Editorial: ‘Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania

Editorial: ‘Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania

To the follower of novels or drama series such as ‘Gomorrah’ or ‘Narcos’, the story that has gripped the Albanian political and public debate in the last days would seem extremely familiar. The script writers of every mafia show out

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Day of German unity: Albania, a reliable partner for over three decades

Day of German unity: Albania, a reliable partner for over three decades

By Susanne Schütz* On this 3rd of October, 28 years ago, German reunification was sealed and brought to an end the painful division of Europe into East and West. For Albania, too, this meant the end of decades of dictatorship

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‘The Munich Agreement is 80 years old’

‘The Munich Agreement is 80 years old’

By Alexander Karpushin* An “agreement” that went down in history as the “Munich Betrayal” of the four powers – Germany, Italy, Britain and France, was concluded in Munich 80 years ago on September 30, 1938. This act not only played

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Albania commercial banks reduced to 14 following mergers and acquisitions

Albania commercial banks reduced to 14 following mergers and acquisitions

TIRANA, Oct. 4 – Two commercial banks in Albania have been rebranded following mergers and acquisitions that have now officially reduced the number of banks operating in the country to 14 following a decade of 16. Starting October 2018, the

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Chinese investors upgrade Albania investment plan as oil prices pick up

Chinese investors upgrade Albania investment plan as oil prices pick up

TIRANA, Oct. 3 – As oil prices gradually pick up from the mid-2014 slump, Albania’s largest oil producer is planning to speed up its investment and drill dozens of new oil wells in foreign direct investment that could trigger more

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Businesses demand 5-year freeze to annual tax change practice

Businesses demand 5-year freeze to annual tax change practice

TIRANA, Oct. 2 – Business representatives have called on the Albanian government to consider a fiscal package that would remain unchanged for at least a mid-term period so that they can plan their investments more accurately. The current tax policy,

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State-run Serbian operator considers Telekom Albania purchase

State-run Serbian operator considers Telekom Albania purchase

TIRANA, Oct. 1 – Greece’s OTE Group, where Deutsche Telekom holds a 40 percent stake, is planning to sell its Telekom Albania unit, the country’s second largest mobile operator with a state-run Serbian mobile operator reported as a frontrunner to

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Albanian households consuming less when adjusted for inflation, INSTAT survey shows

Albanian households consuming less when adjusted for inflation, INSTAT survey shows

TIRANA, Oct. 1 – Albanian households practically consumed less in 2017 as spending stagnated and inflation hit a 5-year high, unveiling that the almost decade-high GDP growth that the Albanian economy registered last year did not have any major impact

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Durres dumpsite still pending final solution as emergency situation remains on paper

Durres dumpsite still pending final solution as emergency situation remains on paper

TIRANA, Oct. 1 – The announcement of an environmental emergency at a waste dumpsite just outside Durres, Albania’s second largest city and the traditional top tourist destination, has not changed anything for the better at the Porto Romano hotspot. Video footage

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“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg”

“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg”

By Johann Sattler “The Balkans begin at the Rennweg (street in the center of Vienna)” – there is hardly any Austrian that doesn’t know this phrase, which is attributed to former Austrian Chancellor Metternich in the 19th century. Since then,

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                    [post_content] => To the follower of novels or drama series such as ‘Gomorrah’ or ‘Narcos’, the story that has gripped the Albanian political and public debate in the last days would seem extremely familiar. The script writers of every mafia show out there should take notes from the Albanian stories, they might like the colorful details for lack of a better word. The plot however remains the same: strong and complex links between organized crime and politics, especially visible at the local level which generate absurd, dark and twisted realities for those governed.

A simple village girl, whose father has died long ago, goes to the police to denounce the violence that her former boyfriend has exerted. Hardcore physical violence as attested by medical reports which take note of multiple hematomas and some cigarette burns on the skin. She is turned away from multiple police stations until a police officer takes her testimony. The saga continues. The psychologists sees no violence, the prosecutor does not issue a warrant, the whole thing is left aside.

The boyfriend in question is the son of a strongman that has made it to the ranks of the MPs, on the governing side no less. Has made it or has been promoted there. Strongmen generate desirable votes and can swing entire districts to one party’s favor. Party leaders have learned this lesson.

The story resurfaces. The police officer is now seeking asylum abroad. The political parties fight and the cynical, unprofessional and captured media harnesses clicks and audience. Instead of any form of reflection the party in power, sees this as an opportunity to flex their muscle, show their teeth. They will haunt the police officer. They will draft anti-libel laws.

The boyfriend is arrested. Finally after months, the medical expertise act reaches the right hands. The judicial sector springs in action. Outside the court stairs, the boy threatens the opposition leader. His threat is the sentence with which the mafia show series would have ended their episodes on a dramatic and symbolic note: “You shall see me in the next elections!”

The story of this unfortunate Albanian girl is the story of the Albanian state, institutions and society. In order to harness the maximum amount of power, political parties spearheaded by the Socialist one in power are systematically making space at the higher level of political representation for figures that come from the dark and dangerous world of organized crime. These so-called MPs cement then their position as local lords, encapsulating all institutions within their grip. They become more and more untouchable, unpunishable. For rape, for beatings, for anything. Even for murder.

The state police, the state prosecutors are just useless tools and pongs in the hands of a few. They can be intimidated, they can be silenced and advised ‘for their own good’ to quit. Even the lines are sadly familiar of the Godfather films. No creativity needed there.

The ugly sadistic link between politics and media erodes the public’s opinion to seek accountability. Political spin doctors hand in hand with incompetent and abusive media actors twist and turn the story, chew the facts, spit out multiple interpretations, accusations and allegations until it all becomes an ugly sham. We are seeing the apex of a well-structured system that has interlinked criminal, political, media and commercial interests to such a degree that untangling it becomes completely impossible.

Who can any longer count the examples that we have been witnessing in the last years? What else needs to happen? What more shall it take? The responsible segments of Albanian politics need to assume the task to weed out these criminals, to resist the temptation to hire their electoral services. Otherwise the society needs to move and punish them.

What the ‘Gomorrah’ and ‘Narcos’ series tell us is that with time these models of silent acceptance of the politico-crime corporations render all dissent voices obsolete. People become increasingly cautious or passive and submitted to their fate. They lower their voices and their heads, they become accomplices. The people of Naples, of Medellin, of Cidad Juarez. I this the ultimate fate of the people of Nikla and Kruja and Shkodra and Elbasan? Now it is time for every Albanian needs to consider whether we have already reached this doomed point. Some have done it and have left. What about the rest of us who are staying?
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                    [post_content] => By Susanne Schütz*

On this 3rd of October, 28 years ago, German reunification was sealed and brought to an end the painful division of Europe into East and West. For Albania, too, this meant the end of decades of dictatorship and isolation and the return of your country into the midst of the European family of states.

I am delighted that we are also celebrating a very special anniversary this year: 30 years ago, in June and October 1988, just a few months after the re-establishment of our diplomatic ties, the representatives of our two countries signed the agreements about "Development of Economic, Industrial and Technical  Cooperation  "and"  Technical Cooperation ". In doing so, they laid the foundations for the close and trusting German-Albanian cooperation, which with over 1 billion € in the past thirty years has made Germany the largest bilateral donor of your country.

Albania is today a rapidly changing country in Europe with a young, dynamic population, and is a stabilizing factor for the Western Balkans region and beyond. I am pleased that we have contributed to this development with financial means, but above all also with German know-how. With the help of our implementing agencies GIZ and KfW, we have consistently supported Albania as  a  reliable partner for over three decades in key areas: for example: by building a modern and competitive agriculture, by providing clean drinking water, by building power transmission lines to connect Albania with its neighbors, by developing tourism in the North and South of Albania, or by investing in practice-oriented dual vocational training. These are just a few examples of our nationwide commitment. Out of the 100 villages that the government has identified as a special focus, we are already active in more than 50 with one or more projects.

One thing is clear: this is all about contributing to sustainably  improve  people's  living  conditions,  giving them a perspective here in their Albanian homeland and making Albania fit for its integration into the European Union.

