Activists arrested as protests against waste imports continue

Activists arrested as protests against waste imports continue

TIRANA, Nov. 23 – Activists of the Alliance Against Waste Imports and other members of civil society in Albania have launched fresh protests against a bill that would allow Albanian companies to import waste for recycling. “Two young protesters were

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Minister of Education hit with tomato sauce as part of protest against university reform

Minister of Education hit with tomato sauce as part of protest against university reform

TIRANA, Nov. 22 – Albanian Minister of Education Lindita Nikolla was attacked with tomato sauce earlier this week as she attended a conference on the International Day of Students. A video of the attack, filmed by the group of student

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Rama dismisses claims of Greater Albania in Greek media interview

Rama dismisses claims of Greater Albania in Greek media interview

TIRANA, Nov. 23 – In a wide-ranging interview for a Greek television station, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has denied speculations that Albania is pursuing border changes and pushing forward the concept of “Greater Albania.” “We have Albania, Kosovo, Albanian

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Medical association seeks clarity on controversial concession

Medical association seeks clarity on controversial concession

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – The Association of Medical Laboratory Technologists has signed a petition to demand more transparency on a new concession of medical laboratory services to private entities, the latest in a string of controversial public-private partnerships approved by

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EU negotiations unlikely until 2018, say German MPs

EU negotiations unlikely until 2018, say German MPs

TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania’s hopes of opening accession negotiations with the European Union sooner rather than later have hit a new snag as German lawmakers have set more conditions, which could mean there will not be any negotiations until

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Court rejects appeal on vetting bill suspension

Court rejects appeal on vetting bill suspension

TIRANA, Nov. 22 – Albania’s Constitutional Court rejected this week an appeal by a member of parliament to remove the suspension of the law on transitional qualification assessment of the judges and prosecutors, better known as “the vetting bill.” The

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Editorial: Avoiding divisive policies in the diaspora

Editorial: Avoiding divisive policies in the diaspora

This week, a major summit on Albania’s large diaspora was held with much fanfare in Tirana, discussing a series of issues on the topic. While positive in spirit, beyond the facade of the summit, there is a need for a

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Engaging the Albanian diaspora: The necessary start-up summit

Engaging the Albanian diaspora: The necessary start-up summit

By Alba Çela The Albanian diaspora is quite impressive in terms of numbers (relative to the population naturally), achievements, geographical distribution and strong links to the homeland. It has several strata that vary according to chronology of migration movements, reasons

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New Albanian-owned investment fund breaks Raiffeisen’s monopoly

New Albanian-owned investment fund breaks Raiffeisen’s monopoly

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – The launch of a new investment fund is expected to give a new boost to this emerging market which has considerably slowed down in the past couple of years due to a sharp decline in government

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EU warns of fiscal risks ahead of next year’s elections

EU warns of fiscal risks ahead of next year’s elections

TIRANA, Nov. 15 – The European Commission has warned the upcoming mid-2017 general elections and the end of a 3-year IMF supported programme could put at risk the country’s fiscal consolidation path. In its latest Autumn report, the EU’s executive

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 23 - Activists of the Alliance Against Waste Imports and other members of civil society in Albania have launched fresh protests against a bill that would allow Albanian companies to import waste for recycling.

"Two young protesters were detained by police as activists set up tends in front of the parliament building and stayed overnight as part of an ongoing protest. They were released the next day but face prosecution for “disturbing the peace,” police said.

Protests started Wednesday evening and activists vowed to continue the protests until Thursday evening as the parliament holds its weekly parliamentary session.

Members of the Alliance Against Waste Imports have called on citizens nationwide to join the protests, which have been backed up by members of the opposition, which has called on citizens to join the protests.

“Politicians can join the protest for as long as they want to voice their concerns as ordinary citizens and not representatives of political parties. This is a civic cause and not a political one,” AAWI said in a statement.

Organizers of the protest stood all night in front of the parliament, calling on members of the assembly to not approve the controversial waste bill.

Civil society and environmentalists have increased pressure on the Socialist Party-led government, fearing Albania will become Europe’s dumping site.

The government claims that the waste bill aims to revive the struggling recycling industry and imported waste will not be hazardous to citizens health. The ruling majority approved the bill on Sept. 22, a decision met with a spate of protests by environmental activists and outrage on social media.

The bill also revealed cracks in the ruling coalition as only 63 MPs voted in favor, while several members of the coalition were not present.

