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Authorities deny they want OSCE out of the country

Authorities deny they want OSCE out of the country

TIRANA, Sept. 23 – Albanian authorities are not seeking the ousting of the OSCE from Albania, a government spokesman said this week, after the publication of a letter from the foreign ministry to all public institutions asking them to report,

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Editorial: Heroes and villains

Editorial: Heroes and villains

As members of a people small in number, Albanians instinctively become interested when other Albanians make news internationally, either in the homelands or anywhere in the world. Albanians in America are particularly in focus, simply because that country has been

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Draft law with up to 50-fold increase on business fines sparks debate

Draft law with up to 50-fold increase on business fines sparks debate

TIRANA, Sept. 21 – Government-proposed changes to the tax procedures law, which increase penalties on tax evasion up to 50-fold,  sparked debate at the parliamentary economic commission this week, with the opposition describing them as repressive and punitive and with

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Hoxha’s photos make comeback at Peza festivities, lead to angry reactions

Hoxha’s photos make comeback at Peza festivities, lead to angry reactions

TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Festivities commemorating the Conference of Peza, a WWII anti-fascist event, have been accompanied by controversy after nostalgic supporters of the late communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, appeared with his portraits and chanted his name. A group of

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Bankers Petroleum, gov’t to hire int’l audit firm over $57 million tax dispute

Bankers Petroleum, gov’t to hire int’l audit firm over $57 million tax dispute

TIRANA, Sept. 14 – Canada-based Bankers Petroleum and the Albanian government have reached a deal to hire an international audit firm to settle a dispute over $57 million in claimed taxes by the country’s National Agency for Natural Resources. In

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Editorial: Dealing with the complexity of why 85% of youths want to leave this country

Editorial: Dealing with the complexity of why 85% of youths want to leave this country

Under the radar of most Albanian media, a report was recently released, containing a wealth of data about the beliefs of Albanian youths. Among the findings, there was an astounding figure: 85 percent of Albanian youths are interested in emigrating.

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Germany, the migration crisis, and Albania’s resurgent image problems

Germany, the migration crisis, and Albania’s resurgent image problems

Applying for asylum is the wrong way to seek employment in Germany, Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann says in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times. To make it easier for people to apply legally, Berlin is working on a plan to partially

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Skenderbeu to make Europa League debut against Turkey’s Besiktas

Skenderbeu to make Europa League debut against Turkey’s Besiktas

TIRANA, Sept. 15 – Albania’s Skenderbeu will make its UEFA Europa League debut against Turkey’s Besiktas on Thursday as the first Albanian team to have qualified in a major European football competition for clubs. Skenderbeu, who failed to qualify in

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Lezha MP gives up seat over criminal record

Lezha MP gives up seat over criminal record

TIRANA, Sept. 8 – Arben Ndoka, a Socialist lawmaker, has given up his seat in parliament following weeks of pressure over his criminal conviction in Italy for facilitating prostitution. In a letter to the Socialist parliamentary group, Ndoka said he

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Portugal’s stoppage-time winner stuns Albania

Portugal’s stoppage-time winner stuns Albania

TIRANA, Sept. 8 – A stoppage-time winner stunned Albania on Monday night as Portugal’s Miguel Veloso scored a header to avenge their shock defeat in the opening Euro 2016 qualifiers last year. Portugal beat Albania 1-0 extending their lead in

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123645" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania has been a member of the OSCE since 1991. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) OSCE building in Vienna. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 23 – Albanian authorities are not seeking the ousting of the OSCE from Albania, a government spokesman said this week, after the publication of a letter from the foreign ministry to all public institutions asking them to report, limit and draw to a conclusion all projects with the organization.

The letter said Albania had made enough progress to where it no longer needed the assistance it once did from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Despite the public statement to the contrary, several government sources indicated Albanian officials are seething following the leakage last week of an OSCE report on accusations of corruption an ill-gained wealth for Albania's top political leaders.

Neither the government nor the OSCE have denied the leaked documents' authenticity.

The foreign ministry said its letter was used in order to recalculate the projects with the OSCE and look at the priorities, not as a response to the accusations in the report.

Authorities said however that they welcome all the OSCE reports and its assistance in different areas and they are looking to improve the cooperation with the OSCE and the other international institutions.

The leaked OSCE report shook the political establishment in Albania, as it was filled with allegations of massive wealth, corruption and criminal ties among members of the political class.

