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Socialist lawmaker faces charges following shootout

Socialist lawmaker faces charges following shootout

TIRANA, Sept. 7 – An Albanian lawmaker has been arrested and is facing charges for his alleged involvement in a shootout that left seven people wounded early Sunday. Parliament has given prosecutors the green light to charge Armando Prenga, a

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Albania play Portugal in key qualifier for group lead

Albania play Portugal in key qualifier for group lead

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Sept. 7 – Albania will play at home to Portugal this evening in a key Euro 2016 qualifier after getting a priceless point from a goalless draw away to rivals Denmark last weekend in their bid

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Italian, British artists open memorandum exhibition in Shkodra

Italian, British artists open memorandum exhibition in Shkodra

TIRANA, Sept. 1 – Three Italian and British artists will be showcased in the northern Albanian city of Shkoder in a collective contemporary art exhibition. Italy’s Pierpaolo Campanini and Giovanni De Lazzari and Northern Ireland artist Willie Doherty will be

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Stay out of internal affairs, PM tells Athens in chapel demolition row

TIRANA, Sept. 1 – Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, has told Athens to stay out of the country’s internal affairs, following a row over the demolition of an illegally-built Orthodox Christian shrine in the southern Albanian coast village of Dhermi.

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Winning concessionaire to impose €5 tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

Winning concessionaire to impose €5 tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

TIRANA, Sept. 3 – The Albanian government has announced it will select the winning company that will operate a 114-km highway segment linking Albania to Kosovo on October 15, making it Albania’s first toll road probably by early next year.

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Western Balkans summit overshadowed by refugee crisis

Western Balkans summit overshadowed by refugee crisis

TIRANA, Aug. 31 – The Vienna Western Balkans Summit, a high-level meeting aiming to reassure the region of its European perspective, has been overshadowed by the refugee crisis hitting the region and the European Union. As the leaders of Germany,

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Albania to play Denmark, Portugal in key qualifiers for Euro 2016 bid

Albania to play Denmark, Portugal in key qualifiers for Euro 2016 bid

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Aug. 31 – Albania will play away to Denmark and at home to Portugal in early September in two key Euro 2016 qualifiers in its bid to secure a historic qualification in a major international football

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Summit promises EU funding for road, power connections

Summit promises EU funding for road, power connections

TIRANA, Aug 31 – Albania is to receive EU funding to finish up key sections of the north-south highway corridor and to create a better high voltage link with neighboring Macedonia, according to a document released at the end of

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Op-Ed: Without the Western Balkans, the European Union would be incomplete

Op-Ed: Without the Western Balkans, the European Union would be incomplete

A joint article by the Foreign Ministers of Austria and Germany, Sebastian Kurz and Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna 20 years after the wars in the Western Balkans the region is peaceful and

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Gov’t warns of tough nationwide campaign against informality

Gov’t warns of tough nationwide campaign against informality

TIRANA, Aug. 19 – The Albanian government has reconfirmed it is committed to undertaking a nationwide campaign against informality and tax evasion in the next couple of weeks similar to that on electricity launched in late 2014 to curb massive

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123390" align="alignright" width="300"]prenga Socialist lawmaker Armando Prenga. (Photo: VoA TV grab)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 7 – An Albanian lawmaker has been arrested and is facing charges for his alleged involvement in a shootout that left seven people wounded early Sunday.

Parliament has given prosecutors the green light to charge Armando Prenga, a Socialist member of parliament from Lezha County, who was arrested immediately after he and members of his family clashed with another group in the vicinity of the Laç police station.

Prenga faces charges of intentionally causing serious injury, illegal possession of weapons and uttering threats, said a statement by Nik Nikollaj, the police chief of Kurbin Municipality, where Laç is located. Several other people involved in the fight have also been arrested, police said.

The conflict related to fishing rights in the Patok Lagune, according to lawyers for both sides.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said there would be zero tolerance for MPs breaking the law and urged prosecutors to do their job.

