“Our collective strength comes from our shared values”

“Our collective strength comes from our shared values”

Leyla Moses-Ones As I begin these remarks, I want to take you back to April 4, 1949, the day the United States formally tied its safety and security to that of Europe for the first time.  Before the signing ceremony,

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Editorial: 10 years of NATO: the membership that changed Albania’s path for the better course

Editorial: 10 years of NATO: the membership that changed Albania’s path for the better course

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL One could not overestimate and overvalue the importance, both symbolic and real, of Albania’s membership to NATO even if they tried. After five decades of the most aggressive and absurd isolationism practiced by the Stalinist regime of

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President Meta: “Russian influence exists, but it’s not Albania’s biggest problem”

President Meta: “Russian influence exists, but it’s not Albania’s biggest problem”

TIRANA, March. 19 – Albanian President Ilir Meta also reacted to the latest leaked State Intelligence Service report from last week, which warned of efforts to increase Russian influence in the country during this last year. Asked whether he is

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Editorial: “Russians at the gate”

Editorial: “Russians at the gate”

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL It was supposed to be a closed doors, confidential briefing of the National Security Commission of the Parliament by the Intelligence Services. Yet the report delivered by Director Bendo very conveniently was leaked whole to the government

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Editorial: Making Fools of Themselves: Experimenting in Fake Oppositions

Editorial: Making Fools of Themselves: Experimenting in Fake Oppositions

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  In the beginning of the 90s, the crumbling communist regime foreseeing its fate made a last ridiculous attempt to salvage its wrecks by prompting the first fake opposition in Albania. They put the Women’s and Youth organizations

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Albanians make up second biggest group to gain EU citizenships in 2017

Albanians make up second biggest group to gain EU citizenships in 2017

TIRANA, Mar. 7 – During 2017, 58,900 Albanians were granted EU citizenship, 97 percent of which coming from Greece or Italy, according to statistics published on Wednesday by Eurostat. Although the number of acquired citizenships did fall from the year

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Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss

Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There is only one thing worse than a full blown democratic crisis and that is ignoring it, normalizing the current state of affairs as just an administrative glitch with some teargas protest flare. Any doctor will tell

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Concerns mount over tense political situation ahead of peak tourist season

Concerns mount over tense political situation ahead of peak tourist season

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Feb. 26 – At a time when political tension has escalated after the main two opposition parties abandoned their MP mandates in a quite unprecedented move and plan nationwide protests over demands for a caretaker government

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Editorial: Negative stability is a step into the dark

Editorial: Negative stability is a step into the dark

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The latest political developments in Albania, including the decision of opposition parties MPs to give relinquish their mandates and therefore be no longer representatives in the Parliament as well as the ongoing protests, have started a new

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Kosovo’s ban on Serbian imports not enough to save Albanian exports from new decline

Kosovo’s ban on Serbian imports not enough to save Albanian exports from new decline

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Feb. 18 – Albania was unable to compensate lack of electricity exports with higher exports to neighboring Kosovo and continue taking advantage of a Kosovo-Serbia trade war following a good start in the first couple of

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                    [post_content] => Leyla Moses-Ones

As I begin these remarks, I want to take you back to April 4, 1949, the day the United States formally tied its safety and security to that of Europe for the first time.  Before the signing ceremony, President Harry Truman stood beside Secretary of State Dean Acheson and outlined what the pact was about – “a shield against aggression that would enable governments to concentrate on achieving a fuller, happier existence for their citizens.” That remains the collective aspiration of the members of the NATO Alliance.

For 70 years, NATO has helped to create the most secure, stable, and prosperous period in its members’ history.  From deterring the Soviet Union during the Cold War to countering the hybrid threats that confront us today, NATO Allies have stood together to protect our people and defend the values we believe in.  United as one, we have formed the most successful alliance in history. This is our legacy as NATO Allies. This is the legacy we must continue to build going forward.

The U.S. commitment to NATO is absolute.  The members of NATO are our Allies of first resort.  We have stood together – and our soldiers have fought and died together – in operations as far from NATO’s borders as Afghanistan, where NATO has fought for more than a decade.  The United States is better able to address — politically and militarily — global threats to our shared values and interests because of the NATO alliance. During the last 70 years, NATO’s only Article 5 action has been in support of the United States following the 9/11 attacks.

We have achieved great success over the past 70 years, but our work is not done.  Russia is determined to undermine our democratic institutions and sew divisions among us and within our nations.  Russian hybrid threats aimed at our democracies have included nerve agent attacks and malicious cyber activities. It has invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine and Georgia, violating those countries’ sovereignty.  Russia has also been in material breach of the INF treaty, which erodes the foundation of effective arms control and Euro-Atlantic security.

Russia is one threat, but not the only threat.  North Korea and Iran, led by their rogue regimes, threaten to upset the world order through their dangerous tactics.  And terrorism remains a constant and pervasive threat to our alliance. NATO is as important to our security today as at any time in our 70-year history.

