Justice reform supporters seek to clear remaining hurdles

Justice reform supporters seek to clear remaining hurdles

TIRANA, Dec. 24 – Proponents of a major reform of the justice system in Albania are working to bring about consensus on a proposed legislative package, including constitutional amendments, following a reply by an international expert commission on three drafts

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In blunt speech, Albania urged to deal with graft in the judiciary

In blunt speech, Albania urged to deal with graft in the judiciary

TIRANA, Dec. 15 – Taking a blunt approach trying to convince Albanians of the need for justice system reform to address widespread graft concerns, U.S. Ambassador Lu told a judges’ a conference this week that the corrupt among them should

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Anger over economy, governance yield violent opposition protest ➦

Anger over economy, governance yield violent opposition protest ➦

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Aiming to capitalize on the public’s growing unease with the Socialist-led government over the state of the economy and mounting accusations of corruption and mismanagement, Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party held Tuesday a large protest rally

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Fuel prices likely to rise after sharp increase in gas station licence fees

Fuel prices likely to rise after sharp increase in gas station licence fees

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Fuel prices in Albania will likely rise, following an announcement that the Albanian government has decided to increase licence fees on fuel and gas stations by a staggering 50-fold compared to current rates. The rates are

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Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows

Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Albania’s exports extended their decline to 4.3 percent in the first ten months of this year on a sharp drop in international oil and base metal prices which is having negative effects on the country’s economy

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Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row

Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row

TIRANA, Dec. 2 – Lending to the economy slightly recovered last October but continued remaining at negative growth rates for the third month in a row, according to data published by the country’s central bank. Data shows lending contracted by

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Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference

Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference

TIRANA, Dec. 2 – Albania will do its modest part to protect the planet from climate change, the negative effects of which are already felt by the country, President Bujar Nishani has told a large UN conference on the topic

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Rama pitches Albania to Chinese investors as a jumping point to Europe

Rama pitches Albania to Chinese investors as a jumping point to Europe

TIRANA, Nov. 29 – Vying to attract Chinese investments, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a three-day visit to China pitching the Albanian market as a good transit point for doing business with the rest of Europe. Rama appeared to

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HIV/AIDS cases register sharp increase in past few years

TIRANA, Dec. 2 – The number of HIV/AIDS infected people in Albania has seen a sharp increase in the past three years, according to a report published by the Public Health Institute on Dec. 1, the World Aids Day. Some

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CONFERENCE REPORT: Albania 25 years after the fall of communism: Rebuilding the state and society

How has Albania fared in the past quarter century? The Albanian Institute for International Studies with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Tirana tried to give detailed answers to that question organized last week

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 24 – Proponents of a major reform of the justice system in Albania are working to bring about consensus on a proposed legislative package, including constitutional amendments, following a reply by an international expert commission on three drafts sent to it by Albania's ruling coalition and opposition parties.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission issued its interim opinion on Dec. 19, expressing support for the effort of the Albanian authorities aimed at the comprehensive reform of the Albanian judicial system and agreed that the reform is needed urgently due to a critical situation that justifies radical solutions.

“The draft amendments represent a solid basis for further work in this direction; that being said, the proposals contained in the draft amendments need to be simplified and, at places, clarified; certain elements are to be regulated by an organic law or by ordinary legislation,” the legal opinion noted. “The whole institutional arrangements should be revisited and simplified.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and his chief ally, Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta of the Socialist Movement for Integration, have been strong proponents of the reform.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha has expressed concerns, but he said this week his Democratic Party is ready to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and called on the ruling coalition leaders to follow the Commission's recommendations.

"This is the road map for political parties, parliamentary parties should follow to successfully complete the judicial reform, Basha said, adding there should be consensus on “a comprehensive reform of the justice to fight corruption and to same time to prevent the political capture of justice system.”

Basha's comments came after he met with U.S. Ambassador Donal Lu, one of the international actors working to bring political consensus on the proposed changes.

Supporters of a consensus legislative package say it would give the changes more legitimacy as well as clear the 94-vote mark required in parliament to make changes to the constitution.

The opposition Democratic Party has said it is in favor of the reform but not the draft which has been prepared by the governing majority.

Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla has also criticized certain aspects of the draft changes, and added the draft had not received the full opinion of all the interested parties, including prosecutors. He also expressed concern that local and international actors are painting all those involved with a broad brush of corruption allegations.

Experts believe that a draft that gets the green light from the Venice Commission experts is more likely to pass with consensus.

Albania's justice system is plagued by allegations of corruption at all levels and enjoys low public trust.

Changing the image of the judiciary is seen as a key step in Albania’s road toward joining the European Union.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125398" align="alignright" width="300"]U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu’s comments at the judicial system conference were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging a fight on corruption in the justice system. (Photo: U.S. Embassy/Facebook) U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu’s comments at the judicial system conference were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging a fight on corruption in the justice system. (Photo: U.S. Embassy/Facebook)[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 15 - Taking a blunt approach trying to convince Albanians of the need for justice system reform to address widespread graft concerns, U.S. Ambassador Lu told a judges’ a conference this week that the corrupt among them should “leave this profession immediately” and they could “also be put in jail soon.”

“My test for corruption is a simple one: If you have ever taken money or favors in exchange for a court decision, you are a corrupt judge. Even if you have only done this once, you have broken the law and are not fit to serve as a judge,” Lu said.

Lu’s comments were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging Albanians to address corruption in the justice system.

The ambassadors have called on the ruling and opposition parties to back the judicial reform in parliament. The reform, in the form of a draft legislation prepared with the help of American and German lawyers, is currently being reviewed by the expert Venice Commission. It will then be discussed for approval in the Albanian parliament.

“Please know that the United States and the European Union have been active drafters of every part of the reform and we endorse fully the current package of reforms,” Lu said at the conference.

Albania’s judicial system is widely seen as corrupt by common citizens and members of the judiciary themselves, according to polls.

A reform of the system is a condition for Albania’s bid to join the EU. The country is expecting to launch full membership negotiations with the block, but that is unlikely to happen unless the Albanian parliament approves the reform bill.

"If I were a judge in Albania ... I would be the first to demand the reform, including the vetting, because I would want to protect the respect and appreciation of my own work and my profession," Vlahutin, the EU ambassador, said at the conference.