However, the head of the OSCE office in Albania, Ambassador Florian Rauning, said the leaked information was unauthorized and misleading and it does not represents OSCE’s official views.

“The summary was merely a collection of information from reports in the Albanian media and allegations circulating publicly. The presence did not verify the information used, as the purpose of the exercise was to obtain an overview of allegations, not to determine their truth,” Rauning said in a statement last week, expressing regret that this information was made public without authorization and “subject to misinterpretation and political manipulation.”

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123652" align="alignright" width="300"]Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physicist born and raised in Tirana, has become an official candidate for the Nobel Prize for her daring theories and complicated mathematical calculations on the existence of black holes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)  Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physicist born and raised in Tirana, has become an official candidate for the Nobel Prize for her daring theories and complicated mathematical calculations on the existence of black holes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

As members of a people small in number, Albanians instinctively become interested when other Albanians make news internationally, either in the homelands or anywhere in the world. Albanians in America are particularly in focus, simply because that country has been a magnet for the best, brightest and the most daring from all over the world -- and Albanians are no exception.

So this week, when a small news item came up noting that Laura Mersini-Houghton, an Albanian American physicist and university professor born and raised in Tirana, has become an official candidate for the Nobel Prize for her daring theories and complicated mathematical calculations on the existence of black holes, Albanians were naturally proud. She is Albanian, and hard work and sheer smarts have taken her at the pinnacle of global academia. She is not alone by the way. Ferid Murad, another American scientist whose father was an Albanian immigrant, has already won the Nobel Prize. I met Dr. Murad once at my former university a decade ago. He beamed with pride, telling me about his Albanian father and pride he felt of the many honors he had received in Albania.

Another American with an Albanian immigrant father who made international headlines this week is Martin Shkreli, whose name is so typically Albanian that when the stories came out describing him as “the most hated man in America” this week, it made news in Albania too, even-though Mr. Shkreli appears to have no respect for the homeland of his father, calling Albanian a worthless language on social media. You see, Mr. Shkreli does not find value in anything unless it involves money. A financier and profiteer, he took over a drug that is vital of people with weakened immune systems and jacked up the price 5,000 percent overnight – and then went off on a disastrous public tirade trying to protect his decision. The public backlash has been immense, and rightly so.

Albanians, like all the people of the world, have heroes and villains, at home and abroad. There are the people that get up with the sun, toil all day to provide for themselves and their families through honest hard work. These are the unsung heroes of Albanian life, who hardly ever get a spot in the media's attention and are often treated with arrogance and disregard by those in power.

Then, there are the villains. Some of them are typical crooks -- the thugs wearing jogging outfits. Others wear suits and ties -- a few of these even sit in offices paid for by taxpayers, many Albanians believe.

Albanians have to live with both their heroes and villains, but they do not have to be defined by the latter. A society where everyday heroes working hard and honestly make up the majority of the people has the power to correct its course no matter how large the challenge is. It can do so by choosing to become inspired by the Mersinis and Murads of this world, not by the Shkrelis.

- Written by Andi Balla
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 21 - Government-proposed changes to the tax procedures law, which increase penalties on tax evasion up to 50-fold,  sparked debate at the parliamentary economic commission this week, with the opposition describing them as repressive and punitive and with members of the governing coalition also expressing concern.

The new changes envisage fines of up to 10 million lek (€71,000) on big businesses operating in the wholesale trade for not issuing tax receipts, compared to 200,000 lek (€1,411) currently. Fines on small businesses are also envisaged to increase 10-fold from 50,000 lek (€353) to 500,000 lek (€3,529).

Tax inspectors can also sue the taxpayer in case of repeated violation with tax receipts, says an amendment to article 121 of the tax procedures law.

Finance Minister Shkelqim Cani described the measures as necessary to support the nationwide campaign against informality that the Albanian government has launched.

Opposition Democratic Party MP, Ridvan Bode described the proposed measures as repressive toward the business community and coming at a time when government has failed to meet its revenue targets.

"The whole of this proposed package only deals with the increased repression and punitive measures on households and businesses. There is a clear relation with barriers set on market entry," said Bode, a former finance minister.

The penalties were also opposed by some MPs of the Socialist Movement for Integration, the ruling Socialists major coalition partner.

"I think the tendency to increase fines will not bring any improvement to the Albanian economy but will ruin business," said Gjovalin Kadeli, a SMI MP.

The amendment allowing customers not to pay if they are not provided tax receipts, also sparked fierce debates.