"No one is above the law, lawmakers included," Rama said on Twitter.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Prenga said he had acted in self defense and expressed anger over the treatment he had received from his party and for the way the opposition was using the situation for political gain.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the events were the latest example of Prime Minister Rama's affair with people with criminal ties.

“Above the law, and against the law, crime and criminals have become one with power,” Basha said in a statement.

Prenga is the third member of parliament from the ruling Socialist-led coalition to be arrested since Rama's government came to power in 2013.

The prime minister has increasingly come under fire from critics and the opposition for allowing people with dubious pasts and reputations to become members of parliament and take other public offices.

Under controversial constitutional and legislative changes done in 2008, the party leaders have final say on all candidates for parliament. Several analysts have said the composition of parliament has suffered as a result.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

[caption id="attachment_123385" align="alignright" width="300"]FBL-EURO-2016-POR-ALB Albanian striker Bekim Balaj celebrates after scoring a winning volley in the September 2014 opening qualifier away to Portugal[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 7 - Albania will play at home to Portugal this evening in a key Euro 2016 qualifier after getting a priceless point from a goalless draw away to rivals Denmark last weekend in their bid for a first-ever qualification in a major football competition.

Albania play Group I leaders Portugal at Elbasan Arena in an effort to repeat the historic 1-0 away victory last year in the opening qualifier which is the only 'shock' defeat the Portuguese have suffered in their first five qualifiers.

With three matches to go, Albania currently rank third in Group I with 11 points, level with Denmark which hold an advantage only thanks to an away goal to Albania in last October's qualifier despite Albania having one game at hand.

See Group I Standings

Having already mathematically secured a place in the play-offs, a home victory against group leaders Portugal will be decisive for Albania's dream to achieve a direct qualification.

However, Monday evening's match will be more difficult for the national side as Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo will be starting for Portugal after missing in the home match.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the match, Albania's coach Italian Gianni De Biasi jokingly threatened to vote for Ronaldo's rival, Argentinean Lionel Messi, in the next FIFA Golden Ball if the Portuguese scores in Albania.

“I hope he has a change of heart because I voted him for the Ballon D'or. Otherwise... I will vote for Messi," said De Biasi.

Portugal play Albania after losing 1-0 in a friendly against Euro 2016 hosts France and four consecutive victories in the qualifiers.

"This match is important to us for three reasons. Firstly, because we confirm our shape and results we have achieved, secondly because we are in a decisive stage of the qualifiers and thirdly because we play against a big opponent which leads our qualifying group," said De Biasi.

Portugal's coach Fernando Santos described the qualifier with Albania as tough, but not decisive for a mathematical qualification.

"Albania is an equal opponent. They have a motivated team and are very close to a historic achievement of qualifying for the European championship. They are an aggressive team but we will try playing our game," Santos said in a press conference in Tirana.

Albania suffered a lot in the qualifier against Denmark, but defended well until the end of the match and could have even won the game at stoppage time when substitute winger Roshi squandered a good scoring opportunity.

Albania has only one victory and a draw from six international meetings with Portugal.

Remaining unbeaten in five qualifiers, including two friendlies with France, Albania will look to prove that their shock victory to Portugal in their opening qualifiers was no coincidence.

Second-placed Denmark will play away to Armenia who were beaten 2-0 by Serbia last weekend in a match behind closed doors.

Albania’s qualifying campaign will close with a delicate home match against bottom Serbia on October 8 before travelling to Armenia three days later.

For the very first time, Albania’s national football team has made it to the world’s top 30 following a surprise positive performance in its Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Albania climbed 14 places to a historic high of 22nd in the August FIFA Men’s ranking after Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Albania a 3-0 victory in last October’s abandoned match away to Serbia in a final decision ending a legal battle which reversed a previous ruling by Europe’s football governing body. Albania had previously beaten Euro 2016 hosts France 1-0 in a home friendly. In the September ranking Albania, lost three places ranking 25th.

Meanwhile, Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 1 - Three Italian and British artists will be showcased in the northern Albanian city of Shkoder in a collective contemporary art exhibition.