The diplomats’ blunt language did not go entirely well with the audience of judges and prosecutors who are facing huge pressure to accept the reform.

Judge Xhezair Zaganjori, the head of the Supreme Court, said it was unfair to paint the entire system as corrupt. He added the reform would have met with less resistance if judges had been allowed to have more of a say in its drafting.

However, Zaganjori said he acknowledged the high level of public distrust in the courts due to perceptions of pervasive corruption and a lack of transparency.

Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla added he was concerned about the justice system reform discussion being accompanied by negative public rhetoric against judges and prosecutors from many public actors, including local and foreign experts.

He added there were already cases of judges and prosecutors facing charges of corruption and as long as politics stayed out of the system, there would be improvements.

“In every public event where the justice reform is discussed there is a perception that the justice system and corruption are one and the same thing,” Llalla said. “The justice system, like any other state body in Albania is not immune to graft. But the generalization of these cases is completely irrelevant.”

The backlash from the justice system actors has included the creation of a new association which aims to protect honest practitioners from being painted with the same brush as the corrupt ones.

The reform will need a two-thirds parliamentary majority to become law and may also demand amendments to the constitution.

The Socialist-led governing parties are in favor of the reform. The opposition has expressed some concern but, under international pressure, it has not said it will veto the reform, demanding some changes to the draft instead.

For Lu, the calculation is simple. The corrupt must go and the honest must be rewarded.

“To the honest judges: Have faith, change is coming,” he said. “I believe that the majority of judges and prosecutors in this country are honest, hard-working professionals who want to be proud of their profession.”

He added he knows it’s difficult to be an honest judge in Albania.

“You don’t work for much money, and there are pressures from every direction to make important decisions for all the wrong reasons,” the U.S. ambassador said. “Honest judges, like you, deserve to work in a system that rewards integrity.  You deserve to be promoted based on merit and experience.  And you should become the new symbol of the system, in place of the image today of corrupt judges wearing Cartier watches.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125300" align="alignright" width="300"]bunker protest tirana Protesters set fire to a monument featuring a replica bunker, which was to serve as part of the museum dealing with the country’s communist past.[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Aiming to capitalize on the public's growing unease with the Socialist-led government over the state of the economy and mounting accusations of corruption and mismanagement, Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party held Tuesday a large protest rally accompanied by egg and paint attacks on the prime minister's offices and the burning of a controversial memorial featuring a replica bunker.

The Democrats’ leader, Lulzim Basha, said the large attendance at the rally was “a referendum against the government,” which should resign as soon as possible and make way for a custodian government.

But the Democrats face an uphill battle as the Socialist-led coalition of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which includes Ilir Meta's Socialist Movement for Integration, came to power two and a half years ago with a solid win and handily defeated the Democrats this summer in the municipal elections.

However, the Socialist government has undertaken very painful reforms that have hit the poorest Albanians hardest, increasing anger among many Albanians, analysts say. And recent opinion poll numbers show the Socialists have lost the support of about 250,000 out of the 1 million of those who voted for them in the last elections.

Basha says, however, that the government of Socialist Prime Minister Rama had ran out of time, accusing it of corruption, mismanagement of the economy and allowing people with criminal ties to take seats in parliament and be elected become mayors.

The center-right opposition had chosen Dec. 8 for the rally, as a national holiday, Youth Day, set to commemorate student protests in 1990 that started the toppling of the then-communist regime in Albania, forcing it to accept political pluralism.

Basha said the protest 25 years after fall of communism was aimed “against crime, corruption and glorification of the past by [the] Rama government.”

Protesters hit symbols of PM power

The protest was accompanied with some violent incidents, as activists threw eggs, paint, hard objects and fireworks toward the Prime Minister’s Office, in front of which the opposition rally was being held.

A modern art installation, a recent addition to the building, was partially damaged. At least two people were arrested by police.

A former political dissident imprisoned during Albania’s communist era then urged protesters to attack a monument under construction on the grounds of the Interior Ministry. The monument was later set on fire. It features a replica bunker, which was to serve as part of the museum dealing with the country’s communist past.

But some thos

[caption id="attachment_125301" align="alignright" width="300"]Democratic Party protesters rally in front of the Prime Minister's Office on Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo: DP handout/Facebook) Democratic Party protesters rally in front of the Prime Minister's Office on Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo: DP handout/Facebook)[/caption]

e who suffered under the regime say it glorifies communism instead, and they accuse the ruling Socialist Party of having ties to the former communist regime.

Rocks were also thrown at windows of nearby ministries. Two Democratic Party PMs could be seen putting themselves between the rock throwers and the ministries, telling the protesters to stop attacking the buildings.

Socialists focus on 'miserable vandalism'

The Socialists said the accusations are baseless, and chose to largely focus their response on the violence, calling protesters “vandals” in their media communications. Albanian media close to the government largely covered the protest through the same lenses.

The Socialists said the Democrats should wait for the next elections to see who has more popular support.

“Weren't the elections of 2013 free and democratic? Those were organized by the Democratic Party. Why can't Basha wait for the elections of 2017,” Rama's chief spokesman, Endri Fuga, wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Rama expressed anger at what he called “miserable vandalism” on the day that Albania remembers the student movement that helped bring down communism 25 years ago. It was the same movement that led to the creation of the Democratic Party.

“The Democratic Party is but a shadow of its former self, trying to get back the lost trust of Albanian through stones and petrol bottles thrown on public investment,” Rama wrote on Facebook. “The European will of the Albanians is not embodied by those who destroy two urban art installations — with the same primitive savagery that in fact, and unfortunately, they would have been destroyed by the communist regime too.”

Tirana’s Socialist mayor, Erion Veliaj, sent a bill of damages of about $163,000 done to public property to the Democratic Party and told them to pay up in 10 days or the party’s bank account’s would be frozen.

“Tirana city hall fines violent political party … vandalism of public property” Veliaj said on Twitter, showing pictures of the fine. “There's no bravery in destroying a city for politics, cowards do that! Brave is to clean, fix and protect,” he added.

Many Democratic Party supporters and independent observers pointed out that Socialist Party protests in the past had been far more violent that the Democrats' protest this week.

