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Why Albania must foster private sector development and boost competitiveness

Why Albania must foster private sector development and boost competitiveness

Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans, says in an interview that if Albania is to increase its GDP and be prepared to enter the European Union, it must strengthen its private sector and boost its competitiveness at the

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First Albanian flowers festival to be held in Permet

First Albanian flowers festival to be held in Permet

TIRANA, July 23 – The southern town of Permet will be the host of Albania’s first flower festival this weekend, bringing together flower and greenery traders and lovers in the town known for its famous canyons. The two-day festival scheduled

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Greek crisis has had a psychological impact, governor says

Greek crisis has had a psychological impact, governor says

TIRANA, July 22 – The escalation of the crisis in neighboring Greece, Albania’s second top trading partner and the host of around 500,000 Albanians, has only had a psychological impact on Albania’s banking system with sporadic deposit withdrawals from the

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Deutsche Telekom enters Albania with AMC rebranding

Deutsche Telekom enters Albania with AMC rebranding

TIRANA, July 22 – Albania has become the twelfth country across Deutsche Telekom’s European footprint to introduce the German giant’s brand identity. The AMC mobile operator, the first operator in the Albania which has been present in Albania for almost

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Series on jihadists’ recruitment wins EU Award for Investigative Journalism

Series on jihadists’ recruitment wins EU Award for Investigative Journalism

TIRANA, July 19 – Journalists Aleksandra Bogdani and Flamur Vezaj have been awarded first prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Award 2014 for Albania contest, for their series of three articles on recruitment of Albanians fighting as jihadists in Syria,

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Three foreign companies to perform in Butrint theatre festival

Three foreign companies to perform in Butrint theatre festival

TIRANA, July 16 – The Bulgarian Army Theatre will open the 13th edition of the Butrint international theatre festival which is making its comeback after last year’s absence with a limited number of shows due to lack of financial support.

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European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law

European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law

TIRANA, July 15 – Albania must commit to reforms that assure an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and build up an efficient system of public administration, European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said in a speech to the Albanian

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Despite progress, prejudice for neighbours still exists in region’s media, experts say

Despite progress, prejudice for neighbours still exists in region’s media, experts say

TIRANA, July 13 – Although media coverage of the neighbouring countries and nationalities in the region is improving, some old stereotypes and hate speech are still prevalent, regional media experts said at a Tirana conference, which analyzed media coverage in

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Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania  climb to 10 points with one game in hand

Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania climb to 10 points with one game in hand

UEFA updated ranking Group I Teams P +/- Pts  Portugal 5 3 12  Denmark 5 4 10  Albania 4 5 10  Armenia 5 -4 1  Serbia * 5 -8 -2 * Serbia have had 3 points deducted (Source: UEFA) TIRANA, July

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In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine

In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine

TIRANA, July 10 – In a final decision, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has awarded Albania three points for last year’s match against Serbia abandoned due to violence in Belgrade. The Switzerland-based CAS said in a statement that Serbia

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122854" align="alignright" width="300"]Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for Western Balkans. (Photo: EBRD) Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans. (Photo: EBRD)[/caption]

Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans, says in an interview that if Albania is to increase its GDP and be prepared to enter the European Union, it must strengthen its private sector and boost its competitiveness at the regional level and beyond. He also says the EBRD is ready to offer support to the proposed Adriatic-Ionian highway, a regional project linking Croatia to Greece.

What opportunities are there for Albania given its geographic location? 

Albania is situated in the heart of the Western Balkans -- the region with a strategic importance for the trade links with the European Union and important access points to the Adriatic. As for most countries in the Western Balkans, approximation to the EU remains the main driver behind economic and structural reforms. This is an opportunity in itself and it needs to be seized as reforms will help Albania realise its economic potential and deepen its regional cooperation. Just recently, we released our regional economic prospects with projected GDP growth at 2.5 per cent in Albania in 2015 and it can achieve more. To do that Albania needs to strengthen its private sector and boost its competitiveness. This is one of the priorities for EBRD’s work in the country.

Some say that cornerstone of the healthy economy is a strong private sector -- how do you support it in Albania?

Supporting the private sector development is at the heart of what we do at the EBRD. We have several ways of supporting the private sector in Albania:

We can provide financing directly to larger SMEs, both equity and debt. We are also providing funding to SMEs indirectly through local banks and microfinance institutions. We are currently working on a new facility which will improve the access of businesses in the agricultural sector to local bank financing. We believe that there is a lot of untapped potential in this sector for growth and employment. We are pleased to see the government’s effort to tap this potential with the National Guarantee Fund. Under the umbrella of the Fund, we are jointly working with the banks and financial institutions to create an Agribusiness Financing Facility.

