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Skenderbeu on track for sixth straight Superliga title

Skenderbeu on track for sixth straight Superliga title

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Feb. 24 – With the Albanian Superliga already past the halfway stage, reigning champions Skenderbeu are on track for a sixth consecutive league title with a 4-point lead over sole rivals Partizani. Skenderbeu, who last year

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Albania to send reduced team of athletes to Rio 2016 Olympics

Albania to send reduced team of athletes to Rio 2016 Olympics

TIRANA, Feb. 18 – Albania is expected to send a limited number of athletes to the Rio 2016 Olympics after a doping scandal in late 2014 that saw three weightlifters banned. With preparations already underway, Luiza Gega is the only

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Finance minister dismissed in first gov’t reshuffle within Socialist Party

Finance minister dismissed in first gov’t reshuffle within Socialist Party

TIRANA, Feb. 16 – Shkelqim Cani has been dismissed as finance minister and replaced by Economy Minister Arben Ahmetaj in the first government reshuffle within the Socialist Party which leads the ruling left coalition that came to power following the

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In Albania visit, State Secretary Kerry praises progress, presses for justice reform

In Albania visit, State Secretary Kerry praises progress, presses for justice reform

By Ledion Veshi TIRANA, Feb.15 – In his first visit to Albania, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the country has made great strides on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration, while he called on Albania’s political class to

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ARMO oil refiner key assets on sale for €20mln after loan default

ARMO oil refiner key assets on sale for €20mln after loan default

TIRANA, Feb. 10 – A Tirana-based private bailiff has announced the sale of several key assets by ARMO oil refiner whose minority 15 percent stake is still held by the Albanian government following its failed privatization back in 2008. In

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Albanian Institute for International Studies reconfirmed on the list of the world’s most influential think tanks

Albanian Institute for International Studies reconfirmed on the list of the world’s most influential think tanks

TIRANA, Feb.3 – The Albanian Institute for International Studies has been reconfirmed among the world’s best think tanks by the 2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report authored by James G. McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil

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Albania to play friendly with Austria in Euro 2016 warm-up

Albania to play friendly with Austria in Euro 2016 warm-up

TIRANA, Feb. 11 – Albania will play away to Austria next March in a friendly which is seen as a key test for the national side’s warm-up for its historic Euro 2016 participation. Albania’s football association has confirmed the friendly

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The EU’s Challenges Tackling Migration, Radicalization and Terrorism from a Dutch perspective

The EU’s Challenges Tackling Migration, Radicalization and Terrorism from a Dutch perspective

By DEWI VAN DE WEERD Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands   For the Kingdom of the Netherlands, this new year started with a great responsibility – the rotating EU presidency for the next six months. I am really

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Tirana-Belgrade and Kosovo in the middle

Tirana-Belgrade and Kosovo in the middle

By FATJONA MEJDINI As part of a small group of Albanian journalists who traveled to Belgrade to meet some key actors of Serbian politics and civil society, I repeatedly heard that “between Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vucic, there is an

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Cine-Club of French Alliance in Tirana to screen L’homme de Rio and Je fais le mort

Cine-Club of French Alliance in Tirana to screen L’homme de Rio and Je fais le mort

The Cine-Club of French Alliance in Tirana will screen two movies at the Academy of Film and Multimedia Marubi and Agimi cinema on February 10 and 11 respectively.   In collaboration with the French Institute and the French Embassy in

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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

skendTIRANA, Feb. 24 - With the Albanian Superliga already past the halfway stage, reigning champions Skenderbeu are on track for a sixth consecutive league title with a 4-point lead over sole rivals Partizani.

Skenderbeu, who last year made history in their debut Europa League campaign as the first Albanian club to reach the group stage of a major European competition, seem unrivalled even this season in the Albanian Superliga. Second-placed Partizani are their only rivals this season with the club, once the most successful side under communism, trophyless since 1993.

Skederbeu striker Hamdi Salihi is the league’s top scorer, having scored 19 goals in 19 appearances this season. Partizani forward Xhevahir Sukaj follows with 11 goals. Both Salihi and Sukaj joined their current clubs in 2015 returning home after several years of playing abroad.

“I am lucky to play in a team which creates a lot of scoring opportunities and maybe this is the reason I have managed to score such a big number of goals," said Sahihi who converted a penalty kick to score the winning goal against third-placed Tirana last weekend.

The Albanian international who has played in Austria, the U.S., China and Israel joined Skenderbeu in July 2015 from Israeli's Hapoel Haifa and helped Skenderbeu qualify in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu and Partizani have easy matches scheduled for this weekend when take on second from bottom Bylis and bottom Terbuni respectively in away fixtures.

Skenderbeu have been surprisingly dominating Albanian football in the past five years although having previously won only a single title back in the early 1930s. The success has come thanks to huge investment that brought to the southeastern club in the city of Korça promising Albanian and foreign players. Coach Mirel Josa has led the Albanian reigning champions since 2012.

Third-placed Tirana have won the Albanian top league a record 24 times while Dinamo, the country’s second most titled club, have been relegated in the First Division since 2012.

