Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service

Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service

Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still

Read Full Article
Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone

Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone

Concerns over transparency in negotiations between Albania and Greece on a new maritime border agreement are growing to the point that when a new deal is reached, it might be so contested domestically in Albania, it could become dead on

Read Full Article
Albania launches probe on covert call centers acting as brokerage firms

Albania launches probe on covert call centers acting as brokerage firms

TIRANA, July 2 – Albania has launched a probe into dozens of call centers allegedly operating as covert unlicensed brokerage firms involved in fraud operations by offering potential investors attractive return rates for high-risk financial products. The investigation comes after

Read Full Article
Energy sector saves Albania’s economy in early 2018

Energy sector saves Albania’s economy in early 2018

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, July 2 – The Albanian economy grew by a strong 4.45 percent in the first quarter of this year, but growth was largely fuelled by the energy sector thanks to heavy rainfall lifting the country’s hydro-dependent

Read Full Article
Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead

Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead

The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania — neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission’s recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations. The European Council, made up of

Read Full Article
Albania neither confirms nor denies oil concessionaire’s alleged links to Russia’s Gazprom

Albania neither confirms nor denies oil concessionaire’s alleged links to Russia’s Gazprom

TIRANA, June 28 – The Albanian government has neither confirmed nor denied that a Switzerland-based company with alleged ties to Russian giant Gazprom is conducting contract negotiations to acquire three oilfields in southern Albania. Albania’s Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri says

Read Full Article
Albania FDI uncertainties mount as few alternatives remain for major concluding projects

Albania FDI uncertainties mount as few alternatives remain for major concluding projects

TIRANA, June 27 – Two-thirds of foreign direct investment that flowed into Albania in the first quarter of this year came from two major energy-related projects, already in their final stage of investment, signaling of tough times ahead starting next

Read Full Article
Durres Port cash stash linked to euro’s free fall in Albania

Durres Port cash stash linked to euro’s free fall in Albania

TIRANA, June 26 – The seizure of €3.5 million in cash at Albania’s main port of Durres this week in alleged drug profits has apparently confirmed speculations that money illegally entering the country is one of the main reasons behind

Read Full Article
EU-Albania:  the winners and losers of June 28!

EU-Albania: the winners and losers of June 28!

By Lufti Dervishi  48 hours prior, and yet no one can say for sure what the decision of the European Council regarding the possibility of opening the negotiations for Albania and Macedonia will be. To date, at least 3 stances

Read Full Article
‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects. “Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare

Read Full Article
WP_Query Object
(
    [query_vars] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 52
            [paged] => 5
            [error] => 
            [m] => 
            [p] => 0
            [post_parent] => 
            [subpost] => 
            [subpost_id] => 
            [attachment] => 
            [attachment_id] => 0
            [name] => 
            [static] => 
            [pagename] => 
            [page_id] => 0
            [second] => 
            [minute] => 
            [hour] => 
            [day] => 0
            [monthnum] => 0
            [year] => 0
            [w] => 0
            [category_name] => premium
            [tag] => 
            [tag_id] => 
            [author] => 
            [author_name] => 
            [feed] => 
            [tb] => 
            [comments_popup] => 
            [meta_key] => 
            [meta_value] => 
            [preview] => 
            [s] => 
            [sentence] => 
            [fields] => 
            [menu_order] => 
            [category__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [ignore_sticky_posts] => 
            [suppress_filters] => 
            [cache_results] => 1
            [update_post_term_cache] => 1
            [update_post_meta_cache] => 1
            [post_type] => 
            [posts_per_page] => 10
            [nopaging] => 
            [comments_per_page] => 50
            [no_found_rows] => 
            [order] => DESC
        )

    [tax_query] => WP_Tax_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                    [0] => Array
                        (
                            [taxonomy] => category
                            [terms] => Array
                                (
                                    [0] => 52
                                )

                            [include_children] => 1
                            [field] => term_id
                            [operator] => IN
                        )

                )

            [relation] => AND
        )

    [meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                )

            [relation] => 
        )

    [date_query] => 
    [post_count] => 10
    [current_post] => -1
    [in_the_loop] => 
    [comment_count] => 0
    [current_comment] => -1
    [found_posts] => 504
    [max_num_pages] => 51
    [max_num_comment_pages] => 0
    [is_single] => 
    [is_preview] => 
    [is_page] => 
    [is_archive] => 1
    [is_date] => 
    [is_year] => 
    [is_month] => 
    [is_day] => 
    [is_time] => 
    [is_author] => 
    [is_category] => 1
    [is_tag] => 
    [is_tax] => 
    [is_search] => 
    [is_feed] => 
    [is_comment_feed] => 
    [is_trackback] => 
    [is_home] => 
    [is_404] => 
    [is_comments_popup] => 
    [is_paged] => 1
    [is_admin] => 
    [is_attachment] => 
    [is_singular] => 
    [is_robots] => 
    [is_posts_page] => 
    [is_post_type_archive] => 
    [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => fd827645e8b4e3fb2e0bfc27bf77649e
    [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 
    [thumbnails_cached] => 1
    [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => 
    [query] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 52
            [paged] => 5
        )

    [request] => SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts  INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships ON (wp_posts.ID = wp_term_relationships.object_id) WHERE 1=1  AND ( wp_term_relationships.term_taxonomy_id IN (52) ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' AND (wp_posts.post_status = 'publish') GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 40, 10
    [posts] => Array
        (
            [0] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137800
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-07-06 10:23:14
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 08:23:14
                    [post_content] => Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still better left unknown now - sent the following e-mail to a number of EU, US and German representatives through third parties:

“Our diplomatic service is facing a deadly blow with the new draft law due to be passed on Thursday by the parliament majority. The law puts the foreign service completely under political control. The hitherto law foresees 20% of the ambassadors as political appointees. The new law removes this figure thus enabling 100% political appointments; not just ambassadors but also other diplomatic posts. Even some MPs like Arta Dade have failed to avoid that from happening. It's not strange that even the opposition keeps silent about it. They can use the law politically, too, when back to power. Such practice goes against EU practices, even though, as candidate EU country we are supposed to make legislation according to EU standards. There is serious concern and despair among career diplomats who see no future for their career under the new law and we feel powerless about it. Years of investment in the service could be rendered useless. This never happened before, at least injustice was never legalized.”

Unfortunately, our warning fell on deaf ears and, for the last years, we’ve seen a number of our predictions come to life and seriously harm competitiveness, fairness and a chance at a career.

While any "street man" may become an ambassador, it takes at least 14 years for a career diplomat to be posted as ambassador.

Most of the current Albanian diplomats serving abroad have little or nothing to do with the foreign service and often have no experience at all. A "street ambassador" is supposed to have 10 years of work experience dealing with foreign relations in what is a very broad and abusive definition. Meanwhile, a career diplomat must serve not less than 14 years in the foreign ministry to get the title of counsellor, let alone ambassador, a paradox a normal country diplomat would never believe.

