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Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts

Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts

By DEWI VAN DE WEERD Dewi van de Weerd, the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ ambassador to Albania, made these remarks at the Albanian Institute for International Studies’ European Forum, focusing on current developments within the EU, the upcoming Dutch EU

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Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation

Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation

The Fier Prosecutor’s Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company’s environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity TIRANA, April 1 – Canada-based Bankers

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Coalitions shift as parties gear up for municipal elections

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Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive

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Human rights education tour makes Tirana stop

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Albania host Armenia in decisive Euro 2016 qualifier

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Prosecutors seek parliament’s permission to arrest Doshi, Frroku

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Albania offers Albpetrol, oil blocks to foreign investors

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‘Expressing in colors’ for a good cause

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Albania tries to cope with Strasbourg court verdicts

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120722" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS) Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS)[/caption]

By DEWI VAN DE WEERD

Dewi van de Weerd, the Kingdom of the Netherlands' ambassador to Albania, made these remarks at the Albanian Institute for International Studies’ European Forum, focusing on current developments within the EU, the upcoming Dutch EU presidency, the Western Balkans, Albania and EU enlargement policy. 

Let me start with something significant. Albania has become a candidate member state to the EU. I would like to congratulate you with that status. The Netherlands is fully supportive of your European integration efforts. Albania belongs within the EU and the Netherlands stands ready to support the country in the accession process.
  1. I would first like to discuss some of the recent developments in the EU. Let’s zoom in at some of the plans of the new Commission.
  2. I would then like to focus on the Dutch position witin the EU, as we are preparing to take over the Presidency of the European Union in January next year.
  3. Let us, thirdly, have a look at the EU and the Western Balkans and where we are with the EU’s enlargement policy.
  4. In closing, I will come to the best part, Albania’s future within the EU.
  5. The EU today
There is a ring of unrest around Europe. The situation is much more serious then we have seen in the past decade. Not only does it lead to insecurity for many people, there are also immense streams of refugees. We cannot ignore them. It is in these uncertain times that the EU has to operate. Also within the Union we have been facing a severe economic crisis. Luckily in many member states the prospectives are better now. But the necessary austerity policies have also led to unrest and less support for Europe, as we all know. This led to less trust, not only between member states, but also within them. After elections last year the European Parliament has been renewed. A new Commission started, with a president, Claude Juncker, who was actually the preferred candidate of the European Parliament. My former minister, Frans Timmermans, who has visited Albania in the past, has left the Netherlands to become vice-president of the Commission in Brussels. The new Commission has presented its strategic agenda. This agenda sets out five priorities that will guide the Union’s work over the next five years:
  1. a Union of jobs, growth and competitiveness;
  2. a Union that empowers and protects all its citizens;
  3. towards an Energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy. We want less dependence on energy suppliers that violate human rights. And with regard to climate we are late, it really is 5 to 12;
  4. a Union of freedom, security and justice, that focuses on solidarity and
  5. the Union as a strong global actor.
The agenda also considers how EU policy should be shaped and implemented. Subsidiarity and proportionality are key principles in this process: the Union should concentrate on areas where it can make a difference. It has to refrain from taking action where the member states can do that themselves. National parliaments should be more involved. What does this actually mean? Let me give you an example. It means that we should not ask Brussels to look at the size and shape of, for instance, bottles for olive oil. There is no added value. But we will count on Europe to set health and food safety standards.
  1. Focus of a small - or rather - medium sized member state
The Dutch position is well reflected in the EU’s strategic agenda. We advocate a Union that focuses on the essentials, on the main things, not on details. A Union that increases its added value for Europe’s citizens and companies. We think the EU should reduce the administrative burden. For example, it should be possible for a young IT specialist from let’s say Germany to sell stuff from his webshop in the Netherlands, without too many regulations, paperwork, etc.  We have to come to one digital market. We have presented the programme for our EU Presidency next year, I brought it with me, please take a copy if you like. I would like to mention our focus area’s: - We think one of the key tasks is to create jobs and economic growth, with a focus on innovation and decent work. - The EU, with the Netherlands as one of its founding states, was intended as a legal community, based on shared values, aimed at furthering common interests. We need to continue to listen to our citizens and make sure they still recognize themselves in this European idea. We need to make their voices heard, have debates, reach out for their ideas. - We think the EU will have to further strengthen its common foreign and security policy. We believe in an integrated approach, more defense cooperation, between member states, but also with NATO and other allies. We will now need to give priority to areas south and east of the EU. If you would ask the question where are Europe’s borders? The answer is they are there where its values are disputed most. - The rule of law is one of those core values that needs to be respected in each member state. I would like to zoom in on this topic. It can be viewed from two perspectives: that of the citizen and that of member states’ cooperation within the EU. The core principle of European citizenship is that nationals of one member state who are in another member state enjoy the same rights as the nationals of the latter member state. So that everyone has access to the EU’s freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. These freedoms can only be guaranteed if the rule of law functions effectively in all member states. Harmonised legislation creates a level playing field. It positively influences companies working in different member states, so that they know what kind of legislation to expect. It is not only the existence of this legislation, but also to know that it will be enforced, which makes the difference. Lastly, it is essential for the credibility of the external policy of the EU and the member states that the member states themselves are governed by the rule of law. Coherence is needed between external and internal human rights policies. Before arriving here, I headed our human rights team in The Hague. We promote equal rights for women, for LGBT or press freedom, in countries like Zimbabwe or Russia. But as Europeans we cannot point fingers to others, when human rights are not being respected within our own borders. We therefore need to ensure that member states may hold another member state or even a candidate country to account. Even within the Union, we are not there yet. Look at Hungary for instance. There is progress in this field though. This year member states will start talks assessing the state of their national rule of law, monitored by the Commission. This has been and will remain high on the Dutch agenda. We think rule of law should not only be regarded as a formal structure. Cultural factors are important too. Authorities should act in the spirit of the rule of law, that should indeed be the culture. Legal proceedings, complaint procedures, etcetera are not enough. The decisive factor is the operating culture among state agencies and officials who play a key role in the rule of law. Strengthening the rule of law also depends on vigilance of and respect for the independence of the judiciary. Politicians and others in positions of authority, such as senior judges and police chiefs, should set a good example.