In the face of these challenges, the United States remains committed to the principle that we, as NATO Allies, will always be stronger united as one.  NATO is a military alliance, but our collective strength comes from our shared values. It comes from our shared commitment to the rights and responsibilities inherent to our democracies, such as the personal freedoms we enjoy and the integrity and transparency of the governments that represent us.  These are our greatest strengths. These are the values and principles we stand for and defend.

To build on that strength, the United States remains committed to expanding NATO membership.  We must keep NATO’s doors open for new members who share our values and our promise of collective defense.  Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has added 13 new members. The United States strongly supports NATO membership for North Macedonia as the 30th Ally.  Each new Ally has strengthened NATO’s collective defense and ability to safeguard our peace and prosperity.

For ten years, Albania has made our Alliance stronger through its commitment of troops and resources to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq, among several other missions.  It commits 3.9 percent of its military forces to NATO activities, representing the second-largest per capita troop contribution in the alliance. And Albania will continue to make the alliance stronger through NATO’s $58 million investment to modernize the Kucova Air Base to boost air supply operations, logistics support, air policing, training, and exercises.  Albania’s outsized role in the alliance is an example for all Ally nations.

As Albania’s role in NATO grows, so will its responsibility to make continued progress on democratic reforms.  These reforms are fundamental to the values our alliance defends, and are central to Albania’s bid to join the European Union.  Progress must continue to improve the rule of law, root out corruption and organized crime, and create a robust economy that is free and fair for everyone.  The good news is that Albania is headed in the right direction, even if there is still work to do. Justice reform, for example, is still on track and will soon bring Albanians the honest and transparent judicial system they deserve.  To anyone who says justice reform is compromised or failing, my message to you is this: You are wrong.

The United States remains committed to the pledge all Allies made to share the financial burden of NATO membership.  In 2014, all NATO Allies agreed to spend at least two percent of GDP on defense and to invest at least 20 percent of that spending on major equipment by 2024.  Doing so keeps our military forces strong, our equipment modern, and our alliance agile as we counter threats together. The pledge we made is a pledge we must all keep.

And Albania is working hard to keep this pledge despite many other priorities.  In 2017, it made its first significant increase in defense spending – a first since it joined the alliance in 2009.  Now, and in the coming years, Albania must meet its agreed upon annual defense spending targets to be on track to fulfill its 2024 commitment.  The United States applauds Albania for its commitment to NATO burden-sharing and supports its continued efforts through 2024.

As NATO Allies, we must continue to invest in national defense, grow and modernize our military capabilities, and contribute to NATO’s efforts to promote the safety and security of our citizens.  We are in this together. Working together, we will be stronger and better equipped to protect our shared peace and prosperity long into the future.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

One could not overestimate and overvalue the importance, both symbolic and real, of Albania’s membership to NATO even if they tried. After five decades of the most aggressive and absurd isolationism practiced by the Stalinist regime of Hoxha, Albania needed desperately to reclaim its position among the members of the Western world, to be integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures, to be anchored in the part of the world that aspires and works constantly at reaching the best standards of democracy, human rights and development.

When Albania, a country so communist that it shunned the Warsaw pact for not being enough, officially was invited to become part of NATO, the country’s history took an entirely new direction. Another genuine perspective opened up for Albanian young generations who could now be born and grow up in liberty and safety due to the Alliance’s promise of peace and security.

Becoming a NATO member state signaled the ultimate departure with the legacy of the communist regime, significantly improving the image of Albania, increasing its safety and openness to the world, consolidating its strategic profile as a security exporter in the entire region of the Balkans.

Now a decade later, Albania has a track record of having participated in multiple joint peace missions and operations, of having performed well with its modest presence but meaningful symbolism. Sadly it has also paid a price that comes with the engagement to provide security for more than just its own: by losing the hero Feti Vogli in Afghanistan. His sacrifice and the sacrifice of all the Albanian soldiers, now working side by side with their colleagues for all over the world within the umbrella of NATO, is one that should be remembered and honored every day and more so in this special anniversary.

However this is a dual moment of celebration and of reflection. Albania has a lot of work to do to comply with the general profile of a worthy member state. Whereas the standards in the army are being slowly but consistently improved with international assistance, the same cannot unfortunately be said about the democratic and governance standards. In this key 10th year anniversary, ironically Albania finds itself in one of the most critical junctures when it comes to the genuine quality of its democratic system and institutions. NATO membership is both a privilege and a responsibility to never let the guard down but work consistently into reaching the parameters of the democratic world.   

In times when the transAtlantic relations are in a new challenging and controversial phase and when the role and future of NATO as a peace alliance is being debated it is worthy to remember the story of a small country like Albania and its path. This example will shed new light on the strategic role and NATO had and still has in bringing together a community of states that share values and the unique valuable commitment to guard each other’s backs.

 

 

*The picture depicts the elementary school named after Albanian hero Feti Vogli in his home village.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March. 19 - Albanian President Ilir Meta also reacted to the latest leaked State Intelligence Service report from last week, which warned of efforts to increase Russian influence in the country during this last year.

