Saturday, October 6, 2007

Crucial choices
by Nikos Meletis
The crucial choices faced by the Greek minority in Albania were brought to the fore in a particularly intense way in the recent municipal elections. The continuing depopulation of the areas where the minority lives, the lack of infrastructure, the conflict concerning minority properties, the problems with their education and the central governments aggressive assimilationist policies constitute an especially negative environment for the Greek minority.
I f we add to that the indifference of the Greek government, the personality clashes and conflicting interests within the minority, the situation becomes even more depressing. Despite this, the Human Rights Union Party (KEAD), the political wing of minority organization Omonoia (Concord), managed to retain the bulk of its voters, despite the truly difficult conditions.The victory at Himare, was a crucial and symbolic one, since this area has never been recognized as a minority zone. However, much as this victory dominated the election news, it could not overshadow the intense divisions within the minority and the loss of votes to the Albanian parties, especially the ruling Socialist party.In some areas, such as Upper and Lower Deropolje (in the Gjirokaster prefecture), the presence of a very powerful Socialist Party cadre, MP Mr. Tsavos, has eaten into Omonoias electoral support. The personal conflict with KEAD president Vangelis Doule, who has lost twice to Mr. Tsavos in national elections, has contributed to that. In recent years, the Socialist government, with the construction of highways and the improvement of infrastructure, has allowed its local leaders, who are also financially very powerful members of the minority to boast that concrete improvements have been made.The level of rivalry between supporters of the Socialist Party and KEAD, through the local minority newspapers, with accusations and invective being hurled from both sides, was truly shameful.Of course, such a situation can only work to the advantage of the Albanian establishment, whose standing goal is the gradual assimilation, political and cultural, of the minority.These last elections showed that part of the remaining minority, which had emigrated to Greece, has returned. The minority, however, is also more likely to follow the Socialist or the Democratic Party and thus acquire a closer relationship with the Albanian state rather than follow Omonoias autonomous and, often, dissident presence. The future political representation of the minority is an important issue; it must avoid dispersal and degeneration through the penetration of the main Albanian parties. It is imperative for Omonoia to reach out to the other minority members who support the main parties.It is difficult for the Greek minority to forget that both big parties, like Enver Hoxhas communist regime had done earlier, tried to resolve the minority issue in a violent way or used it in order to exact all sorts of concessions from the Greek government.It is also vital for the minority to seek, to the greatest extent possible, a common representation transcending ideological and party differences. This role must be played by a new, renovated Omonoia.Many conflicts within the minority also have their roots in areas where property issues, and conflicts, are the most acute, as in the areas of Sarande and, especially, Himare. Plans to turn Himare into a tourist resort have whet appetites.During the 1997 revolt and the anarchy that ensued, many properties belonging to the Greek minority, especially in coastal areas, were illegally appropriated, by other minority members who had stayed in Albania. Overnight, hotels and other structures sprouted in these properties as well as in communal land.People with strong ties to the central government, hoping that this illegal appropriation would become permanent, have opposed KEAD and Omonoia, which insist on the return of property to its legal owners. Some land-grabbers, with the complicity of the Albanian authorities, sell land they do not own to Albanian buyers, leading ultimately to a colonization of formerly pure minority areas.Another issue of concern is the role of the Autocephalous Church of Albania. Archbishop Anastasios, a very important Orthodox leader, has made many significant contributions. The question is, what will happen after him, when he will most likely be succeeded by an Albanian Orthodox and the church will cease to be another voice of the minority. The Churchs effort to promote private education or to claim for itself the old communal (minority) property is laudable but certain section of the minority have reservations because they believe that the goals of providing a Greek education and returning property to its lawful owners are being undermined. When, for example, a vocational school opened in Dervitsani, with the initiative and sponsorship of the Archdiocese, the number of students in the Greek section of Gjirokaster University, which had been founded after a great deal of effort, fell dramatically.The policy of the Greek government remains trapped in a longstanding pseudo-dilemma:- Acting as the advocate and guarantor of the Balkan states within the EU, or- Representing the interests of the minority, if sometimes only symbolically, and in the interest of petty party politics.The exclusion of areas where KEAD is dominant from EU assistance programs, and the failure of the Greek government to intervene; the unwillingness to exert pressure on Albania to recognize the area of Himare as a minority area and to resolve outstanding education and property issues; the thought, expressed without preparation, to provide double citizenship, which may contribute votes in Greek elections but would ultimately lead to the disappearance of the minority from Albania; all are symptomatic of the governments frivolous approach to the minority issue over the past dozen years, which makes the minority feel abandoned.Even in this late hour, Omonoia must transform itself to adapt to changing conditions and Greece, finally, must take advantage of Albanias fervent wish for closer ties with the EU in order to demand and impose respect for the Greek minoritys rights.Only thus will conditions of security and prosperity be created, allowing Greek-Albanians who have migrated to Greece to return to their ancestral homes and create better conditions.This would eliminate a permanent source of conflict in Greek-Albanian issues as surely as willfully avoiding the issues will not.
PM Costas Karamanlis holds talks with former U.S. president Bill Clinton