Last December, Skenderbeu ended their Europa League campaign in Group H securing only a 3-1 home win against Portugal's Sporting.

Skenderbeu became the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round, automatically securing a place in the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Two of the club's forwards, Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka and Kosovar Bernard Berisha were transferred to Belgium's Gent and Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala, respectively in the January transfer window for record fees in the Albanian championship. Skenderbeu replaced the departures by signing promising Nigerian striker James Adeniyi from local Albanian Superliga club Laçi.
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                    [post_content] => luiza gegaTIRANA, Feb. 18 - Albania is expected to send a limited number of athletes to the Rio 2016 Olympics after a doping scandal in late 2014 that saw three weightlifters banned.

With preparations already underway, Luiza Gega is the only athlete to have qualified for the Olympic Games after finishing first in the Women's 1500 meters in the Baku 2015 European Games.

“For the first time Albania received a medal in an Olympic event such as the European Games. The gold medal won by Luiza Gega makes us optimistic about Rio 2016," says Viron Bezhani, the president of the Albanian Olympic Committee.

An internationally successful athlete, runner Luiza Gega won a 1500m silver medal at the 2013 Mediterranean Games and a 1500m bronze medal at the 2013 Universiade.

Officials of the National Olympic Committee say Albania could send only six athletes to the Rio 2016, almost half of its number in the previous London and Beijing Olympics. Four athletes, two runners and swimmers, will get invitations while the other athletes will have to qualify for the Olympic event.

“We are hopeful about weightlifting as the European Championship is ahead and Albanian weightlifters have to finish in the top three to qualify for the Olympics," Stavri Bello, the secretary general of the Albanian Olympic Committee has said.

Previous medal winners Erkand Qerimaj and Briken Calja are the favorite weightlifters to represent Albania.

In late 2014, Albania’s weightlifting was hit by a doping scandal which saw three weightlifters, two of whom medal winners at the world weightlifting championship in Kazakhstan, suspended for testing positive for banned substances.

Weightlifting has traditionally been Albania’s best performing sport in international competitions.

The London 2012 was Albania’s sixth participation in the Olympic Games since its debut in 1972. Albania sent a team of four shooters and a weightlifter to the Munich 1972 Olympic Games but the team did not reappear at the Olympic Games until 1992 when the communist regime collapsed.

In 1972, Albania’s Ymer Pampuri broke the Olympic record for the press at featherweight and finished ninth overall. More recently, Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in the men’s middleweight category at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Romela Begaj was sixth in the women’s lightweight at Beijing 2008. In Beijing, Albania’s team of 11 was the largest in their history.

More than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries will be participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21. Kosovo is also making its debut participation after becoming a member of International Olympic Committee in late 2014.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 16 - Shkelqim Cani has been dismissed as finance minister and replaced by Economy Minister Arben Ahmetaj in the first government reshuffle within the Socialist Party which leads the ruling left coalition that came to power following the June 2013 general elections, the government announced in a statement.

Although no official reasons are given on Cani's dismissal, the poor performance of the country's public finances is believed to be the key reason behind the sacking. Albania's public finances struggled in 2015 with the budget revised downward three times to handle lower income from international oil prices, spillover effects from the escalating crisis in neighboring Greece and poor domestic consumption. A costly customs assistance contract with UK-based Crown Agents consultant and an aggressive nationwide campaign to curb widespread informality launched in late 2015 did not help improve the situation with public finances.

Milva Ekonomi, a renowned economist who has held the post of the deputy health minister, will replace Arben Ahmetaj as minister of economic development, tourism, trade and entrepreneurship.

The latest reshuffle follows an earlier replacement by the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), the Socialist Party’s key ally, who last November appointed Ylli Manjani as new justice minister. Manjani replaced Nasip Naço who had also been nominated by the SMI.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2016-02-15 12:06:48
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                    [post_content] => By Ledion Veshi

kerryTIRANA, Feb.15 – In his first visit to Albania, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the country has made great strides on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration, while he called on Albania’s political class to pass without delay a pending judicial reform package. The adoption of the reform, which also includes the establishment of a bureau of investigations modeled after the American FBI, is seen as a key step towards the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the rule of law in the country.

“The evidence is absolutely clear, and Albania should be very pleased with the fact that your country is moving in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a joint press conference with Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama on Sunday.

Kerry made mention of the so-called decriminalization law, which he considered as an important step to prevent criminals from entering politics. He added that the justice reform in Albania has the full backing of the Obama administration.

“And they are committed, I am convinced, to the fight for more accountable governance, and that requires the support of every single Albanian. The United States is absolutely ready and willing, and I am here to affirm on behalf of President Obama that we are with you in this transformation and in this journey,” Kerry said.

Prime Minister Edi Rama thanked the U.S. State Secretary for the American support of reforms in the country and in particular the justice reform, for which the Americans have offered technical expertise alongside European and Albanian experts. Rama said he is hopeful parliament will pass the justice reform next month.