Albania has already achieved remarkable progress on this way into the European Union. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the member states of the European Union will agree to the opening of accession talks in the coming year. A clear priority, above all for the people of Albania, but also for foreign investors, is the creation of reliable legal framework conditions, legal certainty and institutional reliability, free of nepotism and corruption.

The German Foreign Minister,  Heiko  Maas,  confirmed during his recent visit here in Tirana that Germany will continue to advocate a reliable EU perspective for Albania and will continue to support your country in establishing the rule of law, but also through economic cooperation. In November of this year, we will agree further projects together with the Albanian government, for which the Federal Government will again provide a record sum.

Before concluding – apart from our close political and economic ties - I would also like to mention our cultural relationship. Thus, cultural exchange will once again be at the center of the "German October” with a wide variety of interesting events already beginning this week. You are all invited to these events!

---------------------------

*The Author is the Ambassador of Federal Republic of Germany to Albania
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                    [post_content] => By Alexander Karpushin*

An “agreement” that went down in history as the “Munich Betrayal” of the four powers – Germany, Italy, Britain and France, was concluded in Munich 80 years ago on September 30, 1938. This act not only played a tragic role in the fate of Czechoslovakia, having sanctioned the beginning of its capture by Fascist Germany, but also became one of the key events that triggered the beginning of World War II.

Having trampled upon the norms of international law the participants of the Munich meeting betrayed interests of Czechoslovakia and incited Hitler’s Reich to territorial expansion in Europe. It should be noted that Czechoslovakia, having the population of 14 million people, possessed a developed industry, including the military one, and was a large exporter of weapons in 1938. That is why, to a great extent, after the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, Hitler started implementing a plan of seizing Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland under the pretext of protecting the Sudeten Germans.

Only Soviet Russia attempted to protest, but the others preferred not to hear it. The West sacrificed Czechoslovakia without regret, believing that it would be able to live beside Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. That is exactly why the Munich Agreement is both a symbol of shameful betrayal and an example of startling hypocrisy and short-sightedness of the leading European states.

A large number of archival documents show that the general outlines of the West’s collusion with Hitler were prepared in advance. Back in early 1934 E.Сarr – one of the heads of the Southern Department of the Foreign Office – stated that the “German solution” was more preferable for Britain and that it “should strive for a deal with Germany, since its victory is inevitable”. In fact, the British had already worked out the key points of the Munich program by then: a deal with Hitler at the expense of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the directing of Hitler’s aggression towards the borders of the Soviet Union, etc.

After the Anschluss of Austria by Germany in March 1938, Soviet Russia addressed itself to Britain, France and the USA with an appeal to create a common front for the protection of Czechoslovakia from possible armed aggression. However, this proposal was not supported. On the contrary, on behalf of their governments, the ambassadors of Britain and France in Prague warned Czechoslovak Foreign Minister K.Krofta that “if an armed conflict arose because of Prague’s obstinacy, London and Paris would not render assistance to Czechoslovakia”. Knowing this, Hitler started preparing an operation to dismember Czechoslovakia and approved a plan for a war against Czechoslovakia (“Fall Grün”) on May 30, having announced the order for its execution not later than October 1, 1938.

During the next months of the year 1938 the Western states made significant efforts in carrying out the so-called “appeasement” of the Hitler regime and in inclining the Czechoslovak leadership to the voluntary transfer of the Sudetenland to the Führer.

Then, everything went in this way: on September 21 the envoys of London and Paris issued an ultimatum to the Czechoslovak leadership, which was accepted by President E.Benesh showing no willpower. On September 22, this time the Polish and Hungarian governments delivered an ultimatum to Prague: it was demanded to transfer the territories inhabited by the Polish and Hungarian minorities to Poland and Hungary. W.Churchill made a remark in this regard: “Poland with greed hyena appetite took part in the robbery and destruction of the Czechoslovak state”.

On September 25, delivering a speech in Berlin Sportpalast, Hitler demanded that the Sudetenland be transferred to Germany not later than October 1, 1938, otherwise Germany “would achieve it by force”.

At that time, the allies of Czechoslovakia were the USSR and France. Immediately after the Germany’s ultimatum, France refused to support the Czechs. But even without the French support, the USSR declared its readiness to fulfill its obligations to defend Czechoslovakia. Prague was offered a plan of assistance, which provided for the use of ground forces and the transfer of fighter aircrafts to strengthen the capabilities of the Czechoslovak military aviation. Rifle divisions, tank units, aviation and air defense troops of the USSR were put on combat alert at the south-western and western borders.

However, Poland and Romania declared that under no circumstances they would allow the Red Army’s units to pass through their territories. The Poles even warned of delivering a strike on the flank in case of the Soviet troops’ advancement as well as of destroying any aircraft that would appear in the Polish airspace. Reiterated Soviet proposals to discuss collective support to Czechoslovakia through the League of Nations were blocked by London and Paris.

The US government also played an active role in the preparation of the collusion. Back on September 20, 1938, the Americans warned the French government through their ambassador in Paris W.Bullitt that if Germany’s demands towards Czechoslovakia were not satisfied and the situation worsened, France would not receive “a single soldier” and any credit from the USA. US Secretary of State C.Hull made it clear to the German ambassador in Washington that the United States “had a favorable attitude to giving Germany a “free hand” in Southeast and Eastern Europe”. The American ambassador in London assured the British government that President F.Roosevelt “decided to follow N.Chamberlain in the Czechoslovak issue”. And the latter, in his turn, assured Hitler that he could get everything “without a war and without delay”.

On September 27, 1938, US President F.Roosevelt made several appeals: to Hitler to convene a conference of the interested parties on the Czechoslovak issue, to J.Stalin to support this American initiative. The latter replied to F.Roosevelt that the USSR agreed to participate in the conference “in order to find practical measures to counter aggression and save the world through collective efforts”. Moscow did everything diplomatically and militarily to show a serious attitude to solving the problem by peaceful means. Meanwhile, Hitler hurried to invite only B.Mussolini (Italy), N.Chamberlain (Britain) and É.Daladier (France) to Munich. Czechoslovak representatives were not allowed to discuss the agreement. The participation of the USSR was rejected. On September 29, the conference began its proceedings.

At 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1938, N.Chamberlain, É.Daladier, B.Mussolini and A.Hitler signed the Munich Agreement. After that, the Czechoslovak delegation was admitted to the hall.

The document enacted to transfer the Sudetenland and the areas bordering on the former Austria with all the property, including weapons, to Germany. Czechoslovakia was to abandon the territories being seized (41,098 sq. km. with the population of 5 million people) within October 1-10. The agreement also prescribed the separation of a number of regions in favor of Poland and Hungary. Having got acquainted with the paper, the Czechoslovak representatives voiced their protest. However, they were forced to put their signatures under the pressure from Britain and France. In the morning, the Czechoslovak president accepted this agreement and decreed its execution. Already on October 1, Poland delivered an ultimatum supported by the Nazis to Prague, demanding to transfer Cieszyn Silesia to it.

The Munich Agreement became an example of betrayal committed at scales of a whole country, the highest point of the British “policy of appeasement”. At the suggestion of N.Chamberlain, in Munich on September 30, Germany and Britain signed a declaration on mutual non-aggression and peaceful settlement of all arising controversial issues. On December 6, a similar document was signed by France and Germany. Obviously, N.Chamberlain and É.Daladier believed that by concluding these agreements they averted the threat of a Germany’s attack from Great Britain and France and turned the aggression in the direction they wanted – to the East, against the Soviet Union. The Western powers gave the Czechoslovak lands to Hitler for this purpose.

Under the terms of the Munich Agreement, in addition to the territory, Germany significantly increased its raw material and industrial potential, having received various enterprises, metallurgical and chemical plants, mines, communication lines and facilities as well as weapons. All this made it possible to additionally arm 9 infantry divisions and to fully equip 5 of 21 Wehrmacht tank divisions with tanks of the Czechoslovak production by 1941.

However, assistance of the Western countries to the aggressor was not limited by this. On October 13, 1938, following the Munich Agreement, the US company “Standard Oil” and the German concern “IG Farbenindustrie” signed an agreement on establishing an American-German society that monopolized patents for the production of synthetic gasoline, in which the Hitler army felt a great need. This document became a kind of “Munich Agreement” in the economic field, giving Germany the opportunity to prepare its armed forces for combat operations.