However a month later, President Bujar Nishani overturned the bill arguing that the waste imports are not an obligation that derives from the Stabilization and Association Agreement or any other international accord ratified by the Republic of Albania and that the waste import clashes with the priority set for the treatment of waste produced in the Albanian territory.

The parliament can still override Nishani’s veto, but it will need more votes than the minimal 63 lawmakers out of a total of 140 the Socialist-led ruling coalition was able to muster the last time.

Ben Blushi, an opposition lawmaker and former member of the Socialist Party and critic of the ruling majority, said that the coalition partners are feeling insecure to approve the bill in parliament because they lack the necessary quorum.

Blushi took to social media to say that “the parties are afraid to approve the bill, but are also afraid to abrogate it.”

The bill was not included in this week's voting agenda in parliament, and activists said they will continue to protest to make sure the bill does not pass.
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                    [post_content] => nikollaTIRANA, Nov. 22 – Albanian Minister of Education Lindita Nikolla was attacked with tomato sauce earlier this week as she attended a conference on the International Day of Students. A video of the attack, filmed by the group of student protesters, went viral online.

Mirela Ruko a young activist of the University Movement in Tirana poured sauce on Nikolla’s hair in a sign of protest over the recent education reform. Minister Nikolla was immediately whisked out of the hall.

In a press statement, the University Movement said that the “activists threw sauce on the minister in a similar act to what the minister and the Socialist-led government are doing to the public universities.”

“The action of our activists is an act of responsibility which Minister Nikolla avoided for so long toward the failed education reform, the chaotic university admission system and the favoring of private universities for financial gain,” the release read.

Police escorted the young activist at the police station where she was held for few hours. Dozens of students protested in front of the station calling for Ruko’s release. Ruko emerged out of the police station after a couple of hours.

This is not the first time university students from the same group, target government officials to express their dissatisfaction with reforms in the education sector.

Earlier this year, members of the Movement for University threw eggs at Prime Minister Rama when he was visiting a university building.

Members of the University Movement have been protesting against Ministry of Education regulations since June 2014.

One of these regulations caused a chaotic situation with university admissions, after faculty enrollment scheme was changed in a last minute, forcing many students to not be able to register in their favorite faculty.

Calls for the resignation of Minister Nikolla have intensified, but the Socialist-led government have made no plans for a cabinet reshuffle.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 23 - In a wide-ranging interview for a Greek television station, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has denied speculations that Albania is pursuing border changes and pushing forward the concept of “Greater Albania.”

“We have Albania, Kosovo, Albanian people living in south of Serbia, living in Macedonia, in Montenegro. So what? There is no plan, there is no foreseeable one, to collect all these in one natural or Greater Albania,” he said in an interview for Skai TV broadcast Tuesday.

The interview came at a time when the relations between the two countries have hit a new low falling a string of incidents and comments on both sides.

During the interview, Rama also discussed the issue of Cham community and their property left behind in Greece when they were expelled from country during World War II.

“I don’t think that is irredentist to tell people, to tell our kids where Albanians lived and I don’t think it is irredentist to tell people that it was an area that was named Chameria,”

“The Cham community’s claims are a human rights issue,” Rama added calling for the inclusion of this issue in negotiations between the two countries, although Greece Greece has dismisses such claims, saying they were Nazi collaborators.

The Albanian prime minister admitted that during the Second World War, some of these people had committed war crimes, but he said it is impossible for an “entire community to be labeled as collaborationist for the fault of few.”

“These people were banned from their homes in Greece and they have the right to return whenever they want and claim their properties if they want to. What’s the problem here?” Rama said insisting that Cham community is not seeking for their area “to be an autonomous one in Greece.”

Regardless of several pending issues, Rama described relations between Greece and Albania as very important. However, he suggested that both countries engage in dialogue under the principles “of mutual generosity and understanding,” keeping in mind that “the interests of Albanians and Greeks cannot stop us to build a brilliant future together”.

Rama highlighted the “insanity” behind certain claims that south of Albania is “Vorio-Epirus of Greece”

“They are crazy to think that Greece must extend as far as central Albania,” he added.

“These are notions generated by others, who are scared or who have created this notion due to different agendas” Rama said, underlining that Albania is only interested to join the European family.

The Albanian prime minister also reiterated the theory that the Acropolis temple was saved from total destruction due to the efforts of an “Albanian archbishop,” a statement which sparked anger among Greeks when Rama first spoke of it earlier last month.

