Albania hopes to raise up to €500 mln next October in new Eurobond

Albania hopes to raise up to €500 mln next October in new Eurobond

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Sept. 21 – Ruling majority MPs paved the way for Albania’s third Eurobond issue this week and expect the country to raise up to €500 million next October when it taps international markets. In a parliamentary

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For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

By Alba Cela Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State

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Editorial: Three theaters: the fake tragedy, the farce comedy and the horror story

Editorial: Three theaters: the fake tragedy, the farce comedy and the horror story

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The controversial dispute for the demolition of the National Theatre and the building of a new modern one continues today in the Assembly of Albania. The hastily introduced law was returned by the President and needs to

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Eurochambres: Corruption is poison for investors to Albania, region

Eurochambres: Corruption is poison for investors to Albania, region

TIRANA, Sept. 19 – European business representatives say Albania has to tackle corruption and strengthen rule of law in order to be more attractive to foreign investors and attract much-needed investment and know-how that creates new jobs and bridges the

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Albania considers ban on energy drinks to under-18s

Albania considers ban on energy drinks to under-18s

TIRANA, Sept. 18 – Albania is trying to follow the UK’s recent legal initiative to impose a ban on energy drinks to anyone under the age of 18 and limit the advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages in similar measures to legislation

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Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these

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Tolling on Albania-Kosovo highway resumes amid high police presence

Tolling on Albania-Kosovo highway resumes amid high police presence

TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Drivers crossing the so-called Highway of Nation linking Albania to Kosovo paid tolls on Monday as tolling resumed peacefully but amid high police presence following a five-month suspension triggered by violent protests leading to revised fees

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Albania launches flag carrier in bid to offer cheaper ticket prices

Albania launches flag carrier in bid to offer cheaper ticket prices

TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Albania has launched its Air Albania national airline, a joint venture with Turkey’s flag carrier Turkish Airlines, in a bid to offer lower ticket prices as part of a bigger project to open up new airports

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Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region – implications for the Albanian-Greek relations

Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region – implications for the Albanian-Greek relations

By Dr. Ledion Krisafi – Senior AIIS researcher Introduction Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence was confronted with different reactions by different countries of the Balkans and the Southeastern Europe in general. These reactions depended on different factors. Geopolitical calculations,

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Gov’t sways under EU advice to launch open call for new National Theatre building

Gov’t sways under EU advice to launch open call for new National Theatre building

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The Albanian government confirmed it aims to change the new National Theatre bill by launching an open call for the area’s urban construction and development, after a letter by the European Commission suggested so on Tuesday.

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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Sept. 21 - Ruling majority MPs paved the way for Albania’s third Eurobond issue this week and expect the country to raise up to €500 million next October when it taps international markets.

In a parliamentary session on Thursday, ruling Socialist Party MPs authorized the country’s finance minister to raise up to €500 million in a new 5 to 10-year Eurobond that will also cover buying back a fraction of the existing €450 million Eurobond maturing by November 2020.

Thursday’s Parliamentary session was not attended by the opposition which has been boycotting Parliament this month following the summer break, staging parallel meetings in major cities it considers controlled by gangs, and accusing the ruling majority of alleged links to corruption and crime.

The government says the Eurobond and buyback operation will meet financing needs for the next couple of years and could save taxpayers money by reducing refinancing risk in 2020 when borrowing needs are estimated at €700 million.

The ruling majority says the country's recovering economy amid fiscal consolidation and public debt reduction agenda place Albania at a favourable position on international markets and the operation eases pressure on the local market to boost lending to the private sector, currently sluggish and hampered by declining but still high level of non-performing loans.

The finance ministry says October 2018 is the best timing Albania could issue its Eurobond in order to take advantage of lower interest rates.

The Eurobond law that takes immediate effect due to high expectations for an October issue strips Albania's upcoming Eurobond holders of all taxes applied in the country in all operations and transactions involving the Eurobond and buyback.

Experts say current market conditions seem favorable as the European Central Bank continues to keep its key rates at a historic low of zero while Europe’s single currency currently trades at a 10-year low against the Albanian lek, making external debt repayments much cheaper for the Albanian government.

However, Albania’s public debt at about 70 percent of the GDP, considered too high for the country’s current stage of development and posing a key threat to the country’s macro-economic stability, will apparently lead to higher interest rates compared to regional countries with lower and more affordable public debt levels.

Earlier this year, Macedonia borrowed €500 million in a 7-year Eurobond at an interest rate of 2.75 percent while Montenegro raised €500 million euros at a 3.37 percent rate.

The last time Albania addressed international markets was in late 2015 when it managed  to secure €450 million in a five-year Eurobond at a coupon rate of 5.75 percent, down from 7.5 percent in its inaugural €300 million Eurobond in 2010.

Albania has picked Citi, an American multinational investment bank and financial services corporation, Banca IMI, a subsidiary of Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo specialized in investment banking and capital markets and French lender Societe Generale as joint lead managers for Albania’s third Eurobond.

US-based law firm Dechert LLP has been reselected as a legal consultant after advising the Albanian government in the 2015 Eurobond issue.

Legal changes approved in 2015 allow the finance minister to borrow within the limits set by the budget without prior approval by Parliament in a bid to accelerate borrowing procedures in order to secure lower interest rates.

U.S.-based Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, two of the ‘big three’ rating agencies, rate Albania B+ and B1, with a stable outlook

Both S&P’s B+ and Moody’s B1 ratings signify that the issuer or carrier is relatively stable with a moderate chance of default and that investors and policyholders of the rated entity are taking a low to medium risk.
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela

Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State of the Union Address he spoke just a few words about the Western Balkans and their perspective but they hit home:

“Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories – for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans – once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighborhood will be shaped by others.”

This statement is crucial as it comes in the last address before the elections in May of 2019 where EU voters will shape the next EU Parliament. In electoral times skepticism about enlargement or anything remotely similar to it peaks. Calling for both caution and courage at this time is the right thing for the EU, which needs to be a real powerful actors in shaping the dynamics in its immediate vicinity.

Recognizing the return of geopolitical games and influence calculations in the Balkans is something Brussels has not been very good or quick at. Third actors such as Russia, Turkey, China and others have been present lately in many forms: investments, political maneuvers, and religious agenda to say just the main components.

The EU has taken strong steps only in the last two years, primarily resolving the double democracy and name crisis in Macedonia and urging Albania to complete the justice reform. Both these achievements have come with the significant help from the US.

Geopolitical developments though are also intensifying. The latest talked about potential plan to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia issue with land swaps is a key test for the stability of the region. Key member states are not on board but many others seem to view this as a unique opportunity to put the hottest conflict point in the region at a final rest.  The discussion brings Russia and China to the table automatically as members of the UN Security Council. With Brexit kicking in soon, France is the only EU voice in that platform.

The wait to achieve significant milestones in the region is getting longer, burdensome and more discouraging every year. Reforms are advancing at a snail pace. Young people are leaving in droves to the Western EU member states.  This reality should also be present in the EU’s thinking about the region in addition to the right geopolitical concerns. Yes other actors should not be given ample sphere to influence. But neither should that space be taken by poverty, autocracy and the pervasive lack of hope for youth or economic stagnation.

It is true that out of all EU institutions, the Commission has been the most eager to advance the integration agenda for the region.  Member states have been skeptical and worried mostly for their domestic reaction.  One can only hope that like the Head of the Commission they will also recognize the new realities and make up their minds.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The controversial dispute for the demolition of the National Theatre and the building of a new modern one continues today in the Assembly of Albania. The hastily introduced law was returned by the President and needs to be amended and resubmitted to the voting procedure. The political actors of the majority there are delivering with fervor and skill their daily performance: accusations to the opposite side, ignoring the obvious, glorifying themselves.