Asked whether he is aware of the Russian risks the SHISH report mentioned, Meta said he is, but that he does not consider them a pressing problem for Albania at the moment.

“We are aware of the often unfortunately toxic effects of Russia in our region, but I do not believe that this is a problem in the case of Albania. We would like Russia to respect the choice of all the region’s countries to become integrated into the European Union and NATO, but it is its right to react differently. However, we should not turn the Russian risk into the old Anglo-American risk in order to conceal the real causes of this constitutional, political, moral representation crisis that are created by us and require reflection by everyone,” Meta said.

Meta’s stand on the Russian risk was backed by a number of prominent Albanian scholars and international relations and foreign affairs experts who were asked by Tirana Times last week whether the risks of increased Russian influence are real and dangerous. 

“Albania shares the most pro-European and pro-US public opinion in the region. This public opinion rejects any political approaches to Russia. Moscow has adapted to this reality. I believe that the information provided by the Albanian intelligence chief in the Parliamentary Security Commission has been credited with the fact that Russia is financing ovulatory media and portals in our country,” Besnik Mustafaj, President of the Council of Ambassadors and former minister of foreign affairs, told Tirana Times.

Another former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aldo Bumci, also said that this Russian influence should at least not be viewed in the traditional manner, although the Albanian government does manifest traits of the Russian government model called Putinism.

“Albanians are by far the most pro-Western, pro-American and pro-European people in the region. So Russian influence cannot be traced in the classical forms it manifests itself in other neighboring countries,” Bumci said.

A similar opinion was communicated by former minister of foreign affairs Arta Dade.

“The failed efforts in Montenegro, in Northern Macedonia and recently even with Greek  authorities in the case of implementation of Prespa Agreement is indicative of the fact that even in the countries where Russia is certain to have support in pro-Russian population or political segments or religion affiliation proves that the euro-Atlantic agenda is far stronger,” Dade told Tirana Times.

Last week, the head of the State Intelligence Service (SHISH) Helidon Bendo is reported to have told the Parliamentary Commission for National Security on Monday there have been efforts to increase Russian influence in Albania. 

This was reported by Top Channel from an unknown source.

“Data analysis from 2018 points to an increase efforts from Russia to further extend its influence in the country,” Bendo was reported to have said without giving details on the actors official Moscow is allegedly using to increase its influence.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

It was supposed to be a closed doors, confidential briefing of the National Security Commission of the Parliament by the Intelligence Services. Yet the report delivered by Director Bendo very conveniently was leaked whole to the government friendly media and showcased all over the online world. The Russians are coming! Reportedly the attempts of Russia to influence Albania at least in the political sphere have intensified and are now considered a real threat.

This message is awkwardly timely and in line with the now clearly defined effort of the majority to paint an outside enemy- loathed by the public- and portray a conspiracy of collusion between this enemy of the European future of Albania and the current opposition. The current situation of the Albanian opposition which has been at loggerheads with the international community over the issue of renouncing the mandates has been helping this narrative take hold. However these attempts date earlier both to the Prime Minister’s persistence to use outside influences as bait for more attention from western powers as well as the majority’s key figure of accusing the leadership of the Democratic Party of being paid by the Russians and working with Russian lobbyists.

More recently there have been also accusations that foreign bloggers working in Albania are working for Russian state-sponsored media to assist the cause of the opposition.

First and foremost it is deeply concerning that an institution such as the Intelligence Services can play into the majority game. This institution which holds a very delicate responsibility and should display the outmost seriousness and professionalism, integrity and secrecy, risk its entire legitimacy and influence by being misused in such a way. The same is valid and even worse for the misuse of the Parliament to host such ridiculous shows. If it was the MPs who betrayed the confidentiality of the Intelligence services they should be held responsible over this transgression.  That the media is routinely used for such masquerades is sadly no news.

It is very clear to all that the Democratic Party (DP) just as all other political parties have many sins to account for. However anti-Westerness is not one of them. This party has been primarily and consistently in favor of an open approach, seeking to further integration, achieving NATO membership and visa liberalization during its governance. If one is to look into the past, it is the Socialist Party which at least in its beginnings had many reservations, about NTAO and the EU. They have had to overcome that mentality. The DP had nothing to overcome in the first place.

Inventing this enemy and naming it ‘Russia’ for Albania is an exercise in futile dark humor. Though access points of influence exist in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro they rely on genuine grassroots support linked to many factors including religious and ethnic fraternity. Albania is a unique case in which all the conditions are set for there to be no way of swaying popular and political support to Russia in the short and medium term.

The only thing at the gates of Albania is the Russian model applied elsewhere as well, of an intertwining of authoritative power with a small group of corrupt oligarchs, virtually unchallenged by any media and strangely accommodated by others in the international arena in the name of stability.   