In the new draft law, the Albanian government has also proposed that big businesses operating in the wholesale trade will be banned to engage in retail sale starting April 2016.

Penalties on uninsured workers have been unified to 500,000 lek (€3,528) for both SMEs and big businesses. Reporting lower than the real wage has also been made punishable with 500,000 lek.

The new draft law also envisages what Prime Minister Edi Rama has often quoted that “buyers have the right of not paying for goods and services they are provided in case traders don’t issue a fiscal receipt.”

The Albanian government has also proposed some harsh amendments to the Criminal Code removing fines on smuggling and informality, removing fines and envisaging only imprisonment of up to ten years for imports, exports and transit of illegal goods.

The changes, which have been proposed under a draft law approved by government and require a qualified majority of 84 votes in the 140-seat Parliament, come at a time when the Socialist Party-led coalition has launched a nationwide campaign against informality.

Under the current Criminal Code, smuggling of excise goods is punishable by fines or imprisonment of up to seven years but if the new amendments are approved perpetrators risk no fines but only up to seven years in prison.

"Carrying out illegal commercial activity or conducting commercial activity not registered with tax authorities, failure to declare employees and issue fiscal receipt is a criminal offence and is punishable by up to three years in prison," says the new article 180/a proposed as an amendment to the Code.

The tax administration will also have to be careful as failure to collect taxes within the legal deadlines is made punishable by up to seven years in prison.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Festivities commemorating the Conference of Peza, a WWII anti-fascist event, have been accompanied by controversy after nostalgic supporters of the late communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, appeared with his portraits and chanted his name.

A group of veterans and members of the Communist Party, went to the monument commemorating the events of the National Liberation War in Albania after the end of the official ceremony attended by the Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj and several MPs from the ruling Socialist-led coalition.

Veliaj distanced himself from the photographs, saying they were not part of the ceremony organized by the municipality.

Such appearances of Hoxha supporters have increased in the past few years, always leading to controversy led by representatives of former political prisoners under his regime and center right opposition, which this week called Peza appearances "provocations” of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama.

“What makes this even worse is that the event was paid with taxpayer money," said Edi Paloka, the leader of the Democratic Party's parliamentary group.

The event was organized by the Municipality of Tirana as a big youthful party to teach young Albanians about the anti-fascist resistance during WWII.

Hoxha ruled Albania with iron fist from the end of WWII until his death in 1985. Thousands of people were executed or jailed for political reasons. There is widespread condemnation of his rule in Albania, and the numbers of those who have nostalgia for the communist regime are tiny.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 14 - Canada-based Bankers Petroleum and the Albanian government have reached a deal to hire an international audit firm to settle a dispute over $57 million in claimed taxes by the country's National Agency for Natural Resources.

In a statement issued this week, Bankers Petroleum, which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield in southwestern Albania, said an international audit firm will be contracted as a third party, to audit the company's operating and capital expenditure to settle the dispute over the company's potential taxable position.

“This represents a significant step towards enhancing transparency in the administration and regulation of oil and gas activities in Albania. Bankers views this commitment by the authorities as an important milestone in the ongoing improvement of our operations," said David French, President and CEO at Bankers Petroleum.

In its 2014 financial report, Bankers Petroleum said it had received an audit report from Albania's National Agency for Natural Resources with findings that could result in a $303 million reduction to the cost recovery pool and a potential taxable position.

Eleven years after launching its operations in the Patos-Marinze heavy oilfield under a 25-year concession deal with the Albanian government, Bankers Petroleum has not paid profit tax yet, which under Albanian law companies operating in the oil industry pay at a 50 percent rate only after meeting their investment costs.

The audit carried out by the National Agency for Natural Resources found that Bankers has already recovered its investments costs and should have started paying profit tax since 2011.

However, the company claims in its 2014 financial report that it has to recover another $175 million before starting paying the 50 percent profit tax.

In an unusual situation since a decade of operations in Albania, Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield, reported losses of about $9.6 million in the first half of this year on a sharp cut in oil prices, compared to record profits of $52 million during the same period last year when international oil prices were at a historic high.

Earlier this year, Bankers Petroleum came under fire after an incident involving the explosion of two oil wells forcing the evacuation of some sixty local households. The authorities also questioned if the country's largest foreign investor and exporter has paid all its taxes.