None of them acknowledges the wrong done, the corruption-reeking affair of pre-selecting a company with ties to the administration for this tender. The European Union issued a declaration urging the government to open the procedure to fair competition. However the majority sees even this as a victory. The EU is not saying don’t demolish the building. This is all what they hear. This is the first theater. This is a farce comedy.

The position is boycotting the first theatre. They are holding their daily show in another city today, in Vlora. Their performance has a more tragic, dramatic flair. They are wailing, they are mourning the current situation in Albania: the rising crime, the pervasive corruption, the failing of everything. They never acknowledge their own contribution to these destructive governance patterns. This is the second theater.  This is a fake tragedy.

In the Court for Serious Crimes of Tirana, another entirely different story is unfolding. Prosecutors are refusing now for months to deliver the official charges to the so called Shullazi band headed by the frightful gangster which has been named by the US ambassador as one of the gravest examples of crime that needs to be solved once and for all by justice. The prosecutors are still afraid of Shullazi. Who could blame them? They don’t feel they have the necessary guarantees for protection to carry on with their job. Their institution is headed by a Temporary Attorney General who is viewed as one sided. So instead they look for ways out of this: take out medical reports or question the bureaucratic procedures such as random selection. Since June the court sessions are repeatedly failing. This is the third theater.  This is a scary horror story. 

Three theaters, one drama. Albanian citizens, the real life victims of these fake shows watch all three of them on television, placid, tired from their daily survival struggle, eyeing their first opportunity to leave the country altogether.

Three theatres, all of them deserve to be demolished.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 19 – European business representatives say Albania has to tackle corruption and strengthen rule of law in order to be more attractive to foreign investors and attract much-needed investment and know-how that creates new jobs and bridges the gap with EU members.

Christoph Leitl, an Austrian politician who is the President of Eurochambres, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says corruption in Albania and the Western Balkans is like poison for current and potential investors.

“If there is no law enforcement, there is no legal basis on investment, property and European investors don't come. They seek security for their investment. Corruption is poison and whoever gets poisoned once, no longer comes,” Leitl, tells Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service.

Leitl, who visited Albania last week to attend a regional workshop on the digital transformation of SME, spoke to journalist Ani Ruci of Deutche Welle on the challenges facing Albania and the region on their road to European integration and economic progress.

Corruption and an inefficient judiciary are two of the top concerns for foreign investors to Albania, according to surveys.

Albania has been the region’s second largest FDI recipient in the past eight years attracting an average of €1 billion a year, but much of the investment has been in low value added energy products such as oil and minerals, the majority of which is exported as raw material.

FDI concern has recently grown as TAP and Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related projects that led FDI growth in the past four years, are set to complete their investment stage by the end of this year and no major project replaces them.

 

Below is the full interview Christoph Leitl had with Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service as translated from Albanian:

 

What was the goal of your visit to Tirana?

-Albania is part of our European economic family, the same way to the five Western Balkan countries with their respective chambers of commerce and industry. I am in Tirana, because Western Balkan countries need to have more European perspective. On the other hand, the EU expects facts and not promises from those countries, especially in two directions; law enforcement and the fight against corruption.

As president of the European Chambers I can ascertain that commercial relations among the six Western Balkan countries have not developed in the past decade. How can you enter the European market at a time when you are not able to have good trade relations in your region? Cooperation among Western Balkan countries has to strengthen. "Together" is one of the key words I always stress.

How would you explain relations between the EU and the Western Balkans from the business point of view?

-There is a lot of sympathy and respect for what this region has managed to handle on its own. The EU can and should help the Western Balkans. Its members, including Albania, participate in several EU pre-accession programs. That strengthens the link between the Western Balkans and the EU. I am critical of Albania in one respect: the main parties and chambers of commerce have to cooperate. When together, you can achieve a lot in Albania and convince the EU that you are ready for accession. If you engage in internal fighting, that will cost you a lot of resources, motivation and question marks will surround Albania's acceptance abroad.

What are the main complaints by EuroChambres members when seeking to invest in Albania or the Western Balkans in general?

- Lack of rule of law and corruption. If there is no law enforcement, there is no legal basis on investment, property and European investors don't come. They seek security for their investment. Corruption is poison and whoever gets poisoned once, no longer comes.

Looking at the Western Balkan member countries. Is 2025 a realistic date or could Western Balkan countries have to wait beyond this timeline?

- There won't be joint accession for Western Balkan countries. Each country will have to fulfil the negotiation chapters on their own and meet EU expectations. For example, Albania is doing a lot to adopt its legislation with the EU. But that does not mean that the legal changes will automatically change the reality. Corruption is never something formal.

Western Balkan leaders stress that if the European perspective is further delayed, then there is a risk that other stakeholders such as Russia, China or Turkey could increase their presence and offers in a region with vulnerable stability and weak economy such as the Western Balkans. To what extent is this danger real from the EuroChambres viewpoint?

- As president of the Global Platform of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, I am aware about what's happening around. Russia is important in the Balkans. The US also has interests in the region. The European economy is open. We expect the same openness by others. We want fair rules and competition. There is no problem if other investors come to the region. We should know that Europe is our identity. We have a joint European interest in the region.

 What should the Western Balkans Regional Economic Area, a key product of the Berlin Process, do in order to strengthen, generate new jobs and improve living conditions for the region's residents?

- More confidence at all levels, be it at municipal, regional or state level. Those three levels are not interconnected and cooperative with each other. Investors seek confidence and security.

Vocational training education, transfer of knowledge and skills are a priority for EuroChambres. Youth in Albania and in the Western Balkans in general even when having already obtained vocational education training target migrating to Germany, Austria, the US, Canada etc. What do you think of this phenomenon?

- They migrate because they are paid two to three times higher and have better life prospects. In order for the younger generation not to migrate, they need to have that perspective in their home countries. The younger generation should have a life prospect, leave and come back. That means planning their return. In fact youth in the region are losing their patience. In 2025, the European perspective could be further delayed.

Is there a risk that the May 2019 European elections could have a negative effect on the Western Balkans enlargement policy?

- Yes, there is. If populist, neo-nationalist and separatist forces at the European Parliament win, the EU's WB enlargement project is placed at risk. New EU members will need much more solidarity, help and support. If there is no political will to handle that, then the European project is in a really tough situation. The European project should not be abandoned, the European identity is now needed more than ever.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 18 – Albania is trying to follow the UK’s recent legal initiative to impose a ban on energy drinks to anyone under the age of 18 and limit the advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages in similar measures to legislation in force protecting minors from the use of alcohol.

The proposed legal changes target preventing negative health consequences related to the use of heavily caffeinated and sugared drinks amid growing concern that those beverages are having on minors even in Albania amid growing consumption.

Several EU member countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Lithuania have already banned the sale of energy drinks for teens aged below 16 or 18, with the UK being the latest European country to apply restrictions.

In similar style, Albania is also trying to apply restrictions on the sale of energy drinks with more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre and curb the use of sugar-sweetened beverages in some amendments to a 2016 law protecting minors from the use of alcohol.

Ruling Socialist Party MP, Erion Braçe, the initiator of the legal changes, says it's high time Albania also decided to ban energy drinks to children and follow the UK government's example.

"I want support. I know that huge interests will be affected from the companies themselves to the media benefiting from their advertising. But I believe we have to resist and move forward with determination in these measures," says Braçe, who also chairs the country’s parliamentary economy committee.