  1. EU Enlargement: On the road
So looking at what Europe is, we can say, and I quote my ex-minister Timmermans, that Europe is a way of life, a way of thinking. All European states have a mix of the same ingredients of freedoms and human rights and respect for rule of law, be it in different compositions. It is not something that is easy to achieve, or to maintain, like we see at the moment. It requires a great deal of political, financial and social investment. But there is a high return, and this is clearly seen by the countries in the Balkans. Despite calls for “less Europe”, due maybe to a bit too rapid expansion of the Union in the past, there are also calls for “more Europe”. With Croatia joining the EU, opening of negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia, the candidate status granted to Albania and the Kosovo-Serbia rapprochement – we have indeed seen a positive trend for the Western Balkans during 2013 – 2014. The whole of the Western Balkans has an accession perspective and rightly so. These countries are part of Europe and should eventually join the Union. But enlargement of the EU is not self-evident these days, just as is the support for it. Critics and sceptics are on the rise. This trend can only be countered through arguments and through action. Ultimately, support for enlargement can only be maintained by a rigorous process, in which strict conditions are leading. The current focus in the enlargement process on rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, has done just that. It has put what is the essence of the EU into the heart of the accession process. It is good to see that the countries in the Western Balkans are taking up this challenge and are increasing their efforts on these fundamental issues. The EU and its member states want to assist countries in the Western Balkans to meet the conditions. This is why the Netherlands has devoted its bilateral assistance in the Western Balkans almost entirely to the rule of law. We have just started a regional rule of law pilot, with experts in all our embassies throughout the Balkans. Albania is playing an active role in the region. At the same time it is clear that sensitivities with regard to regional cooperation remain, especially concerning Serbia and Kosovo. We think it is important that all parties are aware of this and avoid creating misunderstandings. Good neighbourly relations are an important aspect of the accession process in all Western Balkan countries. We also need to realise that the EU we see today, is not the EU the countries in the Western Balkans will join in time. The Union is changing rapidly, especially with respect to economic governance. Look at, for example, at the banking sector. Accession countries need to also be prepared for the economic governance demands that will be put on them as soon as they join the Union. The EU needs to help out there too, that is why improving economic governance is one of the priorities for Albania. This also implies assisting acceding countries to improve and strengthen their capacities, for example in statistics. The Netherlands has been asked to look into energy efficiency and to see if our energy regulator can work with his Albanian counterpart. Following Croatia’s accession in 2013, it is not expected that new member states will be joining the EU soon. The countries of the Western Balkans all have a genuine prospect of EU accession – their integration in the EU will contribute to regional and European stability – but they are responsible for determining the pace of their accession.
  1. Albania and its future in the EU: It takes two to tango
The Netherlands is supportive of Albania’s European integration efforts. Yesterday and today, minister Bushati and minister Gjiknuri are visiting the Netherlands. They had lunch with our minister of foreign affairs Koenders and they met our economic affairs minister, Kamp. The granting of candidate country status in June is an important milestone, both for the country and for the government. It is a deserved recognition of the progress that has been made so far. Great to see that there is so much public support for the EU here, 91 percent. We have a lot in common. The Netherlands sincerely appreciates that Albania is a NATO member and a country that fully aligns itself with the common foreign and security policy of the EU, especially as the current geopolitical situation is in flux. Both the Netherlands and Albania are now members of the UN’s Human Rights Council. As like minded countries we can work together on human rights issues, such as more political participation of women or ending violence against women. The Netherlands is a candidate for the UN Security Council, and so is Albania. Getting back to the EU, we think that the EU candidate status means reforms here need to be stepped up. The merging of municipalities through the local territory reform is a good start. Hopefully this will contribute to combating corruption. We believe that justice reform should provide for a new system that Albanians in daily life will be able to trust. This is essential to progress: a more reliable justice sector will attract more foreign investment. Public administration reform and progress in media digitization are necessary and welcomed. I would like to stress again the importance of including Albanian citizens in decision making. We will continue to support that. The Netherlands has been critical of Albania’s readiness for the candidate status in the past. And we still are. Please allow me to mention some bottlenecks that have to be tackled from the Dutch perspective: The proper functioning of political dialogue, especially where it belongs, in parliament. Full or partial boycott of parliament and extreme polarisation is not helpful. Both the government and opposition have their own responsibility in making cooperation work. It struck me that recent research showed the trust of the Albanian people in their political parties is at 15 percent, that is very low. Improving the functioning and independence of the judiciary is crucial. Why is the High Council of Justice not participating in the justice reform? Ensure that the fight against corruption does not limit itself to small fish, but equally focusses on large-scale corruption. There has been an impressive number of 4300 complaints on the new e-portal. But I am actually more interested in the number of cases that will get a thorough follow-up. The freedom and independence of the media needs improvement. It is clear that a lot of work remains to be done before the opening of negotiations could realistically come into sight. Since the start of the enlargement policies in 1993 the Netherlands has taken an approach to assess progress on the enlargement agenda through a method which we call “strict and fair”. What does this mean? Strict means that we take the starting point of the ‘acquis’ serious. The acquis sets out the basic principles of the EU and the Copenhagen criteria stipulate the minimum conditions that need to be fulfilled before a new country can become a member of the EU. These are: Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; The ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. In the strict and fair approach ‘fair’ means that the EU and the member states are prepared to help candidate countries in fulfilling the minimum conditions of the Copenhagen criteria. We are, for example, looking into the request to assist Albania with setting up its negotiation teams. Dutch funds are used to support Albania in the field of the judiciary, human rights and the rule of law. Some examples of these projects are: Training of police on diversity and how to deal with domestic violence, Improving the implementation of e-procurement procedures leading to reduction of corruption, increase of transparency and competitiveness among businesses/economic operators Drafting of the Whistleblowers Protection Law. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end with a quote by Erasmus, he was a famous Dutch philosopher and one of the founding fathers of the concept of Europe. “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; And then there are those who turn one into the other.” I have set my hopes on a dynamic young generation of Albanians to do just that. * The title of this op-ed has been written by Tirana Times.   [post_title] => Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => op-ed-the-netherlands-remains-critical-but-fully-supports-albanias-european-integration-efforts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-03 09:32:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:32:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120690 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120714 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-04-03 09:04:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:04:35 [post_content] => The Fier Prosecutor's Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company's environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity TIRANA, April 1 - Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield in south-western Albania and is the country’s largest foreign investor, has had its activity suspended after a blast incident at two of its oil wells, endangering local residents. Some 60 local households were evacuated after the explosion of the two oil wells in the Marinze village, with nobody reported injured. Video footage showed fountains of gas, mud, sand and water coming out of the ground. Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri who visited the explosion site on Wednesday assured the situation was under control and there was no room for panic. "Experts say the gas leak is not poisonous and cannot cause explosions," said Gjiknuri, asking the company to cover costs of damages. A company spokesman told the Reuters news agency that Bankers usually has to drill down to 1,300 meters to reach oil layers in Patos-Marinza, but Wednesday's well had been drilled to just 500 meters when the venting occurred. Bankers Petroleum said it has activated its emergency response plan as a result of an uncontrolled carbon dioxide release during the drilling of a horizontal well within the Patos-Marinza oilfield, "Bankers has regained surface control of drilling operations, returning most impacted residents to their homes, however, as a precautionary measure, continues to maintain a small evacuation area immediately adjacent to the affected well," the company said in a statement. Meanwhile, the Fier Prosecutor's Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company's environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity. Prosecutors are investigating whether Bankers used inappropriate drilling methods and techniques. The Environment Ministry had suspended Bankers activity since late February 2015 after the environment inspectorate identified violations in waste management, pollution of water resources also affecting agricultural products and social and health problems caused to local residents.  The ministry says Bankers will have its suspension lifted only after it meets the environmental requirements. Canada-based Bankers Petroleu posted record high profits of around $129 million in 2014, more than double compared to 2013, on higher oil production despite a significant cut in international oil prices in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, royalties to the Albanian government and related entities were $86 million (15 percent of revenue) during 2014 compared to $94 million (17 percent of revenue) for 2013. Bankers Petroleum 2015 prospects are less optimistic as international oil prices have more than halved to around $54 a barrel since their peak level in mid-2014, forcing the company to revise downward its 2015 program of investments and production. In early February 2015, Bankers announced it had reduced its 2015 capital program to US$ 153 million, down from a previously announced 2015 capital program of $218 million in early December 2014. [post_title] => Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => authorities-suspend-bankers-petroleums-activity-following-well-blast-that-forced-village-evacuation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-03 09:41:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:41:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120714 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120688 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-04-03 08:47:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-03 07:47:41 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120692" align="alignright" width="300"] Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama has entered into an agreement with the Democracy, Integration and Unity Party (PDIU) of the Cham community, led by Shpetim Idrizi, which has seven lawmakers.[/caption] Basha makes it official he won't seek reelection; Socialists and Democrats prepare candidate lists; Socialists enlarge coalition with Cham party TIRANA, April 2 - The upcoming municipal elections are quickly moving to the top of the country's political agenda, with several candidates and new political coalitions being announced this week. Voters will elect 61 new mayors in administrative elections that will be a serious test for Albania's governing leftist Socialist Party-led coalition as well as the main opposition Democratic Party and its leader, Lulzim Basha, the incumbent mayor of Tirana. Basha had earlier indicated he won't run again, and this week he made it official he won't seek reelection in order to focus on party affairs. "I have decided not to run for the Tirana mayor's seat, but instead will lead the opposition in a race that touches every village, every neighborhood and every city,” Basha said. “I will lead the opposition in ousting the government. My race is against the prime minister.” Basha had for years criticized Prime Minister Edi Rama for refusing to step down as Tirana mayor while seeking the prime minister's seat. Rama, who lost a tight race to Basha for the mayor's seat in 2011, said Basha had done nothing to improve the lives of the city's residents. “Basha is leaving with nothing to show,” Rama said this week. Prime Minister Rama has also been busy holding intensive talks to discuss on potentials candidates across the country. The party had set almost all the names, most of whom are new arrivals, but the top post, that of the Tirana mayor candidate, remained up in the air. The Democrats have been tight-lipped with their candidates, while Socialists have announced three names: Blendi Klosi, a lawmaker and former minister, Erjon Veliaj, minister of social affairs, and Pandeli Majko, former prime minister of Albania during the Kosovo war. Veliaj is seen as the most loyal to the prime minister and is likely to be the ultimate candidate of the three. Majko would probably be far more popular with the average voter, according to analysts. Rama has also extended his coalition with small political parties in order to gather more ballots for tight races. The Socialists have entered into an agreement with the Democracy, Integration and Unity Party (PDIU) of the Cham community, led by Shpetim Idrizi, which has seven lawmakers. It ran in coalition with the opposition Democrats in the general elections. The alliance has further shifted the weight of the coalitions in parliament, giving the governing Socialists a massive majority that allows them to make any constitutional changes if needed to implement its reforms in