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

In the beginning of the 90s, the crumbling communist regime foreseeing its fate made a last ridiculous attempt to salvage its wrecks by prompting the first fake opposition in Albania. They put the Women’s and Youth organizations together with the so called Professional Unions, all appendixes of the communist Labor Party, in the parliament and tried to charade them as pluralism. This had been so far a unique case of fake opposition experimenting in Albania, perhaps now forgotten and in retrospective painfully ridiculous but at the time aggravating and foretelling.

The most current attempt is made now, more than 25 years after the fall of communism, in a NATO member state aspiring to join the EU. It is equally ridiculous, painful and infuriating. After the MPs of the opposition, both the Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration, “burned” their mandates by resigning, the electoral system allows the next candidates in the list presented during the elections to take up their space. This is a classic “entry from hell” edition since the political party leaders, being more or less aware of how many MPs they are going to get for each district, fill up the last places in the list with all sorts of characters. These include people with dubious backgrounds, questionable education levels and very often colorful personalities and not in the good sense.

Indeed this last experiment in “mending the facade of democracy” is very telling about the deficiencies of the electoral system. The existing system with all its authoritativeness and arbitrary nature opens up loopholes and spaces for these kind of sad scenarios to materialize in all their repulsive nature. The political leaders that lament its outcomes should have drawn the lesson long ago and changed it.

Out of the new generation of the Albanians opposition taking seat in the Parliament this week, it is enough to examine one character that illustrates perfectly the scandalous undesired outcome of this situation: a former turbo folk singer that will make journalists laugh in every outing given his “interesting” use of Albanian language. To be fair he does not fare worse than many existing or even staying colleagues, whose professional and articulation credentials are also appalling. The main problem is again the lack of representativeness than he and the others who join in an almost clandestine way, and who clearly do not represent the parties under which logos they were chosen and out of which they are thrown away for not complying with the boycott decision.

That these new MPs, are loudly applauded by the majority during their procedure of swearing in, is another act of ridiculous arrogance and perfidious indifference to the crisis situation out of the Assembly walls. This meaningless applause is revealing not only of the harsh insensitivity of the majority towards the gravity of the situation but also of their own lack of character and their submission to the authoritative mentality.

The staged appearance of a fake opposition did not solve anything in the 90s. If anything it exacerbated the revolt of the other side and it ultimately brought lots of shame on the ones who tried it. The fake opposition of the year 2019 has no better chance.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 7 - During 2017, 58,900 Albanians were granted EU citizenship, 97 percent of which coming from Greece or Italy, according to statistics published on Wednesday by Eurostat.

Although the number of acquired citizenships did fall from the year before by 13 percent, the year which marked a record number of 67,500 citizenships granted, Albanians still make up the second biggest group in terms of acquired citizenships, coming after Moroccans.

During 2017, 67,900 Moroccans were granted citizenship, 83 percent of which in France, Spain or Italy. 

In total, according to Eurostat, in 2017, about 825,000 people were granted citizenship in a member state of the European Union, falling from 995,000 in 2016 and 841,000 in 2015.

After Albania and Morocco, India came in third place (31,600  people, with over 53 percent gaining British citizenship), Turkey (29,900, over 50 percent gained German citizenship), Romania (25,000, 32 percent gained Italian citizenship), Pakistan (23, 100, 45 percent gained British citizenship), Poland (22,000, 63 percent gained UK or German citizenship) and Brazil (21,600, 74 percent gained Italian or Portuguese citizenship).

Moroccans, Albanians, Indians, Turks, Romanians, Pakistanis, Poles and Brazilians represented together about a third (34%) of the total number of persons who acquired citizenship of an EU Member State in 2017. Romanians (25 000 persons), Poles (22 000) and Britons (15 000) were the three largest groups of EU citizens acquiring citizenship of another EU Member State. 

The third EU member state that granted Albanians most citizenships in 2017 was Belgium

According to these statistics, the nationalities issued during 2017 in Greece were three percent higher than the previous year.

In June 2015, the Greek government voted in an extensive interpartisan consensus to pass a law which grants Greek nationality to children having been born and raised in the country. After the law came into implementation in 2016, 66 thousand youths received the Greek citizenship according to data issued by the country.
Analysts evaluate that a great many number of Albanians living in Greece for many years have aimed at a citizenship so they can have a EU passport. 

Thus, when the Greek economy was gripped in a crisis, these people had it easier to travel to the UK and other EU countries. 
In these countries Albanian migrants were easily granted a work permit and they have also gained lower education tariffs for their children, the same laws which apply for EU citizens. In many EU countries, education tariffs are lower for EU citizens than for internationals, and especially students coming from the Western Balkans. 
The vast majority of Albanians in Greece is estimated to be between 60–65 percent of the total number of immigrants in Greece. According to official data from 2016, there are 577 thousand legal Albanian migrants in Greece. They form the largest migrant group in Greece, but most of them don't want to be noticed as Albanian.

