Albania old vehicle import ban met with protests by local traders

Albania old vehicle import ban met with protests by local traders

TIRANA, Dec. 3 – A government decision banning the import of second-hand vehicles older than 10 years and forcing them to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold cars, has been met with protests by thousands of traders who

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Albania target Euro 2020 finals through second spot finish in tough qualifying group

Albania target Euro 2020 finals through second spot finish in tough qualifying group

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Dec. 3 – Albania have been drawn in a tough Euro 2020 qualifying campaign group stage with reigning world champions France and will apparently be fighting for a second spot with Iceland and Turkey in a

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Reflections on nationalism

Reflections on nationalism

By Bernd Fischer With the hundredth anniversary of the armistice which ended the first world war just behind us, there has been a resurgence of interest in nationalism. This is a welcome development since we also seem to be experiencing

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Editorial: Nationalism- an easy and cheap shelter made of straw

Editorial: Nationalism- an easy and cheap shelter made of straw

Black Friday was almost behind us, however Albanians were treated to some nationalism bonanza at an incredible discount price this Monday when the governments of Albania and Kosovo met in the town of Peja. These meetings are often marked with

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Original Austrian telegram considered best testimony to Albania’s Independence Day

Original Austrian telegram considered best testimony to Albania’s Independence Day

TIRANA, Nov. 29 – A newly discovered original telegram sent by a former Austrian consul based in the city of Vlora, southern Albania, has brought back the atmosphere of Albania’s declaration of independence in the afternoon of November 28, 1912

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Albania placed under tighter money laundering monitoring by CoE body

Albania placed under tighter money laundering monitoring by CoE body

TIRANA, Nov. 27 – A Council of Europe monitoring body has placed Albania into enhanced follow-up following poor progress in tackling money laundering and terrorism financing, in a rating that has renewed accusations by the main opposition Democratic Party against

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Albania, Kosovo vow stronger economic cooperation amid Serbia dispute

Albania, Kosovo vow stronger economic cooperation amid Serbia dispute

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Nov. 27 – Albania and Kosovo have vowed to step up economic cooperation by scrapping tariff and non-tariff barriers and conclude a customs union project that would facilitate trade exchanges between the two neighboring ethnic Albanian

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Albanian PM: National unification with Kosovo by 2025

Albanian PM: National unification with Kosovo by 2025

TIRANA, Nov. 26 – At the joint meeting that took place in Kosovo’s Peja between the Albanian and Kosovo governments on Monday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke about the cooperation between the countries’ foreign ministries to achieve the national

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Challenges ahead with Albania’s nascent agritourism industry – a Harvard University perspective

Challenges ahead with Albania’s nascent agritourism industry – a Harvard University perspective

TIRANA, Nov. 26 – Albania’s nascent agritourism sector can be developed by promoting both culinary tourism and farm stay accommodation units despite a series of barriers related to lack of tradition and inappropriate infrastructure, according to a Harvard University study.

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Albania agrifood monopoly operator fined €400,000 for abusive rents

Albania agrifood monopoly operator fined €400,000 for abusive rents

TIRANA, Nov. 26 – Albania’s Competition Authority has fined an Albanian-owned company for abusing its monopoly position by overcharging traders at Tirana’s wholesale agrifood market just outside the Albanian capital city where it has been offering warehousing and trade facilities

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 3 – A government decision banning the import of second-hand vehicles older than 10 years and forcing them to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold cars, has been met with protests by thousands of traders who fear bankruptcy over what they call unaffordable extra costs they will have to incur and an expected sharp decline in sales due to much more expensive cars offered for sale.

While the government says the decision will curb pollution from car emissions and make the country’s vehicle fleet younger, traders claim the decision will considerably reduce the sale of second-hand cars that overwhelmingly dominate 95 percent of vehicles in the country. Traders say many of the potential buyers could no longer afford buying cars produced in the past decade and meeting at least the Euro 4 emission standards in costs starting from at least €6,000 compared to as cheap as €2,000 under no import restrictions until early December 2018.

With the ban on import of vehicles older than 10 years in force starting this week, traders have been ordered to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold cars by March 1, 2019.

While not affecting licensed cars already in use, the government decision hits dozens of thousands second-hand cars that have already been cleared through customs but have not been equipped with number plates and paid annual taxes and compulsory insurance.  Some 60,000 such cars pending sale have been handed a deadline to be equipped with number plates and pay all taxes by March 1 next year in a legal provision which traders say risks taking them to bankruptcy because of extra costs of around €300 per car at a time when their sale is not guaranteed to take place within one year.

Second-hand vehicle traders, most of whom based in the port city of Durres, some 30 km off Albania’s capital city Tirana, have been staging a series of protests in the past few weeks, calling on the government to revise its decision that negatively affects some 5,000 traders and their households relying on income from car trade.

“Few can afford buying vehicles produced in the past decade and there is no reason that licensed traders that already pay customs duties for the cars they import should pay all taxes before selling them,” say irritated traders who have warned of escalating their protests in Tirana in case the government does not withdraw its decision.

While the government could withdraw from the decision forcing traders to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold vehicles by March 2019 in a concession ahead of the upcoming June 30 local elections and as a disincentive to a possible boom in imports of second-hand vehicles in the transition period from late September when legal changes were unveiled until December 2, 2018 when they entered into force, the ban of vehicles older than 10 years, already effective starting this month, will be difficult to change because of pollution-related health and climate change concerns.

Importers of second-hand cars currently pay only 20 percent of the purchase or reference prices in customs duties since mid-2011 in a decision that eased import of second-hand cars at the expense of brand new vehicles, triggering concern by car concessionaires who have a market share of only around 5 percent in the car sale.

Due to the heavy tax burden levied on fuel, Albania already has one of Europe’s highest fuel prices, but one of the continent’s poorest income, which makes owning a car very expensive for many and more and more have been switching to cheaper liquefied petroleum gas-powered vehicles.

Albania imports around 50,000 second-hand vehicles a year, the majority of which older than ten years and not meeting the Euro 4 emission standards.

The import ban does not apply to vehicles produced until 1970 for museum, collection or humanitarian purposes. An exception is also made for smaller goods and passenger vehicles with a maximum mass of 3.5 to 5 metric tons which must not be older than 15 years before registering in Albania.

Introducing the legal initiative on Sept. 22, the World Car Free Day, Environment Minister Blendi Klosi said Albania was joining regional EU aspirant countries in banning the import of vehicles older than ten years.

Albania has been gradually applying EU norms on car emissions since late 2016 in a decision that has seen a high number of car owners install new catalytic converters to meet emission standards in order to pass their annual compulsory technical control tests.

Only 3.3 percent of vehicles circulating in the country, some 14,000, are estimated to meet Euro 5 and 6 emission standards applied in the EU since late 2009 and 2014 respectively, in a situation that significantly contributes to air pollution in the country.

Air pollution figures in Albania remain among the highest in Europe, claiming more than 2,000 lives a year in pollution-related diseases, according to a 2016 report on air quality by the European Environment Agency. Most pollution in the country is caused by vehicle emissions, but also plants and open-air waste burning.

Albania had some 535,570 vehicles in 2017 but only 421,570 underwent the compulsory technical control, according to the country’s Institute of Transportation.

The Balkan country has one of Europe’s highest death tolls from road accidents with an estimated 15 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. About 2,000 road accidents took place last year, with a death toll of 222, the lowest level for the past six years when data is available.

Experts blame the high number of accidents on reckless driving, poor road infrastructure and lack of road signs.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Dec. 3 – Albania have been drawn in a tough Euro 2020 qualifying campaign group stage with reigning world champions France and will apparently be fighting for a second spot with Iceland and Turkey in a bid to repeat their 2016 success when they earned a first ever qualification to the finals of a major tournament.