the justice system. However, not all PDIU lawmakers were happy with the new alliance with the Socialists, particularly because of the presence in the coalition of another small party that represents the ethnic Greek community in Albania. The Cham community PDIU represents are Albanians who were brutally ethnically cleansed by Greek militias at the end of WWII. Despite the new allies, Rama has to strongly rely on the coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta, the second largest party in the ruling coalition. [post_title] => Coalitions shift as parties gear up for municipal elections [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => parties-gear-up-for-municipal-elections [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-06 14:41:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-06 13:41:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120688 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120646 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-03-30 09:04:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-30 08:04:34 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120647" align="alignright" width="300"]Mergim Mavraj (center) scored the first goal. Mergim Mavraj (front) scored the first goal.[/caption] By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 30 - Albania kept alive their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes after a spectacular win home to Armenia as they came from behind an early goal to claim a 2-1 victory. It all started badly for Albania as they conceived an early goal in the fourth minute and squandered lots of scoring opportunities with Split forward Cikalleshi also hitting the post. The turning point came in the 70th minute when Armenia had one man sent off and Albania made full use of its numerical advantage with two winning headers by Koln defender Mavraj and Basel midfielder Gashi who came in as a substitute in the second half. The Sunday evening victory against Armenia has strengthened Albania's position in Group I with the Red and Blacks now ranking third with seven points in four matches level on points with second-placed Denmark which holds an advantage on goal difference. Portugal which beat Serbia 2-1 have taken the lead of the group with nine points, having lost only home to Albania in their first four qualifying matches. Serbia and Armenia rank bottom in the five-team Group I having collected only one point each in their first round of matches. Italian coach Gianni de Biasi, who just a couple of days before the decisive qualifier was granted the Albanian citizenship, described the victory as historic. "It was a historic victory for Albania and the most important match of my career but now its over. We did a good job. The next qualifier against Denmark will be the match of my life," he told reporters. Armenia's Swiss coach Bernard Challandes said his team had a chance to win until the 70th minute when one of their defenders was sent off with a second yellow card. "We had a very good first half, we scored and we were playing well, but in the second half, Albania were better than us. I told my team at the break that we had to score again to win the match," he was quoted as saying by UEFA. Celebrations over the victory against Armenia continued until the early hours of Monday in Elbasan where the match was played and all over Albania, but also Kosovo, Macedonia, the Presevo Valley and the Diaspora. Prime Minister Edi Rama who encouraged Albania as they were one goal behind in several tweets congratulated the national side and the newest Albanian citizen, coach De Biasi. 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. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark in September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.   [post_title] => Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-claim-historic-victory-to-keep-their-euro-qualifying-hopes-alive [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-30 10:27:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-30 09:27:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120646 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120590 [post_author] => 68 [post_date] => 2015-03-27 10:48:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-27 09:48:02 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120591" align="alignright" width="300"]Neighboring Macedonia was also part of the tour Neighboring Macedonia was also part of the tour[/caption] TIRANA, March 22 – The Youth for Human Rights International 12th World Educational Tour, which is traveling 74,468 kilometers around the world to promote Human Rights Education, arrived in Tirana and was welcomed by the city’s mayor. The purpose of Youth for Human Rights International is to teach youth about human rights, specifically the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inspire them to become advocates for tolerance and peace. Meetings were held with government officials including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as key human rights bodies such as the Ombudsman, the Commissioner for the Prevention of Discrimination, NGOs and other stakeholders. Workshops were held in two universities in Tirana and they raised awareness about the inhuman modern-day slavery with the play, “Story of Monica” at the Palace of Culture in Durres sponsored by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth. Arber Kodra, President of Youth for Human Rights Albania said that the country has a constitution and laws that protect human rights but we lack implementation. “Human rights education is key toward creating more peaceful communities,” Kodra added. Reaching further, the team met with officials of both Kosovo and Macedonia. The tour circled the globe to Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, UK and Brussels before arriving in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. “These meetings are encouraging. Albania is definitely taking the lead on Human Rights Education in the region,” said Mary Shuttleworth, president of Youth for Human Rights Education. In Albania, TV and radio show appearances included Top Channel TV, TVSH, Vision Plus, Club FM and Club TV as well as Radio Tirana. They are now traveling to Kazakhstan then on to Nepal, Taiwan with the grand finale in Washington DC completing their 46,272 mile journey to promote human rights education. In the spirit of the United Nations International Human Rights Day 2015, “Human Rights 365,” the organization work toward making every day, 365 days of the year, a Human Rights Day. [post_title] => Human rights education tour makes Tirana stop [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => human-rights-education-tour-makes-tirana-stop [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-30 11:39:09 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-30 10:39:09 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120590 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120512 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-03-23 15:12:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-23 14:12:28 [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 23 - Albania will play home to Armenia this weekend in a decisive match for their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes. Albania currently rank third on Group I with 4 points, but one game in hand over group leaders Denmark, after a sensational win away to Portugal last September and a draw at home to favourites Denmark a month later. A drone incident and a fight over national symbols in the qualifier with Serbia last October punished both teams with Albania being handed a 3-0 loss and Serbia deducted 3 points. Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport is currently examining appeals by both Albania and Serbia after the UEFA appeals body confirmed the earlier decision of the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Italian coach Gianni De Biasi described the March 29 qualifier against Armenia as a decisive match and his most important since he took over as Albania manager in late 2011. “We will play to win. We are not under pressure, but we should not be euphoric. To me, this is the most important match as Albania's coach. It is a decisive match for us," De Biasi told reporters. Armenia have collected only one point in a home draw against Serbia in their first three qualifiers and rank bottom of Group I, level on points with Serbia, but have high class players such as midfielders Mkhitaryan who plays for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga. Albania has played Armenia three times previously but the records are all even with Albania having all won, drawn and lost. The sides' only competitive meetings came in 1998 World Cup qualifiers when they drew 1-1 in Tirana before Armenia won the return fixture 3-0 in Yerevan. More recently, they came together for a friendly in Tirana in August 2013, with Albania – under current coach Giovanni de Biasi – prevailing 2-0, Valdet Rama and Ergys Kaçe the scorers, says UEFA in the match background. The new match will be played at the newly reconstructed Elbasan Arena stadium in the central town of Elbasan on Sunday, March 29 at 18.00. 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 the Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. Nine group winners, the nine group runners-up 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. Albania's next qualifier will be away to Denmark in September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.   [post_title] => Albania host Armenia in decisive Euro 2016 qualifier [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-host-armenia-in-decisive-euro-2016-qualifier [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-23 15:12:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-23 14:12:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120512 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120498 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-03-20 15:19:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-20 14:19:51 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120499" align="alignright" width="300"]Tom Doshi (front) Frroku (middle) Tom Doshi (front), Mark Frroku (middle)[/caption] The two lawmakers are wanted on charges of fabricating the story of an assassination plot, according to the General Prosecutor's Office TIRANA, March 20 – Albania's General Prosecutor's Office has asked parliament for permission to arrest two lawmakers, Tom Doshi and Mark Frroku. Prosecutors believe they lied to law enforcement officials investigating claims by Doshi that he and another MP had been a target of assassination. In a statement, prosecutors said the two MPs are suspected of criminal offenses tied to filing false charges and making "false statements to prosecutors." The request to make the arrests comes following an intense investigation that started after Doshi claimed publicly that Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta had paid an assassin to murder Doshi and another MP, Mhill Fufi of the opposition Democratic Party. Doshi made the claims after he was expelled from the ruling Socialist Party's parliamentary group. He then said Frroku, another ruling coalition MP and a personal friend, was the one who had warned him of the plot. Frroku has publicly denied any involvement. The General Prosecutor's Office noted that “the investigation has found reasonable doubt” that Doshi “fabricated the story.” It added that there was no concrete and reliable proof that the plot to assassinate Doshi was real. The investigators have concluded that Doshi and Frroku made up the story with the help of Burim Bami, the would-be assassin who Doshi said had warned Frroku instead of carrying the attack. This is a web news update. More in-depth coverage on this topic: Prosecutors continue Doshi investigation, as opposition rally calls for Meta’s resignation Amid political drama, Socialists expel campaign financing baron [post_title] => Prosecutors seek parliament's permission to arrest Doshi, Frroku [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => prosecutors-seek-parliaments-permission-to-arrest-doshi-frroku [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-20 15:44:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-20 14:44:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120498 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120480 [post_author] => 68 [post_date] => 2015-03-20 12:33:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-20 11:33:46 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120486" align="alignright" width="400"]New Picture (1) Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri speaks at the Albania Oil, Gas and Energy 2015 Summit.[/caption] Minister Rama reconfirmed government's plans to complete the privatization of Albpetrol oil company after a failed tender in 2012, and make the free oil and gas blocks under Albpetrol's management available to foreign investors for exploration TIRANA, March 17 - The Albanian government has invited international investors to participate in the privatization of Albpetrol oil company and get involved in onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration. Speaking at an international energy summit in Tirana this week, Prime Minister Edi Rama described energy as one of the most important sources of Albania's growth at a time when the country is set to become a regional gas hub from the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe through Albania, Greece and Italy. Addressing investors in the two-day summit, many of whom shareholders in TAP, Prime Minister Rama reconfirmed government's plans to complete the privatization of Albpetrol oil company after a failed tender in 2012, and make the free oil and gas blocks under Albpetrol's management available to foreign investors for exploration. “This will the year of the completion of a prolonged privatization process in Albpetrol state company," said Rama, adding that international financial institutions were assisting with the company's financial assessment and privatization documentation. In its 2015-2017 national economic reform programme approved last January, government says it plans to restructure Albpetrol oil company, the biggest remaining state run company whose privatization in 2012 registered a spectacular failure after a fake Euro 850 million bid by an Albanian-led consortium. Government says it has set up a working group with technical assistance from the IFC, the World Bank's private sector lending arm, to study Albpetrol’s restructuring and identify its proper form of sale or a public-private partnership in a bid to increase production, employment and investment in the oil sector. The Prime Minister described Albpetrol as an atavistic and hybrid enterprise under state management during the past two decades of Albania's transition to a market economy. Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri announced government would soon initiate tender procedures for the exploration of the first three oil and gas blocks under concession contracts. Albania currently has 13 free onshore and offshore oil and gas block which are scheduled for concession. Foreign investors engaged in oil and gas exploration in Albania are exempted from the 20 percent VAT, can have their exploration stage extended from 5 to 7 years and engage in production from 25 to 30 years. Studies show Albania’s oil and gas reserves are estimated at 400 million tonnes, of which around 10 percent are easily extractable. Canada-based Bankers Petroleum which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield in south-western Albania and is the country’s largest foreign investor. Petromanas Energy, another Canada-based company and its Dutch partner Shell have recently made an important discovery from its Shpirag-2 well in Block 2-3, which covers an area of 3,450 square kilometres onshore south-central Albania.   [post_title] => Albania offers Albpetrol, oil blocks to foreign investors [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-offers-albpetrol-oil-blocks-to-foreign-investors [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-20 12:46:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-20 11:46:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120480 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120467 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-03-20 12:09:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-20 11:09:13 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120482" align="alignright" width="240"]Rita Hoffmann Rita Hoffmann[/caption] Interview with Rita Hoffmann, a member of a group of expats who recently held an exhibition as part of their continuing charity efforts A group of expats and members of the diplomatic community in Tirana recently opened an exhibition at the President's Office, working together with the country's first lady, Odeta Nishani. The group, already engaged in several charity projects, aimed to help people in need through the sale of the paintings and other works of art. The exhibition, "Expressing in Colors," had works from Ahouva Cohen, Rita Hoffmann, Betsy Ferries, Grace Darlington, Luisa Carver, Merilee Esplin, Nicole Graf and modeling with recycled materials by Isabel Tausch, according to the president's press office. Albanian First Lady Odeta Nishani expressed "Gratitude for their modest contribution, because the profits from the sales of a part of their works have gone to assist and aid people in need.” After the exhibition, Tirana Times caught up with one of the people who had work featured in the exhibition Rita Hoffmann, to talk to her about the exhibition and her impressions of Albania. Mrs. Hoffman is in Albania accompanying her husband, who serves as Germany's ambassador to Tirana. Can you tell us a little bit about how this exhibition came together and why? In a friendly conversation with the First Lady we talked about my passion for painting. When the First Lady saw some of my works she spontaneously suggested to present them at an event at the President’s Palace, which was most nice of her. I then told her about the group of friends with whom I paint once every week and that we are seven ladies -- after Ahouva has left Albania with her husband, the Israeli Ambassador, recently, we are now six -- with a great love for painting. I also told her that we all work in different techniques -- oil, acrylics, pastels, watercolors -- but that we all enjoy to be and to work together and to discuss about art, and that our teacher Luisa is having every once in a while an exhibition where paintings are sold, with the proceeds being donated to a charity. Other members of the group are also engaged in voluntary charity work. In the course of this conversation the idea was born to stage an exhibition of paintings of all members of the group and I am most grateful for this wonderful opportunity given to all of us by the First Lady. IMG_6553 (1)What did the exhibition feature? The exhibition presented 50 paintings of 7 painters, which were divided into 4 categories, namely pleine air, still life, figures and abstract, presenting all the techniques I mentioned earlier. More generally speaking I think the exhibition featured a great passion and love for art and the results of ongoing processes of learning how to express what you feel, what you want to show, and how you see things. A nice addition feature to the exhibition were fashions made of unconventional materials and discarded objects presented by most charming models. What was your role in the exhibition? As a member of the painting group I helped to organize the exhibition together with people of the office at the Institution of the President, who, I have to say, did a great job! How long have you been painting and what is your preferred style? Perhaps you will find this surprising -- and to tell you the truth I am myself still surprised about this -- but I started painting only less than 5 years ago, when we were on post in Geneva! At first, it was meant only as a past time hobby, to do something nice with a very dear friend in a real atelier with fellow artists and a maestro, but then I became really fascinated by painting. My favourite painters are the expressionists, I also like modern art, abstract paintings. It is hard to say, because there are so many styles I like. The way I paint and in a sense my style depends often on the mood I am in or on the exhibitions I have visited. P1020180 (1)What paintings were you featuring in the exhibition? There were some which are more in an expressionist style while others are abstract; the themes vary from still life to the head of a cow to park in Tirana to blue&red. You have now been in Albania for close to two years, how do you find the country and its people so far? I like Albania as a country very much, and what I like in particular are the very friendly people here. Everybody is so nice and helpful which makes it so easy for foreigners to feel welcome. I am also very impressed to see that Albanians have so much love and passion for art -- not only visual art, but especially also music -- and that there is so much talent here! As diplomats we have lived in quite a number of rather different places in the world -- Vienna, Windhoek/Namibia, London, Geneva, New York, Berlin -- and wherever possible my husband and I loved to go to the opera, to concerts, theaters, exhibitions, and so forth, so we were delighted so find out how much Albania has to offer in the cultural field! Is there anything else you would like to add? I very much wish the Albanians, especially the young people, that they can fully develop their talent and that they can receive the education and training necessary to achieve that. If people work hard enough I am confident many have the potential to be successful also outside their own country, as quite a number of outstanding examples demonstrate.     [post_title] => 'Expressing in colors' for a good cause [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expressing-in-colors-for-a-good-cause [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-20 12:33:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-20 11:33:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120467 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120462 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-03-20 11:47:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-20 10:47:41 [post_content] => TIRANA, March 19 - The Finance Ministry reported that it is trying to fulfill the financial obligations of verdicts against the state issued by the European Human Rights Court, where hundreds of Albanians have sued the government as a last resort after having their property and other rights violated. The cases won by Albanians at the court have mainly covered complaints on the property restitution or compensation. The ministry said they have already paid on the decision for 38 verdicts while two are still in the process. The government has planned to spend some 2 billion leks covering verdicts of the courts. The ministry said there are no overdue financial obligations left at this point. By law, if the government does not pay the money of the court's verdicts within three months, there is an interest rate added to the principal. The Albanian government has created an inter-ministerial working group to deal with such issues. The European Court of Human Rights is an international body established by the European Convention on Human Rights. It hears applications alleging that a contracting state has breached one or more of the human rights provisions concerning civil and political rights set out in the convention and its protocols. As a member of the Council of Europe, Albania has a legal obligation to comply with the verdicts. An application can be lodged by an individual, a group of individuals or one or more of the other contracting states. In addition to property rights, Albanians have used the court to fight extradition and to seek compensation over deaths where the state was perceived at fault. Most Albanians perceive the country's judicial system as corrupt, and often resort to launching appeals to the Strasbourg court to seek justice once they have exhausted all the judicial steps inside Albania.   [post_title] => Albania tries to cope with Strasbourg court verdicts [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-tries-to-cope-with-strasbourg-court-verdicts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-20 12:47:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-20 11:47:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120462 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120690 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-04-03 09:07:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:07:27 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120722" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS) Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS)[/caption] By DEWI VAN DE WEERD Dewi van de Weerd, the Kingdom of the Netherlands' ambassador to Albania, made these remarks at the Albanian Institute for International Studies’ European Forum, focusing on current developments within the EU, the upcoming Dutch EU presidency, the Western Balkans, Albania and EU enlargement policy.  Let me start with something significant. Albania has become a candidate member state to the EU. I would like to congratulate you with that status. The Netherlands is fully supportive of your European integration efforts. Albania belongs within the EU and the Netherlands stands ready to support the country in the accession process.