Fostering sustainable development of the private sector and boosting its competitiveness, such as growing strong small and medium enterprises segment is one of our priorities for Albania. It will help the country to become more resilient to external economic factors, such as volatility in Eurozone and commodity prices.

What are particular sectors Albania needs to develop in the regional context?

In the regional context, the Albanian economy is comparatively small and to attract private investment it needs to be well connected to the wider market in the region, both in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of harmonisation of regulations vis-à-vis its neighbours. This is why regional integration is one of the key priorities for our work in the country.

In the Western Balkans, for instance, the EBRD in cooperation with the European Commission, other IFIs, and the government authorities is investing in the rehabilitation and construction of key road and railway sections which are part of transport corridors (such as Corridor Vc, VIII and X) linking the Western Balkans with the EU. The Bank is currently considering financing the rehabilitation of railway and road sections in Kosovo, rehabilitation and construction of road sections in Bosnia and Herzegovina and FYR Macedonia. In Montenegro, the Bank is considering other investments in the airport and seaport sectors.

The Bank works closely with the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) which is an important coordination mechanism bringing together all stakeholders and establishing priority projects of common interest. Such regional projects have an effect on important policies, such as trade and customs regulation to simplify economic collaboration between the neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans.

The Bank would be interested to consider supporting the Adriatic-Ionian Highway which is a regional project being promoted by the governments of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania. The highway will connect the central and western Europe with Greece through the Western Balkans, fostering regional cooperation and integration.

Has the EBRD already done any projects in Albania to support its regional integration?

The EBRD conducted a number of projects in Albania that contribute to the regional integration, as it is one of the key priorities for our work in the country. For instance, the Bank is currently financing, together with the EU and the EIB, the construction of the Fier and Vlore bypass roads. These projects are part of Corridor VIII in the SEETO’s Comprehensive Network and benefit from significant grant funding from the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA). Previous EBRD projects include the rehabilitation of the Elbasan-Librazhd road section which is part of Corridor VIII, the construction of a new terminal at the Tirana International Airport, the construction of the Levan-Vlore and Levan-Tepelene road sections (also on Corridor VIII), and the passenger terminal at Port of Durres. We’re also looking to support the regional energy security and are looking into the options of investing in the interconnector between Albania and Macedonia.

Institutional strengthening is equally important to attract investors in the country. Improvement to the business climate is already at the heart of the economic agenda of the government. The EBRD supported Albania in setting up the Investment Council, to create a platform for public-private dialogue and improve the investment climate.

What is your view on a ‘Balkan Benelux’? 

I would rather talk about a common regional market. The EBRD strongly supports regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, which is indispensable for the economic prospects and stability of this region. This is the best answer to its numerous challenges.  When we convened the first ever all-inclusive meeting of the Western Balkan prime ministers at EBRD Headquarters a year ago, we primarily sought to promote the region as an investment destination. But it was also a strong political message of the newly achieved stability and maturity of the region. Intensifying regional cooperation among all nations in the region is among the greatest recent achievements of the Western Balkans.

How would you assess Albania’s readiness for EU accession?

EU reform agenda and economic reforms is an important catalyst for Albania’s economic development and the country must keep this course. We are really encouraged by the government’s reform drive. Implementation of these reforms will be key to practically improve the investment climate and foster growth and employment. So Albania is certainly moving into the right direction. But some of the challenges are quite deep-rooted, such as weaknesses in the justice system and in public administration, and they will require a lot of perseverance. EU approximation is a marathon, not a sprint.

 
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                    [post_content] => PermetTIRANA, July 23 - The southern town of Permet will be the host of Albania's first flower festival this weekend, bringing together flower and greenery traders and lovers in the town known for its famous canyons.

The two-day festival scheduled for July 25 and 26 will be accompanied by a gardening workshop giving useful advice on treating and cultivating flowers.

The festival was selected as one of the winning projects of "My Dream" competition launched by Prime Minister Edi Rama.

The small town of Permet is also known for rafting on the Vjosa River, Canyons of Lëngarica and Bënja waters.

“Përmet is the city of flowers, of roses, of unparalleled songs, of purity and tranquility, (known in antiquity as "Tryfilia", inhabited by Illyrian tribes),” says the Visit Albania portal.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_1299" align="alignright" width="300"]sejko Bank of Albania Governor Gent Sejko (Photo: BoA)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 22 - The escalation of the crisis in neighboring Greece, Albania's second top trading partner and the host of around 500,000 Albanians, has only had a psychological impact on Albania's banking system with sporadic deposit withdrawals from the three Greek bank subsidiaries, says central bank governor Gent Sejko.

