Editorial: Albania must end practice of ‘checklist laws’

Editorial: Albania must end practice of ‘checklist laws’

It is widely believed Albania has very good laws on the books as part of the country’s efforts to bring its legislation closer to that of the European Union as well as its efforts to meet its other international obligations.

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Russia seeks pragmatic approach in deadlock with Albania relations, ambassador tells AIIS forum

Russia seeks pragmatic approach in deadlock with Albania relations, ambassador tells AIIS forum

TIRANA, Feb. 15 – Russia is willing to boost its political and economic ties with Albania if the Balkan country adopts a more pragmatic approach like some of Europe’s leading economies and EU aspirant regional countries do despite EU sanctions

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EU takes control of Albania’s borders under new agreement

EU takes control of Albania’s borders under new agreement

TIRANA, Feb. 15 – In a visit to Tirana on Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos signed a major agreement with Albanian authorities effectively handing over much of the control of Albania’s border management to

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Part of trend, MP seat filled by wealthy man as two women give up eligibility

Part of trend, MP seat filled by wealthy man as two women give up eligibility

TIRANA, Feb. 14 – Two women Democratic Party candidates in Berat — Juvina Jani and Monika Qosja — have rejected their legal right to take an MP seat vacated by a resignation so one of Albania’s wealthiest men can take

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Arbitration threat: Albania loses $80 million in one month

Arbitration threat: Albania loses $80 million in one month

TIRANA, Feb. 12 – Albania has been ordered to pay back the country’s largest oil producer dozens of millions of dollars over a tax dispute under a decision that comes as a second consecutive blow the country’s public finances receive

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Editorial: A new strategy that sounds a lot like the old strategy

Editorial: A new strategy that sounds a lot like the old strategy

In the Netflix dark comedy film, “The War Machine,” when a U.S. general (Brad Pitt) explains to the Afghan president (Ben Kingsley) how he was going to win the war, in military jargon and enthusiasm, saying: “This is my new

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De-euroization package: Albania discourages saving, borrowing in Europe’s single currency

De-euroization package: Albania discourages saving, borrowing in Europe’s single currency

TIRANA, Feb. 8 – Albania will start applying next June some de-euroization measures in a bid to discourage the current high levels of Europe’s single currency in the country’s banking system and improve the transmission of its easier monetary policy

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Gov’t concludes €240 mln PPP contract on Albania-Macedonia highway

Gov’t concludes €240 mln PPP contract on Albania-Macedonia highway

TIRANA, Feb. 5 – The Albanian government says it has concluded long-awaited negotiations with an Albanian company over a €240 million concession contract to complete and operate a highway linking Albania to Macedonia. A decade-long project also serving the underdeveloped

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German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

TIRANA, Feb. 5 – Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government’s hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the

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Editorial: Transparency is vital to any Albania-Greece deal

Editorial: Transparency is vital to any Albania-Greece deal

Recent talks between the foreign ministers of Albania and Greece — to seek solutions for a series of pending issues between the two countries — have attracted a lot of attention among the public at large in Albania this week.

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                    [post_content] => It is widely believed Albania has very good laws on the books as part of the country's efforts to bring its legislation closer to that of the European Union as well as its efforts to meet its other international obligations.

Yet, somehow good laws don't necessarily mean good implementation and the country continues to perform poorly on most political and democracy indexes.

Laws and regulations aiming to bring more women into the public life of the country are not an exception to this problem.

Applying extremely progressive laws that are not present even in some of the most advanced countries in the world, Albania has decided to pass quota rules to force parties to create a more balanced parliament, where a certain percentage of candidates in elections must be allocated to women.

Parties are fined if they don't follow the rule and women candidates are given a certain number of priorities to give them a leg up in parliament.

Whether these laws are fair or not, is a matter of discussion, but they have been approved and they are in the books. Yet, they are regularly made a mockery of, with the latest example being this week.

Two women Democratic Party candidates in Berat have rejected their legal right to take an MP seat vacated by a resignation as part of wider trend on both sides of the political spectrum through which women candidates are fielded to meet quotas and then sidelined so men can take the seats if they become eligible.

The two women this week, fielded at the bottom of the list with no hope of ever winning a seat in a Socialist-dominated region, gave up their rights to the empty seat so one of Albania's wealthiest men, Astrit Veliaj, could get get back to parliament after failing to win his seat directly as the second-seated Democratic Party MP candidate.

The two women, despite statements to the contrary by all those involved, were likely forced to withdraw.

Their rejection letters are reported to be identical, not only submitted on the same date, but also using the same verbal expressions and even having similar mistakes. Publicly one said she had a sick child to take care of, the other first said she wanted to be an MP, but then abruptly changed her mind, giving no explanation.

Berat’s case draws strong parallels with a 2014 even worse situation in Lezha, when two Socialist Party female members withdrew so Arben Ndoka, a man with alleged criminal ties, could become MP in the district, saying it was their personal decision, one claiming to be deathly ill.

The situation became so bad in Lezha, due to a series of resignations and sackings – mostly related to criminal convictions and alleged ties, the Socialist Party ran out of people in their list to fill the seats being vacated.

The Democratic Party says one cannot draw parallels between the two cases, however, it is clear the opposition is not holding itself to the same standards it demands from the government.

The new MP, Veliaj, does not have a scary past like some of his Lezha colleagues from the other side of the political spectrum, but he is clearly being given preferential treatment by his party.

Veliaj is the owner of Albanian University and a large educational network starting from elementary schools and extending to universities. He no doubt financed much of the campaign in Berat, so the party probably feels obligated to give him the seat, even though he failed to win in a direct election.