But, instead of speaking generally, let us refer to some concrete cases that had us compile a second letter and make it public.

The Albanian Ambassador to Stockholm for starters, is a former retiree who has been renamed in service, although he was once only a presenter at the Albanian National Radio-Television during communism. Similar is the case of Belgrade, where the ambassador is a retiree, while the Albanian Ambassador to Vienna had to return home after reaching his retirement age.

These kind of double standards have even devalued the altered law, bringing it down to new lows. Some ambassadors, such as the ambassador of Albania to the OSCE, don’t even fulfill the base requirements, such as the “ten years of foreign work experience.”

In Ankara, the ambassador is a former Socialist Party financier, while the head counselors in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Bari, Milano and Istanbul have little to no connection with the diplomatic service. In Washington, too, the serving ambassador is a political appointment, someone with no connection to the diplomatic service at all. The same applies to the cases of Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In other, even more flagrant cases, such as those of Middle East countries, the embassies are run by ambassadors who have even been involved in corruption cases, while the Vatican is lacking an ambassador altogether, for the least five years.

According to sources, an ambassador who has run an embassy in an Arab country, and who was fired for being involved in a sensational criminal case in Albania, has been appointed secretary in another embassy in a European country.

This has brought about some worrying effects - the most worrying of all being that “street diplomats” are leading career diplomats - the people who have been in the service for 10, 15 and even 20 years and who have acquired the skills of diplomacy by actual experience.

In Ernest Geller’s notion called “tyranny of cousins” one can see a lot of Albania - by definition, the tyranny of cousins describes a primitive stage of society, one still ruled by the power of the tribe and by family ties, a phenomenon Albania is still unable to shake after years of communist rule.

Today, this tyranny of cousins has come to include more harmful things - political ties, economic ties, interest ties - leading to a tyranny of incompetence, which has been supported by law for the last three years and which will continue to harm Albania if our warning calls keep falling on deaf ears.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => letter-to-the-editor-the-double-standards-in-albanias-diplomatic-service
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-07-12 19:45:57
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-12 17:45:57
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137800
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [1] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137797
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-07-06 09:53:01
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 07:53:01
                    [post_content] => Concerns over transparency in negotiations between Albania and Greece on a new maritime border agreement are growing to the point that when a new deal is reached, it might be so contested domestically in Albania, it could become dead on arrival. 

The opposition says it and the relevant parliamentary institutions have neither been consulted nor informed on the negotiations. Some politicians, like former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, have warned a new conflict between Albania and Greece could be the result if the deal is reached without transparency.

Albanian institutions, with the exception of the government, and the public at large are getting more information from Greek news media than Albanian officials involved in the talks. 

Diplomatic sources told Tirana Times that in fact the agreement was negotiated as early as last year and as late as the first two months of this year. However, according to the official record, these negotiations officially started only a month and a half ago, when the government received the official permission to negotiate from the President of the Republic. Moreover, diplomatic sources confirmed that the Albanian side was given a new agreement with some partial and technical corrections from the Greek side, which were nonnegotiable, and the rest of what appears like negotiation is just for show. 

Officially, three rounds of negotiations concluded last month between Albania and Greece to reach a new maritime border agreement to finally divide the sea shared by the two countries. 

The Albanian public simply got a rubber stamp press release, saying the last meeting was “constructive and it developed in a positive, friendly and cooperative climate.” 

As a result, the Albanian public has had the Greek media as a main source of information on how the delimitation of the maritime border will take place.

Similarly, the Socialist-led government has completely excluded the possibility of consulting with the opposition, much like its predecessor, the Democratic Party. The ruling SP doesn’t even need the opposition MP numbers in parliament to seal the deal. 

Instead clarifying what Albania will get from the sea border dispute, the Albanian government has been much more open in declaring as “wins” issues included in the “package of negotiations,” such as the recognition of Albanian driving licenses and apostille stamps, as well as the removal of the Law on the State of War.

Although these are agreements that will benefit a number of Albanians living in Greece, foreign policy experts have said it is wrong to include them in the same package of negotiations as the maritime border agreement, as their benefits to citizens will only be peripheral.

Albania does not have a good history with these agreements. DP’s own 2010 agreement was rendered useless by Albania’s Constitutional Court for violating the country’s interests and the constitution. However, at this time, Albania’s Constitutional Court is frozen due to lack of judges -- as the judicial reform takes place -- thus placing a great question mark on who will ultimately have a say on the constitutionality of the latest deal.

If the deal is hurried through parliament without further wider consultations, and without the Constitutional Court filter, the deal could enter a dangerous zone in terms of the Albanian public opinion and its legality under domestic and international law. 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-with-transparency-concerns-albania-greece-sea-border-deal-enters-danger-zone
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-07-06 09:53:01
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-06 07:53:01
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137797
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [2] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137747
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-07-03 10:26:53
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-03 08:26:53
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 2 – Albania has launched a probe into dozens of call centers allegedly operating as covert unlicensed brokerage firms involved in fraud operations by offering potential investors attractive return rates for high-risk financial products.

The investigation comes after an investigative media article identified at least 80 unlicensed brokerage companies operating in Albania, allegedly involved in defrauding foreign investors, tax evasion and exposing young adults to serious legal repercussions.

In a hearing with MPs a month ago, the head of Albania's Financial Supervisory, Ervin Koçi, said he had asked for support by intelligence and money laundering prevention officers to investigate into the suspected companies which could turn into a national issue and mar the country’s image.

"We possess information that there are such companies operating with foreign markets where they sell financial products. Being licensed by EU brokerage firms is something positive because they are supervised. The problem is whether they are ‘ghost’ brokerages and households are also involved," said Koçi.

The suspected companies frequently post job advertisements on portals, offering online trading training and wages which in some cases can exceed €1,000 including bonuses, a high level for the Albanian standard where average wages stand at about €350 to €400.

"The problem with these companies is that they mostly contact foreigners and could turn into a national issue tomorrow because of cheating foreign citizens. In case of serving for money laundering, this could also turn into a problem for international institutions,” says the head of the financial watchdog.

The second most important financial institutions involved in supervising the insurance, securities, investment fund and private pension markets, the Financial Supervisory Authority says it has addressed the country’s state intelligence service, the police, tax administration and money laundering prevention unit for detailed information.

Last year, Albania's financial supervisory authority licensed three brokerage companies, all of which subsidiaries of Cyprus-based companies to conduct operations from their online trading platforms from Albania, except for currency exchange operations which are licensed by the country’s central bank.

Another two companies operate in the sector, one of which licensed by the Bank of Albania and offering foreign exchange (forex) investment opportunities. A subsidiary of a Cyprus-based company had its licence revoked in mid-2017 after only less than a year of operation following its sudden disappearance.

Under Albania’s legislation, foreign brokers are allowed to offer services in the country through an “agent” operating as a company in Albania after receiving the Financial Supervisor’s okay.

 

Pyramid schemes?