“The fact that Albanians have contributed for Greece and for the Greek society and the fact that at that time, many people spoke the Albanian language, doesn’t make Athens an Albanian city,” he said.

“This should not be an insult rather than a pleasant historical fact. An Albanian happened to be in the right place, at the right time and he was the right person to negotiate and prevent the destruction of Acropolis. The man in question could have been Greek, a Chinese, but he happened to be an Albanian,” Rama added.

During the interview, Rama was asked to comment about the State of War Law that is still being enforced by Greece, urging the neighboring country to abolish it. “This law is an obstacle for the Chams to follow a legal path in seeking their rights,” Rama said.

In terms of the maritime borders between the two countries, Rama suggested the involvement of a third party to help Greece and Albania settle the matter and also denied claims of Turkish influence in the abrogation of the agreement.

Earlier this week, the Albanian prime minister's held a phone conversation with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras. According to a press release by the Greek PM’s office, interlocutors talked about the decision of local authorities in the town of Himara to demolish the homes of several “ethnic Greek families.”

Tsipras called on Albania to protect the rights of minority ethnic Greece and “to restore a climate of trust which is necessary to foster bilateral relations.” However, Rama was adamant that the demolitions are part of a wide-reaching urban renewal program.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 21 - The Association of Medical Laboratory Technologists has signed a petition to demand more transparency on a new concession of medical laboratory services to private entities, the latest in a string of controversial public-private partnerships approved by the Ministry of Health.

In a public petition and letter addressed to President Nishani, Speaker Ilir Meta and Minister of Health Ilir Beqaj, the association says it wants more transparency about the concession of medical laboratory services in hospitals.

“Our concern is particularly related to the lack of transparency in the process. The consultation process and the analysis of the system saw the engagement of paid experts from IFC, but not doctors and lab experts whose experience is very important to the process” the document signed by 90 technicians reads.

According to the people who signed the document, the concessionaire contract offers a service that is not applied in any of the EU member countries. The concessionaire contract for the Medical Laboratory lab services in 44 hospitals has sparked debates nationwide as interest groups have been feeling neglected and cast aside.

These interest groups say that the application of such system will monopolize the medical lab services and will cause chaotic prices.

Furthermore, interest groups say that the concession will jeopardize relations between doctors and lab technicians because if the latter will be under the administration of the private sector than the gap will be huge. Lab technicians will be predisposed to not obey to doctors which would harm the service quality.

The project will be implemented first in municipality, regional and tertiary hospitals. In January, the Medical Laboratory lab service contract will be entrusted to a concessionaire company until 2027.

Contract conditions have not been made public but according to the draft budget 2017, the partnership with this company will cost taxpayers about 8 million USD. In ten years, the company will collect 80 million USD.

This however is only the tip of an iceberg, because the Ministry of Health has approved the concession for three other services such as health check up for 35-70 year olds, sterilization of surgery equipment and Hemodialysis.

The three services have an annual cost of 32 million USD or 320 million USD for ten years.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania's hopes of opening accession negotiations with the European Union sooner rather than later have hit a new snag as German lawmakers have set more conditions, which could mean there will not be any negotiations until 2018.

The lawmakers, from the CDU-CSU group in the Bundestag, will vote against the opening of negotiations between Albania and the EU, said Gunther Krichbaum, head of the German ruling party parliamentary group, speaking at a press conference in Tirana on Thursday.

Krichbaum, a prominent politician close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Albania does not meet the preliminary criteria dealing with strengthening the rule of law and justice reforms to justify opening negotiations at this time.

He added Germany needs to see an actual implementation of the justice reform, not just its approval.

"The reform has been approved by parliament, that's true, but a decision of the Constitutional Court have suspended some of it," Krichbaum said.

The court is waiting for an expert opinion from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, and it is unclear when the delay will end.

In addition, the German lawmaker said there were issues relating to the public administration and the fight against corruption and organized crime.

He said that when it comes to the fight against drug trafficking, Albania appears to have backtracked on its previous progress.

Krichbaum also chided Albanian authorities for not doing enough to keep people with criminal records and ties away from holding elected office. The decriminalization law should be applied consistently, he added.

In addition, he said property rights protections are nowhere near EU standards and there needs to be more transparency in the property rights reform process.