“I am fully confident that we shall succeed, and the very fact that we are not on our own but have the United States by our side makes such optimism to be successful quite reasonable in this historical endeavor for Albania of the 21st century,” Rama told reporters during the joint press conference.

Speaking after a separate meeting with Kerry, Albanian opposition leader Lulzim Basha said “the Democratic Party is committed to contribute to the strengthening of democracy and the implementation of the decriminalization law as well as the justice reform based on recommendations.”

The fight against terrorism was another important issue which was discussed during Kerry’s trip to Albania. Travelling from Munich where he attended a high level conference on security issues, U.S. State Secretary Kerry praised Albania for its commitment to fight terrorism and its contribution as a NATO member in the global anti-ISIS coalition.

“We know that defeating Daesh is not going to happen just because of what any one country does. It’s going to require a broad coalition, and we have built that coalition. And Albania, I am proud to say and grateful to say, is a charter member of that coalition,” Kerry declared.

While neither Kerry nor Prime Minister Edi Rama would publicly talk about the resettlement of members from the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), Voice of America reported that the U.S. State Secretary used the visit to also thank the government for offering shelter to this group.

Over the past two years, Albania has taken in about 1000 MEK members and it has committed to taking a further 2,000, VOA said citing an unnamed senior State Department official.

The U.S. has donated $20 million to support the reforms in the country, while another $5 million is foreseen this year.

Before leaving Albania, U.S. State Secretary Kerry also met with civil society groups in the country.

Kerry’s visit to Albania corresponds with the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania were re-established on March 15, 1991, after over half a century hiatus under communism.

On June 22, 1991, James A. Baker became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Albania after the country’s long period of isolation. John Kerry is the fifth top U.S. diplomat to have visited Albania since then.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 10 - A Tirana-based private bailiff has announced the sale of several key assets by ARMO oil refiner whose minority 15 percent stake is still held by the Albanian government following its failed privatization back in 2008.

In an announcement published on local media this week, the EPSA private bailiff invites bids for the sale of 26 ARMO assets in its Fier refinery, southwestern Albania, at a starting price of 2.8 billion lek (about €20 million) on behalf of Raiffeisen Bank, the country’s biggest lender, following the refiner’s default on its loan.

The 26 assets include large areas of land, several oil tanks and technological lines which are scheduled for sale in an auction scheduled for Feb. 19.

The company’s auction comes more than two years after an Azerbaijani-based company took over the majority 80 percent stake in ARMO and the company’s continued accumulation of debts to creditors and the government in unpaid taxes. ARMO workers have often staged protests over unpaid wages and job cuts.

Back in 2013, Azerbaijani-based Heaney Assets Corporation took over 80 percent of ARMO shares from Albanian businessman Rezart Taçi for an undisclosed amount, committing to pay off the company’s huge debts.

The refiner was privatized in 2008 when a consortium led-by Taçi’s Anika Enterprises bought an 85 percent stake in ARMO oil refiner for €128 million. The deal was reportedly financed by the Azerbaijani state bank with 75 million Euros. In 2013, just before the company switched hands, the bank sued Taçi for failing to pay, demanding the seizure of ARMO’s assets.

ARMO’s assets include two refineries in Ballsh and Fier and one thermal power plant, built in the 1970s under communism. With 1,500 employees throughout Albania, ARMO operates two refineries with a refining capacity of 1.5 million tons per year, three wholesale branches, a research facility, and an import/export terminal. The total storage capacity is 220,000 cubic meters.

In its new privatization plans, the Albanian government intends to sell its remaining 14.9 percent minority stake in ARMO for 22 million euros by 2017.

Having accumulated huge amounts of debts and with international oil prices at a record low, the sale of ARMO assets in the coming auction scheduled for Feb. 19 is little likely to succeed.

Back in March 2015, a similar auction to sell one of the country’s biggest commercial centres at a starting bid of 24.8 million euros failed to attract interest.

City Park, the second modern shopping center outside Tirana located in the Tirana-Durres highway opened its doors in 2009 but the crisis Albania has been facing in the past few years and fierce competition from the opening of a new larger shopping center later in 2011 led the company which built the commercial center and managed it into bankruptcy. The investors had borrowed from Tirana Bank, a subsidiary of the Greece-based Piraeus Bank Group, which now manages the shopping centre.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb.3 – The Albanian Institute for International Studies has been reconfirmed among the world’s best think tanks by the 2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report authored by James G. McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. On the list of Think Tanks in Central and Eastern Europe, AIIS maintained its 22nd place in the annual index. In terms of sector focus, AIIS ranks 83rd in the global ranking for defense and security research area, 2 places up from last year which corresponds to the Institute’s revamping of its security projects portfolio.

AIIS was also ranked 80th in the global ranking for foreign policy and international relations. The ranking is organized on an annual basis by the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania, which conducts research on the role policy institutes play in governments and civil societies around the world. AIIS is the only Albanian think tank to make the cut of the prestigious international ranking index. “The global recognition of our work, our integrity and the success of our projects and initiatives inspires us to keep working even better in the future, to make our impact in the policy agenda of Albania and in the decision making of the EU in relation to our country,” AIIS said in a statement.