“Unlicensed and unsupervised activity exposes investors to hidden costs and other obligations which under conditions of lack of necessary transparency by the intermediary operator could be huge. Every investment or purchase of financial product from an unlicensed company or operator could be subject to fraud and speculation,” the authority says.

The watchdog says those brokerages could link to companies established in Albania operating as covert call centers but marketing financial products and services for customers inside or outside Albania which could prove Ponzi schemes or ghost brokerages disappearing after getting investor funds.

In the early 1990s soon after the switch to a market economy and transition to democracy, Albania faced some pyramid investment schemes that saw Albanians lose their life savings and took the country to civil unrest in 1997 following their collapse.

The Financial Supervisory Authority says it is aware of unlicensed operators and has informed law enforcement agencies to conduct respective investigations and constantly cautioned investors not to invest in unlicensed operators.

“Although some companies promote sales of contract for differences (CDFs) and foreign exchange outside the country, the fact that they were established and operate in the territory of the Republic of Albania and are unlicensed and unsupervised by the authorities has a negative impact on Albania,” it says.

Financial authorities have issued several warnings about unlicensed operators involved in online forex or ‘binary option’ trading platform where the payoff is often either some fixed monetary amount or nothing at all. In some cases, local investors often not aware of the risk that such investments bear, are reported to have lost considerable amounts after being lured through aggressive marketing and high return rates.

While no statistics are available yet for the past couple of years, Albanians invested about $1 million in online trading in international stock exchanges in 2015 when several unlicensed operators emerged, triggering concern by the country’s highest financial authorities.

Online trading platforms offer investors opportunities to invest in financial products in international stock exchanges, mainly in government securities, foreign exchange and commodity products such as oil and precious metals.

Rising interest to investment in online platforms comes at a time when interest to invest in traditional bank deposits has waned due to interest rates dropping below 1 percent and the emerging investment funds are facing a slowdown due to a sharp drop in bond yields as the key interest rate has been cut to a historic low of 1 percent.

The spread of brokerage firms in Albania also comes at a time when dozens of small call center companies in the country have ceased their operations in the past year following Italian legal changes making the supply of services for Italy-based companies from non-EU countries such as Albania much tighter starting April 2017, according to the tax administration data.

Albanian authorities have also previously warned potential investors to avoid investments in digital currencies after Bitcoin, the world's primary cryptocurrency soared to $20,000 in December 2017 before plummeting to a current $6,600.

People investing in Bitcoin in Albania and the region include those who trust in new technology, those trying to hide the source of their wealth and adventurers seeking to immediately become rich.

A European Union ban on binary options sales to retail customers has come into force on July 2 with restrictions on sales of contract for differences (CFDs) starting a month later, according to measures announced by the European Securities and Markets Authority, ESMA, the block's securities watchdog.

Binary options and CFDs are financial products that give an investor exposure to price movements in securities without actually owning the underlying assets such as a currency, commodity or stock.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania launches probe on covert call centers acting as brokerage firms
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => albania-launches-probe-on-covert-call-centers-acting-as-brokerage-firms
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-07-03 10:26:53
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-03 08:26:53
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137747
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [3] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137739
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-07-02 13:54:40
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-02 11:54:40
                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, July 2 - The Albanian economy grew by a strong 4.45 percent in the first quarter of this year, but growth was largely fuelled by the energy sector thanks to heavy rainfall lifting the country’s hydro-dependent domestic electricity sector out of crisis and a sharp increase in oil exports following the late 2017 bankruptcy of a local refiner.

The ‘extractive and processing industries, electricity and water’ group had the key 2.42 percentage point contribution to the annual first quarter growth, according to INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute.

Heavy rainfall filled up the almost empty reservoirs of the country’s medium-sized and large hydropower plants following one of the worst droughts that almost paralyzed domestic electricity generation in the second half of 2017, triggering costly electricity imports of around €200 million.

The hydropower sector is estimated to have had the strongest impact on the first quarter 4.45 percent growth, one of the highest in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

The country’s state-run KESH power utility was able to guarantee domestic electricity needs and export part of its excess generation in early 2018, in a U-turn for the country’s poorly diversified electricity system, currently wholly reliant on hydropower, something which puts it at risk of adverse weather conditions such as last year’s prolonged drought.

KESH, which produces two-thirds of domestic electricity generation from three large HPPs on the northern Albania Drin River cascade, says it managed to secure about €60 million from electricity exports in the first half of this year. At a time when electricity exports continue, the electricity sector is expected to have a key impact on the country’s economic growth even for the second and third quarters of this year.

Albania also has more than a hundred smaller private and concession HPPs, including the under construction major Devoll Hydropower by Norway’s Statkraft, producing a total of about a third of domestic electricity. In a bid to diversify electricity generation, the country’s authorities have offered tax incentives on solar and wind plants as well as natural gas fired plants at a time when the major Trans Adriatic Pipeline, also crossing through Albania, is scheduled to bring first Caspian gas to Europe by 2020.

Higher exports by the country’s oil and mining industry as commodity prices pick up from the mid-2014 slump also contributed to the first quarter growth.

A new Switzerland-based company reactivated Albania’s oil refining industry last May following the late 2017 bankruptcy of an Albanian-owned offshore company that managed it for a year, leading to a surge in oil imports for the first quarter of this year and domestic crude oil production overwhelmingly destined for exports.

Meanwhile, the country’s processing industry, mainly represented by the garment and footwear industry producing 40 percent of the country’s exports, continued to positively perform in the first quarter of the year, despite Europe's single currency losing about 3 percent against the Albanian lek with a negative effect for Eurozone-destined exports.

 

Modest contribution by non-energy sectors

The contribution of the remaining non-energy sectors to the first quarter GDP growth ranged from 0 to 0.54 percentage points, says INSTAT.

The ‘trade, transport, accommodation and food service’ services group had the second largest share in the annual GDP growth for the first quarter of this year, with 0.54 percentage point contribution.

The construction sector, which in the past couple of years has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth thanks to some large energy-related projects, but also a boom in apartment block and tourism facility constructions, had a 0.17 percentage point contribution to the first quarter growth.

The key agriculture sector, employing about half of the country's population but producing only a fifth of the GDP, contributed by 0.37 percentage points to the early 2018 growth.

Calculating growth through the ‘expenditure method,’ INSAT reports Albania’s household spending grew by about 3 percent year-on-year, compared to a 2.6 percent growth in government spending.

The 4.45 percent growth that INSTAT reports for the first quarter of this year is a better than expected start for the country’s economy at a time when international financial institutions have warned of a slowdown in Albania’s GDP for 2018 following a 9-year high of 3.8 percent in 2017.

The Albanian government expects growth to recover to 4.2 percent this year, but the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund predict Albania’s growth will slow down to 3.5 to 3.7 percent in the next couple of years as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Devoll Hydropower projects, the two major energy-related projects that drove FDI and economic growth in the past four years complete their investment stage by the end of 2018, leaving a huge gap of about €300 million unless other major projects replace them.