Having missed a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1, and having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

Moldova and Andorra are also featured in Group H of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign that will be held over ten matchdays from March to November 2019 with Albania playing the first qualifier at home to Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but which has been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s. Albania last played Turkey in a friendly in late 2017 to claim a surprise 3-2 away victory. Both teams are equal on their 10 encounters so far with each having claimed four wins and drawn twice since the early 1970s.

Iceland will be another tough opponent for Albania in their bid for a second spot finish having become the smallest nation by population to qualify for the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup finals, but disappointing in their Nations League campaign this year, finishing bottom and failing to claim any points in encounters with Switzerland and Belgium.

Albania and Iceland have played each other five times since the early 1990s with the tiny Island of 340,000 residents having claimed three victories compared to two for Albania. Iceland beat Albania 2-1 both on home soil and away in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers to finish second in the group stage, but lost to Croatia in the playoffs and failed to reach their first major finals.

Albania also made it to the Euro 2016 finals in their first ever appearance at a major tournament in a tough group stage with Portugal, the reigning European champions, Denmark and Serbia, finishing second to earn direct qualification.

Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland were punished by their -2 goal difference.

However, Albania disappointed in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign finishing third in a tough group stage where it couldn't do much against former world and European champions Spain and Italy, the latter also failing to qualify for the first time in six decades at the finals of a World Cup after losing a playoff with Sweden.

The national side's disappointment continued in the Nations League campaign with Albania collecting only a home victory with Israel and finishing bottom in a group stage topped by Scotland who will be given another chance for the Euro 2020 should they fail to qualify through the traditional format.

The poor performances nearly led to the dismissal of Albania's Italian coach Christian Panucci, who has been in charge since mid-2017 succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi, but has lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in one of Albania's poorest ever performance which the coach has justified with key absences and a new generation of players replacing former veterans of the Euro 2016 campaign.

 

Reactions at home 

Speaking after the draw, coach Christian Panucci described reigning world champions France as the absolute favorites and said Albania will be fighting for a second spot with Turkey and Island.

"The draw could have been better or worse, but we will work to achieve the impossible. France are the favorites. I see Albania fighting for a second spot with Turkey and Iceland," said the 45-year coach who has been under continuous pressure this year following a series of lackluster performances.

Albania recently got a morale-boosting win against Wales following a humiliating 4-0 home defeat against Scotland earlier in November to relive pressure on Panucci, a former Italian international who played for top European clubs, but had little coaching experience when taking over as Albania coach.

Former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi who led the national side to the finals of France 2016, the national side's first ever appearance to a major tournament, says Albania stands real chances to claim another qualification.

"Albania should believe in the second spot and in qualification. In the Euro 2016 campaign, Portugal had the stature of present-day France but Serbia and Denmark are not like Iceland and Turkey with all due respect [for the latter],” says De Biasi.

“I believe Albania will rival through the end for a second spot with Island and Turkey," De Biasi, mostly jobless since leaving Albania has told local media.

Chances for Albania to make it to the Euro 2020 are only through the traditional format of the upcoming qualifiers where they need to secure a top two finish in order to repeat their 2016 historic first ever qualification to a major tournament.

 

Kosovo’s campaign

Having claimed a surprise but convincing Nations League promotion in their League D, Group 3, Kosovo will also be playing in a tough qualifying campaign with England, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Montenegro in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

One of the world’s youngest national sides, having been admitted as UEFA and FIFA member only in 2016, Kosovo claimed historic success at the Nations League campaign, topping their group and standing another chance to qualify as one of its league’s best teams even in case of failing a top two finish in the traditional format.

Many of Albania’s national side’s players are of Kosovo roots with encounters between the two teams hailed as a local derby.

 

Euro 2020 campaign

Twenty-four teams will reach the Euro 2020 finals with four places to be decided by the UEFA Nations League play-offs in March 2020.

Twenty teams, the top two in each of the ten groups, reach the tournament via the traditional qualifiers, running from March to November 2019.

The Euro 2020 finals will be held in 12 host cities across the continent in celebration of the competition's 60-year history.

 

GROUP H

FRANCE

ICELAND

TURKEY

ALBANIA

MOLDOVA

ANDORRA

 

MATCHDAY ONE

Friday 22 March, 2019 - Albania v Turkey

MATCHDAY TWO

Monday 25 March - Andorra v Albania

MATCHDAY THREE

Saturday 8 June - Iceland v Albania

MATCHDAY FOUR

Tuesday 11 June - Albania v Moldova

 MATCHDAY FIVE

Saturday 7 September - France v Albania

MATCHDAY SIX

Tuesday 10 September - Albania v Iceland

MATCHDAY SEVEN

Thursday 10 October - Turkey v Albania

MATCHDAY EIGHT

Monday 14 October - Moldova v Albania

 MATCHDAY NINE

Thursday 14 November - Albania v Andorra

MATCHDAY TEN

Sunday 17 November - Albania v France
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                    [post_content] => By Bernd Fischer

With the hundredth anniversary of the armistice which ended the first world war just behind us, there has been a resurgence of interest in nationalism. This is a welcome development since we also seem to be experiencing something of a resurgence of the concept itself, particularly in areas of the world where its hold had weakened. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the nationalist deputy prime minister, has turned away migrant boats and called for the expulsion of Roma people. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks of a "Muslim take-over" and proudly flaunts his version of "illiberal democracy." In Germany, the far right has become the main voice of opposition in parliament, and in the United States President Donald Trump is now a self-described proud nationalist. These developments have alarmed many, including President Macron of France who recently described nationalism as a betrayal of patriotism, as the exact opposite of patriotism. He may very well be right.

There is no simple definition of nationalism. It rose in Europe, in part, as an unexpected reaction to the Napoleonic Wars. Much of the theory was worked out it Germany where, arguable, we have seen its greatest successes and it greatest excesses. The theoretical foundations were principally laid by Johann Herder and J. G. Fichte. Herder wrote about what he called the Volksgeist, or spirit of the people, arguing that each nation had its own creative genius, an inspiration for early romantic, cultural and liberal nationalism. While Herder stayed away from value judgments, Fichte added racial overtones, suggesting that the Germans had a special political and national destiny. This latter version anticipated the aggressive, conservative, political nationalism of Bismarck.

In a general sense, from a psychological standpoint nationalism was rooted in ethnic identity, a common language, common history and traditions, and common aspirations for the future. Socially and economically it was rooted in the growth of an urban population and a middle class secularization of culture. In a way, it required literacy since you really cannot be an effective nationalist if you are unable to read. Politically it was harnessed to promote national self-interest and the principle of the nation-state, or political boundaries which encompass one ethnic unit. There was much positive about the concept. It encouraged the development of cultural awareness as well as the beginnings of a national economy. But in my estimation, the negative aspects far outweigh the positive. Nationalism spawned aggressive chauvinism, imperialistic tendencies, militarism and war. It contributed to the outbreak of the first world war and more recently, the wars of the destruction of Yugoslavia.

But what of patriotism? The term is loosely described a love of country, rather than of nation. Nationalism is not like patriotism, principally because it is based on ethnic exclusivity, whereas patriotism, is based on ethnic inclusivity. In other words, it is possible to become American, Canadian or French, while it is not possible to become a Serb or a Croat. You either are or you aren't. Patriotism tended to replace nationalism in much of the West in part because of the moderating influences of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. In those areas of eastern Europe which were less effected by the above movements, social cohesion continued to be based on ethnicity and religion. Nationalists gain adherents through vilifying the "other", and through historicism, or cherry-picking or outright distorting of history. In others words, they attract support through fear and lies, similar perhaps to President Trump's closing arguments in the run-up to the recent mid-term elections in the United States. While it is certainly likely that Trump does not fully understand nationalism, he seems to have adopted some of its uglier attributes.