"The damage they [energy drinks] cause among children is huge. We have to decide now what kind of children we need to have. The banal capitalism we have in this country does not control energy drinks, on the contrary it offers discounts on two or more cans purchased for children, " Braçe has posted on social media.

The proposed legal changes also envisage penalties ranging from 10,000 (€78) to 30,000 lek (€235) for businesses selling energy drinks or failing to advertise warning signs banning their sale for under 18s, in fines that also don’t spare adults accompanying minors drinking energy drinks in public spaces.

Penalties on advertising of energy drinks or heavily sweetened beverages in public spaces are much heavier and punished with fines ranging from 100,000 (€784) to 200,000 lek (€1,570). Restrictions are also set for their promotion on visual media, schools, cinemas or theaters during youth shows the same to the law protecting minors from alcohol.

The problem with the proposed legal changes even if adopted could be their field implementation, one of the main barriers hampering Albania’s rule of law due to good laws on paper and poor implementation in practice, often because of corruption.

Albania already bans sale of alcoholic drinks to minors aged under 18 and gambling for people aged below 21. Regardless, youngsters are one of the biggest alcohol consumers and frequent gamblers with thousands of electronic casinos and shopping centers scattered throughout the country even in downtown areas.

 

Health concerns

A 2016 survey conducted by Albania’s Public Health Institute showed energy drinks and heavily sweetened beverages were easily accessible in about a quarter of Albania’s elementary schools for students aged as young as eight to nine years old. The survey also identified the presence of advertising of unhealthy food and drinks in about 15 percent of the more than a hundred 9-year compulsory education schools included in the survey.

A series of studies on energy drinks have shown their advertised short-term benefits can be outweighed by serious health risks—which include risk-seeking behavior, mental health problems, increased blood pressure, obesity and kidney damage mostly attributed to their high sugar and caffeine levels.

The World Health Organization has also found reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages lowers the risk of overweight and obese children who are at higher risk of developing serious health problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other respiratory problems, sleep disorders and liver disease.

 

Lower tax burden amid rising consumption

The proposed legal changes also come at a time when the tax burden on energy drinks has been eased this year after having their excise duty lifted.

In late 2017, ruling Socialist Party MPs voted to lift the excise duty on energy drinks in a move that stripped the state budget of about €2 million in annual income in apparent successful lobbying by importing companies.

Socialist lawmakers argued the excise duty at 30 lek (€0.23)/liter did not have an impact on curbing consumption, but hinted of revising legislation to ban the sale of energy drinks for people aged under 18, those suffering from diabetes and heart problems, in warnings already in place on energy drink packaging.

The excise duty on energy drinks was initially levied at 50 lek (€0.39)/liter in 2014, before it was cut to 30 lek/liter a year later and finally scrapped as of January 2018.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of energy drinks are imported from Austria and the Netherlands while domestic production has almost been stopped.

Every Albanian consumes an average of about 3 liters of energy drinks a year in a constantly growing trend even among youngsters.

Albania imported 7,807 metric tons of energy drinks in the first eleven months of 2017, up 18 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, collecting about 234 million lek (€1.84 million) in excise duties, according to latest data available from the customs administration.

Meanwhile, domestic production of energy drinks dropped to a mere 1,000 litres last year, down from about 84 metric tons during January-November 2016.
                    [post_title] => Albania considers ban on energy drinks to under-18s
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                    [post_content] => The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these last hot summer days. Serbian President Vucic and his counterpart Thaci seem intent and content with a proposal that is shaking the status quo to the core. Translated in broad terms, the idea is to design some sort of territorial exchange in which Serbia would gain the communes of North Kosovo (Mitrovica) and in return Kosovo would get the Albanian populated areas of Preshevo valley. This would mean recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia and therefore substantial better chances of Kosovo being part of the UN and the EU.

This article wants to suggest that this is a bad idea, its core elements are unjust and dark, its implications are dangerous and finally the way the interested parties are conducting themselves around it is undemocratic.

First of all, this proposal is the complete undoing of the Ahtisaari plan, which is the ultimate legal and international consensus basis for the independent, multi-ethnic state of Kosovo. Based on this plan, major international powers, alongside roughly 100 other states, recognized Kosovo. The Ahtisaari plan has respected to the letter the administrative borders that Kosovo had under the Federation of Yugoslavia. The same borders have been the final ones for all the other countries which were members of the Federation. Reopening the issue of borders means going back to ground zero for the whole status of Kosovo issue, including its international recognition. Borders are a fundamental issue, unlike the long list of technical issues that were the content of the EU sponsored dialogue so far. Undermining the process with a radical, upheaval inducing idea poses several questions.

Reopening the issue of borders, or correcting them, is something usually done between two states that recognize each other and therefore have all the institutional guarantees that they will respect the deal. The independence of Kosovo was decided by the international community, which means that any substantial issue like this brings it back to the United Nations Security Council. The presence of Russia and China there will make sure that Serbia’s list of demands will be prioritized. The need for a new agreement that would transcend Ramboulliet will definitely re-gather all major powers, which is frighteningly reminiscent of the conferences of the start of the last century, which decided about countries in our region. Either way it removes it from the hands of Western powers and makes it subject to the new context of international relations. 

The objectives that this supposed deal are to reach are very questionable. If the objective is the dark one of achieving state functionality by creating ethnic homogenous states, then the counterargument is clear. In a region like the Balkans the ethnic composition resembles that of a leopard skin. Violent experiments to reach ethnic purity have been the most dramatic and destructive for the region’s history.  In fact, the tension-ridden reaction from other countries in the region testify to this sad past. They also ring loud alarm bells about the implications this idea has on regional stability. The territorial and population exchanges not only bring back harrowing memories and scratch painful wounds. They also reopen dark options for many nationalistic and extreme actors on the ground, especially in Bosnia and Macedonia.

From the functional point of view there are multiple glitches that need to be mentioned. From the functionality perspective of Kosovo, the Ahtisaari plan has already accommodated the political participation of the Serbian communities, giving them ample powers which sometime even determine the government’s formation. This “new borders” idea does not solve the need of accommodating Serbian minority in the South, or even worse it implies the possibility of some sort of ethnic cleansing (complete with the move of those Albanian families that still hang on in north Mitrovica). Additionally it takes for granted the willingness of Albanian communes in Serbia, which have been part of Serbia constitutionally for quite some time, to join Kosovo. This might come as a surprise to some, however Albanian citizens in these communes are already mentioning regular pensions and visa free travel, benefits that they enjoy now under Serbian administration.

Now on to the most important question of the debate. It is very unclear what the proposal is trying to reach especially for Kosovo. It seems that the proposal stems mostly from personal power reasons. In the case of President Thaci it resembles an investment in his personal freedom now that the risk of him being investigated by a special Court for potential crimes during the war is more than just a hypothetical option.

The way President Thaci is going forward with this is beyond the current constitutional design of the country which makes Kosovo a parliamentary and not presidential republic. Thaci is pushing forward by engaging the accumulated underground powers, ignoring the opposition and Prime Minister, refusing to make this issue subject of an inclusive debate. More than anything it is a testimony of how badly Kosovo has been led in all these years and an explanation of its current backward isolated situation.

For President Vucic the personal credit of even just reopening this issue, so unthinkable before, is already materializing. With maybe a Nobel Peace prize in sight, but at least a consolidated historical record at home, Vucic is the most interested party in this discussion. The Serbian institutions have already started an effort to prepare their public that taking back Kosovo in its entirety may not be possible but a nevertheless ‘sweet’ deal is within reach.