 

Euro depreciation threat

A sharp strengthening of Albania’s national currency, lek, against Europe’s single currency is emerging as a new threat to the Albanian economy during this year, in addition to the already high public debt levels, sluggish credit and consumption as well as non-performing loans at declining but still high levels.

Europe’s single currency traded at an average of about 126 lek last June, a 10-year low against the Albanian lek, with a series of negative effects on Albania's highly euroised economy, including exports, local producers facing tougher competition from cheaper imports, Euro-denominated savers and recipients of remittances from the Eurozone.

Emergency interventions to buy excess euros from the local currency exchange market since early June have only slowed down euro’s free fall in Albania during the past month, hinting of a new fall as the country braces for its peak tourist season and higher euro inflows from official tourism and migrant channels.

The main opposition Democratic Party and some economy experts have linked this year’s euro free fall to drug proceeds entering the country and allegedly being laundered into the construction industry.

Europe’s single currency traded at an average of 125.95 lek last June, down from 126.98 last May and 133.21 lek in mid-2017, having lost 5.5 percent in one year and about 10 percent compared to mid-2015 when the euro’s five-year reign of about 140 lek came to an end.

Public debt at about 70 percent of the GDP, a high level for Albania’s current stage of development, and a controversial €1 billion public private partnership program which the IMF says could create new hidden arrears and undermine the country’s debt reduction and fiscal consolidation efforts are considered key threats to the Albanian economy.

Experts say the Albanian economy needs to grow by an average 6 percent annually, a growth rate it enjoyed for about a decade until 2009 in order to produce tangible growth for the average Albanian and reduce the huge income and expenditure gap to the European Union countries.

An EU candidate since mid-2014, Albania was given by EU leaders last week a new one-year deadline to implement rule of law reforms before a long-awaited apparent decision to start accession talks is made by mid-2019.
                    [post_title] => Energy sector saves Albania’s economy in early 2018 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => energy-sector-saves-albanias-economy-in-early-2018
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-07-02 14:14:07
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-02 12:14:07
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137739
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137703
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-29 10:00:06
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-29 08:00:06
                    [post_content] => The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania -- neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission's recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations.

The European Council, made up of member state foreign ministers and heads of governments, decided that negotiations with Albania and Macedonia could open in June 2019, if the two countries show progress in reforms. 

There were no guarantees of automatic opening of the talks next year. The European Union member states put in place a number of conditions related to the further implementation of the justice reform, the fight against organized crime, the electoral reform -- all fundamental to further steps on the road to Albania’s European integration.

The European Union will look at how these conditions are met and evaluate a new report prepared by the European Commission in the coming spring. Under these conditions, even in the most optimistic scenario, a decision will be taken next year and then the actual talks will start in the spring of 2020.

The latest decision at first looks better than the worse case scenario: an indefinite time frame on whether to negotiate or not. In that sense, we now know that the EU will consider the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and Macedonia in a year’s time. A positive decision is difficult, but not impossible. 

Yet the EU future of Albania and Macedonia has now taken a trajectory that is unsafe and quite unpredictable. This is because following elections for the European Parliament next year, all the institutions that will evaluate the next steps for Albania could be revamped in the light of the election and the potential increase representation of Eurosceptic forces in the European Parliament. 

The decision not to take a decision on the opening of negotiations for Albania and Macedonia is an error on the part of the EU in the geopolitical context and it makes little sense to toughen up on enlargement on two out of six states that are part of an island surrounded by EU member states. 

Because in view of the enlargement policy and in a geopolitical context, the European Union has weaker and more indecisive than ever, it faces many uncertainties that will affect Albania’s chances and time frame of membership. These include issues related to the future of functioning the EU and the reform process within the EU. The French perspective for the future is also essential as is the role that France is crafting for itself within the Union.

In addition, due to the issue of migration, EU cohesion is at one of its lowest points ever. Italy’s interior minister, the leader of the Eurosceptic Lega Nord Party, said this week the EU might not exist in a year’s time if the migration issues persist.

Moreover, right-wing and Eurosceptic parties are growing in strength across the continent, emboldened by Brexit, the threat of terrorism as well as migration issues. 

So EU’s decision not to take a decision leaves Albania at the mercy of an unsympathetic audience. In addition, the one-year timeframe set in the delay might not be enough to showcase achievements and impress new EU institutions, governments and leaders produced by the upcoming elections. 

Lastly, but more perhaps more importantly, we need to look at the political response in Albania, which has been divisive, with the government trying to sell the EU decision as a big win while the opposition projecting it as huge failure of the government.

None of this is new in Albania’s harsh political landscape, but this newspaper hopes there will some deep reflection by the political class and a renewed understanding that only through working together domestically will Albanians ever stand a chance in EU’s new hostile environment. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-albania-and-the-eu-a-tougher-road-ahead
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-29 10:00:06
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-29 08:00:06
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137703
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [5] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137683
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-28 10:49:39
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-28 08:49:39
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 28 – The Albanian government has neither confirmed nor denied that a Switzerland-based company with alleged ties to Russian giant Gazprom is conducting contract negotiations to acquire three oilfields in southern Albania.

Albania’s Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri says that from a legal point a view there is no barrier for Russian companies to operate in Albania as long as they are not on the U.S. or EU sanctions list.

Gjiknuri’s comments came in an interview with VoA in the local Albanian service speaking from Washington where he attended the World Gas Conference in Albania's debut appearance as the country is set to become a key regional gas player due to the major under construction Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe.

Switzerland-based Transoil Group AG, which has been engaged in minor crude oil production in Albania since 2012, is currently conducting contract negotiations with the Albanian government over the Gorisht-Kocul, the Cakran-Mollaj and the Amonica oilfields, all located in the region of Vlora, southern Albania, after emerging as the winner of an international tender held on March 31.

However, local media investigations have cast strong doubts Transoil was announced a winner despite its controversial links to Gazprom, unknown shareholders and accumulated debts it owes to the Albanian government for its local oil operations.

Oil and gas giant Gazprom whose majority 50.2 percent stake is held by the Russian government had its CEO Alexei Miller placed on the US sanctions blacklist last April while Gazprom itself was not affected by sanctions. The new U.S. sanctions came over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election and other alleged ‘malign activity’ and follow previous 2015 Western sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea which NATO-member Albania has also joined.

“Gazprom is big company that operates with many companies in Europe. But I am not aware and I am sure about this that there is no direct interest by Gazprom or any other company directly related to Gazprom to acquire those oil fields. I cannot speculate on Gazprom's communications with other companies,” Gjiknuri told a TV interview.

“On the other hand, we have to understand that legally there is no barrier for companies from Russia or any other country to participate. What the Albanian government can do in its capacity and within the framework of national security by turning down or accepting a bid is something else, but legally the origin of capital is not banned unless a company is on the U.S. list of sanctions,” he adds.

Last year, the Albanian government withdrew from awarding two of the current three oil fields to Austria-based Jurimex Kommerz Tranzit Ges following media allegations it was linked to Russia’s Gazprom operations in Serbia.