Recent INSTAT data from 2002 until 2017, 390,899 Albanians have received citizenship from one EU member state. INSTAT claims that 14 percent of Albanians living within the country own an EU passport. The highest number of passports issued to Albanians through the years again comes from Greece and Italy, as aforementioned, regarding the high number of Albanian migrants living there. These two countries have issued 90,9 percent of the passports to Albanian migrants, 180 thousand from Greece and 175,6 thousand from Italy. 
The other countries that have given EU passports to Albanian migrants as of periods 2002-2017 are United Kingdom with 11,468 passports, Germany with 6,139, Belgium with 5,582, France with 3,746, etc..

 
                    [post_title] => Albanians make up second biggest group to gain EU citizenships in 2017 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-01 11:11:10
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

There is only one thing worse than a full blown democratic crisis and that is ignoring it, normalizing the current state of affairs as just an administrative glitch with some teargas protest flare.

Any doctor will tell that a right diagnosis is the first step for treatment. They might rightly add that the diagnosis needs to be timely. If a patient loses time, pretends that symptoms are temporary and not serious he will inch towards the inevitable much sooner leaving the doctors helpless. What is happening now in Albania is the revelation of all the grave symptoms created by the failure of the governance model and the crumbling facade of the democracy.

Yet many actors of the society go on acting as if things are completely normal, as if there are only some small surmountable obstacles to political life. The same is valid for most of the international community that seems to have directed its criticism only to one side. One can only shrug at the irony of these declarations claiming that the crisis is ruining Albania’s image and touristic potential when the house is indeed on fire.

Albania is now in the midst of a double representation and institutional vacuum: it has no Constitutional Court and no formal opposition in the Parliament. Even the most basic checks and balances that guarantee the monitoring of executive power and keeping it within the limits of the democratic game are missing. The gap leaves the entire system in a frightening disarray.

For as much as the majority and the Prime Minister continue the mantra of “keeping the contract with the electorate” and the international community plays at being a moderator for the sake of ‘negotiations’ or ‘image related issues’ or the simple preservation of stability,  then what we have is a normalization of a situation that is far from being acceptable. It seems like an effort to make a nightmare look tolerable.

Albanian democracy needs a strategic rethinking and reestablishment of the most basic rules of the game starting with the process of elections which the genesis of all evil that follows. It further needs the safekeeping of institutional checks and balances and their protection from the aggressive and blind show of force of majorities. It needs a real chance of giving each indispensable actor in the system its role to play with responsibility and vision.

Downplaying the seriousness and scope of the crisis, ignoring the powerful messages that come from the popular and political discontent might serve short term political goals and lengthen the shelf life of the already damaged facades. It can only go so far as to maintain a fragile negative stability. However borrowing the opening metaphor right now it seems as if a team of doctors were to rest in complete indifference while their patient sleep walks into an abyss.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A sleep walking patient aiming for the abyss
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                    [post_date] => 2019-02-26 12:54:56
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Feb. 26 – At a time when political tension has escalated after the main two opposition parties abandoned their MP mandates in a quite unprecedented move and plan nationwide protests over demands for a caretaker government and early general elections over alleged vote rigging and crime links by the ruling Socialists, local experts predict the emerging travel and tourism industry could be the country’s hardest hit.

The travel and tourism industry has been one of the main drivers of Albania’s economic growth during the past few years with its impact on the GDP, employment and wider effects from investments, the supply chain and induced income on constant growth, although still largely summer and coastal-based.

Reactions by travel experts follow earlier concerns expressed by the country’s main foreign and Albanian business associations over the negative effects that an escalation of political conflict could have for the emerging Albanian economy in huge need of foreign direct investment to create decent employment at home and curb a new migration trend that has been hitting the country.

The main center right opposition Democratic and its main ally, the Socialist Movement for Integration, held on Feb. 16 a large anti-government rally that turned violent amid calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama, making international headlines.

The opposition demands a caretaker government that would handle both planned June 30 local elections and early general elections on the same day on allegations of vote rigging by the ruling majority whom they accuse of links to organized crime and destroying the economy through multi-million euro public private partnerships awarded to major Albanian businessmen whom they call oligarchs.

While the ruling Socialists already have a comfortable more than 70 MPs in the 140-seat Parliament, a boycott of the upcoming local elections by the main opposition parties could escalate political tensions in the country with a series of negative effects on the Albanian economy which even without a political deadlock is already expected to slow down this year.

 

Travel experts worried

Travel experts say a potential escalation of political tension and violence during protests has huge negative effects in a sensitive sector such as tourism, directly affecting the number of bookings ahead of the peak tourist season.

Albanian travel expert Kliton Gerxhani says that as an emerging tourist destination Albania still has an image problem and that protests in the small country that is considered Europe's last secret, don't have the same impact such as established and leading destinations like France where ‘Yellow Vest’ protests have been going on for months.

"There is no comparison between the image of France and the image of Albania. People will go and visit France as soon as something calms down. There was terrorism in France and a lot of turmoil but yet everybody is going there. Even under normal circumstances, people look at us with a lot of skepticism and think twice about coming because we are a closed country with a lot of problems,” Gerxhani, a travel expert who heads the Albanian Tour Operators Association, has told a local TV.

