Saturday, June 25, 2011

FM heads to Albania in full-court press against PA UN bid

Lieberman also to visit Croatia, Austria, followed by Netanyahu trips to Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary in effort to win UN votes.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will travel to Croatia on Sunday, the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Albania and Austria where he will, among other issues on the agenda, try to convince those countries not to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in September.

Lieberman’s trip will be followed a week later by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to Romania and Bulgaria with the same message. Two weeks later Netanyahu is also scheduled to travel to Poland and Hungary and try to convince them not to support the Palestinian move.

The intensive diplomatic push comes at a time when Israel is keen on getting as many countries as it can to come out publicly against the move. So far the US, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have publicly expressed reservations.

Israel, according to diplomatic officials, has set as a goal 60 countries – what some in the Foreign Ministry have called a “moral minority” – to vote against, abstain or absent themselves from the vote.

Both Croatia and Austria abstained in 2009 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead, a vote that was seen at the time as a good indication of where Israel could and could not draw support. Albania voted against Israel in that vote.

Of the countries where Netanyahu is headed, Poland and Hungary both voted for Israel and against adopting the Goldstone report, while Romania and Bulgaria abstained. In that vote, the 27 EU countries split, with seven voting for Israel, five voting against and the rest abstaining.

Lieberman’s visit to Albania marks the first visit there by an Israeli foreign minister in 17 years. He will take part in an economic forum and will be accompanied by representatives of 16 Israeli firms.

Albania grants Taiwan visa free privilege

Taipei, June 24 (CNA) Albania has signed a visa-waiver agreement with Taiwan, becoming the 115th country to do so, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced Friday in a press statement.

Effective immediately, Taiwanese passport holders visiting the European country for less than 90 days will not need apply for tourist visas, making travel more convenient for the local population, said MOFA spokesman James Chang. Asked how many Taiwanese people actually visited Albania last year, Chang said only: "Not many."

Albania is the 115th country or territory to grant visa-free access or landing visa privileges to Taiwanese citizens, according to MOFA.

According to Chang, the agreement is significant for Taiwan because Albania used to have a "very close relationship" with China.

"Albania has proposed several times to exclude Taiwan from the United Nations and has maintained a friendly relationship with China for a long time," Chang said.

Taiwan lost its U.N. membership in 1971 and has since been unsuccessful in its attempts to rejoin the international body.

"Our overseas representative members have spent much time and effort to solidify the agreement with Albania, a country with no diplomatic ties with Taiwan," the spokesman said.

Taiwan, however, is only referred to as Chinese Taipei by the Albanian government.

The MOFA press statement explained that the name is acceptable to Taiwan and interpreted Albania's willingness to recognize Taiwan as Chinese Taipei as a gesture of goodwill.

Asked whether visa-free access will be granted to Albanians visiting Taiwan, Chang said the authorities will consider the measure only after the European country has submitted the relevant documents for review.

Friday, June 24, 2011

PM: We are on a steady course

Brussels (ANA-MPA/Special contributor I. Karanasopoulou/V. Demiris) -- Greek prime minister George Papandreou said that "very important decisions" were taken at the EU summit in Brussels, speaking to reporters late Thursday after the conclusion of the first day of talks.

"We believe that we are on a very steady course, although a difficult one, with many sacrifices, that will lead us to a strong and viable economy. We received the support of our (EU) partners, and this is a positive development for Greece's future, and not simply a 'green light'," he added.

The EU heads of state and government on Thursday agreed the basic guidelines for new financial assistance to Greece that will meet the country's borrowing needs up to end-2014, and reiterated its preparedness to disburse the 12 billion euros 5th tranche of the 110 billion euro EU-IMF bailout loan in early July, on condition that the Greek government's Medium-Term fiscal programme and its Implementation Law are passed by parliament by June 30.

The Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Program is slated for vote in the 300-seat unicameral parliament on Tuesday, June 28, after a two-day debate, followed immediately by the Implementation Law.

The EU leaders also agreed a draft statement of Conclusions, to be finalised on Friday, which contains lengthy reference to Greece, which acknowledges the "considerable progress" achieved in the last year and gave the go-ahead for a second assistance program covering up to the end of 2014.

Dodik Seeks Serbs' Independence 'Within Bosnia'

The President of Republika Srpska says Bosnia can only survive as a confederal arrangement with most powers devolved to the component units.

Vecernje Novosti
Milorad Dodik
Milorad Dodik

In an interview with Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti on Friday, Milorad Dodik said that Bosnia cannot continue to exist in the same way as it does now, and needs a different model of internal organisation.

"Bosnia can survive as a territorially united country, but with strong confederate units and with great autonomy for the Republika Srpska up to the level of full independence within Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Dodik was quoted as saying.

He went on to say that most people in the Serb entity supported the idea.

“We will demand competences that have been taken away, as well as transferring decision making to lower levels. If someone wants to preserve Bosnia, this is the only way to do it,” Dodik noted.