Athens October 6, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis held talks with visiting former United States president Bill Clinton at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Saturday morning, focusing on current international issues. The meeting lasted for an hour and no statements were made afterwards. Clinton then paid a visit to the Acropolis.

On Friday evening, Clinton gave an address at a downtown Athens hotel on his own proposal on treating major international challenges in the 21st century. The address was attended by many government and opposition members, as well as by personalities of the country's political life. Later on Friday evening, Clinton had dinner with main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou at a hotel in the region of Syntagma Square.

On Friday evening, Clinton presented his own proposal on major international challenges of the 21st century in a speech made at a downtown Athens hotel, that was attended by many government and opposition members.

After his speech, Clinton had dinner with main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou at a hotel in the region of Syntagma Square.

CAPTION: Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis welcoming former U.S. president Bill Clinton at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Saturday, October 6, 2007. ANA-MPA/PM's press office/GOULIELMOS ANTONIOU.

Friday, October 5, 2007

NATO exercises with partners in Albania

19 Jun. 2007 ALCC HQ HD continues lead support to COLW 07/ COLR 07
NATO announced today that it will conduct two exercises in the framework of the Partnership for Peace programme called Cooperative Longbow 07 and Cooperative Lancer 07 (CO LW / CO LR 07) in Albania, during the period 07 to 30 October 2007.

Approximately 1,100 military personnel from the following nations will participate in the exercise: Seven NATO member nations: Canada, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Twelve Partner nations: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1 , Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Montenegro, Switzerland and Ukraine.
One Mediterranean Dialogue country: Israel.
Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will send observers.
Based on a fictitious United Nations mandated, NATO-led crisis response operation, the aim of these exercises is to promote interoperability between NATO and Partner forces when conducting a complex and dynamic operation. CO LW / CO LR 07 will provide a good balance between NATO’s training requirements and Partner training needs, incorporating real-world operational experience.
Lieutenant General Roland Kather, Commander, Allied Component Command – Land HQ Heidelberg will command CO LW / CO LR 07.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

High risk

by Athena Kalaitzoglou
If in the other Balkan countries, business development faces many hurdles, in Albania it is a high-risk adventure. The complete lack of a legal and institutional framework for the attraction and implementation of business plans in the neighboring country allows the Albanian government to engage in all sorts of arbitrary actions at the expense of the unsuspecting investors. As a direct result, the initial cost of investment balloons.

The businessmen who wish to expand their activities face conditions of opaqueness and under-the-table dealings that cannot be imagined by any sort of business planning. The reason for this is that the Albanian states coffers are empty and, thus, the only way to get some revenue is through heavy fines imposed on foreign investors who find reality is a lot different than agreements on paper, or regulations.Giorgos Mylonas, chairman and CEO of the Alumil group has a significant experience from the Albanian market, where he has been actively trading over the past eight year and is now developing a vertically integrated aluminum profile factory at Tirana.