Krichbaum said the 2017 elections should meet OSCE / ODIHR criteria and there should be electoral code reform, something that is still nowhere near being done.

A vote in the German parliament is mandatory before Albania can officially start accession negotiations, and the answer will be negative unless these pending issues are addressed, Krichbaum said.

"Negotiations with Albania will be opened only when the preconditions are met,” he said.

CDU, led by Angela Merkel, is the ruling party in Germany, and Krichbaum is chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for EU Affairs at the German Bundestag. This committee is responsible for fundamental issues of European integration and possesses special powers for these.

Krichbaum said his party is clearly in support of eventual EU membership for Albania, but is unwilling to dilute the standards to do so.

“We want Albania's accession negotiations to be opened when the necessary conditions are met,” he said.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha said in a statement that the stance of the German parliament against opening accession negotiations was bad news for all Albanians.

It is now time to work to implement reforms and take proper decisions to serve Albanian citizens and not just to create a mirage for Albanians and our partners,” Basha said, taking a shot at Prime Minister Edi Rama. “It is also a time to come together to fight corruption, crime, drugs and to guarantee free and honest elections.”

Earlier this month, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, gave its green light for opening accession talks for Albania, a recommendation given with some conditions and which now must pass several other hurdles both at the EU and member levels.

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn said the Commission issued a recommendation to Albania “on a condition related to a tangible application of the reform in justice and of the vetting law especially in terms of the verification of judges and prosecutors.”

He added: “We must see very clearly and credibly that this works on the ground. Only results count.”

Prime Minister Rama had said the recommendation is “the best reward for the three years of battles and reforms.”

This is not the first time that an EU recommendation would be shot down by member states with higher standards. The candidate status for Albania in 2013 was also delayed after the Netherlands put its foot down demanding to see more progress.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 22 – Albania’s Constitutional Court rejected this week an appeal by a member of parliament to remove the suspension of the law on transitional qualification assessment of the judges and prosecutors, better known as “the vetting bill.”

The chairman of Constitutional Court, Bashkim Dedja, said that there has been no change in circumstances to force the court change its decision to suspend the implementation of the vetting bill until an expert body from the Council of Europe can give its opinion.

The hearing was attended by U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu and Head of EU Delegation to Tirana Romana Vlahutin, two of the biggest supporters of the judiciary reform in Albania.

The U.S Embassy and EU Delegation to Albania issued a press release saying “they respect the authority of the Constitutional Court to examine and suspend the implementation of the Vetting Law.” They underlined that “United States of America and European Union remain committed in fully implementing the reform of the judiciary reform in Albania.”

The vetting bill, considered as one of the crucial pillars of the judicial reform, was suspended last week by the Constitutional Court based on a request deposited by the Democratic Party which demanded the Council of Europe advisory body’s opinion about the compatibility of the legislation with the country’s constitution.

European Commission has conditioned accession talks with Albania based on the implementation of the judicial reform, and in particular the vetting bill which will provide the legal means to scan 800 judges and prosecutors for their professional proficiency, moral integrity and independence from the influence of the organized crime, corruption and political power.

The Democratic Party opposes the methodology of electing members of the Independent Commission of Qualification that will do the screening process, arguing that it is politically biased.

The court is expected to announce a final decision on the bill, following the delivery of the opinion by the Venice Commission in December 2016.

The implementation of the judicial reform is expected to start at the beginning of 2017.
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                    [post_content] => This week, a major summit on Albania's large diaspora was held with much fanfare in Tirana, discussing a series of issues on the topic. While positive in spirit, beyond the facade of the summit, there is a need for a comprehensive strategic approach that is inclusive and properly engages and utilizes the Albanian diaspora.

The modern history of Albanian diaspora is a complex one. At the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th, the Albanian diaspora especially in the west and more specifically in the United States played a historic role in guaranteeing the future of the independent Albanian state. For all means and purposes this diaspora was de facto the government of Albania in the most difficult days of recognizing the new Albanian state.

During and after the Second World War, the communist regime followed a strategy of sowing disagreements, and then persecuting its political opponents who in most cases chose to leave the country and established themselves in the west. Throughout the cold war years and until its last days the communist regime applied a cruel strategy of pitting Albanians abroad against each other often with dramatic and even fatal consequences.

The consequences and bitter memory of this enmity is still pervasive in many circles and discussions and much remains to be done to dissipate it.