"I would say that the situation in Greece has had a psychological impact on commercial banks in Albania, but has not affected them economically or financially," Sejko said in a TV interview.

The governor says deposit withdrawals and transfers from the three Greek subsidiaries have been sporadic and negligible compared to the liquidity and capital these banks possess.

Speaking about the deal Greece reached with its creditors, governor Sejko said the situation would also have a positive impact on Albania.

“The deal will calm down the situation of parent banks in Greece and this will also be reflected on the general psychological condition in Albania as well as in the banks' activity which is the most delicate part related to financial stability," said Sejko.

As for the spillover effects on the Albanian economy, the governor says that there could be a slight decline in remittances and a return of immigrants but assured the Albanian economy has already handled the major impacts from the six-year recession in the neighboring country.

The Albanian government and the IMF have recently reduced Albania’s GDP forecast for 2015 to 2.7 percent, down from 3 percent on lower exports affected by declining oil prices and possible spillover impacts from the crisis in neighboring Greece.

While Greek banks reopened this week after a deal with Greece’s creditors over new austerity measures, the limits on cash withdrawals remaining in force have had a negative impacts on some regions in southern Albania where dozens of companies are engaged in trade exchanges with Greek partners. In addition, hundreds of seasonal workers in Greece, mainly working in the agriculture sector, have returned home without receiving their payments because of the closure of banks. Several transport companies are also reported to have been affected.

Experts say the spillover risks from the Greek crisis are relatively low and mainly affect exports and remittances, already on a downward trend since Greece plunged into recession in 2008. Meanwhile, the three Greek bank subsidiaries in Albania are considered safe because of operating as independent from their parent banks.

Greek banks account for less than one-fifth of Albania’s banking system with their share having dropped to around 16 percent down from 25 percent in the pre-crisis years.

NBG Bank Albania, a subsidiary of the National Bank of Greece, holds 3.3 percent of the total assets in the Albanian banking system. The two other Greek banks operating in Albania, the Tirana Bank part of Piraeus Bank and Alpha Bank Albania, part of Alpha Bank, hold 7.4 percent and 5.9 percent respectively, according to an IMF report.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 22 - Albania has become the twelfth country across Deutsche Telekom's European footprint to introduce the German giant’s brand identity.

The AMC mobile operator, the first operator in the Albania which has been present in Albania for almost two decades, has officially adopted the Telekom brand identity and will operate under the "T" logo starting this week. Deutsche Telekom, which holds a 40 percent stake in Greece’s OTE, has indirectly been present in Albania since 2008 with Deutsche Telekom’s acquisition of OTE.

"Our "T" logo carries the power, quality and expertise of the most valuable telecommunications brand in Europe. I am very pleased to welcome Telekom Albania to the Magenta family. The rebranding shows how strongly we are committed to Telekom Albania and its employees," said Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Europe and Technology at Deutsche Telekom. "Our aim is to become the leading European telecommunications provider and offer best customer experience driven by our technological leadership."

Prime Minister Edi Rama described Deutsche Telekom's presence in Albania as a strong signal in German-Albanian cooperation and investments in Albania.

“The presence of Deutsche Telekom is a strong signal to guarantee space for safe German investments in Albania and strengthen cooperation with Germany and the culture of good governance, work and interaction," said Rama at the launch ceremony.

Albania becomes the twelfth country across Deutsche Telekom’s European footprint to turn Magenta, acquiring the Telekom brand identity and values: Innovation, Competence and Simplicity. For Albania this already translates today in superior services, starting with the launch of 4G, company officials say.

Hans-Christian Schwingen, Chief Brand Officer at Deutsche Telekom, who led the rebranding for the Group, commented: "The Albanian slogan helps to reflect the essence of our brand. We are all seeking the company of others while sharing special moments. That’s what our brand stands for: Being connected enriches people’s lives."

Dimitris Blatsios, CEO of Telekom Albania, emphasized the importance of this decisive moment: “This is a significant milestone in the history of our company and a major development in the telecommunications sector of the country. The brand identity of Deutsche Telekom and what it represents will bring forward a new world of infinite possibilities for the customers and the communities we serve. Telekom Albania launches today the 4G services, enabling our customers to enjoy unprecedented speeds in their mobile experience”.

Telekom Albania launched commercial operations in 1996, under the commercial name of Albanian Mobile Communications. In 2008, it joined Deutsche Telekom Group and in 2015 it embraces the Telekom brand identity. With contemporary products, relentless innovation in accordance with the most recent technology developments and most competitive prices, Telekom Albania has become an important generator of qualitative communication and innovation in Albania.