He is, therefore, one of the very few Greece businesspeople who had the chance to closely follow developments in Albania and, of course, the evolution of the business climate there.I dont know if the Albanian government wants people to investment in the country.Why I say this? Because the legal framework is nonexistent. Therefore, to push your investment you either pay under the table or you undertake the costs incurred by delay and lack of organization. This way, however, the cost of investment multiplies, he says.Officially, the prospective Greek investor in Albania has two outlets to get information: the commercial attaché at the Albanian embassy in Athens and our own commercial attaché at Tirana.(The investor) will only get some rough information. If he decides on the basis of this information, he will make a mistake.

Things dont operate as on paper. Take property, for example. If the investor buys a piece of real estate, someone may emerge at any moment and claim ownership on the basis of some past titles.The investor will then have to expend a lot of energy to clear up the ownership. In this case, the piece of property may end up costing him three times as much.Moreover, he may believe he has electricity supply and find at some point that this is far from certain. So, he must find ways to produce energy himself. Albania has a very big energy problem, quantity- and quality-wise.If you want to make an investment which involves automation, which means uninterrupted power supply is important, youll have problems. Another thing that will stretch your budget.Given that in Albania things are a bit anarchic, you do not, for example, take any biological treatment or waste disposal measures, because no one does. You will suddenly, however, realize that you are in danger of paying fines as high as any company operating in, say, Germany, discharging heavy industrial waste.

The Albanian agencies, Mr. Mylonas remarks, are constantly looking for excuses to obtain revenue.The Albanian state administration has an enormous cash flow problem. As a result, it even violates its contractual obligations, such as VAT refunds. So, you are forced to go to the courts, win the case and decisions are not enforced because you cannot claim you money from the state. Is this the reason why Greek business activity in Albania is so limited?The market is not organized. Transactions, to a great extent, take place in the black market. Sales take place without invoices, no one monitors anything, no one controls anything. This may be an advantage for people who operate this way, but not for the serious investor.Italian businessmen dominate the Albanian market. This is easy to explain. Italian products arriving at the port of Durres do not go through any customs inspection. Therefore, the Italians have greater access. In our case, in both border crossings at Kakavia and Kastoria inspections are very tough.Why, then, should a foreigner or undertake the risk of investing in Albania?The market exists. It has a certain size. Moreover, Albania has the best access to Kosovo, where we forecast great construction activity. Also, the Albanian economy is a protected one, there are import tariffs, which means a producer there has a very serious cost advantage over imported goods.In any case, things are improving compared to, say, a couple of years ago and I am certain it will be even better in two years time.What is Mr. Mylonass advice to prospective investors in Albania?

They should first acquire a commercial presence to see how the market operates and then invest productively.Alumil Albania is the groups subsidiary in the country. The factory under construction is expected to begin operating towards the end of summer next year; 50% of production will be absorbed by the local market and the rest will be exported to south Serbia and Kosovo. The total cost of the investment is estimated at _6 million.In order to ascertain ownership of the piece of real estate Alumil acquired in the Albanian capital, it had to take the case to courts.We even found the original owners great-grandfather before he found us. That was very important, Mylonas says.
The Albanian National Army (ANA) claims it goals for independence of Kosovo

Photo: A paramilitar ethnic albanian figter
RTV Kosovo News

“We want to protect the borders of Kosovo Independence from serbs invasions of “Tsar Llazarov paramilitary group” said the ultimatum of 10 members armed (unknown) of ANA showed at the Kosovo RTV of Prishtina.
“We are not against NATO and international forces that help Kosovo to take independence” – said the ultimatum.

The Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu has reacted about declaration of ANA speaking as “a declaration, which is against European perspective of Kosovo”.