More than 3,500 experts from academia, civil society and decision making institutions participated in the process of nominating and then ranking institutions worldwide in this one of a kind exercise that has become a reference point for those who seek to understand the standing of think tanks whether by geographical or thematic classification. For AIIS Executive Director, Albert Rakipi,the merits of this recognition rest with the fact that AIIS has engaged and continues to engage a community of dedicated, Western-educated professionals and has been a center of excellence for talented researchers.

“AIIS has now a consolidated and we can say unparalleled reputation in the field of  security, foreign policy and IR studies and activities in Albania. We contribute in our way and modestly of course, but we are certain that we have an impact in the modernization of society, the shaping of current debates and well as in the policy-making in our fields of expertise.” Rakipi says. He asserts that the ranking places AIIS in the midst of a distinguished network of think tanks in Europe.

Alba Çela, the Deputy Director of the Institute, sees in this year’s ranking also the fruits of an internal development process that has started almost 2 years ago. Having benefited from a development grant from the Open Society Foundations, AIIS has re-energized its communications, launching a new website and upgrading its presence in social media. “In the online world we have to keep up with new ways of communicating our events, our research objectives and expanding our network. We are glad that we were given an opportunity to develop in this regard,” Çela says.

AIIS staff already is looking to the future. The organization has an ambitious portfolio of projects which have begun in 2015 and are expected to define the work in 2016. One of the most strategic long-term initiatives is the Joint Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations that has been established together with a partner organization in Belgrade, the European Movement of Serbia. The Centre will serve as an umbrella for many projects that bring people together and increase opportunities for exchange and collaboration in an effort to normalize and improve bilateral relations.

The activities of the Centre this year will be supported by a grant from the Federal Republic of Germany and another from the Norwegian Embassy to Albania. Having completed significant research which led to a comprehensive country report on the phenomenon of radicalism and foreign fighters in Albania, AIIS plans to continue with the advocacy element of the initiative to assist the state and society response to these negative issues. Alongside the new initiatives, the Institute is committed to its permanent projects such as the impressive Library of History and IR, a numerous collection of books and texts that AIIS has brought and promoted for the Albanian audiences and that have assisted curricula and teaching across the country.

The largest program of research is the European Program which this year goes on with a focus on communications and a collaboration with the Public Broadcaster, distributing qualitative information and analysis among the public about the state of affairs in the EU and the perspective of integration for Albania. AIIS will also in the same vein continue publishing the Europa magazine, which offers a critical approach to key issues relating to Albania’s EU integration process and society modernization.

AIIS was established in 1998 by a group of academics and analysts with extensive experience in foreign policy and policy-making issues. Since then, it has made significant contributions via its analysis, projects and publications in the fields of Euro-Atlantic integration, democracy, security, and transition as well as regional security and cooperation. AIIS has also served as a consultative body, with policymakers seeking its advice on the challenges Albania faces on the road to democratization.

 Albania has made tremendous progress in the last twenty years and is moving smartly towards its European home. AIIS is both a cause and a consequence. Its sharp analytical focus on the world beyond Tirana has helped what was once one of the most isolated countries on earth, become an active contributor to the international order. These have been marvelously productive years for both Albania and its leading institute!   – Daniel P. Serwer

The Albanian Institute for International Studies, through its many conferences and publications, has become the leading organization of its kind in Albania and an important contributor to the discussion of a broad range of issues in the Balkans in general. It has provided a forum for in-country specialists and established important contacts with analysts and policymakers throughout the Balkans and the Western world. AIIS has made an important contribution to regional and general understanding of issues facing the Balkans.  – Bernd J. Fischer

AIIS has now a consolidated and we can say unparalleled reputation in the field of  security ,foreign policy and IR studies and activities in Albania. We contribute in our way and modestly of course, but we are certain that we have an impact in the modernization of society, the shaping of current debates and well as in the policy-making in our fields of expertise. – Albert Rakipi, AIIS Executive Director

In the online world we have to keep up with new ways of communicating our events, our research objectives and expanding our network. We are glad that we were given an opportunity to develop in this regard. – Alba Çela AIIS Deputy Director

 
                    [post_title] => Albanian Institute for International Studies reconfirmed on the list of the world’s most influential think tanks
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 11 - Albania will play away to Austria next March in a friendly which is seen as a key test for the national side's warm-up for its historic Euro 2016 participation.

Albania's football association has confirmed the friendly will be played on March 26 in Vienna in a comeback encounter 28 years after the two teams, both qualified for Euro 2016, last faced each other.

Albania has yet to beat Austria who they played six times in the 1980s both in the World Cup and Euro qualifiers, losing all fixtures.

Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi, who has turned into a hero following Albania's historic first-ever qualification in a major football competition, says the friendly with Austria will be a key test.

“We will play Austria which is tough team, ranks well in the FIFA World Ranking and has players who are part of important European championships," De Biasi has said in TV interview.