In the quarter of the century of democratic transition, the Albanian diaspora has swelled to many more thousands of people, bringing the figure so almost 40 percent of the population living outside Albania. In first ten years of the transition the phenomenon of brain drain reached its apex with about half of the Albanian intelligentsia (academics, professors and high level experts) choosing to start a new life abroad.

In general the governments of these last 25 years have failed to produce serious ideas, strategies and collaborative platforms to engage and involve the diaspora in the country’s political life, economic and social development and presence abroad.

Furthermore even in the provisions of basic consular services, many problems, gaps and inadequate performances have been making the lives of Albanians abroad very difficult. While the two neighboring countries of Italy and Greece host hundreds of thousands of Albanians, the consular offices of Rome and Athens to the present day have insufficient personnel to service their needs. While Albanians at home and abroad pay their taxes and fees to afford these services they have not been served fairly and unfortunately this is not just the case in these two countries.

In the economic field no serious mechanism of encouraging the diaspora to invest in Albania have been generated. Those that have been tried from time to time have been inefficient.

As for the use of knowledge, education, training and experience of Albanians abroad except from some ad hoc brain gain programs, there has not been any comprehensive strategy to make good use of this human assets in several fields where their expertise would be beneficial.

Finally, despite the recurring rhetoric, nothing has been done yet to give the opportunity to Albanian abroad to participate on their country’s political life. Their voting has not been guaranteed and this raises several questions whether the reason for this failure is the fear on the part of domestic elites over the impact of such a vote on democracy and governance.

Therefore the need of a comprehensive strategic approach for including, engaging and utilizing the diaspora persist beyond activities no matter their implied or advertised success. This strategy should be the product of a really inclusive process and its objectives should be spelled out in clear terms. Until then these reflections remain as valid today as they were was in the days before the summit.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Avoiding divisive policies in the diaspora
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-25 09:57:15
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

The Albanian diaspora is quite impressive in terms of numbers (relative to the population naturally), achievements, geographical distribution and strong links to the homeland. It has several strata that vary according to chronology of migration movements, reasons for the move and other factors. The diaspora has been decisive in key moments of Albania’s history rescuing the country from economic deprivation, pushing forward important political upheavals and gradually imbuing its social and cultural fabric with new colorful threads. Curiously when it comes to the official efforts to benefit from its economic, human capacity and diplomatic clout in the post-communist times, the diaspora has been minimally engaged.

An attempt to change this reality took place in the form of a large and slightly pompous Summit of the Diaspora organized under the meaningful slogan ‘Undivided for Albania’, which took place last weekend. Several events in the form of discussions, receptions and recognition of achievements occupied more than 1500 participants from about 40 countries.  The event informed and reminded all Albanians at home about the extent to which their fellow citizens, family members, friends, former colleagues and others have been successful abroad as well as shed some light on the ones that have organized with their communities to preserve their origin and pride.

The Summit as an idea is laudable. Albania can and should use the immense potential of Albanians abroad to improve its image, increase investments and build a rich, mutually beneficial relationship based on respect and intense positive interaction. The summit through some specific events also succeeded in bringing the voices of the diaspora through the right platforms.

Some key glitches however should not be missed. The Summit showed unity across borders having incorporated the Kosovo diaspora through president Thaci’s presence but not across political lines, as evidenced by the lack of President Nishani and opposition leader Basha in the related activities. Whether the latter have refused on personal/ political grounds or were not properly invited and given the floor to address the participants remains unclear. Whatever the case it influenced the perception of the Summit.

Additionally several critical voices qualified the event as one more PR exercise of the executive. It was not necessarily so since several concrete ideas have been discussed such as the establishment of the National Council of Albania Diaspora within 2017 and some key jointly-agreed objectives written down in the final declaration. However the elements of fanfare were present throughout and one is left to hope that they were there to celebrate the fact that this event was the first of its kind rather than some empty embellishments.

Most importantly the key measure to institutionalize the role of Albanian migrants so deeply connected to their country is to enable their political say through voting. This difficult yet completely feasible project has been promised several times by this majority before and the fact that it will be not possible even in the forthcoming 2017 is quite telling. Let’s hope that there will be a follow up Summit and that it will address this and other deficiencies.