However a few lines are necessary to examine the reaction from the Western countries which so far has enabled this debate to move at an undesirably quick pace. It seems the west is uninterested to protect its own major project: a free and multi-ethnic Kosovo. The realities of the new American administration are glaring for most of observers. It is an entirely different context which Kosovo should come to terms to very fast. The Trump administration through the words of security advisor John Bolton have shown disdain for the risks of this proposal. The new actors may be on to different aims, perhaps even accommodating Serbia so it does not slide in favor to Russia. Whatever their stakes, it is frightening to imagine a decision upon this issue just by a tweet so one even hopes the White House chief will be indifferent about it.

Sadly the European reaction is no better. It seems we are back in the days when European countries despite having this hot issue just in their front yard are either unwilling to deal with it or worse ignorant of the danger it poses.  With the exception of a single statement from Germany, the EU seems positive about this option and willing to include it in the dialogue. They may be making their biggest foreign policy mistake. The EU needs to step up and protect a safe, multi-ethnic Kosovo. This is not done by closing an eye to likely experimental disasters but by adding efforts to sustain the dialogue as well as quicken its process of integration.

The silence from Albania is deafening as well. For many it implies some sort of tacit acceptance which would be completely unforgivable. So far only Albanian President Meta has dismissed it as a populist trick. PM Rama, so eager to comment on anything from Trump’s election to Markel’s reelection, is curiously silent. Albania should be the first to recognize the implicit dangers of the idea and encourage the comeback of the attention and efforts of the Western countries to the table.

The only long-lasting solution to the Kosovo-Serbia dispute is reconciliation. And reconciliation cannot be achieved with shock and awe single measures however revolutionary they may seem. It requires durable commitment, gradual healing, and overarching communication. Talking about borders in today’s context of Serbia and Kosovo means going back to the 19 century, not embracing the 21st.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Drivers crossing the so-called Highway of Nation linking Albania to Kosovo paid tolls on Monday as tolling resumed peacefully but amid high police presence following a five-month suspension triggered by violent protests leading to revised fees for local residents and frequent users.

Average €5 fees on the country's first toll road were initially applied last March but suspended following a March 31 protest by local residents that turned violent after they burned down booths, opposing the tolls as too high for the country’s poorest region, northeast Albania.

The reintroduction of tolls comes after the government renegotiated fees with the concessionaire and local government officials to apply a 100 lek (€0.78) toll for Kukes residents compared to average tolls of €5 for other highway users, and apply discounts for regular business users.

The new revised fees offer up to 40 percent discount on regular users with 10 to 60 passes a month who can also take advantage of a digital pass system.

Tolls were also delayed for Sept. 17 to allow residents of Kosovo get to Albania at no extra fee during summer and prevent a possible boycott from the country with highest number of tourists to Albania.

The Albanian concessionaire, a partnership between two of the country's largest companies with key operations in the oil and road industries, has made available ten toll both, two of which for Kukes residents, whose car owners and public transport operators benefit reduced fees.

The Albanian Highway Concession says it plans to employ around 200 local residents and apply a series of social projects during its first four years of operation under its 30-year concession contract with the Albanian government.

Local media reported high police presence on Monday amid fears of protests following warnings of protests by politicians and local residents not agreeing to the revised fees and worries that the toll could have a negative effect on tourist flows from Kosovo and trade exchanges with the neighboring ethnic Albanian country.

Yet, there was a small protest led by local party officials and MPs of the main opposition Democratic Party who claimed police and special intervention forces used psychological terror on local residents not to participate in warned protests.

A local business association in Kukes region had warned the re-introduction of tolls risked bringing back a new March 31 scenario when the protest turned violent and tolling equipment were destroyed and set on fire, leading to the arrest of 23 local residents, a handful of whom still remain in prison.

"The whole police and state apparatus had lined up against citizens to protect the theft through the corruptive concession at the Highway of Nation. Police officers put on a show of force and used psychological terror last night (Sunday) and today (Monday) against citizens in order to stop them from protesting," said Agron Shehaj, an opposition Democratic Party MP who led the local protest in Kukes town.

"This day shows that the crime-government-oligarchs-media alliance is a danger for Albania and our future. There is only one escape from it and that's its destruction. That is our duty and the duty of every Albanian with courage and dignity," he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama thanked Kukes residents for their civic reaction, promising new investments such an already built airport that has been awaiting to become operational for a decade and a new stadium.

Tolls ranging from €2.5 for motorcycles, to €5 for passenger cars, €11.2 for buses, and €16.2 and €22.5 for mid and high-tonnage trucks have been described as too high by the Albanian and Kosovo business communities, who fear trade exchanges between the two ethnic Albanian countries could receive a severe blow.

The highway concession saves the Albanian government an annual €4 million in maintenance costs but the government will still pay the consortium through taxpayer money in subsidies for traffic guarantees in return for investment and maintenance for the next 30 years.

Tolls on the 114 km highway that will be collected on the 5.5 km twin-bore Thirre tunnel.

Operational since 2009 on the Albanian side and from 2013 in Kosovo, the Highway of Nation linking the two ethnic Albanian countries has given a strong impetus to trade and human exchanges in the past decade following Kosovo’s independence.

With trade barriers still in place, business associations have voiced concern that tolling could serve as an extra tax hampering Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges, which hit a historic high of 29.4 billion lek (€230 million) in 2017 after fluctuating at about the same level of about €160 million in the past five years.

An average of 5,000 vehicles cross through the Highway of Nation, where traffic peaks during summer as Kosovars flock Albanian seaside towns in what is known as patriotic tourism.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 17 – Albania has launched its Air Albania national airline, a joint venture with Turkey’s flag carrier Turkish Airlines, in a bid to offer lower ticket prices as part of a bigger project to open up new airports that would also serve the emerging tourism industry in the country.

A test flight carrying high school students of excellence inaugurated the national carrier last weekend with a Tirana-Istanbul flight that will apparently be followed by regular flights linking Albania to Turkey and other major regional and European destinations, including a projected direct flight to New York.

Speaking at a launch ceremony, Prime Minister Edi Rama said the establishment of Air Albania wouldn’t have been possible “without the initiative and generous support of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” with whom he has met several times since the ambitious project was first unveiled in mid-2017.

The flag carrier and the opening of new airports will offer better service and cheaper prices, Prime Minister Rama says.

"Air Albania is an instrument to get rid of the past [troubled] legacy, and will offer flights at decent service and very competitive prices. Likewise, the construction of new airports has the same effect," said Rama.

Albania is one of the few European destinations to have a single airport, whose concessionaire charges on airlines using it are often blamed for the high local ticket prices that often force Albanians to choose neighboring airports to reach their destinations.

The launch of a new flag carrier comes seven years after Albania’s former national carrier, Albanian Airlines, where the Albanian government also held a minority stake, ceased its two decades of operations after having its licence revoked.

The launch also comes at a time when air transport at the country’s sole international airport is overwhelmingly controlled by foreign companies and Belle Air, a former private Albanian-owned company that controlled 50 percent of the market went bankrupt in 2013 after almost a decade of operations.

Air Albania is a newly established company where the Albanian government owns a minority 10 percent stake through its state-run Albcontrol enterprise which manages Albania’s airspace and air traffic. A 49 percent stake is held by Turkish Airlines, Turkey’s flag carrier and one of the world's leading carriers where the Turkish government controls almost half of its shares.

The remaining 41 percent stake is held by Albanian-owned MDN Investment, a company based in the southern Albanian city of Vlora, where Albania’s new airport is projected to be built.

Some opposition Democratic MPs have claimed Air Albania is a show of the Prime Minister and only an extra flight by Turkish Airlines, already offering flights to and from Tirana.