Monday, October 1, 2007

ANALYSIS Raising Balkan antagonisms & the energy nexus

By Ioannis Michaletos
October 1, 2007 Originally published in World Security Network Foundation
A mark of our age is the interconnectivity of the political, social and economic global units, based on the expanding networks of telecommunications, transportation and in the case of the current article; energy. The future of the Balkans and the developments to occur in issues such as Kosovo, strongly depend on the emerging landscape shaped by the antagonisms of the stronger nations and based on the effective control of energy routes. Those include oil & natural gas pipelines and the electricity networks between the states of that region. It has to be noted though, that politics and business sometimes might differentiate, and that further complicates any assessment, especially in a traditionally turbulent region such as the Balkans.
Kosovo's energy outlook
At that point it would constructive to present the economic aspects of the Kosovo issue- A major theme of the present day Balkans- and how international politics and capital mix and influence one another. The Kosovo authority on late 2006 announced the initiation of an international competition regarding the privatization of the energy sector of the province. That includes the creation of a new power station with an estimated dynamic of 2,100 MW, the innovation of an older facility, as well as, the manufacture of a lignite production station that will supply the aforementioned power facilities. The total estimated business plan is some 3 billion Euros, a substantial amount that will be compensated by the future high energy demand of Kosovo and the ability to export electricity to Albania, Montenegro and possibly Bosnia-Herzegovina, another three small nations with rising energy needs. The energy market at stake on this privatization is of around 10 million people as the European Union Mission in Kosovo has reported and made numerous briefings on the aforementioned issue.
Regardless of the legality of the privatization initiative, since the province is still under Serbian sovereign rule under the 1244 UN Resolution; it is important to note that the competitors for the energy investment in Kosovo, come from countries that enjoy more or less cordial relations with USA, such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Greece, and of course American companies. Russian or French companies were not present and the winner will certainly follow the existing policy of USA, meaning that it will pursue energy plans according to the planning made by the administration in Washington. Again it has to be stressed that as long as there is not any definite solution in the status of the Kosovo province, there could be not definite outcome in the energy affairs, that need a stable political climate to unfold their projects and offer long-term viable business plans for the corporations involved.
Moreover, the energy sector development potential is based on Kosovo's enviable reserves of lignite, which are estimated at around 12 billion tones. The lignite reserves can be exploited in surface mines, thus providing a very cheap source of energy for thermo-electric power plants. At an exploitation cost of 1, 1 Euro/GJ of energy, Kosovo's coal is definitely the most economical in the region. Investments in energy and mining sectors are highly profitable and will make Kosovo a significant regional energy supplier, as a last year's briefing from the USA State Department concluded. Kosovo now has two thermal power-producing blocks, "Kosovo A" and "Kosovo B", built between 1960 and 1984, with respective capacities of 800 MW and 678 MW. Currently their combined output cannot exceed 640 MW, due to physical deterioration.
The existing reserves of coal would enable the expansion of the generating capacity by up to an additional 2000 MW. This would require investments in opening new coal mines. Lignite is currently mined at two locations in the vicinity of the power plants (Mirash and Bardh mines). These two mines have largely been exploited and new mines will have to be opened to provide adequate coal supply for the existing and possible new power plants. With adequate investments, lignite mining will again become a large and profitable business in Kosovo and the Balkan Investigative Report Network assumes for bright prospects for Kosovo's energy future, when and if the reconstruction of the existing power units takes place.
External factors: Russia, Germany and France
Russia now, since the ascendancy of Putin in the Russian Presidency has proved to be an apt player in the economic game that is being unfolded through the construction of a variety of pipelines transferring hydrocarbon from East-to West. Nowadays at least 25% of the European Union’s energy needs in natural gas & oil are being met by Russia and in some cases such as Slovenia; this percentage reaches 60% (Gas) or even 100% for Romania and Slovakia. Moreover the projector for the next generation is negative for the EU since its energy dependency levels will increase from 76% (Oil) to 93% in 2030 as the European Parliament Report revealed in its research on the EU energy dependency rates. If one adds the political perils concerning imports from the Middle East and the proximity of the Russia market; then the influence of the latter seems to be enchasing, at least for the short and middle term.
The EU-Russia relations are inexorably related to the Balkans, because of their importance as a hub from which energy projects are going to facilitate the transport of energy. Furthermore the fragile political conditions that the Balkan states are experiencing will always prove to be a trigger box for the European states that so far have failed to address the regional conflicts properly, meaning peacefully. It is essential to draw the attention to the reader that the whole of the South Eastern European area contains multiple international missions, heavy militarized zones and is also one of the main axes by which narcotics and illegal immigrants traverse from East to West. Therefore the amalgamation of energy security considerations and the other forms of security nowadays truly preserves a unique placement for the region for years to come. That of course includes the great attention of all nations that have international interests or aspire to expand their influence further.
The Kosovo negotiations and the diplomatic marathon that has begun, centered around the resolution around this Serbian province, seems to be heading towards infinitum talks; unless the Albanian side decides to negotiate vis-avis with Belgrade for the fate of Kosovo based in the protection of nation sovereignty, which is after all the cornerstone of the United Nations principles and the sine qua non for the peaceful existence of all nationalities in the present day South Eastern Europe. What attracts interest so far is the formation of diverging interests between the major power units affecting the Balkan politics and consequently the underlying importance of the energy factor in the tactics used by the aforementioned.