Nationalism is of course alive in Albania as well but the Albanian variant, I would argue, is much less virulent than the Serb or Greek version - some of which we saw displayed just recently in Bularat. So why the difference? There are, I believe, many reasons. Albania was the last of the Balkan nations to achieve independence, and the last to develop a modern national consciousness. Why was nationalist development in Albania delayed?  While this question is complex, it can be understood in terms of both conscious Ottoman policy and the nature of the Albanians themselves.  The Ottomans, who ruled the Albanians for some four centuries, instituted policies that effectively inhibited the development of a national consciousness.  Some of these policies were applied to the Balkan peoples in general while others were applied only to the Albanians.  As an example of the former, the Ottomans divided their subjects into administrative units without regard to nationality with Albanians being divided into four separate vilayets, or administrative regions.  As an example of the latter, since religion was not associated with nationality in Albania, as it was in much of the rest of the Balkans, the Ottomans correctly concluded that language, education, and culture were the critical elements in the development of Albanian nationalism.  Severe restrictions were placed on teaching the Albanian language since a common written language could lead to a common literature, the discovery of a common past and the growth of modern nationalism.

But not all the obstacles that the Ottomans placed in the way of the development of Albanian nationalism were oppressive.  The Albanians found themselves in a favored position in the Ottoman Empire and therefore did not share the level of discontent with foreign rule felt by most of the other Balkan peoples.  Quite the contrary, the Albanians often saw the Turks as protectors against the often hostile Greeks and Serbs.  For many Albanians the Ottoman Empire provided a career, and the opportunity for advancement in the army or in the administration, where they served in disproportionate numbers.

But the Turks were not responsible for all of the obstacles in the way of the growth of Albanian nationalism.  The nature of Albanian civilization and heritage provided important indigenous obstacles.  The divisions and various levels of development within the Albanian community encouraged clanism and localism and inhibited thinking in national terms.  The existence of three, or four including Bektashi Muslims, religious groups prevented churches from playing the unifying role that they played in many other areas of Eastern Europe.  Much more importantly, the nature of Albanian society provided a powerful block to unity.  Apart from the religious differences, the Albanians were also divided linguistically, culturally, socially, and economically.  This disunity was fostered by the co-existence of three conflicting stages of civilization: the fiercely independent mountain clans in the North, the feudal Beys in the South, who ruled over a generally docile Muslim Tosk peasantry, and the more educated and urbanized population of the Hellenic and Catholic fringes.  The Turks took advantage of the disunity and lack of development by instigating discord between and within these stages of civilization, often assuming the role of arbiter.

Despite continuing pressure from some traditional Albanian nationalist elites, aided by repressive policies carried out by some of Albania’s neighbors, the type of virulent nationalism we see elsewhere in the Balkans has not developed among the overwhelming majority of Albanians. Irredentism, the key to traditional nationalism, seems to be the goal of only a few. As with everything else in the Balkans, however, this is not set in stone. If it is the aim of the West to help mitigate the development of strong traditional nationalism among Albanians, I believe there are strategies available that could facilitate this process. These strategies include the full implementation of the Ohrid accords in Macedonia, extending real autonomy to ethnic Albanians there, and perhaps more importantly, fully recognizing and accepting the independence of Kosovo. And finally, as we all learned from a study of the Balkans during the interwar period – attempting to solve the political problem with no attention to economics will likely be unsuccessful. My venerable Serbian mentor, Professor Dimitrije Djordjevic, was fond of repeating the old Balkan adage that – an empty belly burns a hole in the flag. This may likely be the ultimate key to effectively discouraging the development of virulent, traditional, Albanian nationalism. As it is, I believe the Albanians have much to teach the rest of eastern Europe. They have avoided many of the more negative aspects of nationalism, those aspects that Trump, Orban and Salvini seem to be encouraging. Most Albanians seem to have embraced the concept of Patriotism. I believe this to be a very positive development and one which enhances Balkan stability.

 

Bernd J. Fischer is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, Fort Wayne. He is the author of a number of books, translated into Albanian and other languages, among them King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania (1984, reprint 2012), Albania at War, 1939–1945 (1999), Albanian Identities, History and Myth (co-editor and co-author, 2002), Balkan Strongmen: Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of Southeastern Europe (editor and co-author, 2007) and Albania 1943-1945, A View Through Western Documents (2012), The Struggle with Rome (2017).
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                    [post_content] => Black Friday was almost behind us, however Albanians were treated to some nationalism bonanza at an incredible discount price this Monday when the governments of Albania and Kosovo met in the town of Peja. These meetings are often marked with fanfare and lavish décor that combines the Albanian ‘red and black’ with European yellow stars.  This time though the rhetoric and actions were at a whole other scale when it comes to nationalistic political behavior.

Prime Minister Rama delivered an arsenal of well-curated nationalistic tricks and jabs. He expressed deep disappointment with the European Union and member states for both not advancing Albania’s perspective through the opening of negotiations and for leaving Kosovo isolated under the visa regime. Additionally he called for a strategy to realize national unification and even gave it some concrete date: 2025. Ironically the same date given to Serbia and Montenegro as a viable one for integration by the EU Commission.

Nationalism is the ultimate easy shelter. It’s cheap, it’s a lot like straw. Those qualities precisely make it vulnerable and easy to pick apart. It’s see-through in that if one really wants it can peak in it and see what is hidden, what are the real motives for its use.  Second this straw hut doesn’t hold much pressure. The confrontation with reality is always strong and it collapses. Indeed the confrontation of this nationalistic spectacle with the lack of real content in the economic, cultural and social cooperation between the two countries has blown away this cover time and time again. But then you can build it up again in almost no time…

Rama did not refrain from bold and even derogatory comments for the international community and its behavior towards Kosovo while simultaneously backing the tariffs that Kosovo has imposed on trade with Serbia. Apart from declarations there were a lot of pretty pictures as well: the ones signing the flag and the iconic image of the cabinet of ministers making the eagle sign with their hands.  Rama was on the forefront of all these. To be fair the Kosovars seemed dazzled and confused, following the moves of the Albanian PM with some visible awkwardness.

Edi Rama has in fact mastered the art of using sudden bouts of nationalism despite it being so ill -fitted to his other well-crafted profile of the cosmopolitan artist that wears snickers in summits. Not that this is a particularly unique art to excel at. Political leaders across the world use it with alarming frequency when the ride gets tough. The confrontation of these two distinct styles within one single political figure makes for some interesting and often even ridiculous displays such as that of the Prime Minister showing up in the solemn flag ceremony on the National Day of Independence wearing his beloved baggy trousers and rain boots. So much for recognizing the seriousness of the most important date in the Albanian national history!

Explanations as to what the government is trying to take attention from vary. The domestic situation with the ongoing Ring Road protest in Tirana and the parliamentary boycott of the opposition is one thing. A likely negative result about the opening of negotiations next year is another. And these are only the short term issues. In the long term systemic problems loom large: massive migration and frightening brain drain due to economic decline and pervasive corruption. That’s a lot to try and hide within a hut.

Not that some of this frustration and even anger is entirely unjustified. There are definite and genuine kernels of truth in what the Prime Minister articulated in the meeting. The integration process is increasingly resembling an unrealistic target with the shifting internal dynamics of the EU. And the isolation imposed towards Kosovo, left as a small isolated islet around countries with visa-free regime is absurd. The EU should have learned by now from the experience of other countries in this region that visas only hinder the good guys: students, families, conference speakers. The bad guys always but always will get through.

However the timing, style and of Rama’s proclamations and gestures mix these kernels with lots of chaotic propaganda mud. With a few words and within a single day he has almost erased the progress achieved in the cooperation between Albania and Serbia, provided ample fodder for the usual whiners about the so called risk of ‘Greater Albania’ and trolled the European officials which have been supporting him so far.