While gender balance in politics is a laudable goal, there is no point in having progressive laws when political parties and other actors make a mockery of these laws and the reasons they exist. Either implement them correctly or get rid of the laws. It is clear that in Albania powerful men rule, while women have to make up embarrassing excuses as to why they are not taking MP seats that legally belong to them.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania must end practice of 'checklist laws'
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135815" align="alignright" width="300"]Photos: AIIS Russian ambassador to Tirana speaks at a foreign policy forum. Photos: AIIS[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 15 - Russia is willing to boost its political and economic ties with Albania if the Balkan country adopts a more pragmatic approach like some of Europe’s leading economies and EU aspirant regional countries do despite EU sanctions in place, says Russia’s Ambassador to Albania Alexander Karpushin.

The comments came this week at a foreign policy forum organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), one of the country’s leading think tanks, as part of its series with diplomats and other distinguished speakers to alert the public, political elites and the business community to contemporary security and foreign policy challenges.

"For me as Russia's ambassador to Albania, my prime objective and the embassy's main task is re-establishing cooperation and mutual trust between the two countries and people to the high level it used to exist. I am sure we have everything to achieve this,” said ambassador Karpushin, a career diplomat who has been serving as Russia’s ambassador to Albania for the past three years.

Tiny Albania and the former Soviet Union were asymmetric allies for more than a decade under communism before they split in 1961 over ideological grounds and had no diplomatic ties for about three decades until the early 1990s when communism in Albania collapsed and the Soviet Union dissolved.

The 30-year break in diplomatic ties, an Albanian-Russian intergovernmental committee on trade and economic cooperation that has not convened over the past eight years, failure to sign a friendship and cooperation treaty, Albania’s 2015 joining Western sanctions against Russia over its Crimea annexation are some of the main barriers that hold back Russian-Albanian political and economic cooperation.

“We are trying to find common ground to overcome this deadlock. Our dialogue in the past 28 years has been characterized by the excess politicization of bilateral ties and disregard for our common potential" Karpushin said, noting Albania has the Western Balkan’s lowest trade exchanges with Russia.

“I am convinced that establishing direct links between the business communities would be a crucial step toward pragmatic and depoliticized cooperation,” he added, hopeful that the intergovernmental committee will be finally held this year with a joint business forum.

NATO members Albania and Montenegro are the only Western Balkans countries to have joined Western sanctions against Russia. However, Montenegro remains one of the top destinations for Russian tourists and investment while EU aspirant Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not joined sanctions against Russia for its Crimea annexation.

Responding to Albania’s move to join Western sanctions in 2015, Russia imposed counter-sanctions on Albania which almost paralyzed Albania’s low but rapidly growing fruit and vegetable-dominated exports to Russia.

Trade exchanges between the two countries slightly dropped to about €80 million in 2016, dominated by Albanian wheat and liquid gas imports. The exchanges have stagnated at this modest level for at least a decade, accounting for about 2 percent of Albania’s volume of trade, according to Albania’s state statistical institute, INSTAT.

Meanwhile, Albania’s exports to Russia during the past three years have almost been non-existent after Russia imposed counter-sanctions on Albanian meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables.

The ambassador says the elderly generation, some of whom graduated in Russia until the early 1960s are still nostalgic about Russia and there is interest to learn Russian among the younger generation who are provided free classes and awarded about 40 scholarships a year to study in Russian universities.

"Albanians love our culture, literature, music, paintings and not only. They have not forgotten that in the post-war period, almost all of the Albanian government elite were trained in Russia," said the ambassador.

Commenting on Russia’s alleged interest and rising role in the Balkans, the Russian ambassador said every effort by Russia to establish normal relations with Balkan countries immediately becomes a topic of concern for Western politicians.

"We are aware of a special geo-political importance of both Albania and the whole Western Balkans and of course we target strengthening our influence in this part of Europe. I don't know why our Western partners see negative connotation in this and make themselves afraid with Russia's ‘aggressive plans' in the Balkans,” said the ambassador.

“Russia has never been against the European perspective of Albania and that of other countries. The sole interest Russia has in the Western Balkans is overcoming all internal controversy that still exists in the region,” he added.

Asked by journalists over Russia’s alleged violation of human rights at home, the ambassador described it as fake news, the same as Russia’s alleged interference in the latest U.S. presidential election.

Energy, transport, agriculture and particularly tourism are some of the sectors where the two countries can cooperate.

“Tourism can provide a strong impetus to bilateral relations,” the ambassador said, noting that neighboring Montenegro, where Russian language is popular is visited by 250,000 Russian tourists a year compared to only about 15,000 in Albania.

Albania regularly lifts visas for Russian during summer in a bid to stimulate its rapidly growing tourism sector and the two countries are working on establishing direct Russia-Albania flights.

Albert Rakipi, the AIIS head, said that despite the ‘agree to disagree’ approach the think tank follows, there is space to reflect on Albania’s relations with Russia on mutual interests in a new context outside the asymmetric relations and ideological ground that existed under communism.

Albania-Russia relations date back to the late 1940s when the two then communist countries developed close ties until 1961 when they broke over ideological grounds.

More than two decades after the collapse of its communist regime in the early 1990s, Albania is a NATO country and an EU candidate hoping to launch accession talks.

Russia also remains one of the key global players, being the world’s biggest energy exporter.

The Russian economy has been slowly recovering following recession triggered by tumbling oil prices and Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea.

Bernd Fischer, a U.S. historian will several publications on Albania, will be the keynote speaker in next week's AIIS foreign policy forum, discussing American foreign policy under President Donald Trump.

 
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TIRANA, Feb. 15 – In a visit to Tirana on Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos signed a major agreement with Albanian authorities effectively handing over much of the control of Albania’s border management to the EU border agency, Frontex, in cases defined in the memorandum of understanding.

“This agreement will allow for the future deployment in Albania of EU border and coast guard teams," Avramopoulos said after the signing.

In 2011, the European Union opened the door for Albanian travelers, removing the visa wall with Albania. The move happened after a number of successful reforms through which Albania implemented secure documents and created a program for secure borders and territory.

As such, this week’s development of Frontex taking control of the maritime and land borders of Albania could be seen as a major step backward, highlighting lack of confidence in Albania’s abilities to secure its territory and borders.