Telekom Albania, former AMC, is currently the second biggest mobile operator in Albania with around 2 million subscribers and annual income of 86 million euros.

Deutsche Telekom is present in more than 50 countries worldwide, offering a wide range of services for consumers, business and corporate customers, using the highest quality standards and state-of-the-art technology.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122874" align="alignright" width="300"]The winning journalists with the head of the EU Delegation to Tirana. (Photo: Media Institute) The winning journalists with the head of the EU Delegation to Tirana. (Photo: Albanian Media Institute)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 19 - Journalists Aleksandra Bogdani and Flamur Vezaj have been awarded first prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Award 2014 for Albania contest, for their series of three articles on recruitment of Albanians fighting as jihadists in Syria, published in the Albanian publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, reporter.al, and republished in other newspapers and portals.

Second prize went to Juli Ristani of investigative program "Fiks Fare" of Top Channel TV for her story on judiciary treatment of drug users and smugglers.

The third place went to Besar Likmeta, also of BIRN Albania, for his story investigating the use of public funds by the Sali Berisha government in order to denigrate Edi Rama, then the leader of the opposition and today Albania's prime minister. The article was published in BIRN's English language publication, BalkanInsight.com, and republished in other media.

A total of 19 investigative stories were nominated for this year's EU Award in Albania. The jury consisted of five prominent media professionals and civil society representatives: Lutfi Dervishi, media expert, Iris Luarasi, professor of journalism, Arben Muka, Deutsche Welle correspondent, Aleksander Cipa, head of Union of Albanian Journalists, and Zef Preci, Director of the Center for Economic Research.

"Investigative journalism in particular can play an incredible role in exposing wrongdoing, inspire reform, and ultimately change people's lives. I firmly believe that these awards we are announcing today will further contribute to the strengthening of media standards and ultimately become a benchmark for media quality in Albania," said the EU Head of Delegation, Ambassador Romana Vlahutin.

Remzi Lani, director of Albanian Media Institute, said: "This competition is an important encouragement to investigative journalism, which faces many difficulties and serious challenges in Albania, too. This year's winners, and not just them, but all participants, have shown that these difficulties and challenges can be overcome."

Lutfi Dervishi, chair of the jury, said that many of the applications were of good quality, and it was a difficult job for the jury to decide.

He also stressed the fact that many of the journalists were young, which is a good sign for the future of investigative journalism in the country.

The EU award for investigative journalism will be given each year in the period of three years in each of seven EU-Enlargement countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, rewarding the investigative journalistic work published in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Investigative stories contributing to transparency and reporting on societal issues related to abuse of power and fundamental rights, corruption and organized crime that otherwise would not have been brought to the public's attention will qualify for the award.

The award fund for seven beneficiary countries for three years in total is 210,000 euro. Annual award fund for each country is 10,000 euro; 1-3 journalists shall be awarded in each country each year; 3,000-5,000 euros per individual prize is to be awarded.

The award ceremony was held on July 16 at the Tirana Times Book House.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 16 - The Bulgarian Army Theatre will open the 13th edition of the Butrint international theatre festival which is making its comeback after last year's absence with a limited number of shows due to lack of financial support.

Alfred Bualoti, the festival's director, says this year's edition, scheduled to be held from July 18 to 22 at the amphitheatre of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint, will showcase only three performances by foreign theatres,

"The festival's 13th edition will bring on stage five performances from Italy, Bulgaria, Macedonia and two from Albania which will be represented with The True Apology of Socrates monodrama by veteran actor Mirush Kabashi  and Sophocles' Electra directed by Laert Vasili,” says Bualoti.

Italy's Silence Teatro company will stage the "Voci Straniere," (Strange Voices) play directed by Luigi Pezzotti on the festival's second night on July 19 while Macedonia's Skopje Theatre of Comedy will perform Aristophanes "Lisystrata" directed by Natasha Poplavska on July 21.

The Butrint 2000 is an annual theatre festival that takes place on a historic site in the ancient Albanian town of Butrinti, on the shore of Lake Butrint. The festival started in 2000 and has presented works by Albanian artists, as well as more than 50 European and American companies. The festival is also an initiative to promote cultural tourism in Albania, and Butrint, the largest Albanian archeological park, which has been under UNESCO protection since the early 1990s after the collapse of communist regime.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city's development.

Excavations have brought the light to many objects - plates, vases, ceramic candlesticks - as well as sculptures including a remarkable 'Goddess of Butrint' which seems to completely embody, in the perfection of its features, the Greek ideal of physical beauty.