According to him, effects for the local tourism industry that overwhelmingly relies on summer could be detrimental in case of losing a new segment such as Northern, Central and East European tourists visiting the country in larger numbers during the past few years.

“In Albania, there are hotels and restaurants who only work for two or three months to handle the whole year and stripping them of those golden months you practically close them down because they are seasonal businesses,” says Gerxhani, suggesting the Albanian opposition should follow the example of opposition parties in Serbia where anti-government rallies have been peaceful.

At a time when Albanian Adriatic and Ionian destinations have extended their market to also attract Scandinavian, Polish, German and former Soviet Union countries and the total number of annual tourists is estimated to have exceeded 5 million, Gerxhani says the government should pay more attention to help increase quality through public investment.

“The increase in interest by tourists from central and Eastern Europe requires improving quality standards and more training in the sector and the government support amid rising numbers is almost inexistent,” says Gerxhani.

Zak Topuzi, another tourism expert, says neighboring countries with an earlier tradition in the tourism industry offer a better ratio between quality and price and the situation is also affecting the number of Kosovo tourists, who dominate tourists to the country in a segment that also includes ethnic Albanians from other regional countries and the Albanian Diaspora and is often referred to as ‘patriotic tourism’.

"In addition, signals of a departure of Polish and Nordic tourists are placing our tourism industry in difficulty. It's high time we adopt new strategies and development paths. We should stop boasting about the number of tourists which is nevertheless questionable,” says Topuzi.

The travel and tourism industry has grown to become one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy, officially generating €1.7 billion, some 12 percent of the country’s GDP, from more than 5 million tourists in 2017.

Tax incentives offered by the government have led to a series of under-construction tourist resorts, but a long-standing property issue continues to keep foreign investors away.

 

Central bank, investors worried

A potential escalation of the political crisis has also worried the country’s central bank and several foreign and Albanian business representatives in the country.

“Every political crisis or political instability would also have its effects on the economy. As a central bank we are interested in and appeal for constant political stability so that the economy, reforms and economic growth prospects can be successful,” Albania’s central bank governor Gent Sejko recently said.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Albania and the Konfindustria business association representing some of the country’s main foreign and local investors have earlier warned political instability would negatively affect the country’s business climate and hold back new investment.

International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund expect the Albanian economy to slow down to 3.5 to 3.7 percent this year after hitting a decade-high of 4.2 percent in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Albanian government is optimistic growth with slightly pick up to 4.3 percent this year.

Early 2019 prospects with exports declining for a second month in a row last January, a domestic electricity production crisis fuelled by a prolonged drought triggering costly imports, Europe’s single currency continuing to trade at a 10-year low, two major energy-related investment in their final stage, and credit only slowly recovering hint of mixed growth prospects for 2019.
                    [post_title] => Concerns mount over tense political situation ahead of peak tourist season
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The latest political developments in Albania, including the decision of opposition parties MPs to give relinquish their mandates and therefore be no longer representatives in the Parliament as well as the ongoing protests, have started a new phase for the country. Albanian society seems to be entering a slow but definite downwards spiral of regress, which puts at risk no only short term expectations, such as the decision about the EU accession negotiations in June, but also more importantly long term trends of democratic development.

This decision of the Albanian opposition parties is indeed extreme and unparalleled. However to get a comprehensive and accurate understanding of it, one needs to keep in mind the context and the reasons which brought to this situation in the first place. The opposition was put in a corner and arm-wrestled into an obsolete position by the majority’s utter arrogance and disdain for the checks-and-balances system that makes democracies functional. This government has displayed some of the most extravagant cases of grand corruption and has got away with almost full impunity. They have disregarded several laws and decisions that were brought back for consideration by the Institution of the President for being unconstitutional. They have shown the force of their green pieces of cardboard in the Parliament with almost a ridiculous feeling of self- content. Now they are left to wave those cards in an empty hall in vain.

This extreme situation calls for serious reflection and a different course of action. In this context, some words are necessary on the role of the international community in Albania which for all different kind of reasons continues to be very determinant. It has been the consistent position of this community to favor stability over democracy. This has been observed also in the entire region. This obsessive dedication to stability at all costs has generated negative outcomes elsewhere and in Albania in the past. Stability at the conditions of disrespect for democratic institutions is neither sustainable nor desirable. It is a step into the dark.

The Albanian society for sure does not need violence. This is a call that all responsible actors should hear well and promote with all possible strength. However just the same, this country cannot any longer be trapped into a dysfunctional, authoritarian system put in place through elections manipulated with the help of organized crime and upheld by concessions given shamelessly to oligarchic interest.  It has been painfully evidenced by several serious media investigations that organized crime networks have been decisive in electoral outcomes in Albania both during general and local elections. The students’ protest brought down the façade of the governance to reveal the shattered scene behind it. The opposition’s decision to burn their mandates is the first step to tear the threadbare façade of the democracy.