The EU’s hurry in signing the agreement to allow the establishment of land and sea border controls through its own border agency is a sign of EU fears that Albanian borders are not secure to the wave of migration, but also to drug trafficking or weapons.

The move also comes as a daily trickle of migrants from third countries is starting to turn into a stream in a new Balkan route from Greece to Slovenia that goes through Albania. And, of course, there is an ongoing wave of Albanian citizens trying to migrate to the EU either through seeking asylum or through a stealthy overstay of their travel periods.

Commissioner Avramopoulos himself said he was happy with the speed with which the negotiations took place -- talks he hoped will take place with other countries in the region as well.

"I thank the Albanian authorities for the fruitful negotiations and their commitment to reach an agreement so soon. Albania is a precursor to the region and the agreement will serve as a model for similar agreements that we are negotiating with other partners in the Western Balkans. The closer cooperation between Albania and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will allow us to be faster and more flexible in responding to any potential migratory challenges. This is an important step forward and is in the best interests of both Albania and the European Union," Commissioner Avramopoulos said.

While other countries are also a target, Albania appears to have been singled out as the first country that needed such an agreement.

It’s also important to note the context in which the agreement was signed, as Albania desperately tries to open accession talks with the European Union. Meanwhile, the only agreements the EU seems to be readily signing are security-related ones.

Avramopoulos said in addition to similar historic and geographic values, Albania’s future is linked with the EU mainly due to the region’s geopolitical instability, which both Albania and the EU have to counter.

“We share the same challenges as Albania, in particular in the fight against illegal migration, border management and a more efficient fight against organized crime and terrorism,” he said in a press conference.

According to Avramopoulos, the new EU strategy for the Western Balkans published last week poses an ambitious agenda for Albania, but also offers a window of opportunity for the country.

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TIRANA, Feb. 14 - Two women Democratic Party candidates in Berat -- Juvina Jani and Monika Qosja -- have rejected their legal right to take an MP seat vacated by a resignation so one of Albania's wealthiest men can take the seat instead to return to parliament.

The latest move is part of wider trend on both sides of the political spectrum through which women candidates are fielded to meet quotas and then sidelined so men candidates can take the seats if they become eligible.

The MP mandate was offered to the two women based on legal gender quotas after Berat MP Eduard Halimi resigned. The two women were at the bottom of the Berat list, and their resignation opened the way for businessman Astrit Veliaj to become a Democratic Party MP for a second time.

Though Jani and Qosja have refused to give media statements after officially rejecting the mandate, local media reports their decision was, in fact, imposed to them.

Veliaj denies he pressured anyone to give up eligibility.

Jani and Qosja’s rejection letters immediately followed Halimi’s resignation letter, given to the Central Election Committee on Friday, Feb. 9.

However, after Halimi made his resignation public, local media reached out to Jani and Qosja. While Jani reportedly told local media she wouldn’t be accepting the mandate due to a relative’s health problems, Qosja said she would gladly accept the mandate if she was next on the list of candidates.

Both women were indeed at the end of the candidate list, but gender quotas made them the next candidates to be appointed as MPs in Berat.

On Feb. 10, however, Qosja was contacted again by local media. This time, she said she didn’t receive an official notice for the position and made no further comments.

The rejection letters that will allow Veliaj to get a second term as MP are reported to be identical, not only submitted on the same date, but also using the same verbal expressions and even having similar mistakes.

Berat’s case draws strong parallels with a 2014 situation in Lezha, when two Socialist Party female members withdrew so that Arben Ndoka could become MP in the district, saying it was their personal decision.

In the past, Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha expressed disbelief the Socialist women withdrew on their own accord.

“Four women had to resign their MP mandate, under the threat of the most foul violence that came with Edi Rama’s blessing,” Basha said back in Jan. 2014.

Asked about the similarity between the two cases, opposition leader Lulzim Basha said the DP’s situation is not the same.

“Arben Ndoka is a man sentenced for prostitution, while in this case there is no criminality charges for any of the candidates, whoever the next MP will be,” Basha told media.

Veliaj first ran for MP through the Republican Party in 2009, but was not appointed. In 2013 and 2017 he ran with the Democratic Party and won in Berat.

He is the owner of Albanian University and a large educational network starting from elementary schools and extending to universities.

Veliaj has no background in politics and has been previously investigated by the prosecution for allegedly building his university buildings without formerly acquiring a permit.

Halimi, whom he is substituting, on the other hand, is a former minister of justice and one of the most prominent lawyers of the Democratic Party’s parliamentary group.

Also currently vice president of the Laws Commission, his resignation to pursue a long-term international law project for the Balkans caused surprise.

 