Building a solid, functioning market economy with a vital trade between the two countries is the form of cooperation that is good for citizens of both states, Albania and Kosovo. This can then be complemented by organized partnership and unified cultural and educational agendas. Economy and culture need functional states, rule of law, fair competition and proper encouragement through priority funding. In that climate they can thrive and become real castles of unity. All other talk is nothing but cheap easy shelters from the problems of the day.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Nationalism- an easy and cheap shelter made of straw 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-30 11:12:45
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                    [post_content] => konomiTIRANA, Nov. 29 - A newly discovered original telegram sent by a former Austrian consul based in the city of Vlora, southern Albania, has brought back the atmosphere of Albania's declaration of independence in the afternoon of November 28, 1912 in the face of lack of photo or audio evidence from Albania’s most important event following almost five centuries under Ottoman rule.

US-based Albanian journalist and researcher Ilir Konomi says he has managed to retrieve the original version of a telegram that former Vlora-based Austrian consul to Albania, Wenzel Lejhanec, sent to the Austrian foreign minister of that time, describing it as the uncontested document providing a real picture of how Albania's independence was declared in the afternoon of Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. in Vlora 106 years ago.

"The 7-page telegram was written by Austrian consul in Vlora, Wenzel Lejhanec, and is sent to the Austrian foreign minister, informing him that Ismail Qemali [Albania’s independence leader] has proclaimed Albania's independence," says Ilir Konomi, a US-based journalist of the Voice of America in the Albanian language service.

The original typewritten document has been retrieved from the Vienna archives, which the journalist describes as a treasure for the Albanian history considering the accuracy that the Austrians recorded and reported everything that was happening in Albania at that time.

Former Austria-Hungary and present-day Austria, has been one of the key allies of Albania from the country’s independence to present-day support for Euro-Atlantic integration.

"It is a document already known by historians and already translated into Albania, but considering the accuracy with which the Austrians recorded and reported everything that took place in Albania, I think that the importance of this telegram has been underestimated to that extent that there have been legends that independence was not declared in Vlora," says Konomi.

With the first landmark picture of the country’s independence leaders in Vlora dating back to November 1913 on the country’s first independence anniversary, the researcher considers the original telegram of the Austrian council and his accounts a key document to get a picture of what happened during the afternoon of Nov. 28, 1912.

"It is really a pity that we have no pictures at all from the declaration of independence in Vlora and that's why the original telegram published for the first time helps us get a more or less accurate picture of this historic event," says Konomi.

 

Excerpts from the original Austrian telegram 

“The extraordinary National Assembly convened at 2 p.m. at the house of former mayor Xhemil bey Vlora. After examining and accepting the delegate's mandates, the Assembly listened to Ismail Qemal bey, who briefly elaborated on the situation, stressed the need of making a quick decision to preserve the country's interests.

The Assembly decided to unanimously declare independence all over Albania and immediately notify the Great Powers and inter-warring states.

In the meantime, Ismail Qemal bey was elected as head of the interim government and charged with forming the cabinet, namely the executive committee.

Under a proposal by Veli Efendi of Gjirokastra, father Kaçorri, the Durres parish priest who chaired the Assembly along with Ismail Qemali, was cheerfully approved as his deputy head.

Then, close to 4 p.m. the national flag, a double-headed black eagle on a red background, was raised at the front door of Xhemil bey's house.

The declaration of independence was proclaimed to the people waiting outside who welcomed it full of joy and enthusiasm.

Then, a crowd of people crossed the city streets, singing and cheering. The people stood in front of our [Austrian] consulate and erupted in cheers calling "Long live Albania," "Long Live Austria" in calls that were accompanied by applause.

I thanked the crowd from the window, waiving my hat and calling "Long Live Albania."

Then the crowd marched in front of the Italian consulate, where similar celebrations were held. Even [Italian] consul De Facendis appeared on the window and thanked by calling three times “E viva l’Albania”.

No celebrations were held in front of the Russian sub-consulate where it is said that some sporadic calls of "Long Live Justice” were heard.”

 

Albania-Austria relations 

Albania-Austria diplomatic relations date back to the 18th century, when Albania was still under Ottoman rule, with the opening of a consulate in Durres in 1751.

The most important support Albania received from then-Austria-Hungary was in the critical years of 1912-1913 during the country’s independence, when the country’s existence was called into question by the Great Powers of that time.

During World War I, almost the whole Albanian territory was occupied by the Austrian-Hungarian army while Shkodra, at that time the country’s largest city, became the seat of the military administration from 1916 to 1918.

Considered the father of Albanian studies and Albanology, Johann Georg von Hahn, a nineteenth-century Austrian diplomat and explorer, was one of the first to demonstrate the Albanian language’s membership in the Indo-European family.
                    [post_title] => Original Austrian telegram considered best testimony to Albania’s Independence Day 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-27 16:16:53
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 27 - A Council of Europe monitoring body has placed Albania into enhanced follow-up following poor progress in tackling money laundering and terrorism financing, in a rating that has renewed accusations by the main opposition Democratic Party against the ruling Socialists.

Moneyval, the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe, says it has placed Albania into enhanced follow-up, a rating assigned to countries with serious incompliance with standards and which have taken no satisfactory action to exit regular follow-up within five years from the adoption of the last report.

The rating comes following an evaluation report which has not been disclosed yet, but whose preliminary findings were discussed by the Moneyval Committee of Experts last summer, with Albania receiving low and moderate ratings in its efforts to fight money laundering and terrorism financing due to a low number of investigations and convictions.

Enhanced follow-up means Albania will have to report back more frequently with Moneyval and that compliance enhancing procedures ensuring that countries take steps to meet the international standards and follow Moneyval recommendations within an appropriate time frame can be applied.

“Throughout the application of these steps, the country concerned is required to report to the Moneyval plenary according to the set calendar, detailing the steps taken to achieve compliance, which, in certain cases, may include action plans endorsed at government level. If the plenary is satisfied with progress, the application of compliance enhancing procedures steps can be terminated,” according to Moneyval rules.

Back in 2015, Moneyval decided to remove Albania from the regular follow-up process following adequate progress since 2010.

The new enhanced follow-up rating comes following rising concerns of drug and other criminal proceeds being laundered into the country, considered a major cannabis producer and a key transit route for cocaine and heroin for European markets.

The main opposition Democratic Party and some economy experts have linked Euro’s free fall against the national currency this year to alleged illegal euro inflows resulting from the peak 2016 cannabis cultivation and ongoing drug trafficking in the country,

Last July, soon after EU leaders delayed a decision on the possible launch of accession talks with Albania for mid-2019, European Commission representatives urged Albanian authorities step up efforts in the fight against corruption, and organized crime, in particular regarding anti-money laundering and asset confiscation, as well as addressing the issue of terrorism financing.

“The Albanian authorities should swiftly implement the recommendations of the Moneyval report on anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing,” EU officials said.

 

Opposition concerned 

The main opposition Democratic Party said the Moneyval report reconfirms its concerns of Albania having turned into a money laundering site.

"As the deputy chair of the parliamentary economy and finance committee, I have often raised the concern that the selective tax cuts in the hotel and tourism industry, construction in Tirana and especially gambling are the sectors where money is being laundered and that the government is closing eyes to it,” says Jorida Tabaku, an opposition Democratic Party MP.

“The inexplicable free fall of the euro during the past year, the increase in the number of betting shops, the decline of credit and the increase in Tirana construction should have sounded alarm bells for the government, but none of warnings were taken into consideration and we now face a situation under which Albania is placed under strict monitoring until taking action in 2019,” she adds.

 

Money laundering risk 

Earlier this year, a report assessing the exposure of commercial banks and non-bank financial institutions showed financial institutions supervised by Albania’s central bank display medium to high risk on money laundering and terrorism financing.