 
                    [post_title] => Engaging the Albanian diaspora: The necessary start-up summit
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-21 15:48:41
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 21 - The launch of a new investment fund is expected to give a new boost to this emerging market which has considerably slowed down in the past couple of years due to a sharp decline in government security yields waning investor interest. The launch in August 2016 of Credins Premium, a new investment fund whose majority stake is held by Albanian-owned Credins bank, currently the country's third largest lender, is also expected to break the monopoly held in this market by Raiffeisen Bank, the country's traditional largest lender. Raiffeisen which has recently been overtaken by Turkish-owned BKT Bank as the largest lender, has been holding a monopoly position in the emerging market since early 2012 when it established two investment funds.

A quarterly report by Albania's Financial Supervisory Authority shows the two Raiffeisen investment funds managed to preserve their positive growth rates the first three quarters of this year when they the number of investors suffered a considerable decline.

Net assets in the three investment funds for the first three quarters of 2016 grew by an annual 3 percent to about 70 billion lek (€504 million) when the number of investors dropped by more than 2,100 (6.5 percent) to 30,961.

The market continues being dominated by investments in government bonds, accounting for 65 percent of total funds, with a 6 percent decline compared to the first three quarters of 2015.

Investments in government bonds and T-bills, whose yields have considerably dropped in the past couple of years, account for 90 percent of total investments.

Market prospects appear optimistic as yields on government securities have embarked on rising trend in the past few months after hitting a historic low last June just before the country’s central bank cut its key rate to a new all-time low of 1.25 percent.

Yields on 12-month T-bills, the government’s key instrument for internal borrowing, rose to 2.05 percent in the latest Oct. 25 auction, in a gradual rising trend after hitting a historic low of 1.24 percent last June.

Meanwhile, yields on two-year notes, the government’s key instrument for long-term debt in the domestic market, also rose to 2.7 percent in the latest Oct. 24 auction when the government borrowed 2.8 billion lek (€21 million). Yields on two-year notes rose from 2.03 percent last September, and a record low of 1.5 percent last June.

Yet, investments in government securities remain more profitable compared to traditional bank deposits whose interest rates have dropped to below 1 percent, keeping their growth rate close to zero.

The rapid growth of the emerging investment funds has forced the Albanian government to undertake legal changes strengthening the funds’ risk administration and increasing investor protection.

The International Monetary Fund has also warned that “while these funds have helped diversify the ownership of government securities, they are inadequately supervised and regulated, invest mostly in longer-dated securities and their clients appear to consider these funds as substitutes for bank accounts.”

Until July 2016, only two investment funds, Raiffeisen Prestigj and Raiffeisen Invest Euro operated in Albania, making it a pure monopoly market. The funds were established in early 2012 by Raiffeisen Bank Albania, the leading commercial bank operating in Albania until a year ago. The timing coincided with Raiffeisen’s decision to scale back its participation in the public debt market to limit its exposure to the Albanian sovereign debt.

Investments funds represented the second biggest financial market at the end of 2015 with assets estimated at 4.6 percent of the GDP.

The country’s highest financial authorities have recently warned Albanians to be careful with online trading in international stock exchanges, describing such investments as highly risky, especially if offered by unlicensed operators and used by investors lacking appropriate knowledge.
                    [post_title] => New Albanian-owned investment fund breaks Raiffeisen’s monopoly 
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-18 10:24:22
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 15 - The European Commission has warned the upcoming mid-2017 general elections and the end of a 3-year IMF supported programme could put at risk the country's fiscal consolidation path.

In its latest Autumn report, the EU’s executive arm kept unchanged Albania's growth forecast for 2016 at 3.2 percent and expects the country's growth to accelerate to 3.5 percent in the next couple of years. The projections are considerably lower compared to the Albania government's much more optimistic targets of 3.4 percent for 2016, 3.9 percent in 2017 and 4.2 percent in 2018.

"Economic activity is accelerating mainly because of rising household spending and private investment. Private consumption and investment are projected to go on increasing on the back of solid gains in employment and strong growth in FDI-inflows. Public debt as a share of GDP is projected to fall, but the upcoming election period might test the authorities’ commitment to the path of fiscal consolidation," says the report.

The Albanian government has announced it will revise relations with the International Monetary Fund to an advisory role in early 2017 when a three-year deal supported by a Euro 331 million soft loan supporting fiscal consolidation concludes.

"In the run-up to next year’s election there is a risk that the government relaxes its fiscal consolidation plans, which will lose an important anchor following the end of the country’s IMF-supported programme in February 2017," says the Commission.