However, Albania's Civil Aviation Authority says the partnership with Turkish Airlines will guarantee the Albanian flag carrier access to Turkish Technic, the maintenance, repair and overhaul center of Turkish Airlines, serving 300 destinations in over 120 countries. Albanian staff will also get training from the Turkish Airlines Aviation Academy.

"Air Albania will have access to the deals that Turkish Airlines has with the airports it flies, which means favorable commercial packages," says Krislen Keri, the head of the Civil Aviation Authority.

According to him, similar joint ventures such as Turkey-based SunExpress, a 50/50 partnership between Turkish Airlines and Germany’s Lufthansa, have been already operating successfully for decades.

Established with capital of up to $30 million, Air Albania currently has a single Airbus A319, but plans to order two Airbus A320 aircraft as it gradually launches new destinations that will mainly link Tirana to regional unserved destinations.

 

New airport plans amid price concerns

The launch of the Albanian flag carrier also comes at a time when Albania is planning to open up two new airports in a bid to break the de facto monopoly that the country's sole airport managed by a private concessionaire has on international flights. If materialized, the project is expected to increase market competition, lead to lower ticket prices and also serve the country’s emerging tourism industry through faster access to southern and northern destinations.

While negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new airport in southern city of Vlora are in their final stage, the government is also planning to reactivate Kukes airport, a north-eastern Albania airport that has been abandoned following an unsolicited proposal by a local company.

The new airport projects come at a time when concerns over ticket prices in the country have been growing and high prices are considered a key barrier for the emerging tourism industry.

Last summer, the Albanian government announced a call for a consultant to carry out a review of the concession contract it has with the Tirana International Airport whose high charges on carriers are often blamed for Albania having one of the region’s highest ticket prices.

The probe comes after Albania’s sole international airport has already been operating under a build-own-operate-transfer concession contract for the past 13 years and a Chinese consortium has taken over the airport’s operations from the original German-led concessionaire since mid-2016.

While the airport’s exclusive rights on international flights were lifted in mid-2016 paving the way to the operation of the small Kukes airport in northeast Albania in return for extending its concession term for 2 years until 2027, no new airports have been activated in the past couple of years and TIA continues to have a de facto monopoly.

Albania’s competition watchdog has earlier blamed the monopoly conditions under which the Tirana International Airport concessionaire and the aviation fuel company operate for increasing operating costs for airlines and affecting ticket prices.

The Tirana International Airports is one of the most profitable companies in Albania with profit rates of up to 38 percent. The Chinese-led concessionaire saw its net profit climb to about 2.3 billion lek (€18 million) in 2017, up 25 percent compared to the previous year, according to reports filed with the National Business Center.

Some 18 airline companies operate in Tirana, the overwhelming majority of which foreign-owned, linking Tirana to dozens of foreign destinations through direct flights, mainly Italy.

New low-cost carriers have been linking Tirana to Budapest, Amsterdam and more recently to London in the past year in what looks like a policy change under the new Chinese takeover since mid-2016 amid government plans to build new airports.

The Tirana airport handles more than 2 million passengers a year, being one of the country’s main hubs.
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                    [post_content] => By Dr. Ledion Krisafi - Senior AIIS researcher

Introduction

foto1Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence was confronted with different reactions by different countries of the Balkans and the Southeastern Europe in general. These reactions depended on different factors. Geopolitical calculations, historical and religious ties between Serbia and the other countries or Kosovo and the other countries, determined the acceptance or not of Kosovo’s independence.

The Greek reaction towards Kosovo’s independence has been a mix of geopolitical calculations and historical and religious ties with Serbia. But, the Greek initial reaction, in the day after the declaration of independence, was neutral. It emphasized the need for the involved parties “to refrain from actions that might spark dangerous tensions”, and “the stability and security of the region”.[1] While Greece at first recognized that “yesterday’s decisions in Pristina undoubtedly shaped a new reality in the particularly sensitive region of the Western Balkans”, it left the issue of recognition for a future time, when it has examined all of the developments in depth; all of the dimensions and consequences these developments have for regional security and Greece’s interests.”[2]

Ten years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February of 2008, Greece is one of the five EU member countries, which haven’t yet recognized Kosovo’s independence. Contrary to the other four countries, Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, which have internal problems with large minorities, concentrated in a certain part of the territory of that state, Greece has no such problem. There is no large minority concentrated in a part of Greece that may seek autonomy or independence. Having this in mind, Greece’s not recognition of Kosovo’s independence and its politics towards Kosovo and what this means about the Albanian-Greek relations, needs an explication.

In January 2017, during a visit in Serbia, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras affirmed the Greek support for Serbia in the Kosovo issue. Tsipras said that Greece desired to help Serbia in solving this issue, but the maintenance of stability was the crucial issue.[3] He didn’t say explicitly that Greece will never recognize Kosovo; Greece has never said this, but with the emphasizes on the “solution of the Kosovo issue” may be understood that Greece will recognize Kosovo only after a mutual agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. This was emphasized by the former Greek President Karolos Papoulias during a three-day visit in Belgrade in 2009. Papoulias said that only a mutual agreed solution to the Kosovo issue is acceptable for Greece and this solution should be inside the international law.[4]

As late as October 2017 the new Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that the Greek stance towards Kosovo has changed.[5]

Nevertheless, of all the five EU countries that haven’t recognized Kosovo, Greece has been the most cooperative with Kosovo.[6] There have been several meetings between high officials from Greece and Kosovo, especially with the foreign minister of Greece, but Kosovo in those meeting hasn’t been represented as a state. Greece has recognized Kosovo’s passports and has given a reluctant support for Kosovo’s bid to become part of the international organizations. During the voting for Kosovo’s UNESCO membership, Greece was one of the countries that abstained. But, since the beginning, Greece’s position in regard to Kosovo’s independence and its recognition has been unequivocal.

In 2014 Kosovo Foundation for Open Society conducted a survey with more than a thousand Greek citizens. Almost 70% of them said that Greece and Kosovo should have good relations, but without recognition.[7]

 

The two-fold foreign policy of Greece

Since the fall of communism in Albania, former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, Greece has positioned itself as the main promoter of the European perspective of the former communist countries of the region. The Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 and the “Thessaloniki Agenda”, adopted during Hellenic Presidency of EU in 2003, have been the main guidelines for the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. Fourteen years after the Thessaloniki Summit the integration processes of the region have gone according to the plan laid out in Thessaloniki. All these years Greece has fully supported the EU perspective of the region.

But at the same time Greece has pursued a foreign policy in relation to the other Balkan countriesbased also on its national interests. The case of ‘’Macedonia’s’’ name has been going on for more than two decades and Greece hasn’ttaken a step back from its position. On the contrary, it expects that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to make a step back and to obey to Greekproposition that the name Macedonia should be dropped off. For Greece the issue of FYROM’s name is not just about history and symbols, it is above all about “the conduct of a UN member state, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which contravenes the fundamental principles of international law and order; specifically, respect for good neighborly relations, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”[8]This is not to say that the Greek position is wrong, but this serves as a case to understand Greece’s foreign policy. The European integration of FYROM would have a stabilizing effect in the Western Balkan region, but for Greece its national interest in this case comes first, not the European integration of Macedonia.

Also in relation to Albania, Greece has pursued two different and parallel lines in its foreign policy. Greece has been a great promoter of Albania’s EU integration processes and the candidate status to Albania was given during the Hellenic Presidency in 2014. Greece also has accepted hundreds of thousands of Albanians emigrants since the beginning of the 90s and considers them as “a bridge” between the two countries, but also it has focused on issues of national interest for Greece as the rights of the Greek minority in Albania, cemeteries of Greek fallen soldiers during the war between Greece and Italy in 1940-1941 and the issue of the maritime border between Albania and Greece. Many times Greece has threatened to condition Albania’s EU integration processes based on the developments of the issues that are of national interests to Greece.