[post_title] => Part of trend, MP seat filled by wealthy man as two women give up eligibility [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => part-of-trend-mp-seat-filled-by-wealthy-man-as-two-women-give-up-eligibility [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-16 09:37:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-16 08:37:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135834 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135764 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-12 13:31:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-12 12:31:20 [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 12 – Albania has been ordered to pay back the country’s largest oil producer dozens of millions of dollars over a tax dispute under a decision that comes as a second consecutive blow the country’s public finances receive over the course of one month from international courts. Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce has ruled the Albanian government will have to pay back Bankers Petroleum $57 million (€46.5 mln) over a tax dispute dating back to 2011. The conflict escalated in 2015 following an audit by a government agency claiming the country’s largest oil producer had artificially increased operating costs in order to avoid paying the profit tax, a national TV reports citing a copy of the decision by Paris-based international arbitration court. The ruling is the second international punishment Albania has received during the past month after Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights decided last January the Albanian government will have to compensate owners of a seaside apartment block a total of about €17 million ($21 mln) for illegally demolishing it in late 2013 to pave the way for a coastal promenade. The two rulings take the total bill Albania has to foot to about $80 million, a significant amount for Albania’s struggling public finances burdened by the high cost of the country’s public debt, currently at 70 percent of the GDP, a high level for Albania’s current stage of development. The rulings also unveil the Albanian government’s arbitrariness when enforcing contracts and respecting property rights, two of the main concerns facing foreign investors in the country in addition to highly perceived corruption and an inefficient judiciary that Albania is trying to reform. Top Channel TV has learned the costs the Albanian government incurs from the arbitration trial with Bankers Petroleum amount to $60 million including court expenses and interest rates. In Sept. 2016, Bankers Petroleum was acquired by a Chinese company for C$575 million (€392 mln) from Canadian investors who ran the country's largest oil producer for 12 years under a 25-year concession deal with the Albanian government which expires in 2029.   Bankers Petroleum conflict The conflict with the Albanian government started in 2015 after an audit by the national agency for natural resources claimed the company had artificially increased its expenses by $300 million in order to avoid paying the profit tax which companies operating in the oil industry pay at a 50 percent rate only after meeting their investment costs. To date, no oil company operating under concession contracts in Albania has paid the profit tax, justifying it with high investment costs. Earlier in 2015, the then Canadian-run came under fire over failing to meet safety requirements following the eruption of water and gas from two of its oil wells, causing property damage and the temporary evacuation of local residents who claim the company's drilling operations trigger constant earthquake-like tremors. The Albanian government and Bankers Petroleum suspended arbitration proceedings in early 2016 after agreeing to hire a third-party auditor over the $57 million tax dispute as Bankers continued to pay the disputed amount in instalments. However, later in late 2016, the Albanian government resumed legal action at the Paris-based arbitration court, dissatisfied with the ruling of PwC, one of the Big Four auditors, which ordered the Albanian government to pay back Canada-based Bankers Petroleum $37 million it had already paid in instalments over the disputed amount. Bankers Petroleum, which since Sept. 2016 has been run by China’s Geo Jade, has considerably curbed oil production and delayed new drilling following the mid-2014 slump in international oil prices. The company is now exporting its crude oil production after the late 2017 suspension of operations of a local oil refiner that went bankrupt left more than 1,000 oil workers jobless. Bankers Petroleum operates the Patos-Marinza, one of Europe’s largest onshore heavy oilfields, and accounts for the overwhelming majority of 95 percent of Albania’s total oil production. Bankers was one the country's largest debtors to the Albanian tax authorities at the end of 2016 with debts estimated at 2.5 billion lek (€18.7 million), according to a report by the Supreme State Audit. State auditors say oil companies operating in the country are actively engaged in practices of fictitiously reporting high expenditure in order to avoid paying the corporate income tax which in case of oil companies is paid at a 50 percent only after investment costs are met. Oil companies are charged a 10 percent royalty tax, making crude oil exports, the country’s second largest, a low value added product. BMI Research, a unit of Fitch credit rating agency , estimates Albania's production of crude and natural gas and other liquids to have slowed down to 17,600 barrels of oil per day (bopd) in 2017, from 18,100 bopd in 2016 and a record high of 27,500 bopd in 2014 when oil prices were at their peak levels. International oil prices recovered to $57 a barrel, up from a record low of $45 a barrel in 2016, but yet almost half of the peak level of more than $110 in mid-2014, says BMI Research. Albania is a major oil producer but due to the poor quality and heavy refining needs of domestically produced oil, the country imports the overwhelming majority of its needs. Currently, Shell oil giant is also engaged in oil explorations in the country, having made some key oil discoveries in southern Albania. Last December, Albania concluded contract negotiations with the Royal Dutch Shell over a new oil exploration block, extending the British-Dutch multinational’s operations in the country, currently at an exploration stage, to three blocks. Due its high tax burden levied on oil, Albania faces one of Europe’s highest fuel prices, but paradoxically one of the continent’s lowest GDP and consumption per capita estimated at only a third of the EU 28 average. At €1.3.4/liter in February 2018, Albania’s diesel prices were the Western Balkan’s highest and even higher compared to Europe’s superpower Germany, says the Global Petrol Prices portal. The oil industry produces Albania’s second largest exports and employs more than 3,000 people.   Arbitration threat  The decisions by the two international French courts ordering Albania to pay back about $80 million to private investors, unveils a new threat facing the country’s public finances for 2018 when two-major energy-related investment complete such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and big hydropower plant complete, leaving a huge gap in FDI, government revenue and contribution to GDP. A late 2017 leaked confidential document by the country’s justice ministry showed that Albania faces the threat of being punished with a staggering €2 billion from a handful of arbitration cases with foreign companies, raising concern over the devastating effects it would have on the country’s public finances and one of Europe’s poorest economies. Former Justice Minister Petrit Vasili says the country faces a severe financial threat. "It's a fearful financial emergency and the Prime Minister faces the criminal offence responsibility for his destructive financial actions with the unilateral cancellation of contracts, but also his inaction, because he did nothing even though he was informed in writing over the situation," says Vasili, an opposition Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) MP who in April 2017 was justice minister representing the SMI in the coalition government when he informed Prime Minister Edi Rama of the €2 billion arbitration court threat. In case such a scenario is materialized, Albania risks losing almost a fifth of its GDP and half of the annual budget, not to mention public debt costs and economic and social effects from sharp cuts in government spending. In its 2018 fiscal package, the Albanian government ranks potential punishment from international arbitration cases as one of the key threats facing the 2018 budget in