Half of the 60 surveyed operators were described as posing medium-level risk and the remaining half at high risk because of failing to report to the Bank of Albania.

Among the 31 medium-level risk operators, there were 12 out of 16 commercial banks operating in Albania, 13 out of 31 non-bank financial institutions and 6 out of 13 savings and loan associations.

Albania only slightly improved its ranking at the 2018 Basel anti-money laundering index, an annual ranking assessing the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing around the world, as it continued remaining a medium risk country, lagging behind two regional competitors.

The 2018 report ranked Albania as the 55th country most at risk of money laundering out of 129 countries worldwide, better than Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but significantly worse compared to Montenegro and Macedonia, the region’s top performers.

An earlier 2018 report by the US Department of State said Albania remains at significant risk for money laundering due to rampant corruption and weak legal and government institutions.

“Real estate (particularly in the coastal areas), business development projects, and gaming are among the most popular methods of hiding illicit proceeds,” said a money laundering report by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Albanian law enforcement authorities seized about €9 million in suspected money laundering transfers and bank accounts in 2017 with the majority of identified cases originating from drug trafficking and cultivation, according to an annual report by the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit.

Authorities identified family members of politically exposed individuals, people with criminal records and young men in their twenties involved in money laundering schemes in some 1,384 suspicious activity reports they received from financial institutions, mostly commercial banks, notaries public and money transfer agencies.
                    [post_title] => Albania placed under tighter money laundering monitoring by CoE body 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-27 12:59:05
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 27 – Albania and Kosovo have vowed to step up economic cooperation by scrapping tariff and non-tariff barriers and conclude a customs union project that would facilitate trade exchanges between the two neighboring ethnic Albanian countries following moderate progress in the past five years when the two governments have held regular annual joint meetings.

The stronger commitment came this week in the city of Peja, Kosovo, where the two governments held their fifth joint meeting that concluded with nine new deals including joint customs controls at the Albania-Kosovo border, mutual recognition of certificates that hold back trade exchanges, scrapping roaming tariffs and establishing a joint Kosovo-Albania chamber of commerce.

The deals come at a time when relations between Kosovo and Serbia, the country it declared independence from a decade ago have entered a new stalemate, with Kosovo imposing 100 percent tariff on imports from Serbia in protest of Serbian efforts blocking Kosovo’s recognitions and its membership in key international organizations. Tariffs, which EU representatives say run against regional cooperation, don't apply to international brands produced in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, two countries which don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and which Kosovo accuses of lobbying against its efforts.

With Kosovo importing an annual €400 million from Serbia and another €80 million from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but only €167 million from Albania, the recent trade dispute with Serbia could serve to further boost Albania-Kosovo trade and investment ties, which a decade after Kosovo’s independence and the construction of a Highway of Nation cutting the distance between the two countries, have been slowly progressing and are still hampered by tariff and non-tariff barriers despite annual commitments by Albanian and Kosovo politicians to scrap them.

Speaking in Peja during the joint government meeting, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama described the 100 percent tariff Kosovo has introduced on Serbian imports as “political reaction against continuous excesses of Serbia's supremacist behavior toward Kosovo” and as reaction to a blocking approach toward the region's connectivity that is also affecting Albania due to Serbia holding back a newly built Albania-Kosovo electricity interconnection line.

Inaugurated in mid-2016, the German-funded 400 kV interconnection line between Albania and Kosovo was supposed to help the two neighboring countries increase energy security by diversifying electricity resources and set up a joint energy market, but two years on, Serbia which still de jure owns the Kosovo distribution grid, continues halting it despite warnings by Vienna-based Energy Community Secretariat, an international organization dealing with energy policy.

The Albanian Prime Minister also accused the EU of being biased against Albanians at a time when Kosovo has not had its visas scrapped yet and Albania keeps fighting to launch EU accession talks and front-runners Serbia and Montenegro are already progressing with negotiation chapters.

Prime Minister Rama says that in addition to being a reference point in its state-building, Albania is to Kosovo “the country with most natural flair to cooperate and interested in its success after its birth as an expression of justice denied” a decade ago.

"There will be zero tariffs and zero non-tariff barriers between Albania and Kosovo within the first half of next year. We have gathered five time and it’s high time we imposed 100 percent tariffs north of Kosovo [Serbia] and have zero tariffs south of Kosovo [Albania],” said Prime Minister Edi Rama.

"We also have to move toward customs union. There will be transit at Durres Port for Kosovo on January 1 and other steps within the next six months toward the customs union," said Rama.

The Prime Minister says there will also be a complete recognition of mutual documentation in the next six months so that whatever is issued in Albania is also recognized in Kosovo and the other way round.

Non-recognition of certificates for plant and animal products has emerged as a key non-tariff barrier for Albania and Kosovo producers after overcoming ‘trade wars’ on specific products such as potato, flour, beer, medicines, meat and vegetables in the past decade.

Albania and Kosovo are also planning joint inspections at the Morine-Vermice border crossing point and customs office with Kosovo.

"The next step we will launch is a joint border crossing point in Morine [northeast Albania] and the ease of human and freight circulation," says Rama.

The tighter cooperation commitments come at a time when trade exchanges between Albania and Kosovo are slowly progressing amid concerns over a hike in transportation costs after Albania introduced last September tolls at an average of €5 on its section of the Highway of Nation linking the two countries.

The new stronger commitments, whose field implementation remains to be seen, also mark a U-turn compared to the previous four joint government meetings when business representatives, especially Kosovo ones, accused politicians of staging a political show with little substance to give a real impetus to trade exchanges.

"It's a pity that there are still a lot of non-tariff barriers between Albania and Kosovo. The joint government meeting [this week] managed to discuss some of them but a lot remains to be done. It's not that there is no political will but we are not gaining momentum in settling those barriers," says Berat Rukiqi, the head of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce and the Kosovo representative at the newly established Albania-Kosovo joint chamber of commerce.

 

Slow trade, investment progress 

Trade and investment ties between Albania and Kosovo have slowly progressed during the past five years despite the two governments holding annual joint meetings to settle barriers preventing a boost in trade exchanges and promote mutual investment.

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges, dominated by Albanian exports to Kosovo, grew by around a quarter, in the first three quarters of this years, and are on track to register strong double-digit growth rates for the second year in a row considering the recent trade dispute between Kosovo and its traditional top trading partner Serbia.

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges dominated by Albanian exports rose by 31 percent to hit a historic high of 29.4 billion lek (€234 million) in 2017 after fluctuating at about the same level of about €160 million in the past five years, but more than double compared to 2009 when Albania opened its part of the highway, according to Albania’s INSTAT statistical institute.

At about €200 million, trade exchanges between the two countries are almost the same compared to Albania’s trade volume with Serbia and only half of what Kosovo imports from Serbia.

Investment ties between the two countries have also slowly progressed in the past five years with the Kosovo foreign direct investment to Albania increasing to €56 million in mid-2018 compared to a mere €14 million in early 2014 when the two governments held their joint government meeting.

Meanwhile, Albania FDI stock in Kosovo was at €133 million in mid-2018, up from around €100 million at the end of 2014, ranking Albania the seventh most important investor there, according to Kosovo's central bank.

 

 

Concerns over ‘media show, little substance’

Behind political rhetoric of the Albanian government stepping up its customs union project with neighboring Kosovo, the reality on the ground is quite different with a series of barriers preventing economic cooperation and a common market of about 5 million consumers, Albania state auditors say.

A late 2017 audit by Albania’s Supreme State Audit showed that the consecutive deals the two governments signed during the joint government meetings in the past four years were characterized by the expression of goodwill, but did not translate into real government policies that would responsibly and successfully conclude the customs union project with Kosovo.