Int’l representatives: Protests are fine, violence isn't

Representatives of Albania’s top international partners, the European Union and the United States, have issued statements condemning the violence in Tuesday’s opposition rally.

The Delegation of the European Union to Albania said the right of the citizens to express concerns and discontent through peaceful protest is a core feature of modern European democracy and as such shall be preserved. But it also noted that a number of acts of violence and vandalism were reported.

“Resort to violence is unacceptable,” the EU delegation’s statement said.

The EU statement added Albania should focus on a demanding reform agenda in view of its European integration process.

“We call on all parties and public officials including not least the opposition to condemn the violence, and engage in a constructive political dialogue,” the EU statement noted.

The U.S. Embassy’s statement stuck to a similar tone, saying it “condemns the violence that took place during the protests in Tirana.

“The right of citizens to peacefully assemble, petition the government, and protest is a hallmark of a free and healthy society. However, acts such as throwing stones, lighting structures on fire, and damaging public property is inconsistent with democratic values,” the U.S. Embassy said. “We call on the Democratic Party of Albania and all other parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that any future demonstrations remain peaceful and constructive.”
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 9 - Fuel prices in Albania will likely rise, following an announcement that the Albanian government has decided to increase licence fees on fuel and gas stations by a staggering 50-fold compared to current rates.

The rates are expected to considerably affect the operation of some 1,000 fuel stations in Albania and translate into higher costs for Albanian consumers who already face one of Europe's highest oil prices.

Experts expect fuel prices to undergo new hikes of up to 10 lek (€0.07)/litre.

The government has decided the fee on the granting and renewal of licences on oil and liquid gas stations will increase to 5 million lek (€36,000) for retail oil and gas businesses operating in the municipality of Tirana and to 2 million lek (€14,500) for other municipalities. The current rates on the five-year licences range from 130,000 lek (€940) for the municipality of Tirana to 100,000 lek (€724) in Durres.

The licence fees on liquid gas sale for household consumption, used as a cheaper alternative to heating and cooking, will be 1 million lek (€7,237) for the Municipality of Tirana and at 200,000 lek (€1,447) for the remaining 60 municipalities.

The new taxes which are set to enter into force in the next few days are expected to spark a new hike in fuel prices, already among the highest in Europe because of the high tax burden levied on them.

Fuel prices in Albania have undergone only a moderate decline despite international oil prices having haled during the past year.

Data published by GlobalPetrolPrices portal this week show Albania’s diesel prices stood at €1.22/litre, higher than Macedonia’s €0.78/litre, Montenegro’s €0.97/litre and Serbia’s €1.12 and even Germany's €1.13 and Italy’s €1.2/litre.

Starting January 2015, the circulation tax on fuel increased by another 10 lek (12 lek VAT included) taking it to 27 lek litre (€0.19), not to mention the excise tax at 37 lek/litre (€0.27), the carbon tax at 1.5 lek/litre on petrol and at 3 lek/litre on diesel, VAT at 20 percent, and other customs duties which make fuel prices in Albania among the highest in the region and Europe despite the country having one of Europe’s lowest GDP per capita.

 

 

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122050" align="alignright" width="300"]The Durres sea port is Albania's hub for international trade. (Photo: Archives) The Durres sea port is Albania's hub for international trade. (Photo: Archives)[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Albania’s exports extended their decline to 4.3 percent in the first ten months of this year on a sharp drop in international oil and base metal prices which is having negative effects on the country’s economy with lower production affecting both employment and government revenue.

Data published by the country’s state statistical institute, INSTAT, shows Albania’s exports in the first ten months of this year dropped to 215 billion lek (€1.55 billion), down 4.3 percent compared to the same period last year, on a sharp cut in exports of “minerals, fuel and electricity” and a slowdown in “garment and footwear” products, Albania’s top exports which account for two-thirds of total exports.

The sharp cut in international oil and base metal prices has affected the activity of some of the key operators in Albania which is one of Europe’s top ten oil producers.

Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s biggest oil producer, has slightly cut production while U.S.-based TransAtlantic Petroleum has put its loss-making Albanian unit up for sale only one year after acquiring it from Canada-based Stream Oil & Gas due to the sharp cut in international oil prices. A Turkish-Chinese consortium operating a copper plant in the northern Albanian district of Puka has also announced the suspension of its activity for one year, leaving hundreds of workers jobless.

The garment and footwear industry, the country’s top exporter, saw its exports increase by only 3 percent to 74.7 billion lek (€539 mln) in the first ten months of this year, leading Albania’s exports. The industry, which employs about 100,000 people being one of the country’s top employers, has requested a package of incentives to handle hikes in taxes and electricity prices in order to preserve its competitiveness relying in cheap labor costs.

Meanwhile, Albania’s imports also dropped by 2 percent to 442 billion lek (€3.2 billion) year-on-year on a sharp drop in “minerals, fuel and electricity” imports mainly due to lower electricity imports because of a reform in the country’s hydro-dependent state-run electricity system which has cut grid losses and collected accumulated unpaid bills.

Imports of “machinery, equipment and spare parts,” also an indicator of private investments, grew by 9 percent to 92 billion lek (€664 mln) in the first 10 months of this year, registering the country’s top imports.

Albania’s exports are estimated to have been negatively affected even by the recent depreciation of the euro against the Albanian national currency as exports to Eurozone countries account for more than two-thirds of the country’s total. The euro traded at an average of 138.18 lek in Nov. 2015, down 1 percent compared to the previous months, hitting a three-year low against the Albanian national currency.

In addition to Albania’s poor diversification of exports, a moderate recovery in Italy and a new recession in Greece, Albania’s top trading partners, is expected to further affect Albania’s exports in the next couple of year.

Albania is a net importer with exports covering only about half of the country’s total imports.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 2 - Lending to the economy slightly recovered last October but continued remaining at negative growth rates for the third month in a row, according to data published by the country's central bank.

Data shows lending contracted by 1.5 percent year-on-year in October 2015 due to poor demand for new loans and tight lending standards as non-performing loans stand at 20 percent. 

Interest rates on both lek and euro-denominated loans at historical lows are also proving inefficient to fuel demand on new loans.