According to him, only defence, monetary policy and foreign policy should remain at the state level of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Everything else is unsustainable because a centralized Bosnia, dominated by the Muslims, won't work," he said.

The Bosnian Serb leader also said the fact that no government has been formed for months at state level proves that the country is currently unsustainable.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Greece: A geopolitical crisis

This week, while protests raged in Athens, the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou survived a critical confidence vote in the Greek parliament. The government can now try to impose further austerity measures.

A protest in Athens - the banner reads, 'get out' (Beta/AP)
A protest in Athens - the banner reads, 'get out' (Beta/AP)

European Union finance ministers have also agreed to a new round of assistance for Greece, and have put off, at least for the moment, the looming reality that private investors will have to share in the cost of resolving Greece's debt crisis. These steps have probably staved off the immediate prospect of a Greek default, or "managed restructuring" of an increasingly costly debt burden. But few observers are confident about even the medium-term outlook. Europe's slow and confused response to the crisis holds significant risks for the global economy - risks evident on Wall Street last week. But the geopolitical risks are just as great, and may be felt on both sides of the Atlantic.

Greek society may have reached a breaking point. The additional austerity measures being contemplated come against the backdrop of a shrinking economy and mounting unemployment, with little prospect of relief anytime soon. The progressive de-industrialization of the Greek economy, and declining competitiveness in key sectors such as tourism, do not bode well for recovery. Even Greece's famed shipping sector is largely based offshore, with limited returns to the domestic economy. Vigorous global growth might help to pull Greece out of its financial morass. This is a bet on developments far from Greek control. In the meantime, the renewed drive for austerity is unlikely to make for political stability.

Under these conditions, strikes and riots are not the only risks. Greece has a reservoir of anarchist violence and left-wing terrorism harking back to the ideological struggles of past decades. Terrorist networks along the line of the November 17 group, which targeted Greek and international figures in the 1990s, may have relatively few adherents. Yet Greece is a relatively small society of 11 million, and it does not take much to scare away investors and visitors or to destabilize Greek politics. At the same time, xenophobic right-wing groups have emerged more recently on the Greek scene, espousing the same violent anti-immigrant rhetoric heard elsewhere in Europe. Both extremes are capable of turning their anger against business and political elites who have remained largely untouched by the crisis affecting Greek society as a whole. Large-scale privatizations, at what many will inevitably see as fire-sale prices forced on Athens by foreign institutions, will only add to the potential for turmoil and terrorism.

An unstable Greece will have potentially significant implications for the future of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean at a time when transatlantic partners need a stable and capable Southern Europe to help manage revolutions and conflicts to Europe's south. Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are close neighbors. Athens has historic ties to the Arab world, and increasingly close ties to Israel. Greek-Turkish relations are vastly improved from the crisis-prone atmosphere of the past. In the southern Balkans, where there is much unfinished business in terms of development, democratization, and security, Athens has played an active, stabilizing role. An inward-looking, politically unstable, and possibly bankrupt Greece may find it difficult or impossible to play a positive role in these critical regions. The opportunity costs will be high for the neighborhood, for Europe, and for the United States.

In transatlantic terms, the stakes are high. Quite apart from the risk that a Greek default might trigger wider financial panic, mounting debt troubles in Southern Europe threaten the future of the European project as a whole. A decade ago, core actors such as Germany would have seen Southern Europe's troubles as a threat to the strategic objective of a closer European union. Today, budgetary goals and domestic politics appear to trump geopolitical vision. The lack of a concerted, systematic response to the debt crisis in the eurozone risks the progressive de-coupling of core and peripheral Europe. A more fragmented Europe will weaken an already fragile transatlantic relationship at a time when greater cohesion is needed to deal with challenges on Europe's borders, above all in Europe's Mediterranean "near abroad".

The strategic consequences of the crises affecting Southern Europe are not uniform. Troubles in Portugal may pose fewer systemic risks. But Spain and Italy - both under growing pressure from bond-rating agencies -- pose more critical tests by virtue of their scale and location. Washington may be tempted to treat the crises in Southern Europe as a problem for Brussels to manage. But beyond the eurozone, the stakes are strategic and transatlantic in nature. Recent comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the need for a much faster and more comprehensive approach -- more money and less hedging from leading European states - are exactly right. Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic need to look beyond the financial dimensions of the Greek crisis, and consider the geopolitical risks of inaction.

Ian O. Lesser is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund

Papandreou-Gruevski meeting

BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA) - Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his counterpart of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) Nikola Gruevski held 30-minute talks here on Thursday, within the framework of regular contacts at the highest level between the two countries.

According to reports, the Greek prime minister stressed that decisions by the Skopje government to erect statues of historical figures associated with Greek history in various locations in the one-time Yugoslav republic raises an issue of credibility and real adherence, by fYRoM's leadership, towards efforts to achieve a solution to the nagging "name issue".

Papandreou reiterated Athens' steadfast will for progress in negotiations and clarified that he expects specific steps from the other side, so that they will reach an agreement.