Safet Gerxhaliu of the Kosovo chamber of commerce has earlier described the four joint government meetings as “producing too much media show and little substance.”

Experts have earlier noted that while traditional factors due to the isolation and lack of communication between the two Albanian-speaking countries for almost five decades until the early 1990s and the late 1990s Kosovo war that led to its independence from Serbia in 2008 partly explain the situation, the huge almost 2 billion euro investment in the so-called Highway of Nation on both sides of border sharply cutting travel time does not yet justify a slowly growing annual trade volume of €200 million between the two countries.

Kosovars yet top tourist arrivals to Albania along with ethnic Albanians in Macedonia in a segment known as ‘patriotic tourism’ and the Highway of Nation cutting distance between the two countries has had a key impact.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 26 – At the joint meeting that took place in Kosovo’s Peja between the Albanian and Kosovo governments on Monday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke about the cooperation between the countries’ foreign ministries to achieve the national unification between Albania and neighboring Kosovo.

During his joint meeting speech, Rama invited Kosovo counterpart Ramush Haradinaj to approve that both the Albanian and Kosovo foreign ministry begin working on a common strategic draft that will unite Albanians by the year 2025.  

“Albania, Kosovo and the way to Albanian union in the horizon of 2025. A demographic, economic, social document of both political systems, and all of this. I know very well what Belgrade or any other place will say but I see Albanian union as a necessity in the path to the EU and the EU should stop employing a two-faced approach,” Rama said. 

He added that Albania cannot indefinitely wait for the European Union to take a decision regarding the country’s eventual membership, while Kosovo is already tired of waiting for the EU to approve visa-free travel for its citizens within the union, although all other countries in the region already benefit from visa liberalization and Serbia “keeps opening accession chapters.” 

Having conducted five governmental meetings with little substance so far, Rama said the time has finally come to pass from words to action and the governments went on to sign a number of other agreements which foresee that within the first six months of 2019 there will be no trade tariffs and roaming tariffs between Kosovo and Albania but an established customs union.

Additional agreements mentioned during the speech for the media was unification of all issued documents and driving licenses. 

Concerning Kosovo’s decision last week to place a full trade ban with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and which had both official Belgrade and the EU calling for the Kosovo government to back down immediately, Rama said it is “Serbia’s stabs on Kosovo’s back” which fully explain it.

It is an irrational decision under normal conditions, but quite normal in irrational conditions such as those outlining the two-faced approach of Serbia. Whoever sees the 100 percent trade tariff as an economic decision is wrong. No, 100 percent tariff is a political response to the continuing excesses of Serbia's supremacist behavior towards Kosovo,” he said.

Kosovo’s government decision to place a full trade ban came only two weeks after official Prishtina had imposed a ten percent trade tariff tax from all products coming from Serbia and Bosnia - a decision which had Vucic immediately call for a pause on normalization talks until it was revoked. 

Failing to become an Interpol member last week and continuously struggling to be recognized on the international arena, Kosovo politicians and government members blamed Serbia’s “angry lobbying” against Kosovo and called the ban a “necessary political maneuver.” 

This time, in response to Kosovo’s decision, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade will not be reciprocating Kosovo’s trade ban, but added alternative reactions were being looked into.

According to official numbers, last year Serbia’s exports to Kosovo reached a market value of 440 million euros (502.3 million dollars), while its imports reached 21 million euros (23.97 million dollars). Currently, Serbia is Kosovo’s biggest trade partner, significantly surpassing the trade volume of Kosovo with Albania.

 

Int’l community continues to urge Kosovo to remove full trade tariff with Serbia, Bosnia

Although there has been little to no reaction from the international community regarding Rama’s unification plans so far, EU and US representatives alike have focused again on urging Kosovo to remove the full trade tariff with Serbia and neighboring Bosnia.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini again called on Wednesday the abolition of 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods imposed by the Kosovo government.

Local media reported she discussed the latest developments over the phone with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci “in the context of ongoing normalization talks with Serbia.”

In a statement by Mogherini's office, she is quoted to have announced that "the Kosovo government decision to increase tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to 100 percent only further complicates the situation and does not bring any solution to the problems of people or the aspirations of Kosovo for the present and its future.”

Commander of NATO forces headquartered in Naples and US Admiral James Foggo also expressed concern on Wednesday for Kosovo’s government decision, which according to him do nothing more but isolate the country.

He made these comments during the NATO-led peacekeeping command shift change ceremony in Kosovo.

“However, I am concerned with some recent actions, such as a marked increase in tariffs on Serbia's goods, and Kosovo’s risk of becoming more isolated. So, my question to those in this room is, are you aiming for Euro-Atlantic integration? If so, how can we move forward in 2019?” he said, calling on Kosovo and Serbia to co-operate in order to reduce tensions in the country.

KFOR forces started training in northern Kosovo since Tuesday, claiming it’s a normal exercise and not related to the latest developments that sparked protest amid Kosovo Serbians. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 26 - Albania's nascent agritourism sector can be developed by promoting both culinary tourism and farm stay accommodation units despite a series of barriers related to lack of tradition and inappropriate infrastructure, according to a Harvard University study.

Field research conducted by the Center for International Development, CID, at Harvard University shows agritourism can turn into a key driver of Albania’s emerging tourism industry and benefit from the government’s tax incentives by adopting established models in neighboring Italy and Greece, Albania’s main trading partners and the hosts of 1 million Albanian migrants who are great potential to invest and bring know-how at home as they have already done in some success stories.

"Albania is set for a two-fold model of agritourism development. First, culinary tourism led by chefs with strong connections to farmers, is already emerging but can be supported on the demand side. There may also be need for government support toward targeted programs in education, in close collaboration with the private sector, to strengthen the pipeline of skilled food service professionals," says the study prepared by a CID intern who visited several agritourism enterprises in Albania last summer, the peak of Albania’s coastal-based tourist season.

"Second, farm stay accommodations led by farmers are yet to fully emerge but represent an enormous opportunity for inclusive development of Albania. The first steps in jumpstarting this opportunity must involve the identification of themes and geographical clusters, the active promotion of existing and new farm stays through modern tools, the creation of publicly-sponsored events consistent with the themes, and the use of digital platforms to make farm stays easy to find and book by international tourists,” says Neetisha Besra, a CID intern who visited seven Albania agritourism farms.

While offering organic farm fresh food and enjoying good reputation even internationally, most of Albania's agritourism businesses suffer from similar barriers such as no public transport to farm, no sign boards, lack of extra tourist attractions nearby, no farm stay and small farm area.

The Harvard study singles out the Mrizi i Zanave farm-to-table restaurant north of Albania that cooperates with hundreds of local households on farm and forest produce and the Cobo winery in the southern Albanian region of Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as two of Albania's best examples of the emerging agriturism industry.

“Farm-based activities are still at the nascent stage. The current focus is almost entirely on cuisines and restaurant activities. Although, the brand of ‘Slow food movement – Authentic Albanian” food has seen a rise, it is only seen regularly at ‘Mrizi i Zanave’ among the agritourism farms visited. The only other brand encountered was Cobo Winery, where tourists exclusively come for wine tasting. Accommodation or farm stay is not the chief host activity yet, unlike the cases of Italy and Greece,” says the study.

 

Major constraints 

Poor road infrastructure to access the agritourism farms, lack of public transportation, inappropriate location often determined by owner’s land property, lack of branding and promotion are identified as the key barriers hampering the development of Albania's agritourism which the Albanian government has been recently promoting through a series of tax incentives and financial support.

“Gaps in road infrastructure make scattered agritourism destinations difficult to reach. Traveling during night hours on roads other than highways is particularly problematic due to patchiness or the entire absence of street lights,” says the Harvard University study.