Average interest rates on lek-denominated loans dropped to 7.95 percent in October 2015, down from 8.18 percent last September and a historic low of 7.66 percent in October 2014 despite the central bank reducing the key rate in two interventions to an all-time low of 1.75 percent in early November. 

The loan rates in the national currency, although considerably lower compared to the pre-crisis period, are still considered high and unaffordable by the business community because of being six times higher compared to the deposit rates which have dropped below the average inflation rate for the past year. Albania’s Competition Authority has also launched an enquiry into the banking system on an alleged deal preventing competition and the recovery of lending.

Meanwhile, interest rates on Euro-denominated loans, which account for around 60 percent of total lending, dropped to a record low of 4.74 percent, down from 5.91 percent last September and 6.93 percent in October 2014 soon after the European Central Bank cut its key rate to a historic low of 0.05 percent.

In a recent interview, central bank governor Gent Sejko said high risk perception by both banks and businesses is holding lending at sluggish growth rates.

“The risk perception is what counts most in financial institutions. This is a case of demand and supply. We at the central bank try influencing on the supply side so that it is more attractive to customers. On the other hand, banks themselves perceive high risks levels and businesses have some limitations on investment initiatives," said Sejko.  

The launch of a nationwide campaign against informality last September accompanied with massive field inspections and legal changes increasing fines on tax evasion by several times as well as pending amendments to the Criminal Code making tax evasion punishable by prison seem to have had a negative psychological effect on the business community whose demand for new loans has been sluggish despite interest rates registering a considerable decline. 

Lending to the economy has been striving to maintain positive growth rates since 2012 after growing by 30 to 50 percent annually in the pre-crisis years and an average of 10 percent from 2009 to 2011.

Meanwhile, deposits slightly accelerated by 1.4 percent compared to October 2014 but were down by 5.4 billion lek (€38.6 mln) compared to their peak level in Dec. 2014. 

Average interest rates on lek-denominated deposits stood at 1.36 percent and at 0.26 percent on euro deposits, positively reflecting the cuts to the key interest rates which target promoting investments by discouraging investments in deposits.
                    [post_title] => Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125006" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanian President Bujar Nishani speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in the Paris region. (Photo: President.al)  Albanian President Bujar Nishani speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in the Paris region. (Photo: President.al)[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 2 - Albania will do its modest part to protect the planet from climate change, the negative effects of which are already felt by the country, President Bujar Nishani has told a large UN conference on the topic this week.

Nishani represented Albania at the COP21, UN Climate Change Conference held in Le Bourget, outside Paris, this week. 

He said Albania is ready to work for reducing greenhouse-effect emissions. 

“Albania is in a unique position in regards to low gas emissions since a third of its energy comes from renewable sources,” Nishani said in his speech to the conference. 

He added the country’s officials were working to influence developments of various sectors of the economy to lower carbon emissions even further. 

Albania is among Europe’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change and global warming. The country will suffer from coastline erosion and increased floods and heatwaves as global warming becomes worse, experts believe.

Nishani said Albania is working on a national strategy to deal with climate change in line with EU policies. 

The Albanian head of state was one of more than 180 world leaders attending the major global conference.

At the summit’s opening on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said leaders "have the power to secure the well-being of this and succeeding generations."

"You are here today to write the script for a new future, a future of hope and promise of increased prosperity, security and dignity for all," Ban said.  "We need the world to know that we are headed to a low-emissions, climate resilient future and there is no going back."

This year, 183 countries, including Albania, have issued long-term plans to cope with climate change, but difficult negotiations are expected at the summit and related international meetings that run through Dec. 11.

Before the conference opened, U.S. President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said the two countries have a common vision of what is needed in an agreement, including steps toward a low carbon global economy and helping financial support to help developing nations adapt.

The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions up to 28 percent by 2025, while China set targets to peak its emissions by about 2030.

The United States, China and India account for about half of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and that scientists have identified as a leading cause of the rising global temperatures.
                    [post_title] => Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_124994" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 26 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Rama attended the Fourth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries. (Photo: GoA/Facebook) Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 26 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Rama attended the Fourth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries. (Photo: GoA/Facebook)[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 29 - Vying to attract Chinese investments, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a three-day visit to China pitching the Albanian market as a good transit point for doing business with the rest of Europe.

Rama appeared to focus on funding the Arber Highway construction, offering a port to be managed by Chinese businesses as well as investments for the proposed Adriatic-Ionian highway, also known as the Blue Highway.

The proposals are still a long way from being finalized, but there is a general understanding between the two countries to strengthen cooperation in infrastructure building. 

Rama met with his host counterpart, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The two agreed to increase political and economic relations and turn cooperation into outcomes to benefit the people of both nations, according to an official statement.

The Chinese government supports Chinese enterprises in helping build Albania's ports, railways, power grids and industrial parks, Li said, adding that the two countries should expand cooperation in financing, mining and agriculture. 

The Chinese premier hoped Albania would make Chinese investment and tourism more convenient. 

Rama urged China's role in infrastructure and hopes to expand cooperation in agricultural trade and tourism. He said Albania is willing to streamline visa access for Chinese people, according to a report from China’s official Xinhua news agency. 

Rama attended the fourth leaders' meeting between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, the first time China has hosted the annual meeting since it began in 2012.

"China is in talks with the CEE countries on more transportation projects," said Li, adding that the country's fast, safe, and low-priced high-speed trains perfectly meet the needs of CEE countries. 

Li also announced that China will invest in constructing and upgrading port facilities in the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas.

Chinese company to build Montenegro-Albania highway

 The talks in China came shortly before a large Chinese construction company, China Pacific Construction Group, announced it had agreed in principle to build a highway linking Montenegro to Albania.

The Chinese construction company, the largest in the country by revenue, signed a memorandum of understanding that could be worth 3 billion euros to build an expressway between Montenegro and Albania, the company told the Reuters news agency.

Construction of the 280-kilometer link will begin in the second half of 2016 and take about eight years to complete, it said.

"The construction of this 280 kilometers link will begin in the second half of 2016 and end in 2018," the company’s president, Yan Jiehe, told reporters at a press conference in Beijing. 
The firm plans to use as collateral road fees for this project. "Funding has yet to be finalized," he added.