Italy's Pierpaolo Campanini and Giovanni De Lazzari and Northern Ireland artist Willie Doherty will be featuring video, painting and etchings.

“What all of them have in common is an attentive and sensitive view in exploring the every-day and the natural in the search for secret areas, unclear spaces and hidden memories," says the Italian Institute of Culture which is organizing the event.

The exhibition called Memorandum is a project by Adrian Paci, an internationally renowned contemporary artist who represented Albania in the 2014 Venice Biennale. It will also inaugurate the Art House gallery in Shkodra, where Paci grew up as an artist, remaining open to the public from September 13 to 19.

“Viewing the works of these three artists, it seems like nature is permeated by a story which has left its marks and we do not assist in it, but later when everything seems quiet and full of memories. Sometimes the marks seem like wounds, sometimes like strange constructions,” organizers say.

Northern Ireland’s Willie Doherty, 56, has been a pioneering figure in contemporary art film and photography since the 1980s.

Giovanni De Lazzari, 38, and Pierpaolo Campanini, 51, both live and work in Italy and have participated in dozens of international exhibitions.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 1 – Albania's prime minister, Edi Rama, has told Athens to stay out of the country's internal affairs, following a row over the demolition of an illegally-built Orthodox Christian shrine in the southern Albanian coast village of Dhermi.

Rama said Albania's Orthodox Christians had their own state to protect them and Greece's interference would not be accepted.

"Orthodox Albanians are not Greeks,” Rama said, adding everyone in Albania has equal religious rights.

Rama, a Catholic who has Orthodox family roots in the area of the shrine, said a proper church would be built on the spot of the shrine's demolition.

He said there had been “a misunderstanding” on the role the government played in the action and it was “misused by others."

The Greek Foreign Ministry demanded explanation from Albania, comparing the actions of the local Himara Municipality in demolishing the small chapel, built without a permit in the early 1990s, to the actions of jihadis in Syria.

Greek nationalists have for more than a century wanted to annex parts of southern Albania, identifying all Orthodox Albanians as Greeks, a view that deeply angers Albanians.

Only a small fraction of the country's Orthodox population is ethnically Greek, census figures and independent studies show.

The area in where the chapel was located is seen by the Albanian government as ethically Albanian. However, many of its residents speak Greek at home, which makes them ethnically Greek as far as the Greek government is concerned.

The chapel's demolition became even more complicated, because a Catholic missionary is buried on the sight, marking accusations that the Catholic Church was also involved.

More than half of Albania's population is made up of secular Muslims. Christians, mostly Orthodox and Catholic, are a sizable minority.

Following the end of the atheist communist regime, Albania has had an excellent track record of religious tolerance and freedoms.  
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                    [post_content] => kukTIRANA, Sept. 3 - The Albanian government has announced it will select the winning company that will operate a 114-km highway segment linking Albania to Kosovo on October 15, making it Albania's first toll road probably by early next year.

Transport Minister Edmond Haxhinasto says drivers are expected to pay Euro 5 tolls during the 35-year concession to upgrade, operate and maintain the 114 Milot-Morine segment, part of the so-called Highway of Nation.

“There are four foreign companies in the race and on October 15 we will have the winner on the management and the completion of the Highway of Nation. Calculations have been made on a Euro 5 toll including VAT which is lower than average regional fees," Haxhanisto said in a TV interview.

The Albanian government says it will favour the company that will request the lowest amount of subsidies considering that the winning bidder will have to invest 38 to 43 million dollars to complete the highway which still lacks proper maintenance.

“The main objective of this works and services concession/public-private partnership project is upgrading the highway and its effective operation and maintenance. The concessionaire will be subject to a set of predefined performance standards over a 30-year concession term,” says the tender announcement.

“The concessionaire will collect and keep toll revenue and in exchange it will be responsible to implement and finance motorway improvement measures, construct a new bridge on Drini River in Kukes, northeastern Albania and carry out emergency geotechnical and stabilization works, says the transport and infrastructure ministry.