Since 2004, Bankers operates and has the full rights to develop the Patos-Marinza and Kuçova heavy oilfields under a 25-year concession contract with the Albanian government. The Patos-Marinza oilfield is the largest onshore oilfield in continental Europe, holding approximately 5.4 billion barrels of original oil in place. The Kuçova field has 297 million barrels of original-oil-in-place.
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                    [post_content] => Under the radar of most Albanian media, a report was recently released, containing a wealth of data about the beliefs of Albanian youths. Among the findings, there was an astounding figure: 85 percent of Albanian youths are interested in emigrating.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Albania report (pdf) is based on a 2014 survey of 1,200 youths, aged 16 to 27, from across the country. It shows 60 percent, are interested 'a lot' in emigrating, 17 percent are 'somewhat' interested and 9 percent are 'a little' interested. Only 15 percent are not interested 'at all' in leaving the country. The same survey conducted in 2011 showed that the numbers of those who are very interested in leaving the country have jumped from 43 to 60 percent, showing a deterioration of hope in the past three years.

There are no easy answers for this negative trend and for the urge Albanians – and young ones in particular – feel to leave the country for greener pastures. It is a complex matter and an issue that will haunt Albanian governments and this country's society for decades to come.

As German Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann put it this week in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times, “I think it's a question for the entire society, the entire Albanian political class, to ask themselves the fundamental question: What is going on in this country that so many people are actually ready to leave?”

One simple answer is that Albania is small and poor by European standards, and the young, like their counterparts everywhere, are restless and looking for opportunities. In a country that has a track record of massive emigration – more than one in three Albanian citizens now lives outside the country – the trend goes on a momentum of its own as people want to join family members abroad or hear stories about opportunities from friends and relatives who have taken the journey. And the good life of the wealthier countries of Western Europe and North America are ever present through television and movies, even if the reality of life there for a migrant worker might be entirely different.

These are clear pull factors, but it is also important to talk about the push factors. Have the leaders of the this country been able to inspire hope and provide good opportunities for young people? The high number of those who want to leave suggests the answer is clearly a negative one.

Albania's prime minister said this week said he knows there are unhappy people, but he does not have a magic wand to make the country a better place to live in overnight. No magical wands are needed, just inspiring hope and improvements to create a momentum people can believe in.

As the current government, like others before it, gets bogged down in scandal after scandal, and fails to meet its promises for the majority of Albanians who are poor and lack any direct connections to power, many Albanians are now or could in the future simply vote with their feet.

We cannot know if Albanian leaders do care about their legacy, beyond the next election cycle. But if they leave behind a country where more than half the population has left to seek a better life elsewhere, history will judge them harshly.

- Written by Andi Balla, aballa@tiranatimes.com

 
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Applying for asylum is the wrong way to seek employment in Germany, Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann says in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times. To make it easier for people to apply legally, Berlin is working on a plan to partially open its labor market to the Western Balkans. Ambassador Hoffman spoke in length about migration issues as well as about other hot topics this week such as the government's reforms, where he called for a “common sense approach” to enforcement and the decriminalization of politics, on which he said: “attack this cancer as efficiently and as soon as possible.”

Q: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being on Q&A with Tirana Times. Germany has been a lot in the news lately, much of it relating to the migration and refugee crisis. As this subject also relates to Albania, I would like to start with it. German authorities have made it clear that virtually all asylum seekers from Albania will be processed quickly and returned to their country of origin. What are the immediate plans on the return of the about 30,000 Albanians who have applied for asylum in Germany so far this year?

A: Well, I am very pleased to have an opportunity speak about this, because it is really a very important matter right now. I guess you follow the news about what is happening in Germany, in Austria, in Hungary, in Serbia, Macedonia over the last couple of weeks. Particularly in Germany, now, where we have had tens of thousands of arrivals – refugees from Syria and other countries. We have done a lot now in terms of humanitarian assistance, but it is perfectly clear that we can only continue to do that if we manage to get economic migrants back to their home countries, and this is what we are trying to do now with Albania. We are flying back people, practically on a daily basis now with airplanes. There is no master plan. I cannot tell you when all these 30,000 will return, but we are flying them in on a very regular basis now – just to show to everybody we really mean it when we say that there is no economic asylum, and I can really really plead with people that they should give up this idea – to seek economic asylum – it does not really work that way.