On his return from Munich to London, N.Chamberlain said at the airstairs: “I brought peace to our generation”. É.Daladier was greeted at the airport by a crowd shouting: “Viva Daladier! Viva the peace”. Meanwhile, W.Churchill gave a different assessment of the outcome of the Munich meeting in his speech delivered in the British Parliament: “The partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France amounts to the complete surrender of the Western Democracies to the Nazi threat of force. Such a collapse will bring peace or security neither to England nor to France. On the contrary, it will place these two nations in an ever weaker and more dangerous situation. ... The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small State to the wolves is a fatal delusion. And do not suppose this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.” In fact, it turned out in this way.

As a result of the occupation of Czechoslovakia, one of the forces in the center of Europe, which could potentially serve to defeat the fascists, disappeared. Germany strengthened its strategic and military-political positions and got all the opportunities for an attack on Poland, which imagined itself till the last moment to be an ally of Berlin, actively participating in the partition of Czechoslovakia.

On October 3, 1938, W.Churchill predicted: “England was given the choice between war and dishonor. It chose dishonor and it will have war”. Perhaps, this is why the West is trying to forget the events in Munich, whereas the young generation perceives it as an occurrence that has already become outdated. However, without taking into account the mistakes of the past, a peaceful future is impossible. As the history has repeatedly proved, all behind-the-scenes decisions about the fate of nations, which are made without taking into consideration the interests of these people, inevitably lead to a global tragedy.

The Munich Betrayal is a classic example of disastrous consequences, to which  disregard of the norms of international law, belief in one’s own exclusiveness and infallibility, reliance on national egoism can lead. The lessons of this event should serve us all as a warning, especially in view of the realities existing at the current moment. It is obvious that genuine security can be only equal and indivisible and rely on the fundamental principles of international life specified in the UN Charter: respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes.

Russia will continue to contribute in every possible way to the strengthening of global and regional stability, to the search for collective responses to numerous challenges and threats of our time. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed, we are open to close cooperation with everyone, who demonstrates mutual readiness to conduct affairs on the basis of equality, respect for each other and the search for a balance of interests.

 *The author is Russia’s Ambassador to Albania 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 4 – Two commercial banks in Albania have been rebranded following mergers and acquisitions that have now officially reduced the number of banks operating in the country to 14 following a decade of 16.

Starting October 2018, the Albania unit of Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo and its newly acquired loss-making Veneto Banka Albania will be operating as a rebranded Intesa Sanpaolo Bank Albania. The merger only slightly increases Intesa Sanpaolo’s market share in Albania to 12.3 percent of total banking assets in the country due to Veneto Banka’s market share having dropped to a mere 1.38 percent and representing the 13th largest bank in the country at the end of the first half of this year, according to the Albanian Association of Banks.

The merger process comes more than one year after Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s largest retail bank, acquired the bankrupt Veneto Banca in Italy and its subsidiaries in several European countries including Albania.

Veneto Banka had nine outlets and 109 employees at the end of the first half of this year, down from 15 outlets and a staff of 132 during the same period last year, according to the banks' association.

Intesa Sanpaolo has been operating in Albania since 2007 when it acquired the American Bank of Albania, the first private bank in Albania established in 1998 by the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund.

Meanwhile, Veneto Banka has been operating in Albania since 2009 after purchasing and rebranding Banca Italiana di Svillupo (BIS Bank), and mainly serves small and medium-sized businesses, especially Italian-run companies who dominate the number of foreign-owned companies in the country.

 

NBG outlets rebranded ABI

Outlets of the former Albanian unit of the National Bank of Greece, the country’s tenth largest bank, have also been rebranded ABI, the American Bank of Investments, as of October 1, 2018 following an acquisition earlier this year.

The early 2018 acquisition by the American Bank of Investments, an Albanian-American bank that has been operating in Albania since 2016, came after NBG Albania had been losing significant market share in the past decade amid financial trouble from its Greece-based parent bank in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis and the worst-ever recession in neighboring Greece.

NBG Albania’s assets at the end of the first half of 2018 dropped to 2.54 percent of total assets in an ongoing downward trend since 2008 when it held a 6.7 percent market share in terms of assets that include loans, investments in securities and placement with banks.

The merger now almost doubles the market share of ABI Bank to 5.43 percent making it the seventh largest commercial bank operating in the country.

The American Bank of Investments, ABI, launched its Albania operations in December 2016 as a rebranded bank after U.S. based NCH Capital Inc, private equity and venture firm took over France’s Credit Agricole’s Albania unit.

 

Series of takeovers

Albania's banking system has been facing a series of takeovers in the past year, with several internal takeovers and mergers and new entrants increasing the share of Albanian capital in the banking system.

Albanian capital in the banking system, estimated at 10 percent at the end of 2017, has significantly increased during this year following the acquisition of two Greek bank units by Albanian-owned banks and companies. Tirana Bank and NBG Bank, both of which units of Greek banks in Albania, held a market share of about 8 percent in terms of assets at the end of the first half of this year.

Last August, Tirana Bank, a unit of Piraeus Bank, Greece’s largest lender, says it has agreed to sell its Albania unit, to Albanian-owned Balfin Group and Macedonia’s Komercijalna Banka for €57.3 million.

Balfin Group is Albania’s largest company which is now diversifying its investment portfolio also in the banking sector after successful operations in the mining, construction, retail trade sectors.

Alpha Bank is now the sole remaining Greek unit operating in Albania following the sale of three Greek-owned units, two of which this year. Its assets of 5.3 percent of total, make it the sixth largest bank in the country. Greek-owned banks held about a quarter of banking assets in 2008 just before the onset of the global financial sector hitting the Greek economy and its banking system.

Last August, the Albania subsidiary of France’s Societe Generale also changed hands as part of a deal the France-based lender has concluded to sell its Bulgarian unit to Hungary’s OTP Bank.

Societe Generale Albania is the fifth largest bank in terms of assets in Albania and the fourth largest in terms of lending.

Several other small banks operating in the country are also reportedly on sale as credit struggles to recover amid sluggish demand and a declining but still high level of non-performing loans of about 13 percent.

Experts say bank consolidation, the process by which one banking company takes over or merges with another, is expected to continue and further reduce the number of banks in the country, but at the same time not affect competition in a market where the four largest banks already hold more than two-thirds of total assets, at 68 percent at the end of 2017.

Experts believe the consolidation process will lead to tougher competition and improved access to banking services at a time when credit still remains sluggish, negatively affected by both tight lending standards applied by banks and poor demand by businesses and households.

However, the restructuring and growing online banking is expected to have a negative impact on bank employees.

The 16 commercial banks operating in the country cut dozens of branches and jobs nationwide last year as lending remained sluggish and e-banking gradually expanded despite banks registering record high profits.

The country’s banking system is considered well-capitalized, liquid and profitable.

Yet, in its latest statement, the International Monetary Fund recommends that “ensuring that new market entrants have solid banking experience and meet fit and proper criteria to operate in the Albanian banking market will be critical.”

The Albanian banking system is overwhelmingly foreign owned but the market share of EU-owned banks has dropped by 15 percent to about 52 percent in the past four years as domestic owned banks expand and EU-owned banks continue deleveraging.

Turkish-owned BKT, Austria’s Raiffeisen and Albanian-owned Credins bank were the top three banks in terms of assets that include loans, investment in securities and interbank placement at the end of 2017.

 

‘A regional phenomenon’

Central bank governor Gent Sejko says EU-based banks leaving is a phenomenon that is affecting not only Albania but the whole region due to tighter measures adopted by the European Central Bank by forcing them to either increase capital or shut down some units.

"Failing to inject or find capital to increase their capital adequacy ratio, those banks were forced to withdraw from the region," Sejko told reporters this week.

"As a regulator of the financial system, we have targeted that this process is accompanied by the consolidation of the banking system and somehow this has had a positive effect because we now have two mergers that have reduced the number of banks to 14 from 16 and this is a positive indicator for the Albanian banking and financial system,” he added.