addition to the prolonged drought paralyzing the country’s hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation in the second half of 2017 and triggering costly electricity imports of more than €100 million. Albania recently won its first major legal battle with Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti over cancelled waste management and renewable energy projects dating back to two decades ago. Bechetti whose Albania assets, including a local TV station, were seized in mid-2015 on suspicion of money laundering and fraud-related offences, is still seeking hundreds of millions of euros other arbitration trials in the U.S. and Austria. Albania is estimated to have lost about 8.5 billion lek (€63 million) in arbitration cases until the end of 2016, the majority of which in one case dating back to 2010 in the so-called electric train project with U.S. giant General Electric over the unilateral cancellation of a 2005 contract. [post_title] => Arbitration threat: Albania loses $80 million in one month [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => arbitration-threat-albania-loses-80-million-in-one-month [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-12 13:31:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-12 12:31:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135764 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135745 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-09 10:11:09 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-09 09:11:09 [post_content] => In the Netflix dark comedy film, “The War Machine,” when a U.S. general (Brad Pitt) explains to the Afghan president (Ben Kingsley) how he was going to win the war, in military jargon and enthusiasm, saying: “This is my new strategy,” the president smiles and says: “It sounds a lot like the old strategy.” The general was replaced a few months later and the war goes on to this day. The epic scene perfectly captures what a lot of people who intimately follow the never-ending saga of EU membership for Western Balkan states feel following the release with a lot of fanfare of a new strategy for the enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans. It reads like it could have been written 15 years ago after the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, when the Western Balkan states were first promised membership in the European Union. Its vague and bureaucratic language doesn't do justice to actual promises for financial and technical support for the region. There was some news, of course, an actual date to shoot for, seven years from now, for Montenegro and Serbia -- the only two countries which have already opened membership negotiations. For Albania, there was none, just more wording of “visible progress” and “negotiations.” This happened as EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, noted that Albania's foreign policy was fully aligned with the EU, something for which she thanked Tirana. At the same time, Serbia, known for its Russia-friendly stances, gets awarded with an earlier date for membership. It turns out, flattery can only get you so far. Let's not only look outward though. Aligning foreign policies with the EU is not enough. Blaming solely the EU for Albania's stalled bid is not fair. Albania is a mess, and thing don't appear to get any better soon. The country is simply not wealthy and not organized enough to meet the standards of EU states like Germany and the Netherlands. It might not be for another 100 years before it reaches those standards. We also have to get past the fact that Bulgaria and Romania got a free ride. The EU has nothing to lose with Albania being perpetually out of the union. And so there needs to be a national dialogue about expectations and what Albanians can do to make things better – other than emigrating. We are starting from a tough spot. Albania's government fails to meet basic services in education and healthcare for its citizens when compared to EU members, so one cannot expect for it to meet democratic or justice standards. Many Albanians feel that the country's government is heading more into the likes of its counterparts in Russia and China rather those of EU states. If the Albanian ruling party, for example, can win elections despite major charges of ties with organized crime and drug cultivation, then we have moved into another realm altogether, and we need to talk about whether Albania's values are compatible with the ones of the EU. The generation that was 40 when communism fell might never see Albania as an EU member in their lifetime, but now it appears their children (the half that have not emigrated) might not either. It's a bitter pill to take in a country where more than 87 percent support EU membership, but one that must be swallowed. So the question is what next? There is no clear alternative to the EU, and the illusion that things can only get better has now been shuttered. Under the current new-old strategy, the quest goes on – indefinitely.   [post_title] => Editorial: A new strategy that sounds a lot like the old strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-a-new-strategy-that-sounds-a-lot-like-the-old-strategy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-09 10:12:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-09 09:12:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135745 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135707 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-08 10:17:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-08 09:17:01 [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 8 – Albania will start applying next June some de-euroization measures in a bid to discourage the current high levels of Europe’s single currency in the country’s banking system and improve the transmission of its easier monetary policy in boosting credit in the local currency. The new rules make it more expensive for commercial banks to provide Euro-denominated loans and accept deposits in Europe's single currency, by increasing compulsory reserve requirements. Compulsory reserve requirements for lek-denominated deposits and loans, currently at about half of the total, have been lowered or kept at the same levels in a bid to encourage the use of national currency and protect savers and borrowers from exchange rate fluctuations. "These regulatory amendments aim at making foreign currency transactions in the banking sector more costly (i.e. less preferred) and promote mechanisms for raising the awareness of borrowers (especially those households who are unhedged against the exchange rate risk) on risks that accompany foreign currency borrowing. The changes will enter into force within the first half of this year," central bank governor Gent Sejko told a press conference this week. The compulsory reserve requirement for foreign-currency liabilities that mainly involve Euro-denominated deposits has been raised to 12.5 percent, up from a previous 10 percent on both foreign and local currency deposits. For commercial banks where foreign-currency deposits account for more than half of the total, the reserve requirement for any liability above the 50 percent level has been set at 20 percent. Meanwhile, compulsory reserve requirements for lek-denominated deposits has been lowered by 2.5 percent to 7.5 percent. Similarly, the minimum requirements on foreign-currency denominated liquid assets has been increased to 20 percent of the short-term liabilities, up from a previous 15 percent and preserved at 15 percent on lek-denominated liquid assets. In a bid to raise awareness of the risks facing borrowing in foreign currency, commercial banks have also been asked to propose borrowers an alternative lek-denominated loan and provide examples of changes in loan instalments in case of currency exchange fluctuations. "In order to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I would like, first of all, to clarify for the public that the Bank of Albania does not intend to reduce to zero the use of foreign currencies in financial activities, but to reduce the level of euroization to levels that are acceptable for economies of similar structure and size to our economy,” said governor Sejko. “What we would like to see reduced, diminished or minimized is the presence of open foreign currency positions and exchange rate risk taking, whether directly or indirectly, in an unstudied or unhedged manner, by consumers, firms and financial market agents," he added. Currently, some 53 percent of deposits in Albania's banking system are denominated in foreign currency, the overwhelming majority of which in Euro, while lending in credit is still dominated by Euro loans. An IMF report shows