 
                    [post_title] => Rama pitches Albania to Chinese investors as a jumping point to Europe
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 2 - The number of HIV/AIDS infected people in Albania has seen a sharp increase in the past three years, according to a report published by the Public Health Institute on Dec. 1, the World Aids Day.

Some 87 new HIV/AIDS cases were reported in the first ten months of 2015, up from 84 in 2014 and a record high of 124 in 2013. 

The report shows the number of HIV cases in the past decade has increased 5-fold compared to 1993, when the first HIV case was reported in the country. The number of infected people from the early 1990s until 2004 ranged from 2 to 26 annually. 

HIV/AIDS has affected 870 people in Albania, claiming 161 lives since the early 1990s. However, Albania remains a country with a low HIV prevalence rate despite a rising number of reported infected people in the past few years.

Men are the most exposed to HIV/AIDS accounting for 70 percent of total cases.  

Sexual transmission dominates the overwhelming majority of 94 percent of HIV cases in Albania compared to 3.6 percent in mother-to-child transmission cases, 1.4 percent in blood transfusion and 0.6 percent in intravenous-drug users. 

The increase in HIV positive cases in the past few years has also raised the challenge of their integration at public schools. HIV has infected a total of 40 children since the early 1990s. 

Local media have often reported cases of bias among children and parents against HIV infected children despite posing no risk to infection.

People living in urban areas are most exposed to HIV infection with almost three-quarters of total cases. Almost half of the infected cases, some 48 percent, are reported in Tirana, which accounts for almost a third of the country's 2.8 million resident population. 

Currently, people living with HIV/AIDS are offered treatment only at the Mother Teresa university hospital centre in Tirana which also provides free antiretroviral drugs.

The Public Health Institute says that despite awareness campaigns and an increase in the number of HIV testing and counseling centers, the stigma against HIV continues remaining a barrier for voluntary testing which would result in early detection and better treatment. Most tests are carried out during blood donations by family members and volunteers.

Roland Bani, a coordinator of the HIV/AIDS project at the Public Health Institute, says the late diagnosis is one of the main issues in Albania which makes treatment almost inefficient.

Health Minister Ilir Beqaj has also appealed for an end to the stereotypes on voluntary testing to make possible the early detection and better treatment. 

“As can be easily proven by data, if diagnosed at an early stage and treated appropriately, someone with HIV can live as long as someone without it. But often the stigma, myths and stereotypes prevent such thing," said Beqja at an awareness meeting.  

The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS has also been advocating for access to treatment, providing support to protect the rights of people living with HIV in Albania, including children.

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 34 million lives so far. In 2014, 1.2 million people died from HIV-related causes globally, according to the World Health Organization. 

There were approximately 36 million people living with HIV at the end of 2014 with 2 million people becoming newly infected with HIV in 2014 globally. Although there is no cure for HIV infection, effective antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy and productive lives. It is estimated that currently only about half of people with HIV know their status.

 
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                    [post_content] => How has Albania fared in the past quarter century? The Albanian Institute for International Studies with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Tirana tried to give detailed answers to that question organized last week at symposium, “Albania 25 years after the fall of communism: Rebuilding the state and society.”

Tirana Times, the official media partner for the conference, is publishing a detailed report of the conference prepared by AIIS.

Last week we published full remarks and analyses at the conference by Dr. Elez Biberaj, EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu, OSCE Ambassador Florian Raunig and  Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Frank Hantke. This week we are bringing a recap of the views of some other contributors to the conference.

The symposium was opened through a welcome speech by Dr. Albert Rakipi, AIIS Executive Director.  According to Dr. Rakipi, no country in Eastern Europe has experienced the radical transformation of Albania and there are a series of questions that should be posed in this regard: Why didn’t the Albanian society become democratic according to the Western models? Why don’t we have a capitalist economy in Albania? According to Dr. Rakipi, these questions have been answered by referring to the so called “Transition Paradigm.”

In this context Dr. Rakipi states: “The transition paradigm justifies our failure. Albania has become a ‘Monopoly State’, similar to a pyramidal structure directed by strong leaders. Twenty years were needed to achieve uncontested elections and the quality of the Albanian democracy is very low. According to Fukuyama, transition period was meant to lead to a state governed by the rule of law and this is not the case of Albania. Here we can’t speak about transition anymore, but about a long state-building process, where the EU will play a key role.

In his keynote speech at the symposium, Dr. Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European Studies and director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, held the view that before analyzing the developments over the last 25 years, one should clarify the notions of transformation and transition. According to Dr. Bieber: “The concept of transformation from transition to a developed democracy might be somehow disorienting for the SEE countries, due to the indicators that measure the transformation process. Albania should not see the EU as the end of its transformation, since this cannot be the only indicator. The EU might serve as an indicator but it should not be regarded as the end of transformation itself. There are many countries, which have joined EU and still have problems with their democracies. An example in this context is Hungary.”

Further, Dr. Bieber emphasized that the transformation concept might be misleading, because it divides the world in two parts. This is not the case because every country, even old EU members are still transformed in many directions. “The countries of Southeastern Europe have not signed any significant changes in terms of democratic developments during the last ten years. They have established stable democratic governance which is not changing. There is no change noticeable when it comes to democratic institutions,” said Dr. Bieber. He added that economic growth in SEE countries was very high until 2008, but now the idea that these countries will catch up in economic terms with EU has disappeared. According to Mr. Bieber, Albania was described by various studies (along with Estonia and Poland) as a success story, since it managed to have a functioning democracy and a remarkable growth of GDP and this clearly shows that the current transformation indicators cannot be automatic for all countries.

Dr. Bieber emphasized the most important dimensions of democracies of SEE countries which are: “1. Stable type of democracy characterized by informality, high level of polarization without ideology, no classical party system according to western standards and strong authoritarian temptation to use control over state institutions and media. 2. Nature of economic system characterized by sharp inequality and connections between politics and economy. 3. Civil society, which is not homegrown and in many cases heavily dependent on foreign donations. 

Dr. Bieber closed his speech by making three final observations. 1. We should see where the country stands and not be focused on transition. 2. Psychology. Development is not always linear, since many setbacks may occur and 3. We always assume that 1990 is to be seen as Year Zero. This is wrong, because we should take into account the time before that year and communism was different in each of the SEE countries.