 

Festival program

July 18, 21:30  

The Bulgarian Army Theatre will perform “The Decameron” directed by Giovanni Boccaccio

July 19, 21:30 

Italy's Silence Teatro from Bergamo will perform the "Foreign Voices" directed by Luigi Pezzotti.

July 20, 21:30 

Albania's Aleksander Moisiu theatre in Durres will perform Sophocles’ Electra directed by Laert Vasili

July 21, 21:30

Macedonia's Skopje Theatre of Comedy will perform Aristophanes’ "Lisystrata" directed by Natasha Poplavska

July 22, 21:30

Albania's veteran actor Mirush Kabashi will perform “The True Apology of Socrates” monodrama
                    [post_title] => Three foreign companies to perform in Butrint theatre festival
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122701" align="alignright" width="300"]European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë)  European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke to the Albanian parliament. (Photo: Kuvendi i Shqipërisë)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 15 – Albania must commit to reforms that assure an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and build up an efficient system of public administration, European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said in a speech to the Albanian parliament.

A strong justice system is very important in increasing of foreign investments and in offering further steps toward launching full membership negotiations with the European Union, he added in a press conference.

Schulz made the comments during a two-day visit to Tirana, where he met with all top officials, urging them to go ahead with the judicial reform and implement stronger rule of law in the country.

Schulz said that it is important that the reforms are effective and successful, but he declined to answer whether the launch of the full membership negotiations will be possible this year as Tirana hopes will be the case.

"The second half of 2015 is too soon. You have the full support of European Parliament, but as you know, it's not the only institution that decides on issuing a positive response for the start of talks with Albania,” Schulz said. “However, during the second half of this year, we will promote positive debate in order to have a positive response, while for the moment, I cannot give you a positive response."

Schultz expressed concern about the confrontational political climate in Albania.

“The persistent tensions were damaging your country and constituted a risk to the whole reform process. I share [this] concern. I call on you, therefore, to act in accordance with the 13 conclusions of the dialogue, particularly as regards reforms of the justice system, strengthening an independent, accountable and efficient judicial system and building up an efficient system of public administration,” he said. “Independent institutions are the key to a fair and prosperous future. And initial successes in efforts to combat corruption should encourage the government to pursue them further in an energetic manner.”

In a portion of the parliament speech that got a lot of attention in Albanian media, Schultz said Europe would not forget Albania's suffering and virtues shown in the past, referring to a particularly brutal episode in WWII.

“The massacre by the German Army in Borova, 72 years ago, on 6 July 1943, in which German soldiers barbarically took reprisals for attacks by partisans and cruelly murdered women and children, will for ever fill us with shame. We shall not forget it,” said Schultz, a native of Germany. “Just as we shall never forget the courage and humanity of those Albanians who saved their Jewish neighbours from deportation. Thousands of Jewish refugees also found shelter and protection in your country.”

This was the first visit to Albania by Schulz as the president of the European Parliament, but the German Social Democrat has visited Albania several times. After Tirana, Schulz visited to Serbia and then Bosnia Herzegovina.

 

 
                    [post_title] => European Parliament president calls for judicial reform, stronger rule of law
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122640" align="alignright" width="300"]The Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania organized in Tirana the Regional Conference "Reporting Neighbors in the Balkan Media." The Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania organized in Tirana the Regional Conference "Reporting Neighbors in the Balkan Media."[/caption]

TIRANA, July 13 - Although media coverage of the neighbouring countries and nationalities in the region is improving, some old stereotypes and hate speech are still prevalent, regional media experts said at a Tirana conference, which analyzed media coverage in various Balkan countries.

The regional conference, "Reporting Neighbours in the Balkan Media," was organized by the Albanian Media Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in Albania. Participants included researchers, journalists, media experts, and representatives of media organizations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The research results were presented after experts spent several months researching media outlets in these countries. Experts who worked on this project targeted TV, radio press and online media.

The conference concluded a regional project, which aimed to analyze the main trends and tendencies of mainstream media in the region regarding the reporting on neighbouring countries. Independent experts from the countries of the region contributed with their work, which analyzed positive developments in covering neighbours in the media, as well as negative sides of this coverage.

[caption id="attachment_122641" align="alignright" width="228"]conference1 The regional conference's publication.[/caption]

Collected in a special publication, the studies provide a complex overview of the role that media has on relations between neighbors.

“In spite of undeniable progress of the last decade, it cannot yet be said – on this basis -- that negative stereotypes and historical prejudice belong in the past,” the report noted.