First of all, the new President of the French Republic, Nicola Sarkozy, drifted considerably from the previous Chirac Administration in relation to the Paris Balkan policy. In the recent G-8 meeting he proposed several months delay of a Kosovo resolution, without of course providing any concrete assurance for a final positive stance of France in the Albanian demands for independence. For the time being it seems that the French diplomacy wants to buy time so as to better place itself in the changing Balkan scenery, predicting –As it is going to be examined below- the relative decline of the American influence and the rise of the German and the Russian influence in the region. Also France experienced a significant political change with the recent ascendancy of Sarkozy in Champs Elysses, and none can exclude a wider turn of the French policy and a re-examination of its global priorities. For the moment it is best to conclude that Paris begins slowly to acquire a role in the Balkan geopolitical landscape.
Secondly the “Ahtisaari affair”, relating to the revelations around an alleged bribe of the Ex-Finnish President by the Kosovo-Albanian organized crime; has caused a stir in the Balkans, not just for the probability of the verity of the accusations, but also around a possible United Nations cooperation in the whole affair. Supposedly the German BND headed by one of its chief operatives in the Balkans leaked to the Bosnian journal "Focus" the information around Ahtisaari. The UN envoy replied at the accusations 6 full days afterwards as it was reported in the Finnish press, by calling them “Rubbish”, although he didn’t mention around the bare facts and most importantly he hasn’t asked for a judicial protection or even pressed charges against the individuals claiming him to be corrupt. The latest reports from Finland indicate for the withdraw of Ahtisaari from public life and the consequent end of his mediation role in Kosovo. Moreover, for the time being no official or unofficial statement exists from international bodies, and one has to take into notice the report by BND on mid-2006, that made an extensive presentation of the Albanian organized crime activities in the Balkans and Kosovo, thus damaging severely the reputation of the Albanian side while it was negotiating with the Serbians and the international community. That report as well was surfaced publicly in the German newspaper "Berliner Zeitung". Further, additional German troops are heading to Kosovo after a decision by Berlin that anticipates troubles in the Province due to Albanian resentment for the fading hopes of independence, Deutche Welle confirmed a few weeks ago. On the other hand, high-level German diplomats & politicians occasionally make remarks that are for the independence of Kosovo thus appeasing the sentiment of the Albanian populous. Two things can be assessed concerning the German tactic in the region. It wants to maintain links with all sides, and most importantly it has already reached unofficially a modus vivedi with Moscow on certain regional affairs. The latter, would include Berlin acting as the main EU voice in the Balkan region and the ability to get in touch with Moscow much easier than Paris or even London.
Russian energy expansionism: Common interests & differences
Russia from its point of view, it continues its drive into becoming Europe’s energy supply powerhouse and the Balkans seem to be the perfect terrain in laying down the basis for that. Of course energy is one aspect of Moscow's expansion that ultimately wants to regain as much as possible geopolitical space it has abandoned since 1991.
A few days ago another grand deal was signed between Athens, Sofia, Rome and Moscow, relating to the creation of a massive pipeline transferring natural gas from the Burgas port to Northern Greece and up to Southern Italy, named “South Stream”. The pipeline will have a total length of some 3,200 km and it will be pumped with some 30 billion cubic meters of gas each year from the Russian reservoirs, the Eurasian Daily Monitor service of the Jamestown Foundation reported.
Moreover the total cost will exceed 10 billion USD and it is interesting to note that it will affect negatively Turkey and Iran. The first country will be affected because the proposed pipelines will by-pass its territory, thus degrading to an extent its role in the regional energy politics. Teheran will also suffer from a partial exclusion from the European market that will be taped for the time being by Russia. Moreover Italy options for Russian gas imports and in general the European common energy policy is heading towards its final end, after the similar moves by Germany as well.
The pipeline will traverse sub-water the Black Sea and end in Burgas port in Bulgaria. Afterwards it will split most probably in two parts; one heading towards Southern Austria or Northern Italy and the other one passing through Greece and terminating in the Otrando port in Southern Italy, just opposite the island of Corfu. This massive project will be commenced in late 2009 and will be financed by the Italian ENI Corporation and the Russian energy giant, Gazprom.
Over the past 4 months another two important deals were reached concerning energy routes in the Balkans. Primarily, the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline transferring oil from Burgas in Bulgaria to the Aegean Greek port of Alexandroupoli and with a 51% Russian stake. Also the initial agreement was reached for the Constanja-Trieste pipeline that will connect the Black Sea with the Adriatic via the central Balkans. Lastly the Turkish-Greek-Italian natural gas pipeline will support the exportation of Azeri energy to the West, again through the Balkan terrain.
From all the above schemes, only the last one has the full American support, whilst the rest have for the moment, the tacit disapproval of Washington. That can be explained by the persistence the USA has followed in securing the interests of the Albanian side in the Balkans – Or simply not planning forward-, thus disengaging itself from the regional culminations. The assessment of the American policy on the past decade was initially drawn on the fact that Russia is weak and Europe not willing to invest political capital in the Balkans. On the contrary, the modern political climate favors Russian expansionism whereas the main European actors, and most importantly Germany, seek energy sources and new markets in order to survive the very competitive global arena as it being shaped by globalization, as well as, the emergence of the giants of the East (China & India) and the unpredictable Arab-Islamic world.