Panel 1: Transition overview

Besnik Mustafaj, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, described the first difficulties encountered during the foundation of the Democratic Party of Albania. According to Mr. Mustafaj, the program of DPA was written with a language, which sounded very communist and “Leninist”. Language is a very important component for a democratic political culture and in this respect the language used by Albanian politicians during the nineties was not democratic and in many cases violent and offensive. Further, Mr. Mustafaj explained that removing communism fully has still not taken place in Albanian society, although it should be a key objective even for the Albanian left. Mr. Mustafaj concluded that due to their deeply rooted communist mentality, the Albanian elite failed to build a functioning democracy. However, the younger generations have the chance to change things. In any case they should make use of an appropriate democratic language.  

Dr. Bernd Fischer, Professor Emeritus of History, Indiana University, Fort Wayne, emphasized that while nobody wants to go back to the old days of Hoxha regime, not all vestiges of the old regime have disappeared. Further he argued that the basic issues of Albanian democracy today are a healthy political culture, functioning political parties and political leadership, which in many cases is disconnected by the people living in remote areas. In this context Mr. Fisher made the following suggestions: Organization of free and fair elections, establishment of a free and independent press, Fight against organized crime and culture of corruption, establishment of an independent judiciary and a qualitative education based on the most advanced international standards. Dr. Fischer also pointed out some of the most relevant achievements reached by Albanian over the last 25 years, namely: Establishment of a two party system and acceptance of election results by all political parties; The foundation of Civil Society Organizations with a huge contribute on the protection of Human Rights; Major steps have been reached in terms of strengthening the rule of law such as: Fight against narco-trafficking and economic informality.  Dr. Fischer, closed his speech by expressing his confidence about the accession of Albania to EU, which will represent a major step in consolidation of Albanian democracy.

Panel 2: Democratization and society

Gabriel Partos, a veteran BBC journalist currently working as an analyst with the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, presented the details of Albania’s ranking in the Economist intelligence unit’s Index of democracy. In 2015, Albania was ranked in the 88th place behind Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro and well ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With regard to the political process (1 component) Albania scores pretty well, but it scores pretty poorly when it comes to the functioning of the government (5 out of 10). In this regard, Mr. Partos holds the view that the Albanian Public Administration is deeply politicized and this has caused delays for the granting of EU candidate status. In this context, the corrupt judiciary also plays a major role. Mr. Partos went on with the third component dealing with political participation. Here Albania scored 5 out of 10 points due to the lack of trust to political institutions, although there were small improvements in the increase of participation of women in parliament. In the fourth component on political culture,  according to surveys Albanians showed desire for a strong leader. In the last component on Civil Liberties, Albania scored pretty well (7,35 points) second to Macedonia. This might be explained through the positive steps undertaken by Albania in terms of freedom of expression and media freedom, although there are some issues especially when it comes to the inadequate social inclusion of Roma community. Mr. Partos, emphasized that the consensus among Albanian politicians on the EU agenda is a very encouraging sign for the future of the country.

Remzi Lani, Executive Director, Albanian Media Institute, pointed out that transition in Albania underwent a political, economic and psychological dimension. “Albanian transition is rather to be defined as a long state-building process. The term transition itself fails to describe the whole picture of Albania’s struggle for democracy over the last 25 years, as this term can’t serve anymore as an alibi for the dysfunction of state institutions. Instead of transition we can perhaps use another term, namely “Transicrotacy”, Mr. Lani said.

According to Mr. Lani, in the regional perspective Albania is geopolitically part of the West, but when it comes to the integration perspective we have a consensus of vision, but not an agreement over the actions that will bring the country in the EU. With regard to the media, Mr. Lani argues that despite many problems, media is advancing and it is free and open. However there are problems when it comes to the Albanian Public Broadcast, which is basically non-existent and the intensive ties between media outlets and politics.  

Dr. Afrim Krasniqi of the Albanian Institute for Political Studies began his speech by giving the example of the suspended referendum on the import ban of wastes, which reflects the contrast between citizens’ participation in democratic institutions and the unwillingness of institutions to work together with the citizens. Further, Mr. Krasniqi stressed that Albanian constitutions have served only to legitimize power and in this context Albania underwent a long series of “constitutional experiments”, which have created confusion and lack of trust towards institutions.” Constitutions have been amended to resolve momentary political problems, while the most important institutions are elected without making use of the qualified majority in parliament. Political parties have a lot of power and they do not respect the basic principles of the constitution, which regulate their own political mechanisms” said Mr. Krasniqi. Further he noted that today Albanian politics has strong leaders, who are in the same time the most ardent violators of the constitution. He ended his speech by emphasizing that the juridical education of the society is needed to strengthen the stability of constitution in Albania. Further he stressed that the upcoming constitutional amendments should be voted in public referendum.

Frank Hantke, Director of the Friedrich Ebert Institute of Albania, stressed that people keep on discussing about loyal opposition or loyal governance, but loyalty should be stretched towards citizens. Further, he added that the role of foreigners in the Albanian politics has not been criticized as it should. EU policies didn’t take into account Albania’s specific history and experience. “We should be aware of the fact that Albanian democracy will look different than democracies in EU countries, since here we have to deal with an independent democratic tradition,” said Mr. Hantke. Further, Mr. Hantke suggested talking more to young Albanians, who grew up during the transition time.

Panel 3: Economy and Migration

Dr. Franz-Lothar Altmann, a veteran academic currently serving as Associate Professor for Intercultural and International Relations, Bucharest State University focused on the Transformation Index of the Bertelsmann Foundation to present the progress that Albania has made from 2006-2016. In the first index of 2006 Albania held the 38th position and only Moldova had a worse position. In the 2016 Index that is to be published, Albania has advanced, according to Dr. Altmann. He also mentioned the criteria of a functioning market economy to connect it to the last progress report of EU for Albania. According to the Copenhagen criteria, a country must have a functioning market economy and the economy must be able to withstand competition forces within the EU. In the last country progress report, Albania shows that it is moderately prepared to join the EU, but challenges remain. The main challenges of Albania are the high number of nonperforming loans, which block the banks to give new loans. Another obstacle is related to the labour market. High unemployment and informal employment lead to misleading figures about the workforce.