A leaked mid-2017 letter of complaint to Russia’s Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Gazprom, unveiled Shefqet Dizdari, the Albanian administrator of the Switzerland-based Transoil Group, complaining that Serbia representatives of Gazprom were trying to covertly enter Albania “in a dirty scenario which aims the entrance of Gazprom Neft in Albania in a hidden and masked way camouflaged as an Austrian company.”

However, the Albanian government says this year’s selection was made based on an international open transparent procedure, avoiding previous direct negotiations.

Nine companies participated on the March 31 tender, among which Bankers Petroleum, the country’s largest oil producer, which since mid-2016 has been run by a Chinese company.

Minister Gjiknuri says Switzerland-based Transoil Group has been operating in Albania since 2011 and that U.S. officials closely cooperating with the Albanian government in the oil and gas sector wouldn't have welcomed him in such a great event such as the World Gas Conference if U.S. interests were called into question.

“Everything has been transparent, it's something that is not over yet as negotiations have not been concluded yet. Transoil is a joint stock company and publicly traded company in Switzerland's stock exchanges and the origin of capital is not of fundamental importance as long as it has no impact on operations that can call national security into question,” says Gjiknuri.

“For publicly traded companies, the origin of capital is not important as long as a company is okay through the international financial system and I consider that quite acceptable. The company in case is registered in Switzerland and has been operating in Albania since 2011-12 before I became a minister,” he adds.

Some 46,364 metric tons was produced from the three oil fields in 2017 when they were taken back under state administration, accounting for half of state-run production but only about 5 percent of total domestic oil production led by Chinese-run Bankers Petroleum, according to state-run Albpetrol company.

The Gorisht-Kocul and the Cakran-Mollaj were taken back under state control in early 2017 from U.S.-based TransAtlantic Petroleum, with the Albanian government claiming the concessionaire owed $20 million in debts.

Meanwhile, the Amonica oilfield was taken back into state administration in April 2017 from Albanian-owned Phoenix Petroleum for failing to meet contractual obligations.

Albania currently has 13 free onshore and offshore oil and gas blocks which are scheduled for concession deals but slowly recovering oil prices following the mid-2014 slump has curbed investor interest.

Albania-Russia trade and investment ties are quite minimal and held back by Albania’s 2015 joining of Western sanctions against Russia over its Crimea annexation and counter-sanctions imposed by Russia.

Albania’s trade exchanges with Russia are estimated at an annual €80 million and are dominated by Albanian wheat and liquid gas imports. Albanian exports to Russia have almost been non-existing following Russian counter-sanctions hitting Albania’s fruit and vegetable exports.

Russian investment to Albania is almost non-existent with sporadic real estate purchases on the southern coastline.
                    [post_title] => Albania neither confirms nor denies oil concessionaire’s alleged links to Russia’s Gazprom
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => albania-neither-confirms-nor-denies-oil-concessionaires-alleged-links-to-russias-gazprom
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-28 10:49:39
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-28 08:49:39
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137683
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [6] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137677
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-27 12:47:41
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-27 10:47:41
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 27 – Two-thirds of foreign direct investment that flowed into Albania in the first quarter of this year came from two major energy-related projects, already in their final stage of investment, signaling of tough times ahead starting next year unless no new major investment replaces them.

The Albania section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe and the Devoll Hydropower project by Norway’s Statkraft brought €182 million in FDI in the first quarter of this year, accounting for 64 percent of the total FDI flowing into Albania in early 2018, according to Albania’s central bank.

The two major energy-related projects that drove economic growth and contributed to Albania’s FDI remaining the second largest among EU aspirant Western Balkan countries in the past four years are set to complete their investment stage by the end of this year, leaving a huge gap of at least an annual €300 million starting next year.

FDI stock in electricity and natural gas in the past four year has surged from a mere €13 million in early 2014 to €1.7 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2018 with the overwhelming majority of contribution coming from TAP and the Devoll Hydropower projects. Electricity and natural gas now rank the country’s top foreign investment, taking the lead over a short period of time from the traditional information and communication technology, mainly involving mobile operators.

FDI inflows in other sectors in the first quarter of this year ranged from €24 million in the extractive industry involving oil and mining operations, another €24 million in financial and insurance operations, €29 million in professional and technical operations and another €32 million in administrative and support services focusing on call centers but also business consultancy services moving to Albania because of cheap labor costs.

FDI inflows in the key construction, travel and tourism and agriculture sectors has declined in the past four years when detailed central bank data is available.

Bank of Albania data shows €29 million flowed out of Albania in FDI in “accommodation and food services” after a five-star hotel in downtown Tirana was acquired by a local company, leading to the departure of Sheraton, a Starwood brand that had been operating in Albania for 15 years.

FDI stock in the construction sector which in the past few years has revived mainly thanks to investment by local companies, dropped to €113 million in the first quarter of 2018, down from €139 million in early 2014.

Meanwhile, the key agriculture sector employing about half of the country’s population, but accounting for only a fifth of the GDP has managed to only double its FDI stock to a mere €8 million in the past four years.

Albania’s foreign direct investment made a good start for 2018 fuelled by energy-related investment, mainly TAP which completed the installation of its turbo compressors at the Fier compressor station, southwest Albania.

FDI in the first quarter of this year rose to €284 million in the first quarter of this year, a sharp 62 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

However, foreign investors operating in Albania are estimated to have transferred €82 million in profits to their parent companies in the first quarter of this year, almost the same to a year ago, in an ongoing trend since the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis that sees foreign companies transfer more in profits rather than reinvest them in the country.

Albania has attracted an average of about $1 million of FDI annually since 2010 when it emerged as the second largest FDI recipient among five transition Western Balkan economies, a position it has maintained for eight years in a row, trailing only Serbia, the region’s largest economy.

However, only about half of the energy-dominated FDI is estimated to have remained in the country, hinting of huge and suspicious withdrawal of FDI.

Greece, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and Italy were the main sources of FDI in Albania at the end of 2017.

 

Uncertain ways out

Tax incentives in the tourism sector for luxury accommodation units, a controversial €1 billion public private partnership program and an apparent engagement of Shell oil giant in Albania production following years of oil and gas exploration operations in the country are the only hopes Albania could compensate for expected FDI decline after TAP and the Devoll Hydropower projects complete their five years of contribution by the end of this year.

The Albanian government is offering 10 years of tax incentives for investment between €8 million to €15 million in new accommodation units, but the long-standing unclear property titles seem to still hold foreign investors back and it’s mostly local companies that are engaging in the construction of new hotels and resorts.

Meanwhile, a €1 billion PPP program that the government intends to apply for the next four years has been criticized by international financial institutions as undermining Albania’s efforts to bring down public debt, currently at about 70 percent of the GDP, due to the accumulation of new arrears to concessionaires.

Most beneficiaries to the PPP program up to now are local companies with alleged ties to the government who get the contracts mainly through controversial unsolicited proposals and bonuses ahead of tenders with little competition from abroad.

The most likely option to compensate for the huge FDI gap is British-Dutch multinational oil giant which is expected to announce production plans in Albania pending final tests following years of exploration and major oil discoveries southwest of the country.