Q: The Albanian opposition has accused the government here of driving people to migrate through tough reforms that have hit the poorest Albanians hard. The push factor is poverty and hopelessness at home, the opposition says, blaming the government of mismanagement here. Is the Albanian government partly to blame for the wave of Albanian migrants who seeking a new life in Germany this year?

A: Look, I will not go into this kind of domestic infighting at all. This is not my business. And also, one has to say that this whole this migration wave is a very complicated matter. There are the so called pull factors, there are the push factors and so on. What I will say as to the situation here in Albania is the following: I think it's a question for the entire society, the entire Albanian political class to ask themselves the fundamental question: What is going on in this country that so many people are actually ready to leave? And one has to say, because I really do not want to contribute into turning this into a party political football, it think finger-pointing is not good at all in this connection. This has has been a phenomenon that has been going on a long time – migration – and its not only an issue which affects Albania – it affects the whole region, the Western Balkans, we have had many people who ask for asylum.

And, lastly, about these reforms you referred to: Of course, I am perfectly clear that there may be a certain connection. People that have to pay their electricity bill may have come to the conclusion that maybe going to Germany is an option. But I have to say that I have been in favor of such reforms, and I continue to be in favor, because I think it is high time that, in a sense, Albania gets its house in order, and that people pay up. I still find it difficult to understand that the situation was tolerated for so many years, where even people who were not poor at all, who ran businesses, got away with not paying their electricity bill, and you can imagine all kinds of suspicions are attached to that too. So yes, I think one needs to pursue such policies, but I think I would hope -- watching the scenery here – that people would do it with a good sense of judgment.

Like in the present case of the fight against informality, I think that is also a good idea as such, but I do hope that not the elderly farmer woman around the corner who sells a couple of kilos of tomatoes will be checked whether she has a cash machine printing out a ticket tickets.

Q: But the anecdotal evidence we are getting so far is that some of these very small survival businesses are being checked, and there is fear unemployment will rise as a result. Aren't there any concerns about that?

A: Well, I have no detailed knowledge about that. My only advice is to do that with a good degree of common sense. But I think, and maybe we want to speak about about Europe too in this conversation, Albania wants to join the European Union, and at some point you cannot have a member of the Union which is a bit like a third world country with a huge informal sector, so at some point you have to address this issue, and I think the sooner the better, but my modest advice would be to do it with a good degree of common sense.

Q: We will get to EU integration questions later in the interview, but I do have another question on the migration issue. Albanians are only part of this large wave of migrants Germany and the EU are facing. These are both asylum seekers from war-torn countries and others looking for better economic opportunities. This week border controls were reestablished. Is this crisis hurting free movement in Europe, and as Albania entangled into this, is Albania at risk of new travel restrictions?

A: To start with, to restate the obvious, when you reintroduce border controls, this has in a way a negative impact in the free movement in the Schengen Area, which we are talking here, and this of course a matter of regret, but under the circumstances I think it was absolutely necessary to do that. But I have to say, because I read an article today which said: “Germany leaves the Schengen Agreement” – that's absolutely untrue. There is a clear provision in the Schengen Agreement that under certain circumstances you can reintroduce border controls and this is what we are doing.

And by the way, we are not doing it on an across-the-board basis, it is more random checks in order to bring order back into entry movements. Because as a result of these rather chaotic developments, this kind of order had been pretty much lost. So, it is a temporary measure which is necessary under the circumstances, and as far Albanians are concerned they are nor more affected by that than anybody else.

And, just to add this, we ask for understanding that people might have to wait longer at border crossing points, but that's unfortunately unavoidable.

Q: There have been reports that a plan is in the works to make it easier for qualified people from the Western Balkans to work in Germany legally. So these would people who apply for work permits at the embassy. Is this a new program that makes it easier to work or simply more education on existing work opportunities?

A: Well, indeed, the leading figures of the governing coalition under the leadership of the Chancellor herself, they met a couple of days ago, and they decided a few basic points of our policy with respect of this whole asylum and migration crisis, and one of them is indeed to open up the German labor market -- in a measured way – for the Western Balkans states – I underline – for the Western Balkan states alone – as candidate countries for the European Union.

The details still remain to be worked out, but basically it is true that we want to do that in order to alleviate this asylum situation, because there is fundamental misunderstanding here in Albania and also other Western Balkans states that people who actually want to work in Germany think that the way to do that is to ask for asylum and that is absolutely wrong. I can only say: If you want to work – do not ask for asylum.