  1. I would first like to discuss some of the recent developments in the EU. Let’s zoom in at some of the plans of the new Commission.
  2. I would then like to focus on the Dutch position witin the EU, as we are preparing to take over the Presidency of the European Union in January next year.
  3. Let us, thirdly, have a look at the EU and the Western Balkans and where we are with the EU’s enlargement policy.
  4. In closing, I will come to the best part, Albania’s future within the EU.
  5. The EU today
There is a ring of unrest around Europe. The situation is much more serious then we have seen in the past decade. Not only does it lead to insecurity for many people, there are also immense streams of refugees. We cannot ignore them. It is in these uncertain times that the EU has to operate. Also within the Union we have been facing a severe economic crisis. Luckily in many member states the prospectives are better now. But the necessary austerity policies have also led to unrest and less support for Europe, as we all know. This led to less trust, not only between member states, but also within them. After elections last year the European Parliament has been renewed. A new Commission started, with a president, Claude Juncker, who was actually the preferred candidate of the European Parliament. My former minister, Frans Timmermans, who has visited Albania in the past, has left the Netherlands to become vice-president of the Commission in Brussels. The new Commission has presented its strategic agenda. This agenda sets out five priorities that will guide the Union’s work over the next five years:
  1. a Union of jobs, growth and competitiveness;
  2. a Union that empowers and protects all its citizens;
  3. towards an Energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy. We want less dependence on energy suppliers that violate human rights. And with regard to climate we are late, it really is 5 to 12;
  4. a Union of freedom, security and justice, that focuses on solidarity and
  5. the Union as a strong global actor.
The agenda also considers how EU policy should be shaped and implemented. Subsidiarity and proportionality are key principles in this process: the Union should concentrate on areas where it can make a difference. It has to refrain from taking action where the member states can do that themselves. National parliaments should be more involved. What does this actually mean? Let me give you an example. It means that we should not ask Brussels to look at the size and shape of, for instance, bottles for olive oil. There is no added value. But we will count on Europe to set health and food safety standards.
  1. Focus of a small - or rather - medium sized member state
The Dutch position is well reflected in the EU’s strategic agenda. We advocate a Union that focuses on the essentials, on the main things, not on details. A Union that increases its added value for Europe’s citizens and companies. We think the EU should reduce the administrative burden. For example, it should be possible for a young IT specialist from let’s say Germany to sell stuff from his webshop in the Netherlands, without too many regulations, paperwork, etc.  We have to come to one digital market. We have presented the programme for our EU Presidency next year, I brought it with me, please take a copy if you like. I would like to mention our focus area’s: - We think one of the key tasks is to create jobs and economic growth, with a focus on innovation and decent work. - The EU, with the Netherlands as one of its founding states, was intended as a legal community, based on shared values, aimed at furthering common interests. We need to continue to listen to our citizens and make sure they still recognize themselves in this European idea. We need to make their voices heard, have debates, reach out for their ideas. - We think the EU will have to further strengthen its common foreign and security policy. We believe in an integrated approach, more defense cooperation, between member states, but also with NATO and other allies. We will now need to give priority to areas south and east of the EU. If you would ask the question where are Europe’s borders? The answer is they are there where its values are disputed most. - The rule of law is one of those core values that needs to be respected in each member state. I would like to zoom in on this topic. It can be viewed from two perspectives: that of the citizen and that of member states’ cooperation within the EU. The core principle of European citizenship is that nationals of one member state who are in another member state enjoy the same rights as the nationals of the latter member state. So that everyone has access to the EU’s freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. These freedoms can only be guaranteed if the rule of law functions effectively in all member states. Harmonised legislation creates a level playing field. It positively influences companies working in different member states, so that they know what kind of legislation to expect. It is not only the existence of this legislation, but also to know that it will be enforced, which makes the difference. Lastly, it is essential for the credibility of the external policy of the EU and the member states that the member states themselves are governed by the rule of law. Coherence is needed between external and internal human rights policies. Before arriving here, I headed our human rights team in The Hague. We promote equal rights for women, for LGBT or press freedom, in countries like Zimbabwe or Russia. But as Europeans we cannot point fingers to others, when human rights are not being respected within our own borders. We therefore need to ensure that member states may hold another member state or even a candidate country to account. Even within the Union, we are not there yet. Look at Hungary for instance. There is progress in this field though. This year member states will start talks assessing the state of their national rule of law, monitored by the Commission. This has been and will remain high on the Dutch agenda. We think rule of law should not only be regarded as a formal structure. Cultural factors are important too. Authorities should act in the spirit of the rule of law, that should indeed be the culture. Legal proceedings, complaint procedures, etcetera are not enough. The decisive factor is the operating culture among state agencies and officials who play a key role in the rule of law. Strengthening the rule of law also depends on vigilance of and respect for the independence of the judiciary. Politicians and others in positions of authority, such as senior judges and police chiefs, should set a good example.
  1. EU Enlargement: On the road