The highway is part of the national roads network and constitutes the largest road engineering project in Albania’s history. Linking Milot, approximately 60 km northeast of the Adriatic Port of Durres, with Morine at the Kosovo border, the route forms the central section of the wider Albania-Kosovo highway, connecting Durres with the Kosovo capital Prishtina.

The Kosovo government is also planning to introduce tolls for its highway to Albania which is expected to make travel to the two neighboring countries much more expensive.

The Albanian government says it plans to extend the toll system in other road segments in order to guarantee maintenance and standards and cut its budget costs.

The concession which now seems on track had been delayed for a couple of years because of lack of legal framework for toll roads, which were approved only in mid-2014.

“We are examining to build some road segments under public private partnerships. The state budget cannot afford works such as the Durres-Kukes highway which needs another $200 million," said Economy Minister Arben Ahmetaj last July introducing the bill which targets public-private partnerships on the construction and maintenance of roads due to rising costs.

Operational since June 2009, the Durres-Kukes highway and its 5.5 km twin-bore Thirre tunnel is estimated to cost government around 4 million euros annually in maintenance.

“Road tolling offers the possibility of raising additional revenue for the road sector, and provides a dedicated source of finance for a particular road. Revenue from tolling is also independent from the annual budgetary process, and therefore increases the stability of road sector revenues, though toll revenues remain exposed to traffic risk,” says London-Based EBRD which is supporting the Albanian government in the reform of the road sector.

The Durres-Kukes highway, which is estimated to have cost Albania a staggering Euro 1 billion became fully open to traffic only in October 2010. Its major 60 km Rreshen-Kalimash segment was built by Bechtel-Enka, a US-Turkish consortium.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 31 – The Vienna Western Balkans Summit, a high-level meeting aiming to reassure the region of its European perspective, has been overshadowed by the refugee crisis hitting the region and the European Union.

As the leaders of Germany, Austria and the Western Balkan countries met in Vienna, tens of thousands of refugees from war-torn Middle East and other migrants were making their way from Greece through the Balkans with the goal of reaching Western Europe.

Macedonia and Serbia have been overwhelmed by the surge of refugees, asking the EU for help. Originally blocking the migrants at the Greek border, authorities in Macedonia are now trying to shuttle the refugees through the country as fast as possible, adding extra trains and buses to speed the passage north to Serbia.

Albanian authorities have increased their presence at the border with Greece, which has seen for months a daily trickle of refugees trying to make their way through Albania toward Western Europe, but the numbers are much lower than those in Macedonia and Serbia. Albanian officials are worried, however, that if the flow gets rerouted through Albania, the country will not be able to cope.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria's foreign minister, said there was an urgent need for an overall European approach to the problem and the refugees arriving from Greece should not be routed through non-EU members in the Western Balkans.

However, EU members like Hungary are racing to finish a fence along their border aimed at deterring migration through Serbia. Bulgaria, another EU member, has also built a fence at its border with Turkey, driving much of the migration through Greece.

Amnesty International has condemned EU's approach.

“There is a real concern that refugees are getting trapped in a Balkans no-man’s land without protection or support, whilst EU countries turn their backs. This is leaving them vulnerable to further human rights abuses,” said Gauri van Gulik, the organization's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

However, with boats carrying refugees continuing to arrive on the Greek islands, and UNHCR’s announcement that up to 3,000 refugees and migrants are expected to cross into Macedonia on a daily basis throughout the next several months, the authorities in the Western Balkans countries must still live up to their international obligations towards asylum-seekers, including allowing those seeking asylum to do so in a prompt and effective manner, the human rights organization said in a statement.

“It is true that Europe’s borderlands are facing an unprecedented arrival of refugees. But it’s also true that this is only a fraction of the numbers of refugees being hosted by developing countries as the world faces the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. The increase in arrivals also doesn’t absolve countries along the Balkans route of their legal obligations,” Van Gulik added.