Before the country destabilizes entirely a new deal is necessary. The international community should seek ways into this and not lose time with obstructive copy paste declarations from the past.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Negative stability is a step into the dark
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                    [post_date] => 2019-02-18 16:57:46
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Feb. 18 - Albania was unable to compensate lack of electricity exports with higher exports to neighboring Kosovo and continue taking advantage of a Kosovo-Serbia trade war following a good start in the first couple of months after Kosovo imposed taxes on Serbian and Bosnian imports.

Hit by a series of negative effects such as a slump in international oil prices, a prolonged drought paralyzing domestic hydro-dependent electricity generation and Europe’s single currency continuing to trade at a 10-year low against the Albanian lek, Albania’s poorly diversified exports registered negative growth rates for the second month in a row last January, hinting 2019 will be a tough year following double-digit growth rates of around 13 percent in the past couple of years.

Neighboring Kosovo, where Albania’s exports registered strong double-digit growth rates over November-December 2018 after Kosovo introduced a much-rumored 100 percent tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, was unable to halt the decline in Albania’s exports.

Albania exported goods worth around 21.8 billion lek (€174.4 mln) in January 2019, down 7.3 percent compared to a year ago as the country's top exporting industries failed to preserve growth rates, according to INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute. The January decline follows a modest 1.6 percent drop last December and is the first major monthly blow that the country's exports are receiving since 2016 when exports’ growth recovered to slightly above zero after modestly contracting in 2015 following a slump in global oil prices.

While traditional top exports such as the ‘garment and footwear’ and ‘minerals, oil and electricity’ suffered modest annual declines of 3 to 7 percent, ‘construction materials and metals’ which last year were one of the top two drivers of exports’ growth contracted by a sharp 36 percent last January.

Meanwhile, lower imports led to Albania's trade gap slightly narrowing last January and exports continuing to cover only half of what Albania imports.

Albania’s exports grew by 13.7 percent in 2018, but growth was mainly fuelled by favorable weather-related conditions leading to a hike in hydro-dependent electricity exports and a pickup in commodity prices fuelling higher oil, mineral and steel sales.

The situation in early 2019 is quite the opposite with a prolonged drought having forced the country to turn to costly electricity imports and a fluctuation in oil prices not appealing for oil companies to increase exports or engage in new major drilling.

In addition, Europe’s single currency having lost around 7 percent against the Albanian lek during the past year and continuing to trade at a 10-year low of 124.5 lek is apparently having its first negative effects on new investment decisions and contracts, especially for exporters to the Eurozone, the destination of three-quarters of Albania’s exports.

Experts predict that unless Albania takes full advantage of the ban that Kosovo is applying on Serbian and Bosnian exports, the country’s exports could be heading for another tough year and are likely to register their third annual decline since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2009, when Albania’s exports contracted after a decade of positive growth, mainly hit by lower demand from Italy and Greece, the country’s main trading partner.

In addition, a grim growth outlook for Italy, the destination of around half of Albania’s exports, which could be heading to recession this year amid growing uncertainties, makes the forecast more uncertain.

 

Exports to Kosovo turn negative  

Albania’s exports to Kosovo registered a surprise decline last January following strong double-digit growth rates of around 40 percent in November-December after Kosovo applied a 100 percent tax on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in retaliation for their efforts in blocking the recognition of Kosovo’s independence and its membership in key international organizations.

Albania’s exports to Kosovo dropped by an annual 20 percent to around 1.1 billion lek (€8.7) last  January on a sharp decline of ‘construction materials and metals,’ the main Albanian exports to Kosovo which last year registered strong growth of around 40 percent.

Kosovo is the second main destination of Albanian exports and the sole regional country that Albania has a trade surplus, but poor production capacity in Albania, a net importer itself, and a series of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers still in place, hamper trade exchanges between the two neighboring ethnic Albanian countries that are considered natural trading partners.

Albania’s benefits during the first three months of the Kosovo tax in force have been mixed, with the country only partly replacing key imports that Kosovo used to carry out from Serbia, amid tough competition with neighboring regional countries such as Macedonia, but also larger economies such as Turkey and new EU members Bulgaria and Croatia that have gained market shares in the small Kosovo market of around 2 million residents.

Facing mounting US and EU pressure to lift its unilateral tax on Serbian and Bosnian imports and resume talks to normalize relations with Serbia, its traditional main trading partner it declared independence from 11 years ago, Kosovo has hinted it does not intend to withdraw from its tax hitting around €500 million of Serbian and Bosnian exports unless the two countries recognize Kosovo and stop their efforts of blocking Kosovo’s membership of international organization.

While Albania will find it almost impossible to replace Serbian grains and flour as well as raw material for Kosovo producers, local experts say Albania can be quite competitive in replacing former Serbian steel and oil products which Albania heavily produces through Turkish and Chinese investors.

Detailed data by Albania’s statistical agency shows the boost in Albanian exports in the last two months of 2018 when Albania became the top regional exporter to Kosovo was mainly a result of a significant hike in oil and minerals and construction material and metals, rather than food and non-alcoholic beverages and furniture whose exports also registered moderate hikes.