The American strategic option
Since the political strategy of the 90’s is effectively discredited, the USA foreign policy experts are in the sensitive position to reshape their aims without at the same time being seen as blaming themselves for the mistakes made, regardless of the Administration in charge. In simple terms, USA faces an antagonism in a region it invested heavily in political, diplomatic and military terms. The possibility of an American radical change in its Balkan policy should be excluded since large nations never admit past mistakes for reasons relating to their international prestige and posture. Therefore an engagement with Russia in relation to the Balkans, energy routes, and Kosovo should come in hand gradually and certainly after careful considerations of possible trade-offs and negotiations between Washington and Moscow. The meeting between President Bush & Putin in Maine on the 1st-2nd of July revealed a sense of agreement around the Iranian nuclear issue and could prove to be a critical stage for the implementation of a paradigm shift in the American policy and in the locality of the Balkans in particular. Lastly it is interesting to note a contradiction of the USA foreign policy in a peripheral affair. As far Kosovo is concerned, Washington supports independence, along with Teheran and many other Islamic states, that seek to benefit from the creation of stronger bonds between the newly-created mini-state in the Balkans, which is strongly influenced by "Islamic charities" and organizations aiming in exporting Sunni Wahhabist or fundamentalist Shia nucleus in Europe. On the other hand the USA is trying to curb Iranian influence in the Middle East (i.e. Lebanon), even though this is a far more difficult task.
The strategic aim of the United States is to retain –At least- its influence in the Eurasian mass and the Balkans are an integral strategic field for that. The importance of the region is vast in comparison with its population, due to its use as a hub for the energy needs of the West and the Russian ambitions. Moreover the proximity to the Middle East and North Africa, reserve a truly unique placement for the Balkans in the strategic considerations of the global power-architecture cores in London, Washington, Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Beijing increasingly. The coming months will reveal more of the intrigues involved, and most importantly the winners and the losers of the “Energy game” of the 21st century.
In general, for the time being the situation of the state of Balkan affairs is more in flux than even since the beginning of the Rambouillet negotiations in late 1998, and there are numerous scenarios that could unfold depending on the extent of the Russian ambitions, the willingness of the USA to negotiate or manipulate developments and the ability of the Europeans to exert influence in between. Last but not least the other non-state actors such as the organized crime syndicates, the Islamic terrorist groups and the plethora of international NGO’s will be also assessing the situation since their vital interests depend on a final “Balkan solution”, albeit differently for each one, in their own unique way.
Balkan prospects and practical steps
It is seems that the Balkans are entering into a classic era of antagonism between the "Great powers", as if history never forgets to repeat itself, so as to provide concrete lessons to the younger generations as well. The region is in need of large thorough and conclusive series of agreements between the stakeholders, i.e. the Balkan countries and the global powers that have vital interests in there.
· A series of high-level roundtables, between diplomats of all sides should commence, in order to assess the situation and propose solutions that will aim to compromise the antithetical interests of most parties. It should not only be targeted for the Kosovo issue, which is a part of the wider "Balkan architecture" relating to the European energy security and beyond.
· The Heads of States in the region should aim to interconnect further their power infrastructures, albeit after a modernization scheme that could be provided by the EU in most respects.
· The American and Russian President should be encouraged by the international community to engage further in issues concerning the European Continent and the Balkan locale in particular. An American-Russian confrontation will not be a positive development and will quickly result in political instability and conflicts in the already fragile Balkan political scene.
· The EU should fast assume all responsibilities from the UN in the region. The United Nations have not been an adequate international force to deal with the explosive problems in the Balkans. A European-led initiative in a political, economic, diplomatic and cultural level is perhaps the only alternative for the Balkan people, and a viable solution for the Kosovo issue.
· The spread of multiple oil & natural gas pipelines traversing the Balkans should be encouraged, so as, to offer a pluralistic environment concerning the European energy security considerations. In parallel, importation of energy commodities from states not under the Russian aegis should be assisted in order to balance imports and secure alternatives.
· The respect for territorial integrity should be viewed as an integral part for the Balkan & European stability. As Kosovo is concerned; there could be many legal and political options under which the rights of the majority and minority could be respected without the need of map redraws. The EU again is to play a fundamental role in this.
· Lastly there should be a serious public debate - In Europe at least-, as to what role should the Balkans play in the 21st century. Judging by the geopolitical proximity to the Middle East & North Africa, it might be wise to consider them as both a forefront and a gateway of Europe in the Muslim world. That surely needs considering the long-term prospects of the Western-Islamic relations, and how the Balkans could both became a model for co-existence and a region that could offer protection in times of crises or dramatic upturns.
World Bank Backs Albania Infrastructure Projects
Photo: Orsalia Kalantzopoulos
01 10 2007 Tirana_ Albania has received fresh promises of support for its infrastructure projects from the World Bank, after Prime Minister Sali Berisha, met with the Bank’s chief, Robert Zoellick, and other officials in New York.
Confirmation of support for Albania’s forthcoming secondary road renovation scheme, the “Feeder Roads Project”, came on Sunday from the World Bank’s Director of the South-east Europe Country Unit, Orsalia Kalantzopoulos.