"Capital adequacy ratio has reached 18 percent and banks have excess liquidity which we target translating into healthy credit for the economy as the Eurobond emission has already provided the government with excess liquidity for its needs. The banking system's liquidity should be oriented toward healthy lending either for households or businesses,” says Sejko.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania commercial banks reduced to 14 following mergers and acquisitions
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 3 – As oil prices gradually pick up from the mid-2014 slump, Albania’s largest oil producer is planning to speed up its investment and drill dozens of new oil wells in foreign direct investment that could trigger more than a hundred million dollars and partly compensate for major-energy related projects already in their final investment stage.

Bankers Petroleum, which has been run by China’s Geo Jade since mid-2016 when it was taken over from Canadian investors, says it has raised its 2019 investment plan to about $150 million as international crude oil prices have currently hit a four-year high of about $80 a barrel, gradually recovering from a 12-year low of $30 a barrel in early 2016 after dropping from as high as $115 in mid-2014.

Bankers Petroleum operates the Patos-Marinza, one of Europe’s largest onshore heavy oilfields under a 25-year concession deal with the Albanian government which expires in 2029, and accounts for 90 percent of domestic oil production, the majority of which is exported in crude oil and a smaller portion goes to supply a local refiner.

"For the next year, we have planned more than US$ 150 million in investment which means more production, more income for us, the local and the central government," Xingyun Sun, the executive director of Bankers Petroleum is quoted as saying by local media.

Bankers Petroleum says it is drilling 40 new oil wells and investing $90 million for this year following a freeze in its drilling operations in 2016 and 2017 due to unfavorable oil prices.

"We have ambitious plans for the future. At the end of this year, we expect to carry out $89 million in capital expenditure and reach a general production of 780,000 metric tons from the Patos-Marinza oil field. With stable liquidity and Brent oil prices of $70 to $75 a barrel, we expect to drill more than 80 new oil wells for 2019," Xingyun Sun has told local Monitor magazine.

The renewed investment could also compensate for the expected decline in foreign direct investment as TAP and the Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related investment that drove FDI and economic growth in the past four years, are set to complete their investment stage by early 2019.

Current production from the Patos-Marinza oil field is estimated to have recovered to 15,000 barrels of oil a day and prices are favourable at a 4-year high. However, due to the poor quality of domestically produced oil that needs heavy refining, Bankers Petroleum usually sells crude oil at about a third below Brent prices.

The 2004 concession deal with Bankers Petroleum gave a boost to Albania’s oil industry which was collapsing under state management following the early 1990s transition to a market economy.

The post-1990s domestic oil production peaked in 2014 just before the mid-year slump in international prices when the Bankers Petroleum-led domestic production hit a 35-year high of 1.36 million metric tons.

However, Albania’s highest oil production dates back to 1974 when the then-communist country produced 2.25 million metric tons equal to about 38,408 barrels of oil per day in an industry that involved 34 state-run enterprises and employed about 25,000 people.

 

Bankers turns profitable

Brent oil prices picking up to an average of $50 a barrel allowed Bankers Petroleum to turn profitable again following two years of significant losses amid a sharp drop in oil prices.

The Chinese-run company posted profits of about 586 million lek (€4.6 million) in 2017, following losses that peaked to 5.7 billion lek (€45.3 million) in 2016 and record high profits of about 11 billion lek (€86.5 million) in 2014, according to financial reports filed with Albania’s National Business Center.

Bankers Petroleum’s finances are also expected to recover following an arbitration court ordering the Albanian government to pay back the oil producer over a tax dispute.

Bankers Petroleum says it is still negotiating with the Albanian government over a solution for being paid back or refunded over the tax dispute after an international arbitration court ruled in favor of Bankers.

The negotiations come as Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce ruled last February the Albanian government will have to pay back Bankers Petroleum $57 million (€46.5 mln) over a tax dispute dating back to 2011.

 

 Headquarters move to Albania

Bankers Petroleum says it has transferred its headquarters from Canada's Calgary to Albania’s Fier region, where its oil production and drilling operations are based, in order to speed up its decision-making and strengthen cooperation with the central and local government as well as local community.

The decision follows the late 2016 purchase by Chinese investors and the company's delisting from the Toronto Stock Exchange and the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange.

Bankers Petroleum's operations in the past decade have also caused environmental concerns, with local residents complaining of oil pollution and drilling operations damaging their homes, with early 2017 protests forcing the government to compensate them for their damage.

China’s Geo Jade, whose main oil operations before the Albania acquisition were focused in Kazakhstan, acquired Bankers Petroleum for C$575 million (€390 mln) from Canadian investors.

The Bankers Petroleum acquisition followed that of the TIA, Albania’s sole international airport, turning China, the world’s second largest economy, into a key investor in Albania, a country which was China’s top ally in the Balkans in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

Oil production picking up

 

Recovering oil prices are also expected to give a boost to local oil industry, exports and government revenue after production hit a 6-year low in 2016 as prices slowly recovered from the mid-2014 slump.

Albania produced 956,000 metric tons of crude oil in 2017, down about 10 percent compared to 2016 and about 30 percent less compared to the peak 2014 production of 1.36 million metric tons just before oil prices embarked on a downward trend, according to data published by state-run Albpetrol oil company.

Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s largest oil producer which in mid-2016 was fully acquired by a Chinese consortium, accounted for the overwhelming majority of 90 percent of total domestic production.

The oil giant is also one of the country's top exporters and a key employer in the region of Fier, Albania’s second largest region, where oil and agriculture are the two main industries.

Meanwhile, state-run Albpetrol oil company which currently runs only 5 percent of oil wells, almost doubled its production to 93,000 metric tons in 2017, up from 51,000 metric tons in 2016. The increased production came as three oil fields were taken back under state control following failed deals with private concessionaires.

Albania’s oil industry could receive a major boost if prices pick up and oil giant Shell, currently involved in some key promising exploration projects, decides to engage in production.

Albania oil exports, which make up about a fifth country’s poorly diversified exports, are low-value added as oil is mostly exported as crude and only a small amount is domestically refined.

The oil industry produces Albania’s second largest exports and employs more than 3,000 people, but what the Albanian government gets from exports is only a 10 percent royalty tax as no company currently pays the controversial 50 percent tax rate, which under current contracts, concessionaires start paying once they meet investment costs.

In its new contract with British-Dutch multinational Shell the government says Albania will be able to earn a portion from the first oil production in addition to the mining royalty when the oil giant engages in production.

The oil and mining industry was the fourth largest FDI recipient at the end of 2017, with the investment stock at about €875 million, accounting for 13 percent of the total FDI stock of €6.5 billion, according to Albania’s central bank.
                    [post_title] => Chinese investors upgrade Albania investment plan as oil prices pick up 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 2 - Business representatives have called on the Albanian government to consider a fiscal package that would remain unchanged for at least a mid-term period so that they can plan their investments more accurately.

The current tax policy, changing almost on an annual basis, is rated as one of the top concerns for Albania’s foreign and local businesses, in addition to a high tax burden compared to regional competitors, widespread tax evasion, corruption and an inefficient judiciary.

Albanian business representatives say the government needs to draft a tax package that would keep main taxes unchanged for at least the next five years.

The appeal comes as the finance ministry is expected to unveil its 2019 fiscal package with changes in some key taxes after Albania abandoned its 10 percent flat tax regime on personal and corporate income in 2014 to switch to progressive taxation.

"It is high time we had a national fiscal pact which means a deal on the economy. We should have a package that is established under broad consensus with all stakeholders and remain in force for several years so that we can also be clear on the business plans we draft," Arben Shkodra, the head of the producers' association has told a local TV.

"There can be no legal changes every six months, both from the central and local government. Legal security and the frequent changes in legislation are the two main issues identified in the Doing Business report," he adds.

Ines Muçostepa, the Head of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, also says a multi-annual package is essential.

"Lowering taxes is a good thing, but in the course of one year we still have the same law undergoing changes. That means there is fragmentation and not thorough analysis based on strategic sectors of the economy. That's why we think the drafting of a multi-annual package is essential," says Muçostepa.