Albania’s exports to Kosovo rose by around 30 percent to hit a record high of 27 billion lek (€216 mln) in 2018, but imports from Kosovo registered only a modest 5 percent increase to account for only a third of what Kosovo imports from Albania, according to Albania’s INSTAT.

Albania and Kosovo have held five joint government meetings in the past five years in a bid to remove barriers, but trade and investment ties between the two neighboring ethnic Albanian have only modestly picked up.

 
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            [post_date] => 2019-03-21 21:35:35
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            [post_content] => Leyla Moses-Ones

As I begin these remarks, I want to take you back to April 4, 1949, the day the United States formally tied its safety and security to that of Europe for the first time.  Before the signing ceremony, President Harry Truman stood beside Secretary of State Dean Acheson and outlined what the pact was about – “a shield against aggression that would enable governments to concentrate on achieving a fuller, happier existence for their citizens.” That remains the collective aspiration of the members of the NATO Alliance.

For 70 years, NATO has helped to create the most secure, stable, and prosperous period in its members’ history.  From deterring the Soviet Union during the Cold War to countering the hybrid threats that confront us today, NATO Allies have stood together to protect our people and defend the values we believe in.  United as one, we have formed the most successful alliance in history. This is our legacy as NATO Allies. This is the legacy we must continue to build going forward.

The U.S. commitment to NATO is absolute.  The members of NATO are our Allies of first resort.  We have stood together – and our soldiers have fought and died together – in operations as far from NATO’s borders as Afghanistan, where NATO has fought for more than a decade.  The United States is better able to address — politically and militarily — global threats to our shared values and interests because of the NATO alliance. During the last 70 years, NATO’s only Article 5 action has been in support of the United States following the 9/11 attacks.

We have achieved great success over the past 70 years, but our work is not done.  Russia is determined to undermine our democratic institutions and sew divisions among us and within our nations.  Russian hybrid threats aimed at our democracies have included nerve agent attacks and malicious cyber activities. It has invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine and Georgia, violating those countries’ sovereignty.  Russia has also been in material breach of the INF treaty, which erodes the foundation of effective arms control and Euro-Atlantic security.

Russia is one threat, but not the only threat.  North Korea and Iran, led by their rogue regimes, threaten to upset the world order through their dangerous tactics.  And terrorism remains a constant and pervasive threat to our alliance. NATO is as important to our security today as at any time in our 70-year history.

In the face of these challenges, the United States remains committed to the principle that we, as NATO Allies, will always be stronger united as one.  NATO is a military alliance, but our collective strength comes from our shared values. It comes from our shared commitment to the rights and responsibilities inherent to our democracies, such as the personal freedoms we enjoy and the integrity and transparency of the governments that represent us.  These are our greatest strengths. These are the values and principles we stand for and defend.

To build on that strength, the United States remains committed to expanding NATO membership.  We must keep NATO’s doors open for new members who share our values and our promise of collective defense.  Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has added 13 new members. The United States strongly supports NATO membership for North Macedonia as the 30th Ally.  Each new Ally has strengthened NATO’s collective defense and ability to safeguard our peace and prosperity.

For ten years, Albania has made our Alliance stronger through its commitment of troops and resources to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq, among several other missions.  It commits 3.9 percent of its military forces to NATO activities, representing the second-largest per capita troop contribution in the alliance. And Albania will continue to make the alliance stronger through NATO’s $58 million investment to modernize the Kucova Air Base to boost air supply operations, logistics support, air policing, training, and exercises.  Albania’s outsized role in the alliance is an example for all Ally nations.

As Albania’s role in NATO grows, so will its responsibility to make continued progress on democratic reforms.  These reforms are fundamental to the values our alliance defends, and are central to Albania’s bid to join the European Union.  Progress must continue to improve the rule of law, root out corruption and organized crime, and create a robust economy that is free and fair for everyone.  The good news is that Albania is headed in the right direction, even if there is still work to do. Justice reform, for example, is still on track and will soon bring Albanians the honest and transparent judicial system they deserve.  To anyone who says justice reform is compromised or failing, my message to you is this: You are wrong.

The United States remains committed to the pledge all Allies made to share the financial burden of NATO membership.  In 2014, all NATO Allies agreed to spend at least two percent of GDP on defense and to invest at least 20 percent of that spending on major equipment by 2024.  Doing so keeps our military forces strong, our equipment modern, and our alliance agile as we counter threats together. The pledge we made is a pledge we must all keep.

And Albania is working hard to keep this pledge despite many other priorities.  In 2017, it made its first significant increase in defense spending – a first since it joined the alliance in 2009.  Now, and in the coming years, Albania must meet its agreed upon annual defense spending targets to be on track to fulfill its 2024 commitment.  The United States applauds Albania for its commitment to NATO burden-sharing and supports its continued efforts through 2024.

As NATO Allies, we must continue to invest in national defense, grow and modernize our military capabilities, and contribute to NATO’s efforts to promote the safety and security of our citizens.  We are in this together. Working together, we will be stronger and better equipped to protect our shared peace and prosperity long into the future.

 
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