So looking at what Europe is, we can say, and I quote my ex-minister Timmermans, that Europe is a way of life, a way of thinking. All European states have a mix of the same ingredients of freedoms and human rights and respect for rule of law, be it in different compositions. It is not something that is easy to achieve, or to maintain, like we see at the moment. It requires a great deal of political, financial and social investment. But there is a high return, and this is clearly seen by the countries in the Balkans. Despite calls for “less Europe”, due maybe to a bit too rapid expansion of the Union in the past, there are also calls for “more Europe”. With Croatia joining the EU, opening of negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia, the candidate status granted to Albania and the Kosovo-Serbia rapprochement – we have indeed seen a positive trend for the Western Balkans during 2013 – 2014. The whole of the Western Balkans has an accession perspective and rightly so. These countries are part of Europe and should eventually join the Union. But enlargement of the EU is not self-evident these days, just as is the support for it. Critics and sceptics are on the rise. This trend can only be countered through arguments and through action. Ultimately, support for enlargement can only be maintained by a rigorous process, in which strict conditions are leading. The current focus in the enlargement process on rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, has done just that. It has put what is the essence of the EU into the heart of the accession process. It is good to see that the countries in the Western Balkans are taking up this challenge and are increasing their efforts on these fundamental issues. The EU and its member states want to assist countries in the Western Balkans to meet the conditions. This is why the Netherlands has devoted its bilateral assistance in the Western Balkans almost entirely to the rule of law. We have just started a regional rule of law pilot, with experts in all our embassies throughout the Balkans. Albania is playing an active role in the region. At the same time it is clear that sensitivities with regard to regional cooperation remain, especially concerning Serbia and Kosovo. We think it is important that all parties are aware of this and avoid creating misunderstandings. Good neighbourly relations are an important aspect of the accession process in all Western Balkan countries. We also need to realise that the EU we see today, is not the EU the countries in the Western Balkans will join in time. The Union is changing rapidly, especially with respect to economic governance. Look at, for example, at the banking sector. Accession countries need to also be prepared for the economic governance demands that will be put on them as soon as they join the Union. The EU needs to help out there too, that is why improving economic governance is one of the priorities for Albania. This also implies assisting acceding countries to improve and strengthen their capacities, for example in statistics. The Netherlands has been asked to look into energy efficiency and to see if our energy regulator can work with his Albanian counterpart. Following Croatia’s accession in 2013, it is not expected that new member states will be joining the EU soon. The countries of the Western Balkans all have a genuine prospect of EU accession – their integration in the EU will contribute to regional and European stability – but they are responsible for determining the pace of their accession.
  1. Albania and its future in the EU: It takes two to tango
The Netherlands is supportive of Albania’s European integration efforts. Yesterday and today, minister Bushati and minister Gjiknuri are visiting the Netherlands. They had lunch with our minister of foreign affairs Koenders and they met our economic affairs minister, Kamp. The granting of candidate country status in June is an important milestone, both for the country and for the government. It is a deserved recognition of the progress that has been made so far. Great to see that there is so much public support for the EU here, 91 percent. We have a lot in common. The Netherlands sincerely appreciates that Albania is a NATO member and a country that fully aligns itself with the common foreign and security policy of the EU, especially as the current geopolitical situation is in flux. Both the Netherlands and Albania are now members of the UN’s Human Rights Council. As like minded countries we can work together on human rights issues, such as more political participation of women or ending violence against women. The Netherlands is a candidate for the UN Security Council, and so is Albania. Getting back to the EU, we think that the EU candidate status means reforms here need to be stepped up. The merging of municipalities through the local territory reform is a good start. Hopefully this will contribute to combating corruption. We believe that justice reform should provide for a new system that Albanians in daily life will be able to trust. This is essential to progress: a more reliable justice sector will attract more foreign investment. Public administration reform and progress in media digitization are necessary and welcomed. I would like to stress again the importance of including Albanian citizens in decision making. We will continue to support that. The Netherlands has been critical of Albania’s readiness for the candidate status in the past. And we still are. Please allow me to mention some bottlenecks that have to be tackled from the Dutch perspective: The proper functioning of political dialogue, especially where it belongs, in parliament. Full or partial boycott of parliament and extreme polarisation is not helpful. Both the government and opposition have their own responsibility in making cooperation work. It struck me that recent research showed the trust of the Albanian people in their political parties is at 15 percent, that is very low. Improving the functioning and independence of the judiciary is crucial. Why is the High Council of Justice not participating in the justice reform? Ensure that the fight against corruption does not limit itself to small fish, but equally focusses on large-scale corruption. There has been an impressive number of 4300 complaints on the new e-portal. But I am actually more interested in the number of cases that will get a thorough follow-up. The freedom and independence of the media needs improvement. It is clear that a lot of work remains to be done before the opening of negotiations could realistically come into sight. Since the start of the enlargement policies in 1993 the Netherlands has taken an approach to assess progress on the enlargement agenda through a method which we call “strict and fair”. What does this mean? Strict means that we take the starting point of the ‘acquis’ serious. The acquis sets out the basic principles of the EU and the Copenhagen criteria stipulate the minimum conditions that need to be fulfilled before a new country can become a member of the EU. These are: Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; The ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. In the strict and fair approach ‘fair’ means that the EU and the member states are prepared to help candidate countries in fulfilling the minimum conditions of the Copenhagen criteria. We are, for example, looking into the request to assist Albania with setting up its negotiation teams. Dutch funds are used to support Albania in the field of the judiciary, human rights and the rule of law. Some examples of these projects are: Training of police on diversity and how to deal with domestic violence, Improving the implementation of e-procurement procedures leading to reduction of corruption, increase of transparency and competitiveness among businesses/economic operators Drafting of the Whistleblowers Protection Law. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end with a quote by Erasmus, he was a famous Dutch philosopher and one of the founding fathers of the concept of Europe. “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; And then there are those who turn one into the other.” I have set my hopes on a dynamic young generation of Albanians to do just that. * The title of this op-ed has been written by Tirana Times.   [post_title] => Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => op-ed-the-netherlands-remains-critical-but-fully-supports-albanias-european-integration-efforts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-03 09:32:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:32:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120690 [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? 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