Euro-denominated deposits increased by 10 percent to about half of total savings in the banking system over a decade until 2016. Meanwhile, the share of foreign currency credit, the overwhelming majority of which is denominated in Euro, dropped by 10 percent to 60 percent over a five-year period until 2016. "The Bank of Albania deems that de-euroization is a necessary and useful process in the long run, in terms of both enhancing the effectiveness of economic and financial policies and reducing the risks to the financial stability," said central bank governor Gent Sejko. "Our studies and analyses show that the use of foreign currencies in the domestic economic and financial environment is relatively high. This phenomenon is related to the high use of foreign currencies in commercial transactions and as a medium for savings, in the form of deposits, or for financing, in the form of foreign currency loans," the governor added. Albania had some €1.9 billion in Euro-denominated loans and about 2 billion euros in deposits at the end of 2016, according to the European Central Bank. Albania's central bank also decided to keep its key rate at a historic low of 1.25 percent this week, an easy monetary policy it has been following since mid-2016 in a bid to boost current sluggish credit and consumption. The Albanian economy is projected to have grown by 3.9 percent in 2017 boosted by some major energy-related investment which are set to conclude their investment stage by the end of this year, pushing international financial institutions to lower their GDP forecasts on Albania to 3.5 to 3.7 percent.   Euroization costs The de-euroization package will also serve the country’s central bank to increase income and reduce losses it incurs from the high level of Euro-denominated deposits and loans. A recent IMF working paper by international and Albanian experts, estimates that Albania loses a total of about 9 billion lek (€67 million) annually, 0.6 percent of the GDP, from its high euroization levels at about 50 percent. The losses include 6 billion lek (€45 million) in seigniorage income for the central bank, indicating the difference between the value of money and the cost to produce it, and another 3 billion lek (€22.4 mln) in the high foreign currency reserves the Bank of Albania is obliged to hold to address the possible need for emergency liquidity assistance in Europe’s single currency, something which reduces the banking system’s refinancing needs and the possible size of the portfolio of domestic financial assets. Experts estimate Albania’s current euroization level of about 47 percent needs to drop by only 10 percent in order not to negatively affect the country’s banking system and economy. “Albania’s euroization level is just about 10 percent above the level predicted by the model, if Albania had the average euroization level as justified by the structural features of its economy and by strong macroeconomic performances,” says the IMF working paper. Experts say high euroization entails lower seigniorage revenues, reduces the effectiveness of monetary policy, and heightens the vulnerability of the financial systems to exchange rate swings. In a report examining the euro’s international role, the European Central Bank says unofficial loan and deposit euroization is salient feature among EU aspirant Western Balkans countries with Kosovo and Montenegro, already using the euro as their de facto currency without the EU’s blessing. The report says unofficial euroization is determined by factors such as confidence in the domestic currency, trade relations with the euro area and remittances. Albania conducts two-thirds of its trade exchanges with Eurozone countries, mainly Italy, and receives about €600 million in remittances from more than 1 million migrants, mainly in Italy and Greece, 40 percent less than pre-crisis peak level a decade ago.     [post_title] => De-euroization package: Albania discourages saving, borrowing in Europe’s single currency [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => de-euroization-package-albania-discourages-saving-borrowing-in-europes-single-currency [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-08 10:17:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-08 09:17:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135707 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135681 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-05 15:19:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-05 14:19:07 [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 5 - The Albanian government says it has concluded long-awaited negotiations with an Albanian company over a €240 million concession contract to complete and operate a highway linking Albania to Macedonia. A decade-long project also serving the underdeveloped northern Albania Dibra region, the ‘Arbri Road’ construction and maintenance will be carried out by Gjoka Konstruksion, an Albanian-run company that is expected to invest €240 million in the next four years under a 13-year public private partnership deal spanning from 2018 to 2031. The Albanian company is expected to secure financing on the highway’s construction on its own and get its investment back in annual instalments through taxpayer money until 2030. Once the highway is completed in the next four years, the company is expected to fund the operation and maintenance costs through a toll system. Speaking after the contract was signed on Monday, Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri said construction works will begin this year as soon as financing is obtained. "It is one of the important works and very good news for Albanian citizens, but above all Dibra citizens who have been waiting for this road for so many years," Gjiknuri said. "The project will cost €240 million and we have envisaged in the contract that the government will pay off the contractor within a 13-year period. The contractor undertakes to initially build the road on its own funds and maintain this road during the whole concession period," added the minister. While the contract details have not been made available yet, the Arbri Road will get no government financial support for this year, according to the 2018 budget. The cost of about a dozen public private partnerships the Albanian government has signed with private companies in the key health, waste-to-energy and customs sectors is expected to increase by a third to 9.4 billion lek (€69.2 mln) for 2018, at only half of the threshold the government has set on annual PPP spending at a ceiling of 5 percent of total annual tax revenue. The Arbri highway is the most important project on the government’s ambitious Euro 1 billion PPP agenda on road, health and education investments for the next few years. International financial institutions and some local experts have warned the ambitious PPP agenda could undermine the government’s efforts to bring down public debt to 60 percent of the GDP by 2021, down from a current 70 percent of the GDP. The International Monetary Fund has warned the Albanian government’s ambitious Euro 1 billion public private partnership project will not only fail to bring public debt down to 60 percent by 2021, but could create hidden costs which if included in the debt stock could take it to 71 percent of the GDP, a high burden for Albania’s current stage of development. "We have several projects which we will auction and negotiate this year and I am convinced that 2019, 2020 and 2021 will be the years of big construction sites," Gjiknuri said. The €1 billion PPP project also comes at a time when the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Devoll hydropower project, the two major energy-related projects that drove FDI and economic growth in the past few years, are set to complete their investment stage in 2018. The two projects’ contribution to GDP growth is set to turn negative in 2018 following a positive impact of up to 0.5 percent of the GDP annually in the previous four years, according to the IMF. Rrok Gjoka, the president of the Gjoka Konstruksion company said he was happy the Albanian government was finally turning to Albanian companies. "The government is also starting to trust Albanian companies. I promise I will not disappoint and we will complete the project with quality and in time," Gjoka said. Getting funding for the highway construction is not expected to be a problem for the Albanian company as long as the Albanian government guarantees to pay back for the investment in the next 13 years in annual instalments.   