What you can do already today, and what has been possible for quite some time, is for people with special skills and recognized qualifications – they can travel to Germany, using the visa liberalization regime, and if they find a German employer who offers them a work contract, and if they get their qualifications recognized by German authorities – and they should ask their potential employer for help on how to do that -- then they can come back to Tirana to the German embassy and apply for a long-term visa to work in Germany. That's the way they should do it. And the debate now will be over whether we will reduce, let's say, the qualification requirements, so that people with less qualifications can also basically go down that route.

Q: I want to bring it back to the issue of EU integration. Albanian media outlets have reported that Prime Minister Rama told a German press conference, he was visiting Germany this week, that journalists should ask Chancellor Merkel as to when Albania would join the EU -- not him, not the Prime Minister. It's the latest in a series of remarks that shifts blame on Germany and the EU for Albania's slow progress toward EU integration. Is Mr. Rama right?

A: Let me say yes and no. Yes in the sense that it is actually the member states that decide who becomes a member. It is in a sense like a tennis club. It is the members of the tennis club and not the applicant who decide who can join the tennis club. What is not right, of course, is that Albania shouldn't have to ask only the Chancellor, they should ask the other 27 heads of government. And I really mean that. It is a decision take collectively by all EU member states and their governments.

And I have to say, tied to this, I have often detected a fundamental misunderstanding also in Albania about the role of the Commission on this, because the Commission makes recommendations. They recommended, for instance, to give candidate status to Albania, and then there was no positive decision from the governments. The Commission only recommends – the governments decide.

In general, I would say it is not a matter of the whim of governments whether a country is admitted or not. There are clear benchmarks which are defined, and countries have to make sure that they the progress required to be able to join, and of course I know that sometimes there are different interpretations as to whether the benchmarks have already been fulfilled or not. People may have different views on that, but I would say one should not approach this with a 'we ticked the boxes' approach, because people, lets say in Germany, have a clear idea of what is means in terms of substance that certain benchmarks have actually been achieved. And this is the real debate – to what extent Albania has done its homework, and I am sure that Germany, like the other EU member governments, will take a look at that when the time is right.

Q: On another hot topic, there has been a series of news items related to people with murky pasts holding elected office in Albania. Does the fact that Albania has people with alleged and/or proven criminal ties serving in public office hurt the country's relations with Germany and the EU?

A: Look, it's a bit like when you have 27 tenants living in a house, and someone applies to join and become the 28th tenant. And of course these 27 tenants look at this application, and say, how does it look, and whenever such a potential tenant brings with him or with her a bag of problems, that certainly does not help – to start with.

On the substance itself, everybody knows that Albania has a reputation problem for many reasons and this has been going on for many years, and I am very pleased to see that perceptions are changing for the better know. But this issue of a rather sort of unsavory connection between what you call “murky” characters in politics is certainly doing no good for the reputation of Albania. And I would indeed say if you want to become the twenty-so-and-so tenant as soon as possible it is certainly not a bad idea – I would use a rather strong term now – to attack this cancer as efficiently and as soon as possible.

 - Interviewed by Andi Balla

 

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Germany, the migration crisis, and Albania's resurgent image problems
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                    [post_date] => 2015-09-15 10:48:50
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                    [post_content] => shkembiTIRANA, Sept. 15 - Albania's Skenderbeu will make its UEFA Europa League debut against Turkey's Besiktas on Thursday as the first Albanian team to have qualified in a major European football competition for clubs.

Skenderbeu, who failed to qualify in the more prestigious UEFA Champions League after losing to Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the play-off stage, will be playing Besiktas for the first time and could become the first Albanian team to avoid defeat against Turkish opponents.

The five-time Albanian consecutive champions will be playing Besiktas in the opening game of Europa League's Group H which also features Portugal's Sporting and Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow.

Skenderbeu striker Hamdi Salihi who scored five goals in the club's Champions league qualifying stage has recovered for an injury in record time and will be ready for the home match in the Elbasan Arena stadium on Sept. 17 night.

Skenderbeu coach Mirel Josa has described the fixture with Besiktash as very difficult but said his team will do its best to get a positive result.

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.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123409" align="alignright" width="300"]Arben Ndoka (Photo: TV grab) Arben Ndoka (Photo: TV grab)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 8 – Arben Ndoka, a Socialist lawmaker, has given up his seat in parliament following weeks of pressure over his criminal conviction in Italy for facilitating prostitution.

In a letter to the Socialist parliamentary group, Ndoka said he was giving up his seat in Lezha County so he can work to clear his name.