How do we report on our neighbors when the Balkan conflicts are a thing of the past and the other countries of the region find themselves in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration? What is the image of the Other in the media of the region?  What is the impact of the process of European integration on the way countries of Western Balkans see each other? What is the role of new media and social media in creating perceptions of one another?

The answers to these questions are attempted in the publication that was presented during the conference.

As the Ambassador of Switzerland in Tirana, Christoph Graf, notes in the book’s preface, this publication opens up a path for dialogue and better mutual understanding among media actors in the various Western Balkan countries.

During the two days of the conference, the participants discussed on the way and tools to take forward this dialogue.
                    [post_title] => Despite progress, prejudice for neighbours still exists in region’s media, experts say
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                    [post_content] => 
Group I
Teams P +/- Pts
 Portugal 5 3 12
 Denmark 5 4 10
 Albania 4 5 10
 Armenia 5 -4 1
 Serbia * 5 -8 -2
* Serbia have had 3 points deducted (Source: UEFA) TIRANA, July 15 - Albania climbed to ten points in Group I of the Euro 2016 qualifiers after Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Albania a 3-0 victory in last October’s abandoned match away to Serbia in a final decision ending a legal battle which reversed a previous ruling by Europe's football governing body. With one game in hand, Albania now see themselves rank third in Group I with 10 points, level on points with Denmark which holds an advantage only thanks to a goal away to Albania in last October's 1-1 qualifier. UEFA published the corrected ranking on Wednesday after having previously placed Albania second on better goal difference. Albania's Football Association also clarified that Albania currently ranks third because of the UEFA regulation which first considers statistics in the direct match between the concerned teams in case of equal points before applying the goal-difference rule for all group matches. Portugal lead the group with 12 points in five games having lost only at home against Albania in their opening group match in what was described as a shock defeat for the Portuguese, but a key and sensational win for the Red and Blacks' dream of a first ever qualification in a major football tournament. Armenia ranks fourth in Group I while Serbia are bottom with -2 points after having 3 points deducted by CAS over the abandoned match with Albania following violence fuelled by a drone with Albanian nationalist symbols. With four games to go before the qualifiers close, Albania sees itself in a comfortable position which has also worried favorite rivals Portugal and Denmark. As never before, Albania has almost mathematically secured a spot in the play-offs in case of finishing third in group but also stands good chances to secure a place in the top two which means direct qualification as it currently stands two points behind group leaders Portugal with one game less. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark on September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later. Albania’s coach Gianni De Biasi said the CAS decision had increased Albania’s chances of qualification into Euro 2016 but Albania still faces a tough challenge. “I am happy because justice has been done and now we are calmer,” De Biasi said after last weekend’s ruling which was celebrated all over Albania, Kosovo and the Diaspora. “The Sept. 4 match away to Denmark is a great challenge which we have to overcome.” Albania have achieved their highest ever FIFA world ranking following remarkable progress in their Euro 2016 qualification bid and a historic victory with France last June. Albania climbed 15 spots to 36th in the July FIFA ranking, which is a historic high for the country’s national side since 1946 when it made its international debut with a friendly against then-Yugoslavia. The new ranking has officially earned Albania one seeding pot for the World Cup qualifying draw Russia 2018 scheduled for July 25. Albania is set to be seeded in Pot 3 for the first time ever after having been historically seeded in Pots 4 and 5 in previous draws. Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. The top two group teams and the best third-placed side 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.
[post_title] => Euro 2016 qualification dream closer than ever as Albania climb to 10 points with one game in hand [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => euro-2016-qualification-dream-closer-than-ever-after-albania-climbs-to-2nd-in-group-i [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-15 16:23:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-15 14:23:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122624 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122570 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-07-10 11:33:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-10 09:33:42 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122608" align="alignright" width="300"]Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Photo: Fanny Schertzer/CC Wikimedia Commons) Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Photo: Fanny Schertzer/Wikimedia Commons)[/caption] TIRANA, July 10 - In a final decision, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has awarded Albania three points for last year's match against Serbia abandoned due to violence in Belgrade. The Switzerland-based CAS said in a statement that Serbia would have to forfeit the game 0-3 due to violence by its fans. The court did leave in force a Euro 100,000 fine against the Albanian football association for the disruption to the match by a drone carrying an Albanian banner. The court had postponed the decision twice asking more time to study the evidence. It's ruling is not open to any further appeals. . “The CAS Panel has decided that the UEFA European Championship qualifying Group I match between Serbia and Albania be deemed to have been forfeited by the FAS [the Football Association of Serbia] by the score of 0:3,” the court's statement said. CAS added it found no evidence that Albania refused to play following an order issued by the referee in the 41st minute when the match was abandoned and that FAS and not the Football Association of Albania must be considered as responsible for the match not being played in full. The ruling overturned an UEFA decision that noted Albania had refused to play. “The CAS Panel was unable to ascertain to its comfortable satisfaction that the referee issued a clear, direct and unconditional order to the players to resume the match on the basis of a definite decision that safety had been assured,” the court's statement said. The CAS left in force the Euro 100,000 fine against Albania, declaring the Albanian football association responsible for the drone operated during the match, carrying a banner depicting Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols. The news of the decision has caused a storm of celebration among Albanians on social media. "Super. This is what European Justice means. 