Shell officials say once positive test results are confirmed by the end of the year, it will pave the way for huge investment estimated at multiple billions of dollars in the development stage by building the production and support infrastructure.

Albania is one of the few countries where Shell did not suspend its oil exploration operations following the mid-2014 slump in oil prices. Brent crude oil prices have currently recovered to $76.7 a barrel, up from as low as $30 a barrel in early 2016, riving investment in Albania’s oil industry.

The oil giant has included Albania on its map of more than a century of key discoveries thanks to its early 2013 Shpirag 2 well discovery in excess of 800 million of oil and flowing at rates of 800 to 1,300 barrels of oil per day.

The completion of the FDI projects is the main reason why international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF expect Albania's growth to slow down to 3.5 to 3.7 percent in the next couple of years, down from a 9-year high of 3.8 percent in 2017.

The Albania government’s more optimistic scenario expects growth to recover to 4.2 percent this year and accelerate by 0.1 percentage points in the next few years.

The World Bank expects Albania's FDI to drop to 6.5 percent of the GDP by 2020, down from 8.7 percent of the GDP in 2016.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania FDI uncertainties mount as few alternatives remain for major concluding projects 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => albania-fdi-uncertainties-mount-as-few-alternatives-remain-to-compensate-major-concluding-projects
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-27 13:53:21
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-27 11:53:21
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137677
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [7] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137671
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-26 17:14:56
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-26 15:14:56
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 26 – The seizure of €3.5 million in cash at Albania’s main port of Durres this week in alleged drug profits has apparently confirmed speculations that money illegally entering the country is one of the main reasons behind euro’s free fall against Albania’s national currency.

Police authorities in Albania seized about €3.5 million in two Toyotas on a trailer entering Albania from Belgium after being alerted by their European partners, in one of the largest stashes of cash in the country.

The main opposition Democratic Party claims the stash belonged to one of the most dangerous drug gangs operating in the country, allegedly acting under government protection to launder it in the booming construction industry and build new towers in Albania’s capital, Tirana.

The opposition Democrats and some economy experts have earlier linked the national currency’s constant strengthening of Albanian lek to alleged illegal euro inflows resulting from the peak 2016 cannabis cultivation and ongoing drug trafficking in the country, considered a major cannabis producer and a key transit route for cocaine and heroin for European markets.

Despite an early June emergency intervention by Albania’s central bank, Europe’s single currency continues to trade at a 10-year low against the Albanian lek, with a spiral of negative effects for the country’s exporters, local traders, savers and recipients of remittances in Albania’s highly euroised economy.

The euro has fluctuated at about 126 lek in the past couple of weeks, somehow stabilizing following its free fall until the June 6 Bank of Albania decision to buy excess euros from the local currency exchange market in a bid to put an end to negative effects from the national currency’s uncommon rapid strengthening.

However, at about 126 lek this week, Europe’s single currency is yet far below the mid-January peak level of about 134 lek for this year and is about 10 percent down compared to mid-2015 when the euro’s five-year reign of about 140 lek came to an end.

While official data don’t hint of an improvement in the current account, a key indicator of a country’s economic health measuring the flow of goods, services and investment into and out of the country, some experts say the seizure of €3.5 million stash illegally entering the country could be proof that alleged illegal euro inflows are having a key impact on the strengthening of the national currency due to excess euro supply.

“The €3.5 million seized in Durres is a small amount. We don't know if there has been other euro inflows entering the country this way from illegal sources. We can now witness that illegally earned money has entered the market and of course has had an impact on the euro's depreciation at the local currency exchange market,” economy expert Arian Kadareja is quoted as saying by Ekonomix, a local portal focused on economy.

Banking expert Elvin Meka says informal channels is only one of the reasons whose impact cannot be easily measured due to unknown illegal cash amounts that could have entered the country.

“When taking into consideration the €3.5 million seized in Durres, that amount doesn't have any measurable effect, but no one knows how much money has entered the market before without being caught by the authorities," Meka says.

“Informal channels is one of the reasons for euro's depreciation. But that does not explain everything. I have never ruled out the euro's weakening as a result of these informal channels. However, there are other elements that have had an impact on the currency exchange fluctuations. One of them could be the arrival of tourists and the inflow of Europe's single currency,” he adds.

Albania’s central bank and the Albanian government argue the strengthening of the national currency, lek, is a result of the Albanian economy recovering to a 9-year high of 3.8 percent in 2017 and higher euro inflows from FDI-related projects, the tourism industry, exports and remittances.

The euro fluctuations have a considerable impact on the Albanian economy, especially the country's poorly diversified exports, two-thirds of which are destined for Eurozone countries.

Albania’s economy is highly euroised with half of total credit and savings denominated in Europe’s single currency which has forced the country’s central bank to undertake a de-euroisation strategy. The euro is a common currency in real estate and car trade in Albania.

Experts say the euro could still lose ground in the next few months as Albania heads to its peak tourist season and Albanian migrants come home to spend their holidays, further increasing euro supply in the local market and leading to a new strengthening of lek.

However, the central bank’s continued euro buying operations are expected to keep Europe’s single currency fluctuating at about 126 lek until next September and trigger a hike only by the end of the year as tourist numbers fall and major energy-related projects complete their investment stage.

 

Only 1 percent seized

Europe’s law enforcement agency, Europol, estimates the amount being recovered from crime proceeds is barely at 1 percent even in the European Union, where Albania is hoping to launch accession talks.

“The amount of money…being recovered in the EU is only a small proportion of estimated criminal proceeds: 98.9 percent of estimated criminal profits are not confiscated and remain at the disposal of criminals,” according to a Europol report.

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

Meanwhile, the Agency for the Administration of Seized and Confiscated Assets, says it has put up for sale 40 assets, worth about $5.5 million confiscated because of money laundering from criminal proceeds.

Albania turned into Europe’s largest outdoor cannabis producer in 2016 when police said they destroyed 2.5 million cannabis plants spread over a 213 hectare area nationwide, a 3-fold increase compared to the whole of 2015. The government claims the cannabis cultivation phenomenon came to an end in 2017, but international reports continue placing Albania as a source country for cannabis cultivation and a transit route for cocaine and heroin trafficking to Western Europe.

In late February 2018, Albanian police seized a record 613 kilos of Colombia cocaine with an estimated market value of €180 million at the country’s biggest port of Durres, hidden in a container of bananas.

 
                    [post_title] => Durres Port cash stash linked to euro’s free fall in Albania
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => durres-port-cash-stash-linked-to-euros-free-fall-in-albania
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-27 09:15:24
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-27 07:15:24
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137671
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [8] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137655
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-26 12:00:52
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-26 10:00:52
                    [post_content] => By Lufti Dervishi 

48 hours prior, and yet no one can say for sure what the decision of the European Council regarding the possibility of opening the negotiations for Albania and Macedonia will be.