It is economy that has a major impact on migration. Statistics from the first half of 2014 show that Albania was the fifth country of origin concerning the number of asylum seekers in Germany. In 2015, Albania ranked the third. What are the causes of this migration? People do not have the feeling that the economy is improving. The social structure of migrants varies from poor citizens coming from rural areas to skilled professionals in search for better opportunities. Dr. Altmann compared the situation with Bosnia, where over 1000 professionals left from health centres in search for better payments. 

Dr. Altmann concluded that the consequences of this level of migration can be seen in both the country of origin and the destination country. In the country of origin the pressure in the market is reduced and the remittances contribute to the growth of the GDP. On the other hand, in Germany for example, immigrants fill the gaps in the health sector, however a general fear exists in the public. Also, in order to have better integration, barriers should be demolished and initiatives such as recognition of diplomas should take place.

Dr. Arben Malaj, former Minister of Finance and currently a professor at the University of Tirana, focused on the transition period of Albania. He stated that recently Albania has limited opportunities for monetary and fiscal policies. Structural reforms are necessary and according to the economic theory, big differences produce more opportunities, therefore Albania can profit from this.

Dr. Malaj mentioned that the starting point of transition in Albania was the fall of a system where the country was isolated and with hostile environment towards business. The model that Albania followed was the shock therapy. However, shock therapy proves to be more shock than therapy when basic factors are missing, such as in Albania, said Dr. Malaj. The reforms followed the Washington consensus speed and while the first reports show progress, Albania failed in providing the property rights. This is not only the restoration of confiscated properties during communism, but the right of every individual to private property. The second problematic issue is the corruption and the state capture. 

On the other hand, transition in Albania marked few achievements, such as the structuring of the economic sector. The decrease of rural population and agriculture is a sign of this process. This means that now Albania is supporting the most productive sectors. During transition Albania scored an increase in 3%, but the biggest problem remain weak institutions. Now Albania has democracy, knowledge and therefore, more opportunities.

Failures that the transition recorded are related to the interference of politics in economic decisions, weak institutions and weak competition. The mistrust in institutions is still high. According to Dr. Malaj, Albania needs a new economic model and what the country should do is to reduce barriers and fight corruption, as well as to prioritize the institutions.

Dr. Ilir Gedeshi is currently the Director of the Center for Economic and Social studies (CESS). He has previously been a professor of migration and development as University of Tirana, Faculty of History.  He focused during his presentation, primary on migration. He presented statistics related to migration in the case of Albania and listed some of the most immediate consequences. In the year 2015 some 50 000 Albanians requested asylum in Germany, while 200 000 citizens applied for the US lottery. This statistics are important, but what is also important is the silent mode of migration: brain drain. Dr. Gedeshi said that according to statistics 15% of the population is in migration and the only period when Albania was in the same position was after the death of Scanderbeg.

The profile of the Albanian migration has shifted from short term to long term migration. Albanian migrants have integrated in societies and a second generation of migrants has been born. The obvious reasons of migration are poverty and unemployment, as well as the image that the citizens have about their future. The remittances during these 25 years of migration have improved less the microeconomic level of the economy and have produce moiré migration. According to a study made by Dr. Gedeshi’s center, an Albanian migrant save 501 units of his incomes and sends back to Albania only 1 unit. The remittances in Albania have been used for consumption purposes and only 15% for investments.  

Talking about the scientific Diaspora, Dr. Gedeshi stated that 40% of the university staff migrated until 2001. After 2001 the migration shifted from staff to university student, who did not come back, but integrated in their universities abroad. However, 90% of the scientific Diaspora expresses good will to collaborate with Albanian institutions, even though only 21% gave their contributions in Albania. 

Dr. Erka Çaro said she is herself an example of this brain drain and brain gain process and identified herself as a transnational migrant. She is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland and at the University of Tirana, Albania.  She received her PhD in Population Studies from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 2011.

Dr. Çaro emphasized that almost all Albanian families have been affected by migration. Migration in Albania was perceived as a survival strategy. The transition saw the abandoning of rural areas and a drastic increase of the population in Tirana. One of the negative consequences is the changes in demographic structure. This affects the labor market and also strengthens brain drain. What can be observed in Albania is that the country has created some sort of addiction towards remittances. 

While going to another country, Albanians are mainly integrated in the societies. However, they face informality, stereotypic descriptions and generalizations in media and they are willing to accept lower wages. These patterns are strengthened during crisis. After the crisis in 2007 the migrants that returned to Albania faced problems with re-integration in the society, as well as identity issues. Due to several problems, the returnees take decisions to re-emigrate. In this case the government has to play the role of a regulator. The working experience has to be legalized and recognized. The Albanian government must have a thorough agenda on migration. Dr. Çaro also pointed out that Albanian migrants do not have the right to vote, while they are abroad. 

The panel presentation was followed by discussions. One of the participants, Dr. Lori Amy asked about the trafficking networks ad this dark side of migration and shadow economy. Dr. Malaj argued that the answer is difficult to be given, but the political forces in the country should learn from the collaboration of trafficking networks in order to join forces against it. Dr. Malaj mentioned that the EU must offer equal opportunities for Western Balkan citizens because this way we reduce barriers and therefore migration itself. 

Panel 4: International Relations and Foreign Policy

The first speaker of the panel, Dr. Albert Rakipi of AIIS argued that there needs to be a critical approach to foreign policy and appropriate changes must be made where necessary. Dr. Rakipi, a former deputy foreign minister, stressed the need to democratize foreign policy making not only focusing on more inclusiveness for the responsible actors but mainly taking a critical approach and examining with a critical thinking all the process.

He said this can help to part ways with some myths which in turn depend on the communist legacy and the Bolshevik rhetoric used back then. “This would help a more effective foreign policy management,” Dr. Rakipi said. He argued that since the beginning of the transition the whole change process was dependent on foreign policy and that from early on the elite took the strategic decision to align the country with the West. This corresponded also to the popular feelings. Dr. Rakipi brought the example of the US. mission report at the end of WWII which highlighted since then the existence of a determined group in Albania with strong relations with United States and the West. 