“We have to prepare well for this match if we want to get positive feedback from the players that are called up," he said.

Austria who led Group G in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ranked 10th in the latest February FIFA World Ranking compared to Albania's 36th out of 204 nations.

While the 23 players De Biasi will call up for Euro 2016 group stage have not been announced yet, several Albanian internationals have recently shined in the Italian, Swiss and Turkish championships scoring decisive goals for their teams.

Elseid Hysaj has been the Albanian international with the best performance this season. The 21-year-old defender has been a regular starter for Napoli who lead Italy’s Serie A.

Albania will face France, Switzerland and Romania in Group A of the Euro 2016 in a bid to make another surprise campaign after a historic qualification as an outsider.

Last October, Albania beat Armenia 3-0 to claim direct qualification in the 2016 UEFA European Championship in a decisive last qualifier for the second place in Group I of the Euro qualifiers to avoid play-offs in case of a possible third place.

Group I also featured leaders Portugal, third-placed Denmark and Serbia and Armenia.

Albania will make its first-ever appearance in a major football competition on June 11, 2016 against Switzerland in what is considered a derby as the Albanian side features as many as seven Swiss-born players while five of the Swiss internationals have Albanian roots.
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                    [post_date] => 2016-02-05 11:09:28
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-02-05 10:09:28
                    [post_content] => By DEWI VAN DE WEERD 

Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

 

For the Kingdom of the Netherlands, this new year started with a great responsibility - the rotating EU presidency for the next six months. I am really honoured to have the opportunity to speak with you about our Presidency and some specific challenges that we are facing: Migration, Radicalization, and Rising Terrorism.This Presidency comes at a challenging time. The European Union is being severely put to the test. We face a huge influx of people who have fled war and oppression, and terrorists are attacking our communities. 

There are no easy answers or quick fixes for these problems. The Netherlands hopes that we can help the EU to come to common solutions. We see our role as helping build compromises between the 28 member states. The Dutch are pragmatic: we want to look for solutions in a constructive manner. We are also realistic: we are aware that the EU is under a lot of strain at this moment. We need to come up with joint solutions, which also involve the candidate member states.

Dutch focus during our EU presidency

We have identified three principles for our EU Presidency: a focus on innovation, transparency and making a connection with citizens. It was in this spirit that we organised a successful Diplohack, a hackathon for diplomats, civil society and journalists last weekend. It was really inspiring and it is great to see some of the participants here today. In order to tackle the challenges that we face, during the Dutch presidency we will focus on 4 policy priorities:

1. A comprehensive approach to migration and international security

2. Europe as an innovator and job creator

3. Solid finances and a sound euro

4. A future oriented climate and energy policy

Today I would like to discuss our first priority: migration and international security.

Migration and refugees

Over the past five years, we have seen fundamental changes in the EU’s immediate vicinity. We have to deal with a ring of instability around Europe. We need to address root causes of conflict and migration in order to decrease the influx of people into Europe who are fleeing war and oppression. At the same time we need a strong, common border and asylum policy within the EU. The migration and refugee crisis also shows that close cooperation with the candidate member countries is needed, especially concerning the Western Balkans route.

Key priorities are:

• Strengthening of our external borders, addressing the root causes, enhance reception of refugees in the region and making sure there is enough humanitarian assistance.

• Work on an EU program for resettlement, also with Turkey.

• Solidarity is needed in terms of relocation of asylum seekers.

• Key concept: we need to start doing what we agreed.

On February 4 and 5 Ministers of Foreign Affairs are meeting in Amsterdam, Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati also pariticpates.Later this month Ministers of Justice will meet again, also with participation from the candidate member states. We see that currently the European migration system is under pressure. Not only is there a large amount of refugees fleeing from war, who we want to be able to accommodate and provide with a temporary safe haven. Also, the number of economic migrants, fortune seekers, is very high.

Many countries in the EU are struggling with that situation. In order to have enough capacity to look after the real refugees, we need to curb economic migration by people that do not have a clear destination.It means we need to work on an effective return policy for those that do not qualify as refugees.

Let me, for example, give you some insight in the Dutch situation with regard to Albanian migrants. Last year we had more than ten times as many migrants from Albania coming to the Netherlandsas in 2014. They were more than 1000 in total, asking for asylum. Albania as a candidate member state and safe country of origin is of course not a country from which asylum is needed. These people are economic migrants. None of them receives asylum and they are all sent back. The cooperation with the Albanian authorities is actually going very well.

But what is important is preventing them from going in the first place. It is a waste of time and money, for themselves and for the responsible institutions, that are currently under high strain. So investing in creating possibilities for people to work and live in Albania is crucial. We are all aware that dealing with the influx of asylum seekers and migrants is not easy. Opinions differ on the right way to approach it. The refugee crisis hits us where we most feel it. Although most of our citizens react with solidarity, there are also people who are worried.

We have to deal with all these different opinions. We need sustainable solutions and it is important to show solidarity and trust. The European Union has proven its value in good weather, we need to do the same now in bad weather conditions. There is no alternative but to take action if we want to preserve this EU which we have spent so many years to build together. It means we have to stay close to the core values of the Union.