The Greek stance towards Kosovo’s issue should also be seen in this two-foldforeign policy with the other Balkan countries. Greece has recognized Kosovo’s passports; mainly in order to benefit its tourism industry, and also Greece is part of the foreign armed forces still stationed in Kosovo. Greece also has opened a liaison office in Prishtina and Greek businesses are activein Kosovo. But Greece hasn’t recognized Kosovo and the last visit of the Greek Prime Minister in Serbia confirmed the Greek stance of not recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. Greece has done all of the above about the passports and UNMIK because of its role as a promoter of peace and European integration in the peninsula, but the non-recognition of Kosovo as a state serves its national interests and the larger geopolitical interests of Greece in the region.

This situation is explained with a twofold view of the geopolitical calculations and interests of Greece. On the one hand,this non-recognition of Kosovo and the Greek stance towards Kosovo has its roots in the wars in former Yugoslavia in the beginning of the 90s and it goes beyond mere political and geopolitical considerations on the part of Greece. History, culture and religion play a similar important role as the national interests of Greece in regard to Kosovo and Serbia.Since the beginning of the 90s and during the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Greece has constantly been a close partner and supporter of Serbia’s actions in the region. Greece evaded“United Nations sanctions and, according to the International Criminal Tribunal, contributed considerably towards Milosevic's war machine”.[9]

For Greece and the Greek public with their Christian Orthodox sympathies about Serbia and Serbs in general, it is difficult accept the independence of another Muslim-majority country in the Balkans. In 1999, 97% of Greeks were against the NATO intervention in Serbia.[10]

On the other hand, the Greek policy towards Kosovo is not linked only with cultural, religious considerations, but also with the case of Cyprus. Since 1974, the island of Cyprus, inhabited by a majority of Greek-speaking population has been divided into a Greek zone and Turkish zone. If Greece recognized Kosovo’s independence, it would give legitimacy to the Turkish zone in Northern Cyprus. It is hardly believable that Greece will recognize Kosovo’s independence without a final solution of the Cyprus case.

These cases illustrate the complex foreign policy of Greece towards the Balkans. Historical, cultural and religions considerations and feelings play an important part, and the perspective of EU integration of the entire region would be beneficial to Greece, but also there are the Greek national interests and there is the case of Cyprus. All of these are equally important in the Greek foreign policy and they are never important on their own, without the others. In this light should be seen the influence that Kosovo’s issue and Kosovo’s independence has in the Albania-Greece relations. If one analyzed only one of the variables mentioned above – history\culture\religion, EU integration, national interests, Cyprus;the view would have been partial and misunderstood.

All the variables above should be taken into consideration when one considers the Greek foreign policyincluding that towards Albania and Kosovo. In international relations even small countries like Albania could use different variables when conducting their foreign policy, but in difference with other larger countries, the small countries can’t use all of them at the same time to gain some profit,exactly because of larger countries in their region that have more variables and because of them more maneuverability. Greece has the luxury to use all of them in our region.

 

Kosovo and Albania-Greece relations

In a recent survey by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), Albanians think that Greece is the main “enemy” in the region. This stance is perfectly understandable because of the many issues still to be resolved in Albanian-Greek relations and also because Greece is the only country with which Albania confines that is much bigger geographically, economically and militarily.The other countries like Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, with whom Albania confines, don’t pose a similar “threat” to Albania as Greece and there aren’t so many unresolved issues as with Greece.

In the beginning of the 90s Greece was the only stable country in the region. Yugoslavia was engulfed in successive interethnic wars, the fall of communism in Albania sent hundreds of thousands of refugees in Italy and Greece and later the 1997 collapse of the government exasperated further this situation, and Bulgaria and Romania had their problems in establishing the rule of law. Greece’s EU and NATO membership made it the natural starting-point for all the European processes of the region. Greece as the only light in a dark neighborhood, took all the responsibility of being the guidance for all the others and Greece took this responsibility because not only it supports the EU integration of the region, but also because being in the EU and having unresolved issues of different natures with almost all the countries it confines with, this responsibility gave Greece also the potential to condition the EU integration of these countries with the resolving of the problems with them. Greece has done and threatened to do this until now.

The issue of Kosovo hasn’t directly influenced the relations between Albania and Greece. Almost in every meeting with their Greek counterparts, the Albanian foreign ministers since 2008 have demanded from Greece to recognize the reality in the Balkans, which is Kosovo’s independence.[11]The Greeks, from their part, have repeated the same things without taking a definite position about Kosovo’s independence. In their public declarations, the high officials of Albania and Greece haven’t gone beyond these positions about Kosovo and it is unlikely that this situation will change in the near future. The issue of Kosovo has never been directly an issue in the relations between Albania and Greece.

This has happened because Kosovo’s issue hasn’t been a direct issue between Albania and other countries of the region, neither with Greece nor with Macedonia or Montenegro or even countries a little further like Bulgaria or Croatia. Albania’s role in this issue has been to recommend to all these countries Kosovo’s recognition as an independent country and to explain why this would benefit the entire region, but nothing more than this. Kosovo has its institutions, has its Prime Minister, its Foreign Minister, which have the responsibility and all the capacities to deal directly with the countries of the region, without the influence of Albania.

In order to find and understand the influence of Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo’s issue in general in the Albania-Greece relations, one should look at the geopolitical calculations that Albania and especially Greece do in relation to their Balkan policy.

On the one hand, the stability that the Kosovo independence has brought to the general security of the Balkans is something that Greece cherishes, because an unstable Kosovo directly influences in the Greek immediate neighbors Albania and Macedonia and an unstable Albania and Macedonia has direct consequences for Greece.

But on the other hand, Kosovo’s independence has weakened Serbia’s position in the Balkans, which is a close and historical ally of Greece. Also Kosovo’s independence was unilateral, was a changing of the borders without the consent of the two states, in this case of Serbia and Kosovo. In the 18 February 2008 statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece it was said that “Greece has always believed and continues to believe that the best solutions to differences and problems arise from mutually acceptable arrangements. From dialogue and negotiations. Not from unilateral actions and accomplished facts. This position, founded on respect for the principle of the peaceful resolution of differences, also determined our policy on the Kosovo issue.”[12] This is a point that Greece has repeatedly emphasized and has pushed for direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo to reach a final agreement between them.

The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence and its right to secede unilaterally from Serbia should be seen also in the light of the Northern Epirus issue. This issue is not an official issue of the Greek foreign policy but it is a sensitive issue for the Greek public in general. If Greece recognizes Kosovo, why should it refrain from demanding more on the Northern Epirus Issue? Political organizations and even political parties like the Golden Dawn, the third major political force in the Hellenic Parliament, have been vocal in the last years about this issue. The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would give legitimacy to their demands and this could have an impact on the relations between Albania and Greece.

Even in these times of great European integration, states, by their very nature, tend to vie with each other about influence and Greece is not an exception to this. Since the fall of communism in the Balkans, Greek economic influence in the countries of the region has been enormous. By conditioning the EU integration of several countries of the regionwith issues that are mainly in the national interest of Greece, it has tried to render its political influence in the region as important as the economic one. Also, in the last decade with the growing economic power of Turkey and its attempt to translate this new economic power into political influence in the regions once part of the Ottoman Empire, there is also an indirect and silent rivalry between the two countries for economic and political influence in the region. Albania and the Kosovo issue also have their place in this indirect rivalry.