"The farms are not the 'selling point' for Albanian tourism yet. A special branding of farms and the traditional products currently at offer as tourism products must materialize to strengthen the agritourism value chain,” it adds.

Poor access to finance, low return to economic activity with most companies unable yet to break-even and a coordination failure are mentioned as other barriers to agritourism.

"Farmers, processors, farmer markets, the hotel sector etc. must coordinate to provide unique and low-cost experience for tourist,” says the study.

 

Tax incentives

While hailing the government tax incentives and financial support to agritourism businesses, the Harvard Center says the government should also focus on stimulating demand through coordination and promotion.

“This government’s approach is centered around boosting the supply side of agritourism, but unless demand for the experiences and products increases as well, returns will continue to be low. There is no policy focus on generating demand for agritourism. It is appropriate for government to support the supply side as a critical mass of tourist opportunities are needed to sustain demand. Government action to coordinate clusters and promote these to potential tourists is also necessary for the take-off of the industry,” says the study.

“Existing policies and initiatives don’t directly address constraints of lack of networks around themes and geographical clusters, a lack of modern branding and promotion, weaknesses in public infrastructure (hard and soft transportation infrastructure). Government support could also do more to understand and support the emergence of culinary tourism, which is already taking hold based on the quality of Albanian chefs,” adds the study.

The emerging Albanian agritourism sector is also set to benefit from several tax incentives, including a 5 percent corporate income tax, a reduced 6 percent VAT and exemption from the infrastructure tax on investment starting next year.

Businesses engaged in agritourism will also benefit a reduced 5 percent corporate income tax for a 10-year period in case they get the status of ‘certified agritourism operator’ until late 2021.

The incentives are aimed at giving a boost to agro-tourism, currently in its initial steps in Albania with few restaurants, wineries, bee and fruit farms offering tourists authentic local products.

However, the Harvard study notes that the existing businesses recently certified as ‘agritourism’ were normal businesses lured by VAT, which altered their status by just meeting the bare minimum eligibility criteria rather than resulting in the creation of entirely new businesses and on-farm activities.

 

Italian model 

The Harvard University study urges Albania to draw lessons from neighboring Italy, a flag bearer of agritourism since the mid-19080s

“Although the agritourism system is much more mature in Italy and different along almost every dimension versus the system in Albania, there are still pertinent learnings for the Albania agritourism industry from the Italian model. Foremost, agritourism can’t exist in isolation from other tourism traffic, nor can it solely bear the burden of the entire tourism industry,” shows the study.

“To encourage demand, the government must support the coordination of the system around clusters, and define and market them around the limited activities which already exist. The government must also provide hard and soft public goods to help tourists find and experience these clusters at low cost,” it adds.

Even if accommodation is the chief source of revenue for agribusiness farms in Italy, tourists don’t spend their whole day in farms. Staying at farms in Italy acts as an experience enhancer and it is the agenda of cultural events which form the core of entertainment, shows the study.

 

100 villages project

The Albanian government has selected 100 villages nationwide to upgrade their infrastructure and public services and promote agritourism by offering incentives and grants to support local characteristic agriculture products.

The Theth and Valbona mountain tourism villages in northern Albania, Shengjergj and Pellumbas on Mount Dajti outside Tirana, the Dhermi and Vuno coastal villages along the southern Albanian Riviera and Lin and Tushemisht across the Albanian part of Lake Ohrid, southeast of the country, are among the 100 villages selected as part of the integrated rural development project Albania intends to apply from 2018 to 2020.

Europe’s once cannabis capital, the Lazarat village in southern Albania, is also among the 100 selected villages that will have their infrastructure upgraded in a bid to make them agribusiness oriented.

Albania has also undertaken a campaign to brand its unique agriculture products to boost agro-tourism through the promotion of quality authentic Albanian products such as olive oil, mountain tea, medicinal and aromatic plants considered some of Albania’s rarest riches.

Korça apples and honey, Berat olive oil, Tropoja chestnuts, Saranda mandarins and northern Albanian medicinal plants as well as Fier region vegetables are already renowned products regionally, in addition to the local Raki, a clear liquor usually made from grapes which is the traditional alcoholic drink of Albanians. However, they lack international recognition and certification to penetrate EU markets.

Agriculture is a key sector to the Albanian economy, employing about half of the country’s GDP but producing only a fifth of the GDP, unveiling its low productivity which is hampered by the fragmentation of farm land into small plots and poor financing and technology employed.

Meanwhile, tourism, although highly seasonal, is becoming a booming business in Albania, generating about €1.7 billion a year, some 14 percent of the country’s GDP from an estimated 5 million tourists.

 

 

Success story

When Altin Prenga decided to leave Italy after a decade as a migrant there and start a small family-run restaurant in his native village of Fishte, northern Albania, everybody was calling him crazy.

Almost a decade on, his restaurant has turned into a success story for Albania’s emerging agritourism industry and his business has gained international recognition as a perfect place offering farm-to-table food, employing dozens of local households.

Having honed his craft as a migrant in Italy after leaving Albania at only 15, Prenga decided to come back to Albania in 2009 and become a pioneer in Albania’s agribusiness industry by opening the internationally famed ‘Mrizi i Zanave’ restaurant named after a poetry volume by Gjergj Fishta, one of Albania’s best 20th century writers who was born in Fishte village.

The 35-year-old chef-owner now boasts one of the country’s best slow food restaurants with original dishes created from local home grown food and animals.

Fundim Gjipali, another award-winning Albanian chef who shares his time between Rome and Tirana where he owns downtown restaurants, is also opening up an agribusiness in his hometown of Shijak, some 30 km off Tirana, under the farm-to-table philosophy incorporating seasonal ingredients and minimizing the distance between the farm and the diner’s plate.

Dozens of others are experimenting to bring Italian models to Albania but experienced chefs already in the industry say agribusiness requires tradition and only those who make a difference will manage to survive.

 
                    [post_title] => Challenges ahead with Albania’s nascent agritourism industry - a Harvard University perspective
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 26 – Albania’s Competition Authority has fined an Albanian-owned company for abusing its monopoly position by overcharging traders at Tirana’s wholesale agrifood market just outside the Albanian capital city where it has been offering warehousing and trade facilities since 2015, with the higher costs incurred by traders estimated to have also hit consumer prices.

The competition watchdog says it has fined Albanian-owned ‘Ekma Albania’ 10 percent of its 2017 turnover, equal to about 50 million lek (€400,000), for abusing its dominant position as the sole provider of warehousing facilities for fruit and vegetable products in Tirana, a region of around 1 million residents, more than a third of the country’s total population.

Competition authorities say the company has been applying excessively high rental prices, estimated at about twice higher compared to nearby rental facilities along the Tirana-Durres highway, at profit rates of 65 percent and meeting the investment cost in record time of about three years since launching its operations in 2015 under a deal with municipality of Tirana.

The Competition Authority says Ekma Albania has imposed unfair prices and trading conditions on tenants by also forcing them to pay extra electricity and water fees compared to prices charged by state-run operators in an abuse of its dominant position.

Albania also has four agricultural food markets including one located in Elbasan, central Albania, two others in Divjaka and Lushnja, some 44 km south of Tirana in a region known as Albania’s breadbasket, and another one in Shkodra, the country’s largest northern region. However, due to their distance from Tirana are not considered decent alternatives to replace the Tirana agri-market.

Monthly rental prices at the Tirana agrifood market facilities range from 1,000 lek (€7.8) to 1,500 lek (€11.8) /m2 and 50,000 lek (€393) to 70,000 lek (€550) for vans and trucks, in prices considered too high by hundreds of local traders who have also earlier staged protests over abusive charges.

Authorities say traders have to negotiate lease contracts each month instead of annually, and prepay for two months in guarantees without being offered anything in return by the lessor, in a situation that places tenants at financial instability and unfavorable competition grounds.