He stressed that Greece does not intend to participate in a "communication mobility" around the issue of the name, but looks forward to substantive negotiations, reiterating a solution is feasible provided that fYRoM's leadership exhibits the necessary political will.

German Demands About Kosovo Alarm Serbia

German MPs' statements that Serbia will not get a green light to join the EU unless it recognises Kosovo have shaken Belgrade, which has rushed to clarify the remarks.

Bojana Barlovac

Serbian officials have gone into overdrive following Wednesday's remarks in Belgrade by a delegation of German parliamentarians, who said that Serbia would have to recognize Kosovo's independence as part of its EU accession talks.

If not, Germany will not approve its accession to the bloc, they said. Following the arrest and handover of the wartime Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, on May 26, many EU officials said that Serbia had removed the main obstacle to its EU accession. EU ministers are supposed to discuss Serbia's candidacy on October 12. The issue of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and is recognised by 22 of the EU's 27 member states, has never been cited as a formal precondition for Serbia's EU integration. But the German MPs said recognition of Kosovo, which Serbia claims as a province, would need to happen for Serbia to close negotiations on EU membership. The promise of EU membership is a prime card in the hand of Serbia's ruling Democratic Party as it heads towards general elections expected in spring 2011. To preserve the picture of this scenario, top officials rushed to "explain" the Germans' statements. Bozidar Djelic, Deputy Prime Minister, said Germany wanted a solution to the Kosovo issue to be found - but was aware that Serbia will never recognise Kosovo's unilaterally declared independence. "Germany does not in any way request Serbia's recognition of Kosovo," he maintained. This clarification was followed by Borislav Stefanovic, head of Serbia's negotiating team with Kosovo. He said the first concrete results of the talks could be expected early next month at the next regular meeting of the two delegations in Brussels. "Our teams talk every day and we are also in communication with the European Union, which sees the whole thing as very constructive," he explained. Vuk Jeremic, Serbian Foreign Minister, also addressed the Kosovo issue after meeting the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, assuring both that the EU would not set any new conditions for Serbia and that Serbia would never recognise Kosovo's independence.

Fighter jet recovered from the sea

(ANA-MPA) -- A Mirage 2000 fighter jet that had made an emergency sea landing off the eastern Aegean island of Samos on June 9 was successfully recovered on Wednesday during a military salvage operation.

The French-made plane's two pilots had safely ejected from the fighter.

The warplane was pulled up from a depth of 75 metres during an operation conducted by the Greek armed forces.

Caption: A view of the recovery of the Mirage 2000, during an operation off the island of Samos on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. ANA-MPA / STR

IMF-Albania: Realistic budget. increase flat tax!

23. June 2011. | 12:05

Source: Alsat

The government should show realistic and careful attitudes while compiling budgets, because during the last years, there have been revisions and provision of additional funds in the middle of the year.

The government should show realistic and careful attitudes while compiling budgets, because during the last years, there have been revisions and provision of additional funds in the middle of the year.

This advice was given at the end of the last mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Tirana. Within few days the government is expected to declare a budgetary revision of Lek 20 billion.

“Our recommendation for this year is to cut budgetary expenses with the amount of Lek 20 billion. Having budgetary cuts at the middle of the year is not an ideal situation. Budgets should be more realist and they should not be changed in the middle of the year. In the last years, budgets have been based on optimistic income, which in many cases has not been realized and which brought obligatory cuts in expenses,” said the head of the IMF mission, Gerwin Bell.

Meanwhile, Albanian Finance Minister Ridvan Bode shared a different opinion. According to him, the budgetary revisions are a worthy and necessary practice.

“There will be annual revisions and they are good and transparent practices, even those that revise the budget in the middle of the year. For some years, these revisions required additions, and during the last two years, there were budget cuts,” said Bode.

Another recommendation in this difficult economic period was that of the increase in the level of taxes, but even this request from the IMF was rejected by the Finance Minister.

“The decrease of payment for social security did not bring the results we expected. It would be better to increase the flat tax in more than 10%. This change does not affect foreign investments. Even if it reaches a level of 12 or 15%, it would again be a low level. There is also need to work with the value added tax (VAT) scheme and the return of this tax to the businesses,” said Bell.

“We consider it possible to carry the necessary budgetary actions within the actual fiscal frame. This means, that there is no need to increase taxes. It is indispensable to revise the practices for some taxes, not the major ones, in order for them to be easily collected,” said Bode.

The head of IMF mission evaluated the achievements and developments of Albania in this period of crisis, but he insisted in decreasing the public debt from 60% to 50% within the next 5 years. Bode and Bell share different opinions even about the economic increase for this year.

The government’s prediction is 5%, meanwhile the IMF expert says 2.7%. He argued this declaration by saying that IMF gives the most pessimistic figure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kosovo: Thousands protest against corruption, demand unification with Albania

last update: June 22, 18:22

Pristina, 22 June (AKI) - Thousands of people protested on Wednesday in the Kosovo capital of Pristina against corruption, demanding the resignation of prime minister Hashim Thaci a ''thief'' and demanding his government 's resignation