Amnesty International says what European asylum system is broken because having fled fear and desperation, refugees are confronted with an impossible choice – to stay and apply for asylum in the country of arrival with, in the case of Greece, appalling reception and detention conditions; or to travel further, and embark once more on a potentially clandestine and hazardous journey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended the Vienna summit, called on European states to implement joint asylum agreements to remedy the current situation.

Berlin has announced it will no longer force Syrian refugees to return to the country where they first entered the EU – normally Greece or Italy – to apply for asylum as mandated by EU's regulations spelled out in the Dublin Agreement.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123271" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania's Ermir Lenjani scored the opening goal in last October's 1-1 qualifier home to Denmark Albania's Ermir Lenjani scored the opening goal in last October's 1-1 qualifier home to Denmark[/caption]

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 31 - Albania will play away to Denmark and at home to Portugal in early September in two key Euro 2016 qualifiers in its bid to secure a historic qualification in a major international football competition as the national side find themselves in a comfortable position in Group I.

With one game in hand, Albania currently rank third in Group I of France 2016 qualifiers on 10 points, level with second-placed Denmark and two points behind group leaders Portugal.

Armenia and Serbia have 1 point and -2 points respectively, meaning that with four game to go Albania has almost mathematically secured a spot in the play-offs in case of finishing third in the group and can also hope to qualify directly as the best third-placed side in the nine groups.

Albania will play away to Denmark on Friday, Sept. 4 for a second time in the Euro 2016 qualifiers after a 1-1 home draw last October which currently ranks Denmark second only thanks to an away goal although Albania have played one game less.

Albania remain unbeaten in their first four qualifiers including two friendlies with Euro 2016 hosts France, but the record with Denmark is negative with only one victory and two draws in nine senior international meetings.

Albania's coach, Italian Gianni De Biasi, who has led Albania to unprecedented success in the past four years, has described the match against Denmark as a key qualifier, but not decisive for Albania's qualification bid.

“This match is not decisive because fortunately we have ten points, level with Denmark but one game less. At the end of the qualifiers, when we play away to Armenia, Denmark will play against France [friendly] and can earn no points. If we collect enough points, we can achieve the qualification in the final match differently from Denmark which does not have that chance."

"Currently we are mathematically in the play-offs and are in the race to qualify as the third-best placed team the same to Hungary," said De Biasi in a video conference ahead of the qualifier.

Three days later, on September 7, Albania host group leaders Portugal whom they beat 1-0 in a surprise away victory in the opening qualifier in September 2014.

Albania's qualifying campaign will close with a delicate home match against bottom Serbia on October 8 before travelling to Armenia three days later.

For the very first time Albania’s national football team has made it to the world’s top 30 following a surprise positive performance in its Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Albania climbed 14 places to a historic high of 22nd in the August FIFA Men’s ranking after Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Albania a 3-0 victory in last October’s abandoned match away to Serbia in a final decision ending a legal battle which reversed a previous ruling by Europe’s football governing body. Albania had previously beaten Euro 2016 hosts France 1-0 in a home friendly.

The FIFA monthly ranking includes 208 football associations from all over the world.

Meanwhile, Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.
                    [post_title] => Albania to play Denmark, Portugal in key qualifiers for Euro 2016 bid
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                    [post_date] => 2015-08-31 10:29:18
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-08-31 08:29:18
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug 31 – Albania is to receive EU funding to finish up key sections of the north-south highway corridor and to create a better high voltage link with neighboring Macedonia, according to a document released at the end of the Vienna Western Balkans Summit.

The EU investments are set to include road work in the Tirana, Lezha and Tepelena regions and an energy grid connection between Albania and Macedonia.

Albania received less funding than some of the other countries of the region, but the money is part of a total €200 million the European Union has promised to the countries of the region to complete several transport and energy projects aiming to improve the connectivity between the Western Balkan countries ahead of their hoped EU memberships.

The road work in Albania will take place as part what has been dubbed “the blue corridor” – a highway linking Croatia to Greece via Montenegro and Albania.

