibition to take place here, because I wanted to create an album for the family and for the passing of generations that are no longer here. I did not want to show something depressing, but something that shows hope and life. It is important for the new generation to understand where we come from. We forget too easily,” Setboun told local media. 

[caption id="attachment_137903" align="alignright" width="300"]Foto3-500x400 Michel Setboun[/caption]

Meanwhile, Setboun is considered to be one of Albania’s most important international photo-reporters, and one of the most persistent recorders of Albania’s history since 1981 and onwards, as he remains almost the only photographer who has captured with his camera, unlike anyone else and continuously during the last four decades, the political, cultural and social development of the country through and through.  

“Before coming to Albania, I’d heard of Ismail Kadare books, which made Albania look like a fairy-tale place. I was naturally interested in it. I came to Albania for the first time in 1981 and, if you don’t share my age, you cannot imagine how Albania looked then. I was a war photographer, while Albania was a country at peace. While staying at Hotel Tirana, because of the intense quiet, one could even hear chickens’ sounds...there was no cars, nothing. A completely different planet,” Setboun said. 

His archive on Albania has thousands of pictures, each irreplaceable in its political and cultural significance. 

Albanian public figures, such as art historian Zef Peci also spoke to local media about the importance these pictures hold in documenting the country’s history. 

“I think it’s the exhibition of an important author, who brings photographers dipped in reality. Today, seeing these pictures, which were done in film 30 years ago and are not digital,  we see an Albania that no longer exists, some classes and people that no longer remain the same, or have been camouflaged. In this direction, it receives an extraordinary importance, because it speaks of a specific socio-historical context that no longer exists,” Peci told local media.

The exhibition will remain open to the public until September 2nd, while the entry will be free of charge. 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-14 12:42:34
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - The first modern-day festival dedicated to re-telling the traditions and stories of the Albanian Alps will return on July 20 under the Accursed Mountains, along the riverside of the Shala River. 

During its second edition, expected to last for three days and two nights in the course of a weekend, Za Fest organizers have promised to bring the best Albanian music in Theth Village, while simultaneously expanding its cultural horizon even more. 

Some of the artists that have already confirmed their participation to the event include Hasa-Mazzotta, Andrra, Oborri and Linda Rukaj, who will perform live from the village’s traditional church.

“An infinite repertoire of rhythms, notes and vocals that can break any kind of cultural barrier. This will be the right background to enjoy the transfixing Theth panorama,” organizers have written in the event’s official press release. 

Similarly to the last edition, this year too Za Fest will resurface part of the Albanian Alps’ oral tradition, “a jewel inherited from our ancestors.” 

Director and Actor Ema Andrea will also be present to tell and perform some of the area’s most epic legends and stories.

For 2018, organizers have promised an all-inclusive event which will combine the best live music with figurative arts, traditional tastes and sports activities in Theth’s beautiful nature.
                    [post_title] => Second edition of ‘Za Fest’ returns to Albania’s Theth village  
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                    [post_date] => 2018-07-14 12:36:28
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 9 - Dublin-based photographer Nick St.Oegger traveled to Albania’s endangered Vjosa river to document life along its banks, and has now published the series of striking landscape shots of the environment, as well as the portraits of the people and homes of the riverside communities, in a debut photo book titled ‘Kucedra: Portraits of Life on Europe’s Last Wild River.’ 

The photo book came to life in collaboration with Patagonia and NGOs RiverWatch and Euronatur, as part of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign and was launched in Dublin at the Patagonia store, on June 15. 

Vjosa has been named Europe’s last wild river as it has so far never been dammed or altered in any way and runs along its natural course.

[caption id="attachment_137895" align="alignright" width="300"]39_0 Nick St.Oegger[/caption]

However, the pristine river is under threat from hydropower development, which would alter the flow of the river, flood villages and irreparably alter and damage the region’s biodiversity.

In addition, Vjosa holds economic and cultural significance for the agricultural-based communities that live along its banks, thus risking the lives of those who would be displaced and lose their source of income if the dams and reservoirs become a reality.

The fall of communism and chaos that ensued in terms of property law and documentation has led to many of these villagers and farmers holding no deeds to their lands, and so compensation for what they might potentially lose would be difficult to ensure.

As pointed out by Oegger himself during the press release of his book launch, “the fact that the majority of these people don’t have an additional source of income or skills upon which to rely their livelihood, makes matters more difficult.”

The dams to be built at the Vjosa River  are part of a hydropower boom that is taking place everywhere in the Balkans. They are funded by international investment banks and could result in the construction of up to 3,000 dams along rivers throughout the Balkans.

In addition to St.Oegger’s pictures, the book also features an essay by Nataša Gregorič Bon, a social anthropologist at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, on Vjosa River’s importance to Albania’s economy and culture.

The government’s plans to allow the construction of hydropower plants along Europe’s last wild river has also sparked protests in the country by activists, nature-protection organizations and scholars alike over the past months, while also giving life to the ‘Don’t Touch Vjosa’ campaign, under which a number of awareness campaigns have been organized in the capital. 

 

About Nick St.Oegger 

Nick St.Oegger, born in 1988, is a documentary photographer from California, based in Dublin, Ireland, whose work explores the relationship between people and the environments they inhabit, both urban and rural. He has spent several years working in the western Balkans, with a specific focus on Albania. His clients include: Patagonia, Vice, Huck, Reuters, Le Monde, De Standaard, Nieuwe Revu and The Calvert Journal.

 
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            [post_date] => 2018-07-18 13:27:33
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 - The European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn’s visit to Tirana on Tuesday marked the beginning of the analytical assessment process, which will precede EU accession negotiations, scheduled to potentially begin next June.

The official start of this process, which aims to compare Albanian legislation with the European one through the 35 negotiating chapters, took place at a joint cabinet meeting with Hahn and other Commission representatives accompanying him. 

Hahn stressed the analytical assessment is a process which other Western Balkan countries have already gone through and which the remainder of candidate states will also be subjected to.

He also pointed out that “the better the quality of this analytical process from all institutions involved, the more proactive and engaged we are during this phase, the better it will be for the opening of accession negotiations.”

On his part, Prime Minister Edi Rama said the government has already decided on the structures and institutions that will be involved in the process, which will be led by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati, while also giving each ministry its own say in negotiations. 

He added the government is ready to further assist the project financially, by adding funds and increasing human resources. 

The decision on whether to open accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia was postponed by the EU Council last month, due to internal EU problems and doubts on the stability of reforms undertaken so far by both candidate status countries.

Although representatives have said a final decision - and date - will be reached by next June, a number of additional conditions were placed for Albania, a big part of which requiring government-opposition cooperation, while upcoming European Parliament elections also make it unclear what the future holds for Albania’s and Macedonia’s EU future. 

 
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