According to reports filed with the National Business Center, Ekma Albania reported net profit of 323 million lek (€2.5 million) for 2017, up 5 percent compared to 2016, at a profit rate of about 65 percent of annual turnover.

The consolidated position of Ekma Albania, a joint venture owned by three Albanian companies with a 33.3 percent stake each, and huge investment needed for the construction of these kind of markets are considered barriers for the entry of new operators, says the competition watchdog.

 

Legal battle

Competition authorities say Ekma Albania could face further sanctions in case of not applying cost-oriented rental prices at a similar level compared to the average at the geographical area where it operates and has ordered it to stop overcharging traders on electricity and water services, leaving the company a 30-day deadline to undertake changes.

However, with the company having already appealed the preliminary conclusions of the competition authority's findings last September, a new legal battle that could take several years to settle is about to initiate.

Big fines imposed by the Competition Authority are in general appealed by companies in legal battles that in some cases have been dragging in the country’s three-tier justice system for more than a decade. Meanwhile, the collection of penalties faces serious problems even after final court decisions in favor of competition authorities.

 

Impact on consumers

The excessive high rates have also indirectly affected all of the country’s residents due to the Tirana agrifood market being the country’s largest and also serving as a distribution point for other markets in the country due to some of the biggest fruit and vegetable importers and traders being based there.

Albanian households, who have one of Europe’s lowest income but face one of the highest prices for their disposable incomes, spend about half of their monthly budgets, some 45 percent, on food and non-alcoholic beverages, the key item in the consumer basket, according to a survey by INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute. Vegetables and fruit, whose prices have soared in the past few years, account for a fifth of spending in this group, which is topped by milk, bread and meat.

Inflation rate in the country has been at 2 percent during this year, about 1 percent below the central bank’s 3 percent target estimated to have a positive effect on the country’s economy, despite imports having become much cheaper due to Europe’s single currency having lost 6 percent and trading at a 10-year low of about 125 lek against the national Albanian currency.

Albania’s inflation rate has been running below the 3 percent target for five consecutive years, hinting sluggish demand and a slowly recovering economy which last year grew by a 9-year high of 3.8 percent.

 

Transport concessionaires 

Concessionaires operating in the transportation sector have been the focus of the competition watchdog’s probes this year, receiving fines and warnings over alleged abuse of their monopoly positions.

Earlier, this month the Competition Authority imposed a €400,000 to the Albania subsidiary of Switzerland-based SGS for abusing its monopoly position by causing delays and placing car owners at unfavorable position when undergoing compulsory annual and semi-annual inspections in the first penalty with one year to go before its 10-year concession comes to an end.

The competition watchdog also issued a warning to a German concessionaire at Durres Port, Albania's largest, over ousting rival stevedoring companies after becoming the sole provider of stevedoring services for out-of-gauge cargo at the port’s eastern terminal in late 2015 under a 35-year concession deal with the Albanian government.

Last July, the authority also handed some recommendations to the company operating the country's sole international airport to apply cost-oriented fees to air carriers in a bid to reduce ticket prices from and to Tirana.

The decision led to the Albanian government selecting an audit firm to conduct what it calls an ‘independent economic review’ of the concession contract it has with the Tirana International Airport, the country’s sole airport with a de facto monopoly on international flights and whose high charges on carriers are often blamed for Albania having one of the region’s highest ticket prices.

Concession companies operating in the country, often providing services under monopoly conditions, have a guaranteed market and one of the highest return rates.

 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 3 – A government decision banning the import of second-hand vehicles older than 10 years and forcing them to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold cars, has been met with protests by thousands of traders who fear bankruptcy over what they call unaffordable extra costs they will have to incur and an expected sharp decline in sales due to much more expensive cars offered for sale.

While the government says the decision will curb pollution from car emissions and make the country’s vehicle fleet younger, traders claim the decision will considerably reduce the sale of second-hand cars that overwhelmingly dominate 95 percent of vehicles in the country. Traders say many of the potential buyers could no longer afford buying cars produced in the past decade and meeting at least the Euro 4 emission standards in costs starting from at least €6,000 compared to as cheap as €2,000 under no import restrictions until early December 2018.

With the ban on import of vehicles older than 10 years in force starting this week, traders have been ordered to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold cars by March 1, 2019.

While not affecting licensed cars already in use, the government decision hits dozens of thousands second-hand cars that have already been cleared through customs but have not been equipped with number plates and paid annual taxes and compulsory insurance.  Some 60,000 such cars pending sale have been handed a deadline to be equipped with number plates and pay all taxes by March 1 next year in a legal provision which traders say risks taking them to bankruptcy because of extra costs of around €300 per car at a time when their sale is not guaranteed to take place within one year.

Second-hand vehicle traders, most of whom based in the port city of Durres, some 30 km off Albania’s capital city Tirana, have been staging a series of protests in the past few weeks, calling on the government to revise its decision that negatively affects some 5,000 traders and their households relying on income from car trade.

“Few can afford buying vehicles produced in the past decade and there is no reason that licensed traders that already pay customs duties for the cars they import should pay all taxes before selling them,” say irritated traders who have warned of escalating their protests in Tirana in case the government does not withdraw its decision.

While the government could withdraw from the decision forcing traders to pay all taxes for their stock of unsold vehicles by March 2019 in a concession ahead of the upcoming June 30 local elections and as a disincentive to a possible boom in imports of second-hand vehicles in the transition period from late September when legal changes were unveiled until December 2, 2018 when they entered into force, the ban of vehicles older than 10 years, already effective starting this month, will be difficult to change because of pollution-related health and climate change concerns.

Importers of second-hand cars currently pay only 20 percent of the purchase or reference prices in customs duties since mid-2011 in a decision that eased import of second-hand cars at the expense of brand new vehicles, triggering concern by car concessionaires who have a market share of only around 5 percent in the car sale.

Due to the heavy tax burden levied on fuel, Albania already has one of Europe’s highest fuel prices, but one of the continent’s poorest income, which makes owning a car very expensive for many and more and more have been switching to cheaper liquefied petroleum gas-powered vehicles.

Albania imports around 50,000 second-hand vehicles a year, the majority of which older than ten years and not meeting the Euro 4 emission standards.

The import ban does not apply to vehicles produced until 1970 for museum, collection or humanitarian purposes. An exception is also made for smaller goods and passenger vehicles with a maximum mass of 3.5 to 5 metric tons which must not be older than 15 years before registering in Albania.

Introducing the legal initiative on Sept. 22, the World Car Free Day, Environment Minister Blendi Klosi said Albania was joining regional EU aspirant countries in banning the import of vehicles older than ten years.

Albania has been gradually applying EU norms on car emissions since late 2016 in a decision that has seen a high number of car owners install new catalytic converters to meet emission standards in order to pass their annual compulsory technical control tests.

Only 3.3 percent of vehicles circulating in the country, some 14,000, are estimated to meet Euro 5 and 6 emission standards applied in the EU since late 2009 and 2014 respectively, in a situation that significantly contributes to air pollution in the country.

Air pollution figures in Albania remain among the highest in Europe, claiming more than 2,000 lives a year in pollution-related diseases, according to a 2016 report on air quality by the European Environment Agency. Most pollution in the country is caused by vehicle emissions, but also plants and open-air waste burning.

Albania had some 535,570 vehicles in 2017 but only 421,570 underwent the compulsory technical control, according to the country’s Institute of Transportation.

The Balkan country has one of Europe’s highest death tolls from road accidents with an estimated 15 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. About 2,000 road accidents took place last year, with a death toll of 222, the lowest level for the past six years when data is available.

Experts blame the high number of accidents on reckless driving, poor road infrastructure and lack of road signs.
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