Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Prodi talks energy, Kosovo, during Albania visit
Photo : Prodi Berisha in Tirana Monday, 4 December 2007
4 December 2007 13:49 Source: B92, BIRN
TIRANA -- Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and his Albanian counterpart, Sali Berisha, met Monday in Tirana

The pair vowed to increase cooperation over energy issues between their respective governments, BIRN reports.The Italian premier stressed the need for new energy sources to ensure the economic growth of both countries. “Albania cannot enjoy economic growth without addressing the lack of energy sources. Italy is also interested in new sources of
energy for its own needs,” Prodi said at a joint newsconference. During the meeting a memorandum of cooperation was signed by Albania’s Minister of Economy and Energy, Genc Ruli, and the head of the Italian power company Enel, Fulvio Conti.
Berisha welcomed the move to strengthen economic cooperation. “We have worked [as a government] to create an attractive climate for Italian investors in Albania,” Berisha said. Italy is Albania’s biggest trading partner. Albanian exports to Italy amounted to USD 574mn in 2006, and its imports were valued at USD 883mn. In a speech to Albania’s parliament, Prodi called on Albania’s politicians to step up the reforms necessary for their country’s integration into the EU.
“Justice reform, the fight against criminal elements and a modern electoral system should be at the top of the agenda,” the Italian Prime Minister said while addressing Albanian MPs. In a meeting with the Speaker of parliament, Jozefina Topalli, Prodi promised that Albania’s Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU - a key step towards eventual EU membership - would ratified by the Italian parliament during the coming week. At his earlier news conference Prodi had a message of restraint for Kosovo’s

independence-seeking leaders, saying that determining the UN-administered territory’s future status needs more time. “That process would be destroyed in an irreversible way, if a hurried decision was taken after December 10,” Prodi said.

The Italian premier was referring to the call made by several Kosovo Albanian leaders for independence to be declared after the Troika of international mediators, presents its report on the talks to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a week’s time. Prodi restated his government’s position that Kosovo’s status should be based on the plan for internationally-supervised independence, proposed by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which was subsequently rejected by Serbia and blocked by Russia in the Security Council. He added that Kosovo's leaders should take their decisions in coordination with the EU.
10 years ago........Prodi visited Vlora.......
VLORA, Albania (AP) — Italy’s premier met with rebel leadersSunday and promised Albanians they will see a markedimprovement in their chaotic country once a multinational force isfully deployed to ensure safe delivery of food.
Despite strong anti-Italian sentiment, Premier Romano Prodi andhis Albanian counterpart, Bashkim Fino, were greetedenthusiastically by some 10,000 people during a two-hour visit.Animosity toward Italy has surged here since a Vlora boat filledwith Albanian refugees collided with an Italian vessel last monthand up to 80 people perished. Eight European nations have pledged troops for a 6,000-membermultinational force — to be fully operational by the last week ofApril — that will secure the ports of Vlora and Durres and Tiranaairport. “The situation will really change for the better next week whenmost of the force is deployed,” Prodi told the packed crowd in thesunny city square.
Photo: Prodi accompagnated from rebels in Vlora city on April 12, 1997
Prodi, speaking from a balcony after his meetings with Fino andlocal rebel leaders, Prodi said the multinational force was coming“to help the Albanian people in this difficult situation and will notinterfere in the internal politics of the country.” The crowd, cheering and waving flags, demanded the resignationof Albanian President Sali Berisha, whom they blame forinvestment schemes that collapsed and cost tens of thousands ofAlbanians their life savings.

Vlora, 50 miles southwest of the capital Tirana, is the birthplace ofthe insurgency that has swept Albania in the past three months. Albanians took to the streets to protest the shady schemes, andmany overran army bases, stealing weapons and ammunition.More than 360 people have been killed and 3,500 injured in theensuing violence, and 13,000 Albanians have fled to Italy. Italian soldiers and rebels armed with Kalashnikovs escortedProdi and Fino through the streets before they boarded ahelicopter for Tirana.

Prodi called for a moment of silence in memory of the Albanianrefugees who drowned last month. He said Italian authoritieswould try to raise the sunken Albanian vessel.
Earlier Sunday, 40 French soldiers arrived in the western port ofDurres, 22 miles from the capital, joining 120 Italian paratroopers. Prodi said the Italian-led force will stay one month after electionsare held in Albania. “It is important to prepare for rapid, democratic and properelections,” Prodi said. “Speed is essential.”