To date, at least 3 stances have been delineated: A) France, which places the EU’s internal reform first and has nothing "personal" with Albania and Macedonia. B) The Netherlands, which thinks that Albania and Macedonia are not yet ready to open the negotiations. C) Germany, which seems to be in favor, BUT...

In the middle of the three positions stands the European Commission, which has recommended the opening of negotiations without any conditions. The Council has granted the Commission the authority to be the “priest", but it seems that this time it is also trying to “shave" its beard.

This spring, the Commission also published the EU 2025 Strategy for the Region; a strategy that reaffirmed the Union's commitment, just like it did 15 years ago, – at the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003 – that the future of the region is in the EU.

It is thus very difficult to understand in Tirana or Skopje the “problem" of opening the negotiations in relation with the EU’s internal reforming. From the opening of negotiations to taking a decision about membership it will take at least one decade (based on experience). Each EU Member State has endless possibilities to block / require the candidate countries to go 350 times deeper into each of the 35 Chapters.

Albania has 1001 problems, Macedonia probably as much, but their solution is in the EU. (And only the EU has the power to transform the region, despite temptations and interests of other global and regional actors).

Only connecting and working with each of the 35 Chapters will mark the beginning of a radical transformation for Albania and lead to a qualitative improvement of life for every Albanian.

Historically, in every decade of its life, the EU has walked and has "grown up" amidst the most unimaginable problems. Brexit and current problems with immigration, terrorism and economy are not issues that are solved in one or ten years. They will be here for a long time.

Also, the Balkans will not move (at least geographically). The region has been here and it is here where it will stay. The genetic lottery has located the Balkan people within the EU, not in the northern borders of Africa or in the Middle East, but in Europe.

A promise was made to the Balkans - it's time to keep the word.

Another opinion that has recently circulated is that (North) Macedonia will be granted the negotiations based on conditions. As for any other decision, there is no shortage of arguments: changing the regime and putting the 25-year old dispute with Greece into the rails of a solution.

In this version of the story, Albania remains the black sheep of the region. The Slavic neighbors (Montenegro, Serbia, and Macedonia) continue their approximation process with the EU. Albania? Albania will take a “No”, but the wording can be as beautiful as the Macedonian “Yes” will look way too poor.

Albanians, and not only in Albania, will feel excluded and like they are treated unfairly. The mantra "We will join Brussels" - used by all the political elites in Tirana – would take the overtones of a joke and political forces in both Kosovo and Albania that see Brussels as a problem rather than as a solution will certainly gain more space. Tirana has been constantly congratulated for its constructive role in the region. What role will Tirana play in the region if Albanians alone will feel themselves excluded, while Kosovo’s population is the only people in the region excluded from the visa-free regime?

The loss of the EU perspective will do what the Albanians have been doing for 3 decades – individually demand EU membership. So far, 1/3 of the population currently living in the EU member states has done it (Albania is the second country in the world for the largest number of emigrants produced in the last 3 decades).

A “No” or a postponement of the decision to open negotiations until the Greek calends shall mean a loss for the Albanians. And any loss faces the winners. The big winners will be the politicians and the authoritarian leaders that will do whatever they like. The problem in Tirana, Skopje, or in the capitals of the region is that if you ask: Where the power lies, the answer will be the same: the Prime Minister. The age of the leaders is greater than the age of the new institutions; the transition from strong leaders to institutions is only made possible with the EU and on the road to the EU. The rule of law, the market economy, media independence, independent institutions and competition will get no support, but perhaps receive a blow because the so much desired reforms will no longer be led by Brussels’ complicated machinery, but by the will of the populist leaders of the region.

A “No” from the EU PMs is not without consequences for the individuals and the populations. The vision, the perspective of people, the purpose and the focus of the reforms will be questioned. There is nothing more dramatic than human beings without purpose, without vision and without focus; the same goes for nations.

 
                    [post_title] => EU-Albania:  the winners and losers of June 28!
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => eu-albania-the-winners-and-losers-of-june-28
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-27 16:23:51
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-27 14:23:51
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137655
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [9] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137635
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-22 14:16:13
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-22 12:16:13
                    [post_content] => Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

Your visit to Albania is considered a good omen as Remembrance is still a hot topic in Albania. What are the challenges facing your institution with remembrance and what is the Polish government’s attention to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation activity?

-We all need to be very careful when it comes to remembrance – we need to stick to the facts and resist the temptation to choose narratives coherent to current political agendas. This applies not only to countries and their governments but to everyone who is interested in the past. Auschwitz is a sacred place – it’s a symbol of the Holocaust and a place of martyrdom of many Poles, Roma and Sinti and many others. Our project, which involves preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects, has had a lot of support from Polish government since the beginning. We have 38 countries that have decided to donate funds to our Endowment. Poland is among our biggest donors with contribution of €10 million. The Polish Ministry of Culture is responsible for maintaining day-to-day expenses of the Museum.

Your government has drafted a law regarding the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau and its confession to foreigners. Can you explain that more clearly to the Albanian public?

-Personally I don’t think that there is much sense in regulating historical truth by the acts of law and from what I understand our legislators will be rethinking this idea. Their notion was not to undermine the suffering of any nation but to make it clear that Poland was not responsible for the Holocaust. Of course it was not. The Polish government in London opposed Nazi’s actions towards Jewish citizens of Poland and it was the Polish underground that informed the allies about the situation in ghettos and that there were death camps. The government is not responsible for the actions of individuals, but we as a society need to remember that most of us remained indifferent to the tragedy that came upon our Jewish compatriots. Some 25 percent of all the people who were granted the title of ‘Righteous among Nations’ come from Poland – that is a lot but we need to appreciate their heroism and remember that their attitude was exceptional.

What is your Albania visit focusing on? Is there anything special?

-We would like Albania to be the 39th country to join our project. Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we all should take responsibility for its future. We have
2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means.

Is the younger generation leaving behind the dark legacy of Nazism? Do you think that all this process is organized by structures that are interested in keeping away and forgetting Auschwitz 's legacy?

-We live in the times of uncertainty – the world is changing really fast and the political situation in many countries is unstable. This can lead to the rebirth of dangerous tendencies among young people. It is our job to make sure that they know that being afraid of “the other” will not fix the problems of contemporary world – it will for sure create new ones. There will always be people who will take pride in hatred and they will appear strong to young people. The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength.

Even Holocaust revisionism has remained on the periphery of public awareness since the 19th century (in Germany, revisionists refer to the Holocaust as Auschwitz-Lüge or the Auschwitz lie) and over the last decade revisionists have popularized their cause in a series of spectacular court cases in Germany, France, Canada and the United States. Why is this happening right now in your opinion? 

-Holocaust denial is a serious issue but I don’t think that we should treat denialists seriously. These people look for controversy and fame. They should not be a part of the main discourse. But they can be influential. This is why we treat all the objects, we preserve them as memorabilia of course, but we also remember that that is proof of genocide. The conservation team’s main goal is to protect the authentic tissue of Auschwitz – so that no one will ever be able to say that we cannot prove that Holocaust happened. Yes we can. Of course that happened.