The run-up to general elections has always been accompanied by threats to public finances in Albania in the past 25 years of transition with incumbent governments sharply increasing public investments and putting at risk budget deficit and public debt targets, apparently to gain an electoral advantage.

The Commission also warns ailing credit recovery and weather-induced risks related to hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation could also pose risk to the Albanian economy which has grown between 1 to 3 percent in the past seven crisis years compared to a pre-crisis decade of 6 percent annually.

"Increased political uncertainty related to next year’s parliamentary election might dampen consumption and investment. Credit recovery might take longer than expected in the context of persistently high NPLs. Electricity production remains subject to weather-induced volatility. On the other hand, implementing structural reforms, such as the recently started comprehensive overhaul of the justice system, could improve the business environment and the economy’s growth potential," it adds.

The Commission also expects Albania's public debt to only slightly drop to 72.2 percent in 2016 before falling to 68.1 percent of the GDP in 2018 compared to the Albanian government's 64 percent target by 2018.

The Commission projects Albania's top trading partners Italy and Greece to considerably recover over the next couple of years after their recession periods.

Italy, the country’s top trading partner accounting for 50 percent of total exports and 30 percent of imports, is expected to grow between 0.9 percent to 1 percent over 2017-2018 following a 0.7 growth rate in the past couple of years and a three-year recession ending in 2013.

Neighboring Greece, the country’s traditional second largest trading partner and top foreign investor, is expected to return to moderate growth rates of 2.7 percent to 3.1 percent over the next couple of years following a six-year recession ending in 2013 that shrank the neighboring country’s economy by about a quarter.

Albania's growth in the European Commission’s report is in line with other EU aspirant Western Balkans countries who are expected to grow 3 to 3.3 percent over the next couple of years.

In its latest 2016 progress report on Albania when the European Commission recommended the opening of accession talks with the Balkan country which has been an official candidate country since mid-2014, the Commission says Albania is moderately prepared in developing a functioning market economy despite progress in improving the budget balance fighting informality and reforming the electricity sector.
                    [post_title] => EU warns of fiscal risks ahead of next year’s elections
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            [post_date] => 2016-11-25 11:04:49
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 23 - Activists of the Alliance Against Waste Imports and other members of civil society in Albania have launched fresh protests against a bill that would allow Albanian companies to import waste for recycling.

"Two young protesters were detained by police as activists set up tends in front of the parliament building and stayed overnight as part of an ongoing protest. They were released the next day but face prosecution for “disturbing the peace,” police said.

Protests started Wednesday evening and activists vowed to continue the protests until Thursday evening as the parliament holds its weekly parliamentary session.

Members of the Alliance Against Waste Imports have called on citizens nationwide to join the protests, which have been backed up by members of the opposition, which has called on citizens to join the protests.

“Politicians can join the protest for as long as they want to voice their concerns as ordinary citizens and not representatives of political parties. This is a civic cause and not a political one,” AAWI said in a statement.

Organizers of the protest stood all night in front of the parliament, calling on members of the assembly to not approve the controversial waste bill.

Civil society and environmentalists have increased pressure on the Socialist Party-led government, fearing Albania will become Europe’s dumping site.

The government claims that the waste bill aims to revive the struggling recycling industry and imported waste will not be hazardous to citizens health. The ruling majority approved the bill on Sept. 22, a decision met with a spate of protests by environmental activists and outrage on social media.

The bill also revealed cracks in the ruling coalition as only 63 MPs voted in favor, while several members of the coalition were not present.

However a month later, President Bujar Nishani overturned the bill arguing that the waste imports are not an obligation that derives from the Stabilization and Association Agreement or any other international accord ratified by the Republic of Albania and that the waste import clashes with the priority set for the treatment of waste produced in the Albanian territory.

The parliament can still override Nishani’s veto, but it will need more votes than the minimal 63 lawmakers out of a total of 140 the Socialist-led ruling coalition was able to muster the last time.

Ben Blushi, an opposition lawmaker and former member of the Socialist Party and critic of the ruling majority, said that the coalition partners are feeling insecure to approve the bill in parliament because they lack the necessary quorum.

Blushi took to social media to say that “the parties are afraid to approve the bill, but are also afraid to abrogate it.”

The bill was not included in this week's voting agenda in parliament, and activists said they will continue to protest to make sure the bill does not pass.
            [post_title] => Activists arrested as protests against waste imports continue
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