The problem of Kosovo in general is part of the “Albanian issue” which became an issue after the Great Powers in 1913 divided the Albanian nation into several states. Only in Albania, the Albanians were the largest nation. In the other countries, like Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro, the Albanians become a minority inside those countries. Kosovo’s independence is the solution of one of the parts of the “Albanian issue” in the Balkans. But the fear of the other countries has always been that Kosovo’s independence will increase the demands for more rights for Albanians inside their respective countries and even more than that. This has happened already in Macedonia and Montenegro.

A supposed consequence of the Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be the greater pressure by Albania about the Cham issue. This is unlikely to happen because the Balkan foreign policy of Albania in the last two decades hasn’t worked this way, and Albania has been a positive influence in the region, but Greece may perceive it this way. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hasn’t expressed any irredentist views concerning the Greek Macedonia, but regardless of this, Greece accuses FYROM of irredentist aspirations. In international relations, in many cases what is perceived to be the intention of a state by another state is more important and has more impact than what really that state aims to do.

The rivalry between Greece and Turkey in the region is not only direct, but also through their allies and their potential influence in the region. Since 2003 and especially since the influence of Turkey’s former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s neo-ottoman political ideology, Turkey’s foreign policy in the Balkans has been concentrated more on the Muslim-majority countries or the Muslim-majority areas of the region: Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sandžak in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In this case, the Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would strengthen an ally of Turkey and would weaken an ally of Greece. Therefore, Greece’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence and establishing full interstate relations between them would strengthen the “Albanian factor” in the region,namely Albania and Kosovo, which in turn is more oriented towards Turkey and would weaken the “Serbian factor” which is oriented towards Greece and Russia. Albania and Turkey are the only countries of southeast Europe that Kosovo has excellent relations.Kosovo has signed 21 agreements with Turkey, more than with anyone else and Turkey and Albania had a diplomatic presence in Kosovo even before the independence.[13]The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would give more legitimacy to the Turkish influence in Kosovo and in the Albanians in general in the Balkans.

But, this silent rivalry for influence and power in the region is not confined only to the geopolitical calculations of the Greek foreign policy. It stretches also to the feeling of sympathy and antipathy that Greeks have for certain major global powers and these feelings in a certain measure determine the influence that these major global powers have in the Balkans. They project their influence in the region in those countries where they feel that they are appreciated and make those countries a starting-point for their policy and influence in the region.

This strengthening of the ‘’Albanian factor’’ in the Balkans, mentioned above, for Greece would be a furtherstrengthening of the United States in the region, given the enormouspolitical, economic and military investment of the United States in Kosovo, and would weakenthe influence of Russia in the region, which is directed mostly towards Serbia and less to Greece. There is a well-known and well-documented anti-Americanization in the Greek public in general. ‘’The extent and intensity of anti-Americanism in Greece, as registered by Pew, Gallup and other public opinion surveys, is indisputable’’.[14]As, on the other hand, there is a well-known sympathy for Russia, mainly connected with the common Christian Orthodox faith, which is very important for the identity of the two nations.[15]As was mentioned above, religion is a very important factor for the Greek foreign policy.

Greece, of course, is not a starting-point for Russia’s influence in the region (the Slavic countries, especially Serbia retain place of pride), but the enormous role that the US played in ending the war in Kosovo and the role that the US has played since in all the difficult steps for Kosovo’s international recognition and in the building up of its institutions, have made Kosovo in the Greek public, to be a US project in the Balkans. This is not so easily acceptable for the Greek public in general. ‘’It’s about the US pursuing its own expansionist strategic interest’’, cited New York Times in 1999 a young Greek girl participating in a rally against NATO’s bombardment of Serbia.[16]And many shared her views. At that time 95% of Greeks opposed the bombing, 63.5% of those polled by the largest daily newspaper Ta Nea, had a favorable view of Slobodan Milosevic and 94.4% of them had a negative view of Bill Clinton.[17] In this view, the anti-Americanization of the Greek public in general and the influence of the Greek public opinion in the country’s foreign policy in this case, shouldn’t be excluded.

In the end it can be said that Kosovo is not a direct issue in the Albania-Greece relations, it has never been. A Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be welcomed in Albania and it would change almost nothing in the direct bilateral relations between Albania and Greece. But Kosovo is part of the ‘’Albanian issue’’ in the Balkans and Kosovo’s independence and the Greek recognition of it plays a part in the general foreign policy of Greece in the region and in this way it affects the relations between Albania and Greece. The issue of Kosovo is inseparable from the Greek religious and historical ties with Serbia, but also with geopolitical rivalry with Turkey for influence in the region. If the issue of Kosovo would have connected only with the stability and security of the Balkans, Greece would had already recognized Kosovo, because Kosovo’s independence has considerably minimized the potential for security problems and war in the Balkans.

Also, Kosovo’s recognition by Greece would reopen the issue of Northern Epirus in the Greek public in general, even though it may not have any influence in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

 

[1] Statements of FM Ms. Bakoyannis following the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council https://web.archive.org/web/20120503235708/http://www.mfa.gr/www.mfa.gr/Articles/en-US/190208_alp_1300.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tanjug, Cipras Nikoliću: Grčka podržava Srbiju kada je u pitanju Kosovo i Metohija, http://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/cipras-nikolicu-grcka-podrzava-srbiju-kada-je-u-pitanju-kosovo-i-metohija/5thmh1f

[4] Srbiji je mesto u Evropskoj uniji, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/Srbija/71181/Srbiji+je+mesto+u+Evropskoj+uniji.html

[5] Pavlopulos za RTS: Grčka ne menja stav o Kosovu, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/2890965/pavlopulos-za-rts-grcka-ne-menja-stav-o-kosovu.html

[6]EraldinFazliu, Recognition denied: Greecehttp://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/recognition-denied-greece/

[7]TëjeshGrek, tëjesh Kosovar,,FondacioniiKosovëspërShoqëritëHapur, 2014

[8]http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/

[9]Helena Smith, Greece faces shame of role in the Serb massacre, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/05/balkans.warcrimes

[10]TëjeshGrek, tëjesh Kosovar,,FondacioniiKosovëspërShoqëritëHapur, 2014

[11]Konferenca e përbashkëtpërshtypBushati-Kotzias,http://shqiptarja.com/skedat/2724/konferenca-e-perbashket-per-shtyp-bushati-kotzias---304867.html

[12] Statements of FM Ms. Bakoyannis following the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council https://web.archive.org/web/20120503235708/http://www.mfa.gr/www.mfa.gr/Articles/en-US/190208_alp_1300.htm

[13]Kosova në kontekst rajonal. Marrëdhëniet politike bilaterale.Instituti Kosovar për KërkimedheZhvillimetëPolitikave, Maj 2014

[14]Ted Couloumbis, Athanasious Moulakis, Are the Greeks Anti-American?, Global Europe Program

[15]Henry Stanek, Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?, The National Interest

[16]Alessandra Stanley, CRISIS IN THE BALKANS: ATHENS; NATO bombing, Tears at Greek Loyalties, Reawakening Anti-Americanism, New York Times, April 25, 1999

[17]Ibid.