There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unparalleled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you’re waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it’s almost too easy to say, "never again." From what your Foundation is doing, have you carried out any scientific research about the future prospects of Auschwitz?

-I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly – our Foundation has just one goal – to preserve physical remains of Auschwitz, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has an excellent scientific department. People who work in this department are still learning new facts about how the camp functioned, they still find new stories. When it comes to Auschwitz being a place of education – yes it can be perceived as a controversy to teach on the cemetery. But we don’t have a choice because it is also a necessity. If we have a chance to show younger generations that hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia lead to gas chambers it is our duty to do it, otherwise the death of millions would go to waste.

Have you heard of about Albania's case of remembrance?

-I know that Albania is very respectful of its past – especially the times of Hoxha’s regime. There are important places like the Spaç prison that also need to be preserved because the story they tell needs to be heard and not only in Albania but throughout the world. I wish more people know how many Albanians were involved in saving Jews during II World War.

Is there any number or evidence of Albanians in Birkenau?

-We know of a few victims from Albania, but we have little to no information about them. Only 10 percent of the German archives survived.

Is it difficult for your Foundation to find a common language with donors when it comes to Birkenau?

-No, our donors understand our mission and want to be a part of it. The toughest work that our Foundation is doing is carried out in Birkenau. This part of the camp, unlike Auschwitz which was established in the preexisting building, was built by the prisoners with second-hand materials that were not supposed to last 75 years. Our donors know that if we want the future generations to be able to come and pay homage to the victims, we need to act together and we need to act fast.

In your opinion, why don’t Auschwitz's bitter messages forbid this repression policy that seems to take endless lives in Syria and around the world?

-It is terrifying that after what happened during World War II, we still allow innocent people to suffer. We all know that’s wrong, but we will not take time to act against it. I urge all readers to do their part, even the smallest contribution to humanitarian organizations or your presence at protests will make the world a little better. The strong voice of Bulgaria’s public opinion saved the lives of 50,000 people! We need to be vocal in our disagreement also because today there’s Syria and Myanmar, but anybody can be next in line. If we don’t show compassion to those who suffer today, we have no right to expect solidarity when hatred knocks on our doors.

Do you think that Albania can learn from your Foundation's experience of remembrance?

-I think we can learn from each other. Although much different both the history of Albania and Poland is very complex. I think there is a great value in sharing our history with all its dark and shameful spots so that we have a better understanding of the world we live in.

 
                    [post_title] => ‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’ 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => the-lesson-from-auschwitz-is-that-kindness-is-the-real-strength
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-28 15:45:27
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-28 13:45:27
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137635
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

        )

    [post] => WP_Post Object
        (
            [ID] => 137800
            [post_author] => 29
            [post_date] => 2018-07-06 10:23:14
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 08:23:14
            [post_content] => Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still better left unknown now - sent the following e-mail to a number of EU, US and German representatives through third parties:

“Our diplomatic service is facing a deadly blow with the new draft law due to be passed on Thursday by the parliament majority. The law puts the foreign service completely under political control. The hitherto law foresees 20% of the ambassadors as political appointees. The new law removes this figure thus enabling 100% political appointments; not just ambassadors but also other diplomatic posts. Even some MPs like Arta Dade have failed to avoid that from happening. It's not strange that even the opposition keeps silent about it. They can use the law politically, too, when back to power. Such practice goes against EU practices, even though, as candidate EU country we are supposed to make legislation according to EU standards. There is serious concern and despair among career diplomats who see no future for their career under the new law and we feel powerless about it. Years of investment in the service could be rendered useless. This never happened before, at least injustice was never legalized.”

Unfortunately, our warning fell on deaf ears and, for the last years, we’ve seen a number of our predictions come to life and seriously harm competitiveness, fairness and a chance at a career.

While any "street man" may become an ambassador, it takes at least 14 years for a career diplomat to be posted as ambassador.

Most of the current Albanian diplomats serving abroad have little or nothing to do with the foreign service and often have no experience at all. A "street ambassador" is supposed to have 10 years of work experience dealing with foreign relations in what is a very broad and abusive definition. Meanwhile, a career diplomat must serve not less than 14 years in the foreign ministry to get the title of counsellor, let alone ambassador, a paradox a normal country diplomat would never believe.

But, instead of speaking generally, let us refer to some concrete cases that had us compile a second letter and make it public.

The Albanian Ambassador to Stockholm for starters, is a former retiree who has been renamed in service, although he was once only a presenter at the Albanian National Radio-Television during communism. Similar is the case of Belgrade, where the ambassador is a retiree, while the Albanian Ambassador to Vienna had to return home after reaching his retirement age.

These kind of double standards have even devalued the altered law, bringing it down to new lows. Some ambassadors, such as the ambassador of Albania to the OSCE, don’t even fulfill the base requirements, such as the “ten years of foreign work experience.”

In Ankara, the ambassador is a former Socialist Party financier, while the head counselors in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Bari, Milano and Istanbul have little to no connection with the diplomatic service. In Washington, too, the serving ambassador is a political appointment, someone with no connection to the diplomatic service at all. The same applies to the cases of Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In other, even more flagrant cases, such as those of Middle East countries, the embassies are run by ambassadors who have even been involved in corruption cases, while the Vatican is lacking an ambassador altogether, for the least five years.

According to sources, an ambassador who has run an embassy in an Arab country, and who was fired for being involved in a sensational criminal case in Albania, has been appointed secretary in another embassy in a European country.

This has brought about some worrying effects - the most worrying of all being that “street diplomats” are leading career diplomats - the people who have been in the service for 10, 15 and even 20 years and who have acquired the skills of diplomacy by actual experience.

In Ernest Geller’s notion called “tyranny of cousins” one can see a lot of Albania - by definition, the tyranny of cousins describes a primitive stage of society, one still ruled by the power of the tribe and by family ties, a phenomenon Albania is still unable to shake after years of communist rule.

Today, this tyranny of cousins has come to include more harmful things - political ties, economic ties, interest ties - leading to a tyranny of incompetence, which has been supported by law for the last three years and which will continue to harm Albania if our warning calls keep falling on deaf ears.

 

 

 
            [post_title] => Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service 
            [post_excerpt] => 
            [post_status] => publish
            [comment_status] => closed
            [ping_status] => closed
            [post_password] => 
            [post_name] => letter-to-the-editor-the-double-standards-in-albanias-diplomatic-service
            [to_ping] => 
            [pinged] => 
            [post_modified] => 2018-07-12 19:45:57
            [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-12 17:45:57
            [post_content_filtered] => 
            [post_parent] => 0
            [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137800
            [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.
            [parent] => 0
            [count] => 504
            [filter] => raw
            [cat_ID] => 52
            [category_count] => 504
            [category_description] => Please subscribe to have access to articles in our premium section.
            [cat_name] => Premium
            [category_nicename] => premium
            [category_parent] => 0
        )

    [queried_object_id] => 52
    [post__not_in] => Array
        (
        )

)