“The government should go ahead and start applying this project, while the World Bank will finance it retroactively”, she said.

Kalantzopoulos.also backed Albania’s largest road construction project to date, the Durres-Morina highway.

“We see this project as very important both for Albania and Kosovo”, said the World Bank official.

The project, which includes a 7-km-tunnel, is being built by the Turkish American consortium Bechtel-Enka, and will connect Albania’s port of Durres with Kosovo.

For his part, Berisha informed World Bank officials about his government’s efforts to invest in the energy market, and asked Kalantzopoulos for assistance in the evaluation of tenders and the negotiating process with the companies that will be chosen for the projects.

At their meeting last week, the World Bank’s President, Robert Zoellick, encouraged Berisha to press ahead with reforms and the fight against corruption.

The Bank is already providing €120 million for the construction of the Vlora Thermal Power Plant, Albania’s largest investment in the energy sector over the past two decades.

Albania has been suffering from a severe energy crisis in recent years, due to a big rise in demand for electricity.

In the past few months the country has had to cope with extensive power cuts, sometimes lasting up to 16 hours a day.

According its National Energy Strategy, Albania will need more than €1.1 billion in investments in its failing power grid to completely eliminate power cuts.

The Ministry of Finance says the energy crises cost the country 1 per cent of its GDP growth in 2006.