Business associations also demand a revise downward in the dividend tax, currently at 15 percent, at the the same rate to the withholding tax on rents and capital gains.

"We continue to insist that the dividend tax should be cut. We have been demanding that for a long time. That is a tax that is a burden on businesses and even holds back new investment," says Muçostepa.

Hikes in local government taxes are also often a problem for the business community, especially in Tirana.

"A manufacturing business should not pay the infrastructure tax if building a new unit serving its operations because of serving as a barrier and increasing costs. In my opinion, a manufacturing business should be treated the same to other businesses because they need to be supported and stimulated," says Arben Shkodra of the producers association.

In 2017, the tax on the impact on infrastructure for the municipality of Tirana, the country’s largest local government unit with a resident population of more than half a million, was raised to 8 percent of the sale price for housing facilities, up from a previous 4 percent of the construction costs, in what developers described as a four-fold hike and blamed for triggering a hike in apartment and business facility prices. The infrastructure tax was revised down to 4 percent for business facilities earlier this year as multi-storey towers projects get under way.

 

Little likely to happen

The business community initiative for a mid-term freeze in changes to tax policy, not the first of this kind, is little likely to succeed given the political polarization in Albania and the current situation in Parliament which the opposition has been boycotting over alleged rising corruption and corruptive public private partnerships being awarded to oligarchs.

In addition, the opposition has its own economic platform relying on a flat tax and has vowed to cancel corruptive PPPs and any consensual move is little likely ahead of next year’s local government elections, a key test for the united opposition ahead of the 2021 general elections.

The approval of a consensual fiscal package for a 5-year period is also hampered by uncertainties surrounding Albania’s public finances, with the high level of public debt, the high level of non-performing loans and slowly recovering credit as key obstacles to the economy which in 2017 hit a 9-year high of 3.8 percent.

 

2018 fiscal package

While the 2018 fiscal package has not been officially unveiled yet, preliminary versions leaked to the local media have unveiled the government is considering a cut to the dividend tax and revising down the personal income tax on high earners as the two key changes frequently demanded by businesses.

The value added and personal income tax thresholds are one of the main causes leading to tax evasion in Albania, according to a survey by the Albania Investment Council, a government advisory body.

Albania currently excludes businesses with an annual turnover of less than 2 million lek (€15,744) from the VAT system and applies progressive taxation of up to 23 percent on personal income for monthly wages of more than 130,000 lek (€1,000) under a complicated system that excludes the first 30,000 lek (€236) from taxation and applies a 13 percent rate on income from 30,000 to 130,000 lek.

In a U-turn, last June the Albanian government approved lower corporate income tax and incentives on agribusinesses as part of a mid-year fiscal package in changes that are not expected to become effective before next January ahead of the upcoming mid-2019 local elections.

Some 10,000 businesses currently paying a 15 percent profit rate are expected to pay a reduced 5 percent corporate income tax as the turnover threshold for the new 5 percent profit rate increases to an annual 14 million lek (€110,000), up from a previous 8 million lek (€ 63,000).

The emerging 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.

Since 2014 after Albania abandoned its 10 percent flat tax, the corporate income tax and the withholding tax on dividends, rents and capital gains have increased by 5 percent to 15 percent, making the tax burden in country one of the region’s highest and a key concern for the business community in the country.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 1 – Greece’s OTE Group, where Deutsche Telekom holds a 40 percent stake, is planning to sell its Telekom Albania unit, the country’s second largest mobile operator with a state-run Serbian mobile operator reported as a frontrunner to acquire the key asset, according to international media reports.

“Serbia’s state-run Telekom Srbija has made an offer to acquire Telekom Albania as it looks to expand in the Balkans. Czech PPF Group and Bulgaria’s Vivacom are also vying to acquire it,” Reuters reports, citing Serbian media.

Turkish and Greek companies are also reportedly interested in acquiring the German-Greek operator, according to government sources quoted by local Albanian media.

The entry to Albania of Telekom Srbija, which also operates in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, would mark the first major Serbian investment in Albania, where Serbian investment is quite modest, amid tense political relations over Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian country which declared its independence from Serbia a decade ago.

Albania and Serbia have been closely working in the past few years to overcome historical barriers that have held back closer economic cooperation and investment, but trade and investment ties have slowly progressed.

Foreign direct investment from Serbia, the region’s largest economy, have in the past three years climbed to a modest stock of €20 million while Albanian investment in Serbia is almost non-existent.

Meanwhile, trade exchanges between the two countries hit a record high of about 30 billion lek (€236 million) in 2017, fuelled by an almost 40 percent increase in Albania’s imports from Serbia, leading to a wider trade gap with Serbia.

 

Second largest operator

Former AMC Albania was initially launched as a state-run operator in late 1995 as the country’s first mobile operator before it was acquired in 2000 by Greece’s OTE Group and rebranded Telekom Albania in mid-2015.

Telekom Albania is currently the second largest mobile operator in the country with a 36 percent market share, but posted significant losses in 2017 along with leading mobile operator Vodafone Albania.

Telekom Albania and Vodafone Albania each purchased a 50 percent share in Plus Communication operation at the end of 2017 when the sole Albanian-owned mobile operator ceased its operations after seven years of activity, leaving the market with three foreign-owned operators, including Turkish-owned Albtelcom.

Albania’s mobile phone operators suffered a double-digit decline in revenue in 2017 in an ongoing downward trend since almost a decade, triggered by tougher competition and smartphone apps replacing traditional phone calls and text messages, according to the electronic communications watchdog.

 

Experts worried

Economy experts describe the departure of German giant Deutsche Telekom as a bad signal for the Albanian economy and the country's telecommunications, a key sector also for the country’s national security.

"That is not good news as an international brand which you can take pride in is departing and considering the ones rumored to replace it, that will only be a transaction with no development for the market as the reality will remain unchanged," financial expert Elvin Meka has told a local TV.

The financial expert says the government should reconsider acquiring a minority stake in the telecommunication market also on national security grounds.

"That is an alarm bell that should also serve the Albanian government to reconsider the opportunity of reacquiring even a minority stake in such asset," Meka has told local Top Channel TV.

The Albanian government sold its minority 12.6 percent stake in former AMC for about €48 million in 2009 and currently has a 24 percent stake in Albtelecom landline, mobile and internet provider.

Economy expert Zef Preçi is even more skeptical of Telekom Albania’s possible acquisition by non-EU investors.

"The increase in the Chinese and Turkish capital and extra pressure on capital of Russian origin or similar countries is in essence testimony to the fatigue that serious EU companies have with the business climate in Albania either with its slow improvement or its deterioration," says Preçi.

"The company owners are compensated for the company's present market value. But the arrival of a new company means tougher business and lower infrastructure investment which punishes consumers," says Preçi.

The Albanian government says it has not been officially informally of sale negotiations which will also have to receive its okay and regulators such as the electronic communications and competition watchdogs.

Several major EU and North American investors have left Albania in the past few years with key assets in the air transport, oil, banking and health sector changing hands.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 1 - Albanian households practically consumed less in 2017 as spending stagnated and inflation hit a 5-year high, unveiling that the almost decade-high GDP growth that the Albanian economy registered last year did not have any major impact on the overwhelming majority of Albanians.

The Albanian economy hit a 9-year high of 3.8 percent in 2017, but much of the growth was attributed to TAP and the Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related investments that are due to complete by early 2019, as well as a recovery in the long-ailing construction sector, triggering concern by experts over non-inclusive growth benefiting only a small part of the population.

A nationwide survey conducted by INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute, shows average spending for an Albanian household rose by a mere 0.4 percent in 2017 at a time when consumer prices hit a 5-year high of 2 percent, in a situation that unveils real expenditure growth was down by 1.6 percent when adjusted for inflation rate.

An average Albanian household of 3.7 persons spend a total of 73,400 lek (€580) a month in 2017, with the per capita spending at 19,660 lek (€155) and almost half of the monthly budget still going on food items.

Back in 2016, average spending for an Albanian household grew by 4.2 percent at a time when consumer prices hit a 16-year low of 1.3 percent and the economy grew by 3.4 percent, indicating moderate growth of 2.9 percent in household spending when adjusted for inflation, according to INSTAT.