Contract saga/Road impact The signing of the contract comes after several years of negotiations dating back to 2015 when the Albanian government failed to conclude a deal with China State Construction Engineering Corporation, one of China’s largest construction and real estate conglomerate. The long-awaited deal was unblocked in late 2017 when Albanian-owned Gjoka Konstruksion was announced the winner of an international tender facing no rivalry from two other Albanian companies disqualified for not submitting financial bids. The Albanian-run company, which has been engaged in several major public works infrastructure projects in the past two decades, had been earlier awarded a 10 percent bonus for the October 2017 tender for its unsolicited bid. The highway project will be vital for the underdeveloped northeastern region of Dibra, one of the country’s poorest, mainly relying on agriculture and mining. The new highway is also expected to boost trade exchanges with landlocked neighbouring Macedonia and make access to Durres Port easier. In addition, the tourism sector is also expected to get boost as tourists from Macedonia, where more than a quarter of its 2 million population is ethnic Albanian, are the second top foreign visitors to Albania. The new road is expected to cut travel distance to neighboring Macedonia to only 75 km, down from a 180 km currently. Only 20 km of the highway have been completed with government funding while the remaining segment is either partly operational or not built at all. Named after Arber, the medieval name for Albanians, the current cobbled route was built in ancient times as shorter to the Via Egnatia, the main road in the Balkans for the Roman Empire. The completion of the Arbri Road would be the second major road project in Albania in the past decade after the country completed the Highway of Nation linking it to neighboring Kosovo in 2010. [post_title] => Gov’t concludes €240 mln PPP contract on Albania-Macedonia highway [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => govt-concludes-e240-mln-ppp-contract-on-albania-macedonia-highway [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-05 15:19:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-05 14:19:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135681 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135676 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-05 10:52:16 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135678" align="alignright" width="300"]Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon © Taulant Bino Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon
© Taulant Bino[/caption] TIRANA, Feb. 5 - Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government's hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the World Wetlands Day, one day after the Socialist Party majority approved a bill in Parliament, paving the way for fast-track contract negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new international airport outside the southern Albanian coastal city of Vlora at a site which is part of a protected lagoon and ecosystem. The new airport, set to become the country’s second international airport, is projected to be built along the Narta Lagoon, where one of Europe's last wild rivers flows and the endangered Dalmatian pelican feeds, the German environmental foundation says. The projected airport lies within the Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast and is internationally recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area, with a central role for bird migration along the Adriatic Flyway, German environmentalists say. "It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast," EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, calling for an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards before concluding project negotiations. “We are convinced that a serious assessment can only conclude that the planned airport is incompatible with preserving the Narta-Vjosa ecosystem,” the EuroNatur director says. "We believe that Albania as part of the most important multilateral environmental agreements (Ramsar, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention), cannot afford to lose one of its natural crown jewels along the Adriatic coast," concludes the letter to the Albanian prime minister. [caption id="attachment_135679" align="alignright" width="300"]flamingo The Narta Lagoon is also a valuable habitat for flamingos. © Ferdinand Bego[/caption] The Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, also a valuable habitat for flamingos, has also been officially nominated a candidate Emerlad site as an area of special conservation interest. EuroNatur and several other European environmental watchdogs have also condemned the Albanian government's approval without proper environmental assessment of hydropower plant concessions along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe's last remaining wild rivers. The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, a local environmental NGO, had earlier warned the airport’s proposed location at Akerni village, some 20 km outside Vlora in an area where a small military air base used to operate, threatens the local ecosystem's integrity. The Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape is a 194 km2 area rich in wetlands and aquatic birds encompassing the Narta Lagoon along with the delta of the Vjosa River and its surrounding areas with freshwater wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. “The construction of this kind of infrastructure threatens the ecologic integrity of this area because of the habitat alienation during the investment phase and disturbance during the operational phase. In addition, this construction violates the regulatory and legal norms on protected areas," PPNEA warned in late January as the government approved fast track negotiation procedures with a Turkish consortium. The Albanian government has not yet responded to environmental concerns, but stressed the importance that a second international airport would have on breaking the monopoly the Tirana International Airport has enjoyed so far, leading to lower ticket prices and giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry. Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the Turkish consortium has offered to invest €100 million for the new airport in Vlora in details that will be determined during a 90-day negotiation period with government representatives. The Turkish consortium that has offered to build the Vlora airport is composed of Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction, three companies also involved in the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a multi-billion dollar investment that is set to become the world’s largest. While the airport investment will be private, the Albanian government is expected to guarantee the concessionaire a minimum annual income in traffic guarantees in return for the investment and operation over a period of time that will be determined during the negotiations. Meanwhile, local residents see the construction of the new airport as a new opportunity that gives added value to their lands, where the salt business is one of the few employment opportunities in the local marshlands. The airport, whose construction is expected to begin this year, is located 133 km, a 2-hour drive from Tirana, making it competitive only in case it attracts low-cost carriers. Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years. The Tirana International Airport, which until mid-2016 enjoyed exclusive rights on international flights says it supports "any initiative that aims to stimulate the economic development of the country, including the establishing of airports that enable a freer movement of Albanian citizens, as well as foreigners wishing to visit Albania." Last year, the Chinese-run consortium managing TIA, the country’s sole international airport, handled a record 2.6 million passengers, an 18 percent increase compared to 2016. [post_title] => German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => german-environmentalists-slam-albanias-new-airport-project-in-protected-area [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-05 10:52:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135676 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135668 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-02-02 11:01:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-02 10:01:01 [post_content] => Recent talks between the foreign ministers of Albania and Greece -- to seek solutions for a series of pending issues between the two countries -- have attracted a lot of attention among the public at large in Albania this week. On the Albanian side, there are several pressing issues to be solved -- from the anachronistic Greek law that states