The caretaker government is planning to hold elections and areferendum on the form of government in June, but politicaldifferences may delay the process.Berisha has not ventured from the capital in three months andopposes any deals with rebels.

He is opposed by the southern insurgents, has dwindling supportin the caretaker government and also is facing dissent within his own Democratic Party. More than 40 party leaders have criticizedhis authoritarian rule. The party met behind closed doors Sunday to discuss calls forBerisha’s ouster from the party leadership.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Antidote to nationalism

To avoid war in Europe we must give the Balkans hope, rather than hold the ring with troops
By Peter Preston

Monday December 3, 2007The Guardian
Here is a sad little tale with a big, sad conclusion. It begins a decade ago, when I did some Guardian Foundation work with the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe (Bacee) and joined its governing body. It organised seminars all over the newly free countries of Europe, brought study groups to Britain, and helped train politicians, judges and journalists in the rhythms of democracy. When central Europe was EU-embraced, it moved on to the parts that Brussels hadn't reached yet: the Balkans and beyond.

But then, suddenly, a minor mandarin arrived announcing that priorities had changed, that the Foreign Office grant that helped make Bacee possible was going, gone. Europe didn't matter any longer, it seemed. Only the Middle East counted when disposable funds had to be disposed of. And that, after many gallant efforts, turns out to be the end of active life. Bacee goes into indefinite hibernation next year. The Balkan problem - unlike the West Lothian problem - is deemed "solved" for all relevant financing and face-saving purposes.

Except that that's rubbish. Except that, in a few days' time, Kosovo will bubble over the brink again. Except that more war, in our own continent, seems bleakly imminent. Except that Britain's foreign policy "priorities", as detailed in rolling spending reviews, were bunk.
You learn many things when you hit the seminar trail in the Balkans, but first you learn that the fragments of old Yugoslavia see their future inside the union we regard with a curl of the lips. Slovenia joined in the last wave but one. Croatia, accession treaty drafted, stands on the edge of membership. Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and - yes! - Kosovo, are further down the queue but near the top of an urgent agenda. Serbia is key to everything and split: but the forces of relative rationality and reform define themselves by the European issue, too.
And, if you head south, there's the free nation we prefer not to think about - Albania: too much crime, too many problems. But that's not what EU diplomats say when they go to Tirana. They say that Albania, too, waits in union line.

So the links are clear, and so are our defences against anarchy. The Balkans belong to our Europe. They want it, and the chance of prosperity it offers. We want it and have told them as much. The policies we're pursuing in the region only make sense if that's true. Membership is our patent antidote to narrow nationalism. The EU that helped bring peace to western Europe long ago still has much work to do.

But then, as with the fate of Bacee, note how nothing connects. Political Europe is stalled over immigration, Turkey, reform treaties, economic lethargy. Croatia is pending because the European commission needs its structural reforms first. The FO is more interested in exporting balm to Basra or jets to Saudi. The Balkans have been left to drift and fester. Guess what that means today as Serbia fumes and Russia turns unhelpful? The only solid answer to the Balkan question is a European one.

But mumbling and grumbling far away - in France, the Netherlands, the UK - has utterly lost that plot. Our interminable domestic squabbles over reform don't stretch to Dover, let alone to the Danube. We are the authors of our own misfortune. Would Bacee, carrying on, have been able to make a difference? Probably not. But the association's biggest coup was starting a New Serbia Forum that brought together future movers and shakers as Milosevic fell. Bacee opened some Belgrade windows to a wider, more peaceful world. But who needs expertise or contacts when interest dies?

And thus that fateful old question is asked again: how to put a region - part inside our house, part waiting on the doorstep - together. By giving it cohesion and hope. By promising and delivering. By knowing what's important and what's blah. The lesson of Kosovo is clear enough and an eerie replica of crises the world never solves - Kashmir, say, or Cyprus - because troops just holding the ring are of no account. Take them away and you're back to square one. What you have to put in their place is a sense of direction: but that, when the chap from the FO with his closed cheque book and closed mind comes calling, is precisely what we've lost.