The survey shows Albanians increased their spending on transport, health, hotels and restaurants by 12 to 15 percent in 2017 fuelled by a hike in oil prices, more patients addressing the private health sector and spending more on medicines and a rise in foreign tourist numbers triggering a spike in local prices.

Meanwhile, spending on garment and footwear as well as education dropped by around 11 percent amid tougher competition and lower demand reducing prices.

 

Sizeable food spending

A sizeable 44 percent of monthly spending for an Albanian household still goes to fund "food and non-alcoholic beverages," the key item in the consumer basket consisting of basic products such as milk, eggs, bread, meat, vegetables and fruit.

Spending on basic products has only slightly dropped from 45 percent in 2016 and 48.7 percent in 2015 in the past couple of years, but yet remains the highest among EU aspirant households.

The situation reflects rather expensive consumer prices for the average Albanian income, triggered by heavy reliance on imports and the application of standard 20 percent VAT even on basic products.

Albania’s food and non-alcoholic beverage prices were estimated at 75 percent of the EU 28 average in 2017, higher compared to EU member Bulgaria and lower only compared to Montenegro among regional EU aspirants despite Albania's GDP per capita remaining among Europe's lowest, at only about third of the EU average, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.

 

Inequality gap slightly narrows

The INSTAT survey shows Albania’s inequality gap slightly narrowed in 2017 as the richest 10 percent of households spent 2.4 times more than the overwhelming 90 percent of Albanians, a modest 0.1 percent drop compared to the 2016 findings.

A person belonging to the richest 10 percent spent an average of 62,330 lek (€492) a month in 2017, slightly less compared to a year before, but 3.4 times more compared to the 90 percent of households in the bottom income decile spending an average of 18,311 lek (€144) a month.

The survey shows spending for households in the top 10 percent income decile, accounting for a fifth of total consumption, dropped by 4.3 percent and increased by 1.7 percent for the bottom income group, reducing inequality gap by 0.1 percent to 2.4.

A household in the richest 10 percent is composed of an average of 2.6 persons compared to an average of 3.9 persons for the remaining 90 percent and an average of 3.7 nationwide.

Some 7,500 households nationwide were interviewed for the 2017 survey conducted by INSTAT.

The central Albanian regions of Tirana and Durres, the key drivers of the Albanian economy producing more than half of the country's GDP, have the highest household spending at an average of 20 percent above the country's nationwide average.

The northeastern region of Diber, where mining and agriculture are the two main industries, has the lowest spending at about a third below the country's average.

 

Non-inclusive growth

The Albanian economy hit a 9-year high of about 3.8 percent in 2017, but economists say the country’s GDP needs to grow by at least twice higher in order to produce tangible welfare for the overwhelming majority of Albanians.

“Despite some positive changes during the past decade, Albania is still part of those countries with exclusive growth, meaning that the number of economic stakeholders who contribute to GDP growth is still low compared to the total economic stakeholders and as a result even the ‘lion’s share’ of economic growth goes almost entirely in favor of these stakeholders, triggering huge gaps in income and economic and financial benefits,” economist Adrian Civici has said earlier this year.

Civici, who earlier served as a member of the central bank’s supervisory board, says about 80 to 85 percent of economic growth in Albania originates from less than 20 percent of economic stakeholders and as a result 80 to 85 percent of its benefits go in favor of this small group.

“In countries with all-inclusive growth there are much fairer ratios in the contribution of economic stakeholders to the growth structure and benefits from it. This is one of the major challenges facing Albania’s future economic and development policies,” says Civici.

Growth in annual household consumption ranged from 0.13 percent in 2012 to 2.86 percent in 2017 at a time when the country’s GDP growth recovered from 1.4 to 3.8 percent during the same period, considerably below the average 6 percent GDP growth estimated to bring tangible welfare to Albanian households, according to GDP growth data published by INSTAT.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 1 - The announcement of an environmental emergency at a waste dumpsite just outside Durres, Albania’s second largest city and the traditional top tourist destination, has not changed anything for the better at the Porto Romano hotspot.

Video footage shows that almost three months after Durres Municipality declared an emergency situation at the hotspot situated only few kilometers outside Durres at a populated area and just next to a public university, waste continues to burn in broad daylight with a series of negative effects on humans, the environment and local fauna and flora.

The announcement of the emergency situation came following a June 2018 visit to the site by Prime Minister Edi Rama who promised to close down and rehabilitate the hotspot, and turn it into a giant park by autumn 2019.

"What we target is transforming that area from an environmental hotspot into a park for the Durres and Albania that we want… and by autumn 2019 we will either have completed it or we will be under way. We hope this will be a fast intervention which can benefit the whole community but also numerous tourists," Rama said during his visit to the site last June, offering a new waste-to-energy plant that is being built outside Tirana as a solution to the Durres waste disposal and treatment issue.

The current Porto Romano dumpsite, the sole waste disposal area for the whole Durres, a region of some 200,000 residents, has been often dubbed an environmental time bomb for Durres, a city that has traditionally relied on tourism, but whose reputation in the past few years has waned also due to ongoing pollution and failure to find a permanent solution to the rehabilitation of the Porto Romano hotspot.

Dozens of trucks throw unseparated waste at the Porto Romano dumpsite every day, a considerable part of which is burned, triggering clouds of smoke.

The hotspot is also an employment opportunity for scrap and plastic collectors, including minors, who defy contamination threat to help their families make ends meet.

Cows, sheep, pigs also often feed there, increasing the risk of contamination through milk or meat products.

 

An environmental time bomb

Local residents have often staged protests about closing down the dump site, but no action has been taken due to Durres having no other alternative to dispose of its waste and no budget to build a new landfill on its own modest income.

Durres residents, especially those living in Porto Romano and ish-Keneta (former swamp area), describe the situation as alarming.

“One can easily spot how smoke spreads into the whole city. Such a situation is really critical and is silently killing all Durres residents, but especially those living in the Spitalle and ish-Keneta (suburban areas) which are very close to the waste disposal site,” Nikolle Prenga, a representative of the local community has earlier said.

The situation is also critical for dozens of thousands of students of the public University of Durres who will be attending the new academic year in mid-October 2018.

Hundreds of metric tons of waste is disposed of each day at an improvised landfill just few kilometers out of the city of Durres and only hundreds of meters away from the local “Aleksander Moisiu” public university, with constant waste burning being an imminent threat to some 18,000 university students.

The unstoppable fumes emitted from waste burning are also a constant threat to local flora and fauna in a nearby wetland, not to mention tourism, the key driver of the economy in the country’s largest coastal city boasting more than two thousand years of civilization.

Damage to the tourism industry in Durres, featuring the country’s largest port, a coastline of 62 km of sandy beaches along the Adriatic and ancient sites and monuments dating back to ancient Roman times is even bigger unless immediate action is undertaken.

The hotspot currently spreads over an 80,000 m2 area, just 3 km outside Durres and close to a wetland and beach area.

The Porto Romano dump site is not the sole concern local residents and farmers face with pollution.

Local farmers often complain local plants, especially involved in battery recycling and not using protective filters, pose a damage both to human health and their field crops.

 

Expert worried

Environmental expert Magdalena Cara describes the situation in Durres alarming, saying emergency intervention is needed to prevent a possible catastrophe.

"Waste management in Durres is in a critical condition. There is waste burning all the time and the smoke cloud covers various parts of the city depending on the wind direction. There is mixed waste, including plastic, and burning emission is toxic and cancerous,” she has told a local environmental newspaper.

“There is no management at all, there is no surrounding of the dump site, restricted area or guards and everything has been neglected. There is huge pollution there and the smell is even more terrible,” she says.

Commenting on the health consequences, the environmental expert say the pollution first of all affects lungs and blood because of the toxic fumes but also causes allergies.

“The Durres Municipality says the situation at Porto Romano is beyond its powers because of the huge investment needed" she says, adding that Prime Minister Rama's visit to the site last summer has not changed anything yet.

 

No final solution yet

Durres local government sources say they are still waiting for a solution by the Integrated Waste Management Committee, a government inter-ministerial body chaired by the country's deputy environment minister, to find an alternative solution before putting an end to waste disposal at the Porto Romano area.