The project is a portion of three core European network corridors to be extended in the Western Balkans as well as priority projects along sections of these corridors.

“The core network corridors, once completed, will provide quality transport services for citizens and businesses, with seamless integration within the region as well as with the EU,” the document notes. “The priority projects will help remove bottlenecks, promote interoperability, and build missing cross-border connections.”
                    [post_title] => Summit promises EU funding for road, power connections
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                    [post_date] => 2015-08-28 00:20:21
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-08-27 22:20:21
                    [post_content] => A joint article by the Foreign Ministers of Austria and Germany, Sebastian Kurz and Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna

20 years after the wars in the Western Balkans the region is peaceful and all the countries of the region strive to become EU-members. The significant progress achieved, however, should not be taken for granted. The region’s stability still rests on shaky foundations, and largely depends on support by the European Union. The prospect of EU membership has so far been the single most important incentive for the implementation of tough but necessary reforms and for sustained efforts towards reconciliation in the region. Our commitment to giving the Western Balkans a European perspective remains key to ensuring lasting stability in the region and to completing the transformation of the political systems, economies and societies in the region. Peaceful, stable, and democratic Western Balkans countries are in the strategic interest of the European Union. 

The Berlin Process, initiated in 2014 by Germany and carried forward this year by Austria, adds renewed momentum and reaffirms our commitment to this perspective. 

The Vienna Summit on 27 August is the second in a series of five summits planned until 2018. Like the first summit in Berlin, the Vienna Summit will bring together Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ministers for Economic Affairs of all Western Balkans countries as well as all relevant stakeholders from the European Union and international institutions. Its objective is threefold: first, to highlight the substantial progress achieved in the region, second, to reconfirm and reinforce the European perspective of all countries of the region, and third, to accelerate reforms, enhance economic opportunities and encourage cooperation in the region. 

Last year in Berlin, we agreed to focus on concrete projects, simply because the people of the Western Balkans expect tangible benefits from the path towards the European Union, in areas such as connectivity, employment, education, human rights, rule of law and democracy. 

As a backbone of economic development, the regional leaders agreed upon a regional core transport network and corresponding corridors. The European Commission is ready to commit 1 billion Euros until 2020 in support of this endeavour. This will help the Western Balkan countries better connect with each other and the EU. We also want to help in creating new economic perspectives for young people in the Western Balkans. Austria as well as Germany can offer effective expertise in this field, for instance through their dual vocational education systems. A regional youth exchange initiative, based on the highly successful Franco-German and Polish-German models, will be presented at the Summit. It should contribute to tearing down the still existing walls in the minds of young people and foster reconciliation. 

A vibrant civil society and free media are core pillars of any modern and successful democracy. Our Civil Society Forum will highlight their added value as forums for debate and peaceful settlement of social issues, as well as their vital role in holding governments to account. 

No doubt, a lot remains to be done, as the regrettable incidents in Srebrenica this year as well as the newly emerged migratory challenges show. Yet, there are a variety of impressive success stories. The EU has brought Serbia and Kosovo to the negotiation table. They have achieved impressive progress on the path to a comprehensive normalization of their relations. As a lot of questions still have to be tackled, we encourage Serbia’s and Kosovo’s leadership to keep up their commitment.  Recent good services by Commissioner Hahn in Skopje have led to an agreement between the main political parties. We call upon the parties to now pave the way for free and fair elections next April by swiftly and completely implementing the necessary internal reforms, thereby creating more equal opportunities for all political contenders. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the renewed EU approach contributed to focusing the attention on socio-economic reforms of which all people in the country will benefit. These examples show that the European Union’s engagement has a positive impact in overcoming the most difficult situations

The conference will also pay particular attention to the fact that the Western Balkan route has become the primary route of a growing number of refugees seeking protection in Europe. The recent events at the Macedonian border town of Gevgelja are a testament to this. These developments create significant challenges for border management and asylum systems in some Western Balkan countries as well as in EU Member States. Western Balkan countries too will have to assume their responsibilities to address these challenges. But they are not alone: We will discuss in Vienna how the European Union as well as individual EU member states can support Western Balkan countries in their efforts to improve border management and asylum systems.  