the country is still at war with Albania since WWII to the property and travel rights of Cham Albanian citizens. Issues like these have been dragged forward for way too long, hampering relations and the national interest of Albania. And thus they need solutions. Discussions are good, and it is logical that difficult discussions are needed solutions. However, chief among concerns for the Albanian public at large is the issue of the maritime border between the two countries. Many Albanians fear that Albania will have to give away too much under Greek pressure to reach an agreement. It was the same fear that led to protests and ultimately the cancellation of a deal in 2009, which was made null and void by Albania’s Constitutional Court. What worries Albanians most at this early stage in the talks for a second deal is that there has been little information coming out of the closed-door meetings. And what little information came out, came out from the Greek foreign minister, who told Greek media Greece would be getting a good deal, getting 12 miles of sea from its shores, which unclear as it is, could mean Albania has given away too much from its claim based on international law. The point is we don’t quite know what the details are, thus is difficult to judge. But opposition and civil society representatives have expressed concern about lack of transparency in the talks. On the other hand the government has said it is acting in the best interest of Albanians and for critics to wait for a final agreement to be made public. Which is why it is more important than ever that transparency be brought to the table with full public access and discussion on the agreement to avoid protests and another battle in the Constitutional Court, deferring an agreement that ultimately can help both Albania and Greece. It is also important that discussion in Albania involve everyone, including the political opposition, as this is a matter of national interest. The Albanian public is very sensitive to any government trying to “sell the sea” as critics put it, so it needs to be informed fully and offered arguments at what the government is deciding and why. The Albanian government has already made several concessions in recent months. It has agreed to pay for and take of monumental graves for remains of Greek soldiers who died on Albanian soil during the Italian-Greek war. President Ilir Meta also granted Greek-born Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos Albanian citizenship at the end of 2017 — a decision that was enthusiastically welcomed in Athens. It is time for Athens to show some good faith in the discussions, including on a fair solution to the maritime border. Ultimately, Albania and Greece need positive relations. Albania needs Greece’s help with its EU bid and the two countries are bound by geography and people. Based on 2011 census data, there were 480,851 Albanian migrants living in neighboring Greece. The actual number is probably much higher, and, on top to being a key trading partner, Greece is also a main source of remittances. There are also thousands of Albanian speakers of Greek nationality, the Arvanites, and a Greek minority in southern Albania, particularly in a couple of municipalities where Greek is the official language alongside Albanian. To honor these ties, the two countries need to come up with a transparent win-win maritime border deal based on international law and that can be acceptable by both sides. It’s not just about politics. Economically speaking, both countries need a clear cut border in order to use the sea resources in the disputed area, including any undersea oil reserves.   [post_title] => Editorial: Transparency is vital to any Albania-Greece deal [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-transparency-is-vital-to-any-albania-greece-deal [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-02 11:01:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-02 10:01:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135668 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135823 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-02-16 08:01:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-16 07:01:18 [post_content] => It is widely believed Albania has very good laws on the books as part of the country's efforts to bring its legislation closer to that of the European Union as well as its efforts to meet its other international obligations. Yet, somehow good laws don't necessarily mean good implementation and the country continues to perform poorly on most political and democracy indexes. Laws and regulations aiming to bring more women into the public life of the country are not an exception to this problem. Applying extremely progressive laws that are not present even in some of the most advanced countries in the world, Albania has decided to pass quota rules to force parties to create a more balanced parliament, where a certain percentage of candidates in elections must be allocated to women. Parties are fined if they don't follow the rule and women candidates are given a certain number of priorities to give them a leg up in parliament. Whether these laws are fair or not, is a matter of discussion, but they have been approved and they are in the books. Yet, they are regularly made a mockery of, with the latest example being this week. Two women Democratic Party candidates in Berat have rejected their legal right to take an MP seat vacated by a resignation as part of wider trend on both sides of the political spectrum through which women candidates are fielded to meet quotas and then sidelined so men can take the seats if they become eligible. The two women this week, fielded at the bottom of the list with no hope of ever winning a seat in a Socialist-dominated region, gave up their rights to the empty seat so one of Albania's wealthiest men, Astrit Veliaj, could get get back to parliament after failing to win his seat directly as the second-seated Democratic Party MP candidate. The two women, despite statements to the contrary by all those involved, were likely forced to withdraw. Their rejection letters are reported to be identical, not only submitted on the same date, but also using the same verbal expressions and even having similar mistakes. Publicly one said she had a sick child to take care of, the other first said she wanted to be an MP, but then abruptly changed her mind, giving no explanation. Berat’s case draws strong parallels with a 2014 even worse situation in Lezha, when two Socialist Party female members withdrew so Arben Ndoka, a man with alleged criminal ties, could become MP in the district, saying it was their personal decision, one claiming to be deathly ill. The situation became so bad in Lezha, due to a series of resignations and sackings – mostly related to criminal convictions and alleged ties, the Socialist Party ran out of people in their list to fill the seats being vacated. The Democratic Party says one cannot draw parallels between the two cases, however, it is clear the opposition is not holding itself to the same standards it demands from the government. The new MP, Veliaj, does not have a scary past like some of his Lezha colleagues from the other side of the political spectrum, but he is clearly being given preferential treatment by his party. Veliaj is the owner of Albanian University and a large educational network starting from elementary schools and extending to universities. He no doubt financed much of the campaign in Berat, so the party probably feels obligated to give him the seat, even though he failed to win in a direct election. While gender balance in politics is a laudable goal, there is no point in having progressive laws when political parties and other actors make a mockery of these laws and the reasons they exist. Either implement them correctly or get rid of the laws. It is clear that in Albania powerful men rule, while women have to make up embarrassing excuses as to why they are not taking MP seats that legally belong to them.   [post_title] => Editorial: Albania must end practice of 'checklist laws' [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-albania-must-end-practice-of-checklist-laws [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-16 09:46:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-16 08:46:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135823 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 52 [name] => Premium [slug] => premium [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 52 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Please subscribe to have access to articles in our premium section. 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