Few years ago, the Albanian government failed to conclude contract negotiations over the construction of a new landfill that would have solved the waste issue for the next three decades.

A 30-year concession awarded to an Albanian-Italian joint venture to build and operate a landfill in Manez, some 20 km outside Durres, failed to materialize into a contract in 2015 after the concessionaire was seeking what were described as unaffordable waste disposal fees of about €25 per metric ton.

The local municipality says it has no money to fund a new landfill, whose cost is estimated at about €20 million, and cannot even financially afford to intervene to rehabilitate the Porto Romano waste disposal site where about €3 million is needed.

Ironically, the central government has recently funded a luxury €6 million veil-like promenade in downtown Durres, which heritage experts say risks burying ancient ruins in concrete next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower.

The new Tirana waste-to-energy plant that is being built under a 30-year public private partnership with the Albanian government, has been offered as a solution that will also serve Durres, although costs will significantly increase compared to current dumping and even the proposed landfill whose plans were dropped.

The Tirana waste plant winning concessionaire is expected to secure its income by collecting a €29 fee for every metric ton of waste it processes, €4 more than the rejected project outside Durres.

The environment ministry says the construction of the modern plant by 2019, when it is also expected to produce electricity from waste burning, will put an end to the waste management issue in Tirana, closing down and rehabilitating the current Sharra landfill. The new plant is expected to have a capacity of 550 to 800 metric tons of waste a day in its urban waste, wastewater, ash landfills as well as its incinerator.

Albania has already built its first waste-to-energy plant in Elbasan, central Albania and has signed concession contracts backed by the central government to build two new such plants in Fier and Tirana, despite environmental concerns by local residents and environmentalists worried over the new plants and their incinerators increasing dangerous pollution in the country.

The European Commission has warned the waste-to-energy plants pose concerns “in terms of compliance with EU principles since disposal and incineration are the least preferred waste management options.”

Waste management is one of the most pressing issues facing Albania and the emerging tourism industry after five wastewater treatment plants that Albania has made operational in recent years have considerably improved the quality of the country’s bathing waters.

Only about 70 percent of the country’s 2.8 million resident population has access to public waste treatment and disposal services, making waste management one of the key issues of concern for local communities and hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting Albania.

Three quarters of Albania’s municipal waste is landfilled, about 17 percent is recycled, about 2 percent is incinerated to produce electricity, and 3 percent is burned or dumped outside landfills, according to 2017 data by state statistical institute, INSTAT.

 
                    [post_title] => Durres dumpsite still pending final solution as emergency situation remains on paper
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-28 09:54:52
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                    [post_content] => By Johann Sattler

“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg (street in the center of Vienna)” - there is hardly any Austrian that doesn’t know this phrase, which is attributed to former Austrian Chancellor Metternich in the 19th century. Since then, this statement has been cited frequently to illustrate Austria's geographical, historical, economic and cultural ties with the Balkan region and to show the mediating role that Austria has played throughout history as a bridge between the Balkans and Central and Western Europe. Support for the establishment of the Albanian state is a good example of Austria-Hungary’s role in Southeastern part of Europe. Austria aims to also play this role during its EU Council Presidency, which comes at a time when Europe is facing major challenges and political changes. During the six months of our Presidency, we will do our best to be a bridge between EU countries and beyond, in order to reduce tensions within and to contribute to a more powerful Europe.

1. Presidency priorities

With the start of the Austrian EU Presidency (July 1st - December 31st), under the motto “a Europe That Defends", there is the opportunity and the challenge of playing the mediating role between the contrasts that characterize the European Union: economic issues and refugees, the need for internal restructuring and strengthening of the EU, the implementation of national agendas and the maintenance of unity, the negotiation of the Brexit, but also when it comes to EU enlargement. We aim to act and interact within a Europe with different dynamics and in this interaction of forces, the Presidency's focus lies on three key priorities:

 
  1. Security: The Austrian Presidency aims to strengthen the external borders of the European Union, by fighting illegal immigration, strengthening ‘Frontex’ and working on a Common European Asylum System.
  2. Prosperity: Ensuring prosperity and competition through digitization is another priority. To maintain the competitiveness and sustainability of the European economy in the future, Europe needs an intelligent digital transformation policy.
  3. Stability: Stability takes shape and structure when there are no major dangers and threats in the European geographic area. Therefore, a very important priority for Austria will be a credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans. The integration process, with its unique transformative power, will remain the driving force for fostering reforms in the region. It is in the economic and security interest of the EU and the region that the Western Balkans becomes part of the EU. This region has proven to be a reliable partner on migration and other important issues and it is an essential part of Europe also regarding our close historic and cultural ties.
  The Western Balkans in the focus of the Austrian Presidency 2018 began with the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, leaving the floor during the second half of the year to the Austrian Presidency and to continue next year with the Romanian one. It is indeed a good opportunity for the Balkans having three consecutive EU Presidencies with a focus on the Western Balkans, thus ensuring that, despite the geopolitical challenges Europe is facing, the Western Balkans stay in the spotlight. In this context, Austria has been and remains one of the most committed countries in favor of integrating the Western Balkan states into the EU under the assumption that the EU is not complete without this region and that these countries do not merely deserve a European prospective but EU membership, once conditions are fulfilled. It should be noted that the Western Balkan countries have moved important steps forward. Macedonia and Albania have received a provisional green light for opening negotiations with the EU next year, although Austria along with other European countries wanted this to have happened this year. Albania's priorities in the new political season – ‘A little less conversation, a little more action’ It is important for Albania that it maximally utilizes this period of less than a year by devoting itself to the technical part of the screening process, but more importantly, to rigorously push forward the key reforms especially in the field of the rule of law, in the fight against corruption and organized crime  and on the electoral reform. To fulfill these tasks, Albanian citizens expect their country’s political leaders, the government and the opposition, and all elected representatives, to put their sleeves up and give their best. This will take a government that tries to close the gaps rather than deepens them and that is oriented towards inclusion and humility rather than exclusion. On the other hand, an opposition is needed whose action has as a basic principle the rigorous control of the work of the government and the presentation of realistic alternative policy proposals within the legal institutions, in order for it to compete in the upcoming elections. And both sides, when it comes to matters of national importance that need unity, should set aside party rhetoric and reach a compromise that will benefit the country. In my opinion, priorities for this new political season are issues such as the establishment of institutions like the HPC, the HCJ and the SPAC, the approval of the Magistrate's Law, and cooperation on the electoral reform, taking into account the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. Starting from this, both political sides should use the electoral campaign that will begin for the local elections to introduce trustworthy concepts and candidates, including new faces, rather than accusing each other. Albania is one of the countries with the youngest population in Europe and the country would benefit from a political facelift, especially when it comes to those who are the closest to the daily concerns of the citizens, that is the mayors. What the country does not need is to adopt in a hurry and without proper scrutiny controversial laws, or to boycott or be mostly absent in parliament. On the contrary, Albania needs a focused political course in the citizens’ interest. So, in short, using Elvis Presley’s famous line, "a little less conversation, a little more action, please!" To achieve this democratic maturity is not easy, not only in Albania but also in other European countries including Austria. It is a daily endeavor, it takes time and patience and it requires the will for compromise. But is an essential process, especially in Albania, where the political polarization is particularly strong. The contribution of civil society, students and interest groups in this process is as indispensable as that of independent media. Austria's commitment to Albania's  integration process in EU  Despite changes in the historical, economic, or geopolitical context of the two countries, the core of Austrian-Albanian relations has remained the same: we are and remain a strong and trusted partner for Albania and one of the most committed supporters of Albania's EU path. On the other side, Albania has included Austria as one of the country's four strategic partners, which emphasizes convincingly the special bonds between our nations. Within the Berlin’s Process framework, Austria has been a very active participant since the beginning, initiating a number of regional projects, also infrastructure related ones such as the Peace Motorway (Nish - Prishtinë - Durrës). Furthermore, we have also been very active in trying to overcome bilateral disputes, culminating in signing of two border agreements and we have undertaken initiatives for civil society’s involvement in the Berlin Process projects. In this context, in the course of its engagement, Austria, within the Presidency of the EU Council, will undertake a number of initiatives focusing on the Western Balkans and its integration in the EU. Among them, let me mention the Gymnich meeting (Aug. 31, 2018) between the Foreign Ministers of EU countries and the candidate countries, where one of the most important points was the integration of the Western Balkan region. Also, Tirana will be in the focus of our Western Balkans policy through two ministerial conferences: the Conference of Ministers of European Integration, focusing on the mutual support in the accession process (4 October) and the Conference of Ministers of Interior and Justice, which will have in focus the cooperation on issues such as data exchange and migration (4/5 October). This does not only highlight the importance of the Balkans and Albania to Austria, but also shows that Austria has managed throughout its Presidency to place the Balkans at the center of EU policy. Furthermore, we expect a host of official visits: besides Foreign, Justice and Interior Ministers, the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz is expected to visit Tirana, as well as the Speaker of Parliament, Wolfgang Sobotka. The highlight of Albanian dignitaries in Vienna will be President Meta's visit to Austria at the end of October. 1. Europe’s role in the world Since its founding, the European Coal and Steel Community and then the European Union has provided continuous peace and prosperity for its citizens, but also exporting stability them to the surrounding countries. The European Union offers its citizens the best system of social protection and is by far the largest contributor of development aid in the world. However, as President of the European Council Donald Tusk said during his speech at the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: “to build a free world, it takes time, great efforts and sacrifices are needed, and Europe has made it. But nothing can be taken for granted. Europe as a political entity will either exist united or will not exist at all.” The EU needs ongoing work and commitment to support the most successful peace project ever experienced in Europe's history. Europe finds itself at a time of challenges and change, in a turbulent world, at a time when increasing insecurity is coming from the US, when China and Russia are emerging increasingly powerful and more confident but whose model is fundamentally different from that of the EU. Tensions within the European Union have increased. With the Brexit, the EU experienced for the first time the will of a nation wanting to leave the EU. But Europe should see Brexit as an opportunity, as a model agreement for a very close partnership with the EU beneath the threshold of membership. Pro-Europeans are challenged in providing clear and concrete responses to the implementation of their policies. So, it is time to defend with conviction what Europe has achieved so far; the time of lukewarm European supporters is over.  Deepening and widening  The internal reform of the EU has been boiling down frequently to one question: more subsidiarity (leaving more competences to member states) or deepening of integration (more competences for Brussels). The need for EU reform does not necessarily have to exclude one of those principles. Further integration among member countries does not necessarily go against the principle of subsidiarity; rather they can be implemented side by side through agreements between the EU and member countries. Austria, under the slogan "less, but more efficient" supports the internal reform of the EU simultaneously in these two directions. The extension of EU’s competences is as necessary in some areas, as its detachment from some other areas is. For this reason, the discourse within the EU should be oriented about which areas are needed to deepen the EU's competences and in which areas national/local decision-making would be more efficient. In our view it would make sense to increase the role of member countries in decision making when it comes to health, culture, tourism, education, sport, youth, inclusion etc. On the other hand, further integration among member countries would be needed in such aspects as the protection of external borders, internal and external security, representation of Europe in the world, as well as in the fields of research, innovation and digitization. EU reform in these two parallel directions would be an attempt to balance the interests of the EU and its member countries. On the one hand, this would lead to a more efficient and more focused Europe and, on the other hand, to the increase of subsidiarity. However, subsidiarity is difficult to be put in place and implemented in practice.  For this reason it is important to look at the approach of member countries' parliaments regarding this principle. The underestimation of this principle by the EU was used by Brexit supporters against the EU itself. But so far, what has been done by the EU in this respect were “ad-hoc” adaptations. Given this policy debate, there have been better times for EU enlargement. But it would be short-sighted from our side if we lost sight of the Balkans region. This would lead to increased insecurity in this vital part of Europe as countries would lose momentum in their modernization quest and would come under the growing influence of third parties. At the same time, the countries in the region should continue to forcefully make their case, and the most convincing arguments are real reforms, real results in fighting organized crime and corruption and real steps in consolidating democracy by reducing polarization and increasing accountability. So in a nutshell: it takes two to tango. The Balkans should not miss this opportunity, but also the EU should not lose sight of this region.    *The author of this article is the Austrian Ambassador to Albania [post_title] => “The Balkans begin at the Rennweg” [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-balkans-begin-at-the-rennweg [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-28 09:57:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-28 07:57:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138649 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138713 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-10-05 10:48:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-10-05 08:48:57 [post_content] => To the follower of novels or drama series such as ‘Gomorrah’ or ‘Narcos’, the story that has gripped the Albanian political and public debate in the last days would seem extremely familiar. The script writers of every mafia show out there should take notes from the Albanian stories, they might like the colorful details for lack of a better word. The plot however remains the same: strong and complex links between organized crime and politics, especially visible at the local level which generate absurd, dark and twisted realities for those governed. A simple village girl, whose father has died long ago, goes to the police to denounce the violence that her former boyfriend has exerted. Hardcore physical violence as attested by medical reports which take note of multiple hematomas and some cigarette burns on the skin. She is turned away from multiple police stations until a police officer takes her testimony. The saga continues. The psychologists sees no violence, the prosecutor does not issue a warrant, the whole thing is left aside. The boyfriend in question is the son of a strongman that has made it to the ranks of the MPs, on the governing side no less. Has made it or has been promoted there. Strongmen generate desirable votes and can swing entire districts to one party’s favor. Party leaders have learned this lesson. The story resurfaces. The police officer is now seeking asylum abroad. The political parties fight and the cynical, unprofessional and captured media harnesses clicks and audience. Instead of any form of reflection the party in power, sees this as an opportunity to flex their muscle, show their teeth. They will haunt the police officer. They will draft anti-libel laws. The boyfriend is arrested. Finally after months, the medical expertise act reaches the right hands. The judicial sector springs in action. Outside the court stairs, the boy threatens the opposition leader. His threat is the sentence with which the mafia show series would have ended their episodes on a dramatic and symbolic note: “You shall see me in the next elections!” The story of this unfortunate Albanian girl is the story of the Albanian state, institutions and society. In order to harness the maximum amount of power, political parties spearheaded by the Socialist one in power are systematically making space at the higher level of political representation for figures that come from the dark and dangerous world of organized crime. These so-called MPs cement then their position as local lords, encapsulating all institutions within their grip. They become more and more untouchable, unpunishable. For rape, for beatings, for anything. Even for murder. The state police, the state prosecutors are just useless tools and pongs in the hands of a few. They can be intimidated, they can be silenced and advised ‘for their own good’ to quit. Even the lines are sadly familiar of the Godfather films. No creativity needed there. The ugly sadistic link between politics and media erodes the public’s opinion to seek accountability. Political spin doctors hand in hand with incompetent and abusive media actors twist and turn the story, chew the facts, spit out multiple interpretations, accusations and allegations until it all becomes an ugly sham. We are seeing the apex of a well-structured system that has interlinked criminal, political, media and commercial interests to such a degree that untangling it becomes completely impossible. Who can any longer count the examples that we have been witnessing in the last years? What else needs to happen? What more shall it take? The responsible segments of Albanian politics need to assume the task to weed out these criminals, to resist the temptation to hire their electoral services. Otherwise the society needs to move and punish them. What the ‘Gomorrah’ and ‘Narcos’ series tell us is that with time these models of silent acceptance of the politico-crime corporations render all dissent voices obsolete. People become increasingly cautious or passive and submitted to their fate. They lower their voices and their heads, they become accomplices. The people of Naples, of Medellin, of Cidad Juarez. I this the ultimate fate of the people of Nikla and Kruja and Shkodra and Elbasan? Now it is time for every Albanian needs to consider whether we have already reached this doomed point. Some have done it and have left. What about the rest of us who are staying? [post_title] => Editorial: 'Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-straight-out-of-gomorrah-how-the-story-of-one-abused-girl-is-the-nutshell-of-what-is-wrong-with-albania [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-05 10:51:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-05 08:51:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138713 [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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