On the 27th of August, we will renew our firm commitment to the European perspective for all the Western Balkan countries and pledge our continuous support for this region. The door to the European Union must remain open for the Western Balkans region in order to ensure that the European Union remains the most successful peace project in the world. Without the Western Balkans, the European Union is clearly incomplete.

We are confident that the Vienna Summit and the continued Berlin Process will contribute to the ultimate goal of EU membership of all Western Balkan countries. Austria and Germany will wholeheartedly continue to support all efforts in that regard.
                    [post_title] => Op-Ed: Without the Western Balkans, the European Union would be incomplete
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                    [post_date] => 2015-08-21 11:15:28
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                    [post_content] => kasaTIRANA, Aug. 19 - The Albanian government has reconfirmed it is committed to undertaking a nationwide campaign against informality and tax evasion in the next couple of weeks similar to that on electricity launched in late 2014 to curb massive thefts and collect accumulated unpaid bills.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Economy Minister Arben Ahmetaj described the new nationwide campaign as a "huge and frontal battle against informality in the economy."

Unveiling that 30 percent of businesses operating in Albania are not registered at all and do not use cash registers, Ahmetaj called on businesses to hurry and take all measures before the nationwide operation begins in September and severe penalties are imposed on them.

“Time is running out and we will repeat this appeal more often until the start of the operation which the same to the operation on electricity, will not stop against anybody or any reason," warned Ahmetaj.

A survey carried out by the economy ministry has shown 50 percent of businesses operating in Albania do not issue tax receipts.  Around a third of businesses operating in Albania are not licensed at all, do not have cash registers or do not use them at all, says the ministry.

“These are the final appeals to take measures for everybody who doesn't want to have trouble with the law and the state," warned Ahmetaj.

“In this operation, the same to the electricity operation, we feel part of a strategic alliance with citizens and consumers and all big and small businesses which regularly pay taxes," said Ahmetaj.

Prime Minister Edi Rama had earlier warned that new legal measures will be adopted to tighten penalties against informality.

“It will be a complex operation. The Parliament will examine at the beginning of its new session a package of tougher criminal penalties against tax evasion, smuggling and the slavery of informal labor," Prime Minister Rama has said.

“The government is determined to go through the new battle in the customs and tax administrations. It is an unstoppable operation until the rule of law is set in Albania's economy," said Rama in a meeting with tax directors later on Thursday.

Albania's state inspectorate says it has identified 900 cases of informal workers and 1,800 others without individual contracts during this year, mostly working in the construction and services sectors.

After the electricity campaign which has brought the government around 100 million euros in extra income, the Albanian government intends to undertake a similar campaign on running water to curb massive thefts and distribution losses.

The poor performance in the first half of this electoral year has forced the Albanian government to revise downward its overoptimistic 2015 budget while the International Monetary Fund has postponed its new loan tranche as part of a three-year Euro 331 million loan.

In its latest meeting, the government approved 16.2 billion lek (€114.6 million) in spending cuts following failure to meet its revenue target, a decision which was made transparent only after being published on the Official Gazette.

The Albanian government has denied it is considering taxation on monthly wages of up to 30,000 (€210) which would affect all Albanians who have been excluded from personal income tax for wages of up to 210 (€105.6) Euros since early 2013.

“There is no change in the personal income tax system and no plan for any possible change in this direction," said deputy Finance Minister Erjon Luçi, adding that the fight against informality will be the focus to increase government revenue.

“The main focus on increasing budget revenue will be the fight against informality and tax evasion, improving efficiency and administration in the tax and customs sectors," said Luçi.

The finance ministry says it has hired an extra 500 tax inspectors who are working all over Albania to raise awareness on the fight against tax evasion and informality ahead of a warned nationwide campaign.

“This precedes a bigger campaign against informality which includes a full package of measures that will be introduced soon," said Luçi.