 

References
  • Alessandra Stanley, CRISIS IN THE BALKANS: ATHENS; NATO bombing, Tears at Greek Loyalties, Reawakening Anti-Americanism, New York Times, April 25, 1999
 
  • Eraldin Fazliu, Recognition denied: Greece http://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/recognition-denied-greece/
 
  • Helena Smith, Greece faces shame of role in the Serb massacre https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/05/balkans.warcrimes
 
  • Henry Stanek, Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?, The National Interest
 
  • Konferenca e përbashkët për shtyp Bushati-Kotzias http://shqiptarja.com/skedat/2724/konferenca-e-perbashket-per-shtyp-bushati-kotzias---304867.html
 
  • Kosova në kontekst rajonal. Marrëdhëniet politike bilateral. Instituti Kosovar për Kërkime dhe Zhvillime të Politikave, Maj 2014
 
  • Pavlopulos za RTS: Grčka ne menja stav o Kosovu, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/2890965/pavlopulos-za-rts-grcka-ne-menja-stav-o-kosovu.html
 
  • Ted Couloumbis, Athanasious Moulakis, Are the Greeks Anti-American?, Global Europe Program
 
  • Të jesh Grek, të jesh Kosovar,,Fondacioni i Kosovës për Shoqëri të Hapur, 2014
 
  • http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
 
  • Tanjug, Cipras Nikoliću: Grčka podržava Srbiju kada je u pitanju Kosovo i Metohija, http://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/cipras-nikolicu-grcka-podrzava-srbiju-kada-je-u-pitanju-kosovo-i-metohija/5thmh1f
[post_title] => Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region - implications for the Albanian-Greek relations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => greek-foreign-policy-towards-kosovo-and-the-region-implications-for-the-albanian-greek-relations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-14 15:33:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-14 13:33:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138492 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138478 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-14 07:56:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-14 05:56:28 [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 - The Albanian government confirmed it aims to change the new National Theatre bill by launching an open call for the area’s urban construction and development, after a letter by the European Commission suggested so on Tuesday. “One point where we are thinking of interfering and improving is to not have a predetermined subject, but to launch an open call for any subject interested in competing for the project,” MP and Head of the Production Activities Commission Eduard Shalsi said. The letter was sent to the authorities after it assessed the government’s proposed special law, which encountered strong opposition by the public opinion and later failed to be decreed by President Ilir Meta. The NT bill, approved by the majority’s ballot papers power at the start of July, foresees the construction of a new, modern National Theatre building with the funds of private company Fusha Shpk., which in turn will be given thousands of square meters of public property in the city centre to build a high-rise concrete complex. More than debating the necessity of a new NT building, the controversy following the issue focused on the special procedure that was used to exclude other companies from competing for the building’s construction. In this context, Head of the EU Enlargement Directorate for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina Michela Matuella requested that the Albanian government change the proposed special law and remove the predetermined private company Fusha Shpk from the legal proposal. “The Commission services welcome the commitment of the Albanian authorities to amend the Special Law with a view of introducing an open call for the implementation of the National Theatre development project, whereby any private party could submit a proposal for the project. At the same time, the Commission services would like to emphasise the importance of defining clear, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria for the selection of the successful bidder in implementing the Special Law,” the letter read. Although the letter clarifies no violations of the Stabilization and Association Agreement can be noticed, the commission does encourage the government to follow the EU’s public procurement principles and ensure non-discriminatory access to free-market competition. The Albanian opposition, which has strongly opposed the project, calling it a corrupt affair, called the letter a victory. “Brussels’ answer is clear: the government has violated the law. The European Commission’s response clearly supports the opposition’s main concerns. We were right to say the law violates the principle of fair competition. We were also right when we accused the government of having a predetermined and preferential customer, like Fusha Shpk,” Democratic Party MP Jorida Tabaku said. However, the opposition still opposes any bill aiming to destroy the current National Theatre, calling it a “monument of cultural heritage.” “The Democratic Party is against any law that affect public property by alienating it and offering it to the private sector for clientelistic criminal affairs. The DP is against any law that is subjected to alienating public property depending on the local government, as it violates constitutional principles,” DP MP Albana Vokshi said. On the other hand, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj, who has been a frontrunner in protecting this project, described the European Commission letter as “excellent news.” “While the law doesn’t violate the SAA, we have the opportunity to improve it,” Veliaj wrote in social media. In fact, Veliaj’s position is different from that of a few weeks before, when he reacted harshly to the President Meta not decreeing the law, stating that within 40 days it would be approved without alterations. “I believe that through a draft agreed with the European Commission, we will soon have the necessary legal basis, the necessary legal and open process for everyone and finally a new theatre for Tirana,” Veliaj stated. It currently remains to be seen which procedure will be followed. If the majority will decide to change the law, it would have to approve Meta’s decree for the return to parliament of the present text and then present the new law, that would foresee an open and fair competition for everyone.   [post_title] => Gov’t sways under EU advice to launch open call for new National Theatre building [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => govt-sways-under-eu-advice-to-launch-open-call-for-new-national-theatre-building [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-14 17:12:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-14 15:12:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138478 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138576 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-09-21 12:05:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-21 10:05:08 [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Sept. 21 - Ruling majority MPs paved the way for Albania’s third Eurobond issue this week and expect the country to raise up to €500 million next October when it taps international markets. In a parliamentary session on Thursday, ruling Socialist Party MPs authorized the country’s finance minister to raise up to €500 million in a new 5 to 10-year Eurobond that will also cover buying back a fraction of the existing €450 million Eurobond maturing by November 2020. Thursday’s Parliamentary session was not attended by the opposition which has been boycotting Parliament this month following the summer break, staging parallel meetings in major cities it considers controlled by gangs, and accusing the ruling majority of alleged links to corruption and crime. The government says the Eurobond and buyback operation will meet financing needs for the next couple of years and could save taxpayers money by reducing refinancing risk in 2020 when borrowing needs are estimated at €700 million. The ruling majority says the country's recovering economy amid fiscal consolidation and public debt reduction agenda place Albania at a favourable position on international markets and the operation eases pressure on the local market to boost lending to the private sector, currently sluggish and hampered by declining but still high level of non-performing loans. The finance ministry says October 2018 is the best timing Albania could issue its Eurobond in order to take advantage of lower interest rates. The Eurobond law that takes immediate effect due to high expectations for an October issue strips Albania's upcoming Eurobond holders of all taxes applied in the country in all operations and transactions involving the Eurobond and buyback. Experts say current market conditions seem favorable as the European Central Bank continues to keep its key rates at a historic low of zero while Europe’s single currency currently trades at a 10-year low against the Albanian lek, making external debt repayments much cheaper for the Albanian government. However, Albania’s public debt at about 70 percent of the GDP, considered too high for the country’s current stage of development and posing a key threat to the country’s macro-economic stability, will apparently lead to higher interest rates compared to regional countries with lower and more affordable public debt levels. Earlier this year, Macedonia borrowed €500 million in a 7-year Eurobond at an interest rate of 2.75 percent while Montenegro raised €500 million euros at a 3.37 percent rate. The last time Albania addressed international markets was in late 2015 when it managed  to secure €450 million in a five-year Eurobond at a coupon rate of 5.75 percent, down from 7.5 percent in its inaugural €300 million Eurobond in 2010. Albania has picked Citi, an American multinational investment bank and financial services corporation, Banca IMI, a subsidiary of Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo specialized in investment banking and capital markets and French lender Societe Generale as joint lead managers for Albania’s third Eurobond. US-based law firm Dechert LLP has been reselected as a legal consultant after advising the Albanian government in the 2015 Eurobond issue. Legal changes approved in 2015 allow the finance minister to borrow within the limits set by the budget without prior approval by Parliament in a bid to accelerate borrowing procedures in order to secure lower interest rates. U.S.-based Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, two of the ‘big three’ rating agencies, rate Albania B+ and B1, with a stable outlook Both S&P’s B+ and Moody’s B1 ratings signify that the issuer or carrier is relatively stable with a moderate chance of default and that investors and policyholders of the rated entity are taking a low to medium risk. 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