3 points for the Red and Blacks in Belgrade. Go Albania," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on his Twitter profile. Albania's coach Gianni De Biasi said the CAS decision had increased Albania's chances of qualification into Euro 2016 but Albania still faces a tough challenge. "I am happy because justice has been done and now we are calmer," De Biasi said. "The Sept. 4 match away to Denmark is a great challenge which we have to overcome." De Biasi had earlier described the CAS decision as key to securing a spot in the top two in Group I, which means a direct qualification and no need for a play-off in case of a third place. “We are very dependent on the CAS decision on the match against Serbia. A decision in favour of Albania will increase Albania’s chances of a direct qualification,” De Biasi has said ahead of the friendly with France, which Albania won. Albania had appealed UEFA decision which handed the national team a 3-0 loss and a €100,000 fine over the abandonment of the match last October after a fight in the match’s first half when a drone with Albanian nationalist symbols was flown into the pitch, sparking a violent brawl which saw Albanian players running for the dressing room and hit with objects thrown from the stadium where Albanian fans had been banned to attend. UEFA punished Albania for "refusing to play on" and Serbia for their part in the incident fueled by the “Greater Albania” map which also featured Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after an armed conflict in the late 1990s. Some of Albania’s best players have roots in Kosovo and play for top clubs in Europe. Serbia also opposed the UEFA decision which despite handing them 3-0 victory, deducted them three points, were ordered to play the next two matches behind closed doors and fined €100,000. Albania achieved their highest ever FIFA world ranking this week following remarkable progress in their Euro 2016 qualification bid and a historic victory with France last June. Albania climbed 15 spots to 36th in the July FIFA ranking, which is a historic high for the country's national side since 1946 when it made its international debut with a friendly against then-Yugoslavia. The new ranking has officially earned Albania one seeding pot for the World Cup qualifying draw Russia 2018 scheduled for July 25. Albania is set to be seeded in Pot 3 for the first time ever after having been historically seeded in Pots 4 and 5 in previous draws. Asked about the historic climb, Albania's coach Gianni De Biasi has avoided strong enthusiasm by saying "I will reach my conclusions when I see the teams we are drawn against. For now, we still don't know how much the third pot is worth." The three points awarded by CAS mean Albania now rank on par to second-placed Denmark with 10 points. With one game in hand, Albania currently officially rank third in Group I with 7 points, five behind group leaders Portugal and three behind second-placed Denmark, both of which have played one game more. Serbia and Armenia rank bottom with one point each in five matches. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark on September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later. Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. The top two group teams and the best third-placed side 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.   [post_title] => In final decision, CAS awards Albania 0-3 victory for abandoned Belgrade match, upholds drone fine [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => official-court-of-arbitration-for-sport-awards-albania-victory-in-abandoned-match-with-serbia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-10 14:39:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-10 12:39:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122570 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 122853 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-07-24 10:46:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-07-24 08:46:10 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122854" align="alignright" width="300"]Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for Western Balkans. (Photo: EBRD) Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans. (Photo: EBRD)[/caption] Holger Muent, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans, says in an interview that if Albania is to increase its GDP and be prepared to enter the European Union, it must strengthen its private sector and boost its competitiveness at the regional level and beyond. He also says the EBRD is ready to offer support to the proposed Adriatic-Ionian highway, a regional project linking Croatia to Greece. What opportunities are there for Albania given its geographic location?  