The Albanian government and the IMF have already revised Albania’s GDP growth for 2015 to 2.7 percent, down from an initial 3 percent on lower international oil prices affecting exports and the deterioration of the situation in Greece.

Unlicensed small businesses queue to register

A warning by Prime Minister Edi Rama that the government will launch next September a nationwide campaign against informality and tax evasion similar to that on electricity has had an immediate impact on small businesses with long queues reported on the country's business registration centers.

While it normally takes one day to register with the national registration centre, local media report there are people who haven't been able to register their businesses for one week due to the overcrowding of business registration centers.

Most of the people registering their businesses are street vendors, barbers, tailors, small store owners who are striving to make ends meet at a time when household consumption has also been hit by the payment of accumulated unpaid bills.

While key taxes such as the personal and corporate income taxes remained unchanged, defying businesses calls for a return to the flat tax regime after the corporate income tax was raised by 5 percent to 15 percent in 2014, the tax burden in 2015 further increased by raising the withholding tax on dividends and rents and capital gains to 15 percent, increasing the circulation tax on fuel and imposing higher excise rates on tobacco. In addition, electricity prices rose for business consumers and around three-quarters of household consumers.

Gov’t urged to consider businesses as partners

Business representatives have hailed government's initiative to curb informality, estimated at around 30 percent of the GDP, but say the nationwide campaign should be led without creating panic and using extreme measures.

“The business community must be considered a partner and inspections against informality should be carried out without damaging partnership with fair businesses," says Nikolin Jaka, the head of the Tirana Chamber of Commerce.

Zef Preçi, the head of the Albanian Center for Economic Research, says that long-term ailments such as tax evasion, informality and corruption cannot be eliminated with campaigns of several weeks and extreme punishment, but with everyday determination and the cut of corruptive links between politicians and businesses.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Party has announced a series of protests next September against “government's arbitrariness and corruption and the ailing Albanian economy.”

Opposition Democratic Party MP Ridvan Bode, a former finance minister for eight years in the 2005-2013 period, has condemned the government rhetoric about its warned campaign against informality next September, saying that such a campaign cannot be led by police.

“Police operations cannot be used on everything, taxes are a kind of system and by this I mean even the computerization, the administration and the legal support provided by the justice system. We must have functional systems," says Bode who was in charge of the country's public finances during the Democrats’ eight years in power.

 

 
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123390" align="alignright" width="300"]prenga Socialist lawmaker Armando Prenga. (Photo: VoA TV grab)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 7 – An Albanian lawmaker has been arrested and is facing charges for his alleged involvement in a shootout that left seven people wounded early Sunday.

Parliament has given prosecutors the green light to charge Armando Prenga, a Socialist member of parliament from Lezha County, who was arrested immediately after he and members of his family clashed with another group in the vicinity of the Laç police station.

Prenga faces charges of intentionally causing serious injury, illegal possession of weapons and uttering threats, said a statement by Nik Nikollaj, the police chief of Kurbin Municipality, where Laç is located. Several other people involved in the fight have also been arrested, police said.

The conflict related to fishing rights in the Patok Lagune, according to lawyers for both sides.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said there would be zero tolerance for MPs breaking the law and urged prosecutors to do their job.

"No one is above the law, lawmakers included," Rama said on Twitter.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Prenga said he had acted in self defense and expressed anger over the treatment he had received from his party and for the way the opposition was using the situation for political gain.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the events were the latest example of Prime Minister Rama's affair with people with criminal ties.

“Above the law, and against the law, crime and criminals have become one with power,” Basha said in a statement.

Prenga is the third member of parliament from the ruling Socialist-led coalition to be arrested since Rama's government came to power in 2013.

The prime minister has increasingly come under fire from critics and the opposition for allowing people with dubious pasts and reputations to become members of parliament and take other public offices.

Under controversial constitutional and legislative changes done in 2008, the party leaders have final say on all candidates for parliament. Several analysts have said the composition of parliament has suffered as a result.
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