Despite the long way foreign policy has come and despite its achievements, Rakipi argued that accession into NATO or the process of integration in itself do not necessarily point to full effective and successful foreign policy. 

Some of the myths Dr. Rakipi elaborated on include the often mentioned idea of the “asymmetric relations with large powers” portrayed as exclusive and strategic relations or partnerships. In this cases the rhetoric is exaggerated and does not often reflect reality. Another myth is that of being in the center of the world, which does not reflect the size and true importance of Albania in the IR arena. Often there are so many strategic partnerships the sheer number of them undermines the ‘strategic’ denomination. 

The second issue Dr. Rakipi elaborated on related to Albania’s relations with neighboring and regional countries particularly Serbia and Kosovo. Dr. Rakipi said that in the region there is a concrete possibility for Albania to play a positive and constructive role. 

Albania has been consistently supporting western foreign policy objectives and according to Dr. Rakipi it the right to claim more rewards for this in the form of support. For the relations of Albania with Kosovo, he warned that we have to be careful not to take things for granted under the umbrella understanding that we are one nation. He explained that the true substance of relations with Kosovo beyond the patriotic parlance is very shallow and there are often trade wars at the borders for many food products and other market outputs. For the relations between Albania and Serbia, Dr. Rakipi reiterated the importance of the normalization of the relations for the countries themselves as well as for the stability and progress of the entire region. The countries have started on the path of collaboration - Dr. Rakipi said and the process will take time. 

Dr. Enri Hide, a lecturer at European University of Tirana and Associate researcher of AIIS presented on the topic of the relations of Albania with Greece and turkey elaborating on the growing power of Turkey and its involvement in the Balkans after the year 2000. Hide argued that Albania despite being small can smartly multiply its power in the IR arena. According to Hide Albania has played a balancing role between a power in retreat from the Balkans, Greece and a power who has been growing strong with cultural economic and even religious influence, Turkey. Also Albania serves as a countering weight in the axis of balancing Russia’s influence in the Balkans. Hide argued that the strong presence of Turkey in all the important economic and strategic sectors in Albania makes the relation with Turkey to be very preferential. In suggesting some advice to decision makers for drafting foreign policy Hide argued that public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy of Albania has been inexistent until very recently and much more needs to be done in those fields to achieve again a multiplier effect on the power. He said that the current moment presents very favorable conditions for Albania and should be used with care to generate the positive impact we need.

Dr. Klodiana Beshku, professor at University of Tirana and adviser at the MFA examined the process of European integration of Albania, delineating time cycles in which it has gone through from the weak engagement in the nineties towards a gradual development until the singing of the SAA and onwards. Dr. Beshku elaborated on the shifting importance of key terms used in foreign policy and alliances created. She examined the relations of Albania also with the United States and key countries in Europe which as Italy, Greece and Turkey. Professor Beshku highlighted that currently the process of integration is facing with a dual challenge of enlargement fatigue on the side of the EU and internal problems of the Western Balkans which often resist being portrayed in group. Beshku said that Albania can use the portrayal of being between west and eats instead of having complexes about it.

The panel generated a lively debate. Former finance and economic minister Arben Malaj argued that in terms of foreign policy actors, there is confusion and infighting between institutions such as Ministry, president and a decrease in the role of the Parliament which he portrayed as a negative development. Malaj also argued that the process of consultation for major decisions is very sporadic. Malaj urged the decision makers to proceed with much care in constructing relations with powers that are displayed an increased presence in the region such as China. Participants were interested also in the lack of investments from Arab countries in Albania despite the fact that the country is part of the Organization of Islamic conference. Moderator Arian Starova explained that Albania membership there is inactive and criticized the approach of Albania that neither steps out nor uses its presence there for its own benefit. 

AIIS Deputy Director Alba Cela concluded the symposium on a positive note, highlighting the changes and improvements in Albania 25 years after the big system change, while congratulating participants on their critical evaluation and reflections brought to the discussion table.

The papers and presentations of the event will be published by AIIS in the spring of 2016.

* This report has been edited and condensed for space. The full report is available through AIIS.




                    [post_title] => CONFERENCE REPORT: Albania 25 years after the fall of communism: Rebuilding the state and society
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 24 – Proponents of a major reform of the justice system in Albania are working to bring about consensus on a proposed legislative package, including constitutional amendments, following a reply by an international expert commission on three drafts sent to it by Albania's ruling coalition and opposition parties.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission issued its interim opinion on Dec. 19, expressing support for the effort of the Albanian authorities aimed at the comprehensive reform of the Albanian judicial system and agreed that the reform is needed urgently due to a critical situation that justifies radical solutions.

“The draft amendments represent a solid basis for further work in this direction; that being said, the proposals contained in the draft amendments need to be simplified and, at places, clarified; certain elements are to be regulated by an organic law or by ordinary legislation,” the legal opinion noted. “The whole institutional arrangements should be revisited and simplified.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and his chief ally, Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta of the Socialist Movement for Integration, have been strong proponents of the reform.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha has expressed concerns, but he said this week his Democratic Party is ready to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and called on the ruling coalition leaders to follow the Commission's recommendations.

"This is the road map for political parties, parliamentary parties should follow to successfully complete the judicial reform, Basha said, adding there should be consensus on “a comprehensive reform of the justice to fight corruption and to same time to prevent the political capture of justice system.”

Basha's comments came after he met with U.S. Ambassador Donal Lu, one of the international actors working to bring political consensus on the proposed changes.

Supporters of a consensus legislative package say it would give the changes more legitimacy as well as clear the 94-vote mark required in parliament to make changes to the constitution.

The opposition Democratic Party has said it is in favor of the reform but not the draft which has been prepared by the governing majority.

Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla has also criticized certain aspects of the draft changes, and added the draft had not received the full opinion of all the interested parties, including prosecutors. He also expressed concern that local and international actors are painting all those involved with a broad brush of corruption allegations.

Experts believe that a draft that gets the green light from the Venice Commission experts is more likely to pass with consensus.

Albania's justice system is plagued by allegations of corruption at all levels and enjoys low public trust.

Changing the image of the judiciary is seen as a key step in Albania’s road toward joining the European Union.

 

 
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