Albania is situated in the heart of the Western Balkans -- the region with a strategic importance for the trade links with the European Union and important access points to the Adriatic. As for most countries in the Western Balkans, approximation to the EU remains the main driver behind economic and structural reforms. This is an opportunity in itself and it needs to be seized as reforms will help Albania realise its economic potential and deepen its regional cooperation. Just recently, we released our regional economic prospects with projected GDP growth at 2.5 per cent in Albania in 2015 and it can achieve more. To do that Albania needs to strengthen its private sector and boost its competitiveness. This is one of the priorities for EBRD’s work in the country. Some say that cornerstone of the healthy economy is a strong private sector -- how do you support it in Albania? Supporting the private sector development is at the heart of what we do at the EBRD. We have several ways of supporting the private sector in Albania: We can provide financing directly to larger SMEs, both equity and debt. We are also providing funding to SMEs indirectly through local banks and microfinance institutions. We are currently working on a new facility which will improve the access of businesses in the agricultural sector to local bank financing. We believe that there is a lot of untapped potential in this sector for growth and employment. We are pleased to see the government’s effort to tap this potential with the National Guarantee Fund. Under the umbrella of the Fund, we are jointly working with the banks and financial institutions to create an Agribusiness Financing Facility. Fostering sustainable development of the private sector and boosting its competitiveness, such as growing strong small and medium enterprises segment is one of our priorities for Albania. It will help the country to become more resilient to external economic factors, such as volatility in Eurozone and commodity prices. What are particular sectors Albania needs to develop in the regional context? In the regional context, the Albanian economy is comparatively small and to attract private investment it needs to be well connected to the wider market in the region, both in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of harmonisation of regulations vis-à-vis its neighbours. This is why regional integration is one of the key priorities for our work in the country. In the Western Balkans, for instance, the EBRD in cooperation with the European Commission, other IFIs, and the government authorities is investing in the rehabilitation and construction of key road and railway sections which are part of transport corridors (such as Corridor Vc, VIII and X) linking the Western Balkans with the EU. The Bank is currently considering financing the rehabilitation of railway and road sections in Kosovo, rehabilitation and construction of road sections in Bosnia and Herzegovina and FYR Macedonia. In Montenegro, the Bank is considering other investments in the airport and seaport sectors. The Bank works closely with the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) which is an important coordination mechanism bringing together all stakeholders and establishing priority projects of common interest. Such regional projects have an effect on important policies, such as trade and customs regulation to simplify economic collaboration between the neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans. The Bank would be interested to consider supporting the Adriatic-Ionian Highway which is a regional project being promoted by the governments of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania. The highway will connect the central and western Europe with Greece through the Western Balkans, fostering regional cooperation and integration. Has the EBRD already done any projects in Albania to support its regional integration? The EBRD conducted a number of projects in Albania that contribute to the regional integration, as it is one of the key priorities for our work in the country. For instance, the Bank is currently financing, together with the EU and the EIB, the construction of the Fier and Vlore bypass roads. These projects are part of Corridor VIII in the SEETO’s Comprehensive Network and benefit from significant grant funding from the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA). Previous EBRD projects include the rehabilitation of the Elbasan-Librazhd road section which is part of Corridor VIII, the construction of a new terminal at the Tirana International Airport, the construction of the Levan-Vlore and Levan-Tepelene road sections (also on Corridor VIII), and the passenger terminal at Port of Durres. We’re also looking to support the regional energy security and are looking into the options of investing in the interconnector between Albania and Macedonia. Institutional strengthening is equally important to attract investors in the country. Improvement to the business climate is already at the heart of the economic agenda of the government. The EBRD supported Albania in setting up the Investment Council, to create a platform for public-private dialogue and improve the investment climate. What is your view on a ‘Balkan Benelux’?  I would rather talk about a common regional market. The EBRD strongly supports regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, which is indispensable for the economic prospects and stability of this region. This is the best answer to its numerous challenges.  When we convened the first ever all-inclusive meeting of the Western Balkan prime ministers at EBRD Headquarters a year ago, we primarily sought to promote the region as an investment destination. But it was also a strong political message of the newly achieved stability and maturity of the region. Intensifying regional cooperation among all nations in the region is among the greatest recent achievements of the Western Balkans. How would you assess Albania’s readiness for EU accession? EU reform agenda and economic reforms is an important catalyst for Albania’s economic development and the country must keep this course. We are really encouraged by the government’s reform drive. Implementation of these reforms will be key to practically improve the investment climate and foster growth and employment. So Albania is certainly moving into the right direction. But some of the challenges are quite deep-rooted, such as weaknesses in the justice system and in public administration, and they will require a lot of perseverance. EU approximation is a marathon, not a sprint.   [post_title] => Why Albania must foster private sector development and boost competitiveness [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => why-albania-must-foster-private-sector-development-and-boost-competitiveness [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-24 12:50:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-24 10:50:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122853 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 37 [name] => Free to Read [slug] => free [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 37 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Want to read some of our articles, but are not ready to become a full paid subscriber? Register for free, and read all articles in this section — for free. 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