Freedom, equality and pluralism are the sources of our strength. This migration crisis is a stress test for our values, but it can also be an opportunity for the future strengthening of Europe. Migration is keeping us occupied these days. But now let’s move on to the other main topic of this lecture. The challenges of radicalization and terrorism we are facing.

Countering Terrorism

Terrorism today is a multi-headed monster. Terrorists are ruthless and resourceful. It is a global phenomenon: next to ISIL we have al Qa’ida, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and many more. The impact of these groups is not limited to the conflict zones in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We feel the impact also here in the EU and in the Western Balkans. We have all been shocked by attacks such as those recently in Istanbul, Paris and Beirut. And a year ago Charlie Hebdo in Paris was a target.

Having lived there for four years, I felt really hurt by it. Terrorists attempt to spread fear and sow division.The threat of radicalization and terrorism is one of the most unsettling challenges of our time. To effectively counter terrorism, it is important that we work together and share information better, both within EU member states and with other countries. We need to know who are the people in our countries, improve our information on foreign fighters, anticipate the possibility of radicalism in our own societies and be more successful in preventing it. We really need to deal with the fact that our internal and external security are inextricably linked.

My minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, hosted a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) on Foreign Terrorist Fighters early January. It was one of the first things he did during our EU presidency. This was a coalition building event. 53 countries took part, as well as 4 international organizations. Countries as diverse as Nigeria, Marocco, the US and Belgium took part. The Western Balkans participated. Albania was there as well, deputy-minister of Foreign Affairs Odeta Barbullushi took partand shared insights on the Albanian policy.I want to share with you today some of the thoughts andstrategies to fight radicalization and terrorism that minister Koenders presented there. They have culminated in a The Hague Plan of Action.

What is terrorism today

• Terrorism 2.0: it adapts like a virus and becomes more resilient.

•There are terrorists who aim to be a state. Using state symbols like flags and passports to attract recruits and to sustain their power. They sell oil, collect taxes, exploit its own population, confiscate land, provide health care, impose fines and operate a budget cycle.

• This new brand of terrorism is reflected in the communication technology used: the attacks in Paris were prepared in part with the help of PlayStation communication tools. Terrorists use secure apps like Telegram to recruit. They use social media to showcase their attacks and share tips about the best travel routes.

• The way they finance their attacks:plane tickets are bought online; materials are purchased with bitcoins and prepaid cards.

• The way they persuade young people to join their ranks: successful in giving some of our youngsters something we apparently cannot: a sense of purpose.

• International character: there are people from Cameroon joining the ranks of Boko Haram in Nigeria. There are British youths fighting with al Shabaab. There are Chechens, Tunisians and French nationals who have joined ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra. And they have been joined by well over 200 people from the Netherlands.

When we call these people foreign terrorist fighters, we are in fact wrong. The uncomfortable truth is that they are not foreign at all. They may be foreigners in the countries where they are going to. But in reality they come from all of our countries. They are part of our societies.

Who are the Foreign Terrorist Fighters

So if an important part of the threat comes from within our own societies, we have to ask ourselves: who are these people? Who are the people that go to Syria,take up guns and willingly join ISIL? It is a varied group, from different backgrounds and with different motives:

• It is a young man like Omar M,one of the Bataclan attackers. Born in France, he went from petty crime into terrorism.

• It is a teenage girl, blowing herself up in a marketplace in Cameroon.

• It is a Dutch soldier of 26.

• But it is also a young man who sits in front of his computer, soliciting funds from extremists for humanitarian assistance to ISIS.

The uncomfortable truth is that foreign terrorist fighters are often created at home. And we need to work together to do our best to prevent them from becoming radicalized in the first place.

What are Foreign Terrorist Fighters doing

They are aware of the weaknesses in our societies, and they exploit them. They are attacking our way of life and our freedoms, at resorts, markets, in bars and restaurants, andon public transport. They attack our freedom of expression, as happened a year ago at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.Their goal is not just to commit violence and spread fear. Their goal is to distort our structures.In the Paris attacks we saw how they exploit travel routes used by refugees to reach Europe. How they poison the debate on migration by conflating it with terrorism.

They do this on purpose, to instill fear. But refugees are not terrorists. They are fleeing the very terrorism and violence we are fighting together. We have seen terrorists exploit the open borders within Europe, and to a certain extent they are successful. Because they make us question the future of Schengen, one of our greatest European achievements.

What are we doing?

So what is the international coalition and the EU doing against this threat? It is clear that the only way to tackle the terrorist networks is to set up strong international cooperation networks. Since the threat is a hybrid one, we are taking a multitrack approach.

The preventive track: we focus on identifying and tackling the root causes of radicalization. Because in the end, prevention is always more efficient than trying to take action afterwards. Stopping the radicals of today from becoming the terrorists of tomorrow should also remain a top priority. Prevention is crucial. This is also the focus of the Albanian strategy against radicalization that was recently published. Our aim is to share best practices. I am therefore looking forward to the setting up of a regional center, as the Albanian government has announced.

The military track: many countries now have soldiers on the ground risking their lives to counter terrorism. I’m not only talking about the Anti-ISIL Coalition, but also about the Multinational Joint Task Force, which is fighting Boko Haram, and AMISOM, which is fighting al Shabaab. We’re not only fighting them with weapons; we also provide training and strategic advice to local forces.

 The police track: our police forces work together to share information and monitor possible suspects. EUROPOL, based in The Hague, is setting up a European Counter Terrorism Center. European intelligence services are sharing more info. In all our countries police officers in our communities are engaging with young people at risk. And in Albania, we have a Benelux police liaison in our Embassy. He is in close contact with the Albanian authorities, but also with his EU colleagues and other police liaisons in the region.

 The financial track: a new UN resolution 2253 has just been adopted that allows us to crack down even harder on terrorist financing. Freezing of assets is an example.

The policy track: for example, in the GCTF we aim to tackle the whole ‘terrorist life cycle’, from radicalization to violent extremism. This means addressing issues such as the harmful effect of ransom payments and the process of reintegrating returnees and other extremists into society.More substantive, evidence-based analyses are needed. I was impressed by the studies done by different Albanian institutions such as AIIS and IDM on radicalism in Albania last year. One of their recommendations is to engage with young people. Using teachers, police officers, religious leaders and families to ensure we are doing what we can to provide them with alternatives to the tragic and violent path of terrorism. This is very much in line with the EU’s approach. These young people need a sense of purpose, of belonging to their society. They need hope and a positive alternative.

Civil society involvement and human rights crucial

The UN SG has presented a plan of action to prevent violent extremism just a few weeks ago. The plan states that repressive governments tend to generate more violent extremists. Strengthening good governance, human rights and the rule The EU’s Challenges Tackling Migration, Radicalization and Terrorism from a Dutch perspective of law are the most important preventive measures that can be taken. In contrast with the extremists, we fight and act in clear recognition of the moral and legal borders set by the rule of law and human rights.

And we do so taking due account of the dilemmas posed by the demands for security and privacy.Finding the proper balance there is not always easy, but I’m convinced that balancing our freedoms and our security needs in the end make for stronger societies.It is clear that governments cannot defeat radicalism and terrorisms by themselves. Especially to reach the young, we need civil society. And I am thinking of a girl, she was just a college student in Chicago who moved to the US from Syria when she was a kid.

Through social media she has been helping the Syrian opposition fight their fight. And she has lost many of those friends that she was trying to help. An impressive film was made out of her story. In closing I would like to quote ourEU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini. She says “Civil society has a crucial role to play in the fight against radicalization and terrorism. It is not only a key actor, but also a main driver for change in all societies, in terms of democracy, good governance, resilience, cohesion and the promotion of fundamental human rights. To defeat terror we surely need law enforcement tools, and this is something everybody is focusing on these days.

But this has to go hand in hand with deep, under-the-radar work inside societies: to secure inclusion and open space for participation and expression to all. “ In the Netherlands we work for example on increasing political participation of women. Giving them a voice in conflict situations. It is crucial that they can also be present at the table when peace talks are held. And let us not forget, freedom of expression is one of the most powerful weapons against radicalization and terrorist propaganda. To better protect citizens we need to build strong democratic institutions and a healthy democratic dialogue. And this is indeed the EU’s and the Netherlands main goal also in Albania.
                    [post_title] => The EU’s Challenges Tackling Migration, Radicalization and Terrorism from a Dutch perspective
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                    [post_date] => 2016-02-05 10:26:34
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                    [post_content] => By FATJONA MEJDINI

As part of a small group of Albanian journalists who traveled to Belgrade to meet some key actors of Serbian politics and civil society, I repeatedly heard that “between Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vucic, there is an obvious chemistry.” In fact, I believe that more than the emotional bond two Prime Ministers have found that collaboration of Albania and Serbia is a must, in order to give countries economies new impulses, walk faster in the European integration path and establish their profiles as pro – Western leaders.

The high-level visits exchanged between two countries in two last years now are following with business, students, and professional meetings, since reconciliation process need to involve the whole society. On the other hand, the civil society is doing its own attempts and a center for the relationships between Albania and Serbia is on its way. But there is an issue that stays in the middle, hard to overcome and exclude from the two countries dialogue: Kosovo. In Albania, there are not complications about it, since politics, civil society, and common citizens all agree that Kosovo is independent and Serbia should recognize this reality.

But during the Belgrade visit, we found in Serbia divided opinions and lot of factors in play when it comes to this topic. Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia told us that ‘de facto’ Kosovo is not an issue anymore for Serbia politics and without Russia backing in United Nation this cause will be dead long ago. Media people were the most direct when it comes to Kosovo issue. Vukasin Obradovic, President of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia states that is time for politicians in Serbia to tell their people the truth about Kosovo and not pretend anymore.

He also argues that even in the public opinion the issue of Kosovo is going down in interest since Serbs have other more emerging issues to care about like a weak economy, high rates of unemployment and reduced freedoms. Milorad Ivanovic, Editor in Chief of Newsweek Serbia said that Kosovo issue in the front pages doesn’t sell anymore. For this reason, he confesses to keeping it away from the publication he runs unless good people stories are included. But speaking Kosovo with Serbian politicians was a whole other experience.

During a meeting with a high representative of Serbian Foreign ministry, we were told that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and its independence it will never be recognized. Though Serbian official quickly shifted the topic adding that we have to focus on what join us. In fact, there are too many issues that join Tirana and Belgrade and lot of similarities in our way forward, though Kosovo can’t let apart as a small inconvenience. Despite having completely different opinions about this issue what relates the politicians on the two sides is the rush to bypass Kosovo in their talks since it still remains a tough issue.

In press conferences or debate tables, everybody is satisfied to repeat the line that they are ‘pro or against’ Kosovo independence and rush to discuss other things without fully elaborate the gray large zone that stays in between. Keep an open and sincere discussion about Kosovo in all level of talks between Albania and Serbia is not going to weak the fragile ties, on the contrary, is going to force them. Talking about what divides us has the same importance of talking for what pull us toward each other.

First it will make the dialog between two countries more substantial and real. On the other hand, this dialog has the power to improve the lives of Albanians and Serbs living in Kosovo and in the entire region as well. Albania and Serbia are considered as key actors in the Balkan region in terms of its prosperity and security and they have to fulfill this role alongside with their countries interests over this relationship. One of the most valuable gifts that I took from this visit was the policy paper named “Normalization Challenges” written by Dusan Janjic of Forum for Ethnic Relations. Learning about how the dialog between Serbia and Kosovo can be normalized can serve to Albanians a lot too.
                    [post_title] => Tirana-Belgrade and Kosovo in the middle
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                    [post_content] => The Cine-Club of French Alliance in Tirana will screen two movies at the Academy of Film and Multimedia Marubi and Agimi cinema on February 10 and 11 respectively.

That_Man_From_Rio

 

In collaboration with the French Institute and the French Embassy in Tirana, L'homme de Rio, a 1963 drama by Philippe de Broca will screen at the Academy of Film and Multimedia Marubi on Wednesday, February 10 at 19:00.  The 1:52min long movie will have French and English subtitles. Entrance is free.

 

 

JeFaisLeMortQc

 

Je fais le mort, a 2012 comedy by Jean-Paul Salomé will screen at Agimi cinema on Thursday, February 11 at 17:30. The movie, which is 1:44 min long, will have Albanian subtitles. Entrance is free
                    [post_title] => Cine-Club of French Alliance in Tirana to screen L'homme de Rio and Je fais le mort
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            [post_date] => 2016-02-25 09:59:17
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            [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

skendTIRANA, Feb. 24 - With the Albanian Superliga already past the halfway stage, reigning champions Skenderbeu are on track for a sixth consecutive league title with a 4-point lead over sole rivals Partizani.

Skenderbeu, who last year made history in their debut Europa League campaign as the first Albanian club to reach the group stage of a major European competition, seem unrivalled even this season in the Albanian Superliga. Second-placed Partizani are their only rivals this season with the club, once the most successful side under communism, trophyless since 1993.

Skederbeu striker Hamdi Salihi is the league’s top scorer, having scored 19 goals in 19 appearances this season. Partizani forward Xhevahir Sukaj follows with 11 goals. Both Salihi and Sukaj joined their current clubs in 2015 returning home after several years of playing abroad.

“I am lucky to play in a team which creates a lot of scoring opportunities and maybe this is the reason I have managed to score such a big number of goals," said Sahihi who converted a penalty kick to score the winning goal against third-placed Tirana last weekend.

The Albanian international who has played in Austria, the U.S., China and Israel joined Skenderbeu in July 2015 from Israeli's Hapoel Haifa and helped Skenderbeu qualify in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu and Partizani have easy matches scheduled for this weekend when take on second from bottom Bylis and bottom Terbuni respectively in away fixtures.

Skenderbeu have been surprisingly dominating Albanian football in the past five years although having previously won only a single title back in the early 1930s. The success has come thanks to huge investment that brought to the southeastern club in the city of Korça promising Albanian and foreign players. Coach Mirel Josa has led the Albanian reigning champions since 2012.

Third-placed Tirana have won the Albanian top league a record 24 times while Dinamo, the country’s second most titled club, have been relegated in the First Division since 2012.

Last December, Skenderbeu ended their Europa League campaign in Group H securing only a 3-1 home win against Portugal's Sporting.

Skenderbeu became the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round, automatically securing a place in the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Two of the club's forwards, Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka and Kosovar Bernard Berisha were transferred to Belgium's Gent and Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala, respectively in the January transfer window for record fees in the Albanian championship. Skenderbeu replaced the departures by signing promising Nigerian striker James Adeniyi from local Albanian Superliga club Laçi.
            [post_title] => Skenderbeu on track for sixth straight Superliga title
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