He said he had been convicted by an Italian court for a crime he did not commit, and he would try to reopen the case and get an official pardon in Italy. Ndoka had served time in prison before being released in 2005.

The resignation comes more than a month after the U.S. Embassy in Tirana had called the presence in parliament of an MP convicted of human trafficking “disgraceful.”

Albania's ruling Socialist-led coalition has faced pressure over having several elected representatives with criminal ties in its ranks.

Four MPs from the ruling coalition have had to give up their seats or have been expelled from the Socialist Party so far over criminal offenses or records.

Earlier this week, another Socialist MP from Lezha County was arrested for his involvement in a shootout and brawl that left seven people wounded.

The opposition Democratic Party had previously published a conviction sheet for Ndoka, showing he had been convicted for facilitation of prostitution in Italy.

Ndoka reacted by punching the opposition MP who made the conviction public. Ndoka faced criminal charges for the assault in a parliament hallway in full view of the CCTV cameras, the footage of which is now available on YouTube. A Tirana court dropped the charges, saying it was out of its jurisdiction to deal with violence inside parliament.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has responded to criticism over selecting Ndoka and the other problematic MPs to run by saying all candidates had produced a clean penal history when he had allowed them to join the list.

Under Albanian legislation, the party leader has final say on MP lists. Ndoka's vacant seat goes to the next name in the list the Socialist Party ran in the June 21, 2013 elections.

 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2015-09-08 09:30:24
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-09-08 07:30:24
                    [post_content] => Albania's Lenjani jumps for the ball with Portugal's Silva during their Euro 2016 qualifying soccer match at Elbasan arena stadium in ElbasanTIRANA, Sept. 8 - A stoppage-time winner stunned Albania on Monday night as Portugal's Miguel Veloso scored a header to avenge their shock defeat in the opening Euro 2016 qualifiers last year.

Portugal beat Albania 1-0 extending their lead in Group I to 15 points, three points ahead of Denmark and four against third-placed Albania.

With two games to go, Albania can still hope to qualify directly after Denmark's goalless draw away to Armenia.

Denmark have only one game left next October when they play away to leaders Portugal while Albania has two qualifiers left against Serbia and Armenia.

After a difficult first half, Albania considerably improved their performance in the second half when striker Cikalleshi hit the post after deflection to a long-range strike.

The Albanian defence also covered Real Madrid star and Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo pretty well, leaving him few opportunities to strike.

"We must draw lessons from this loss. We must give our best for the point we lost. Portugal will do us a favour if it wins against Denmark," said De Biasi.

"Our bid is a bit complicated now that Portugal has mathematically secured its qualification," he added.

Having already mathematically secured a place in the play-offs, Albania’s qualifying campaign will close with a delicate home match against bottom Serbia on October 8 before travelling to Armenia three days later.

The top two group teams and the best third-placed side in the nine groups qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123645" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania has been a member of the OSCE since 1991. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) OSCE building in Vienna. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 23 – Albanian authorities are not seeking the ousting of the OSCE from Albania, a government spokesman said this week, after the publication of a letter from the foreign ministry to all public institutions asking them to report, limit and draw to a conclusion all projects with the organization.

The letter said Albania had made enough progress to where it no longer needed the assistance it once did from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Despite the public statement to the contrary, several government sources indicated Albanian officials are seething following the leakage last week of an OSCE report on accusations of corruption an ill-gained wealth for Albania's top political leaders.

Neither the government nor the OSCE have denied the leaked documents' authenticity.

The foreign ministry said its letter was used in order to recalculate the projects with the OSCE and look at the priorities, not as a response to the accusations in the report.

Authorities said however that they welcome all the OSCE reports and its assistance in different areas and they are looking to improve the cooperation with the OSCE and the other international institutions.

The leaked OSCE report shook the political establishment in Albania, as it was filled with allegations of massive wealth, corruption and criminal ties among members of the political class.

However, the head of the OSCE office in Albania, Ambassador Florian Rauning, said the leaked information was unauthorized and misleading and it does not represents OSCE’s official views.

“The summary was merely a collection of information from reports in the Albanian media and allegations circulating publicly. The presence did not verify the information used, as the purpose of the exercise was to obtain an overview of allegations, not to determine their truth,” Rauning said in a statement last week, expressing regret that this information was made public without authorization and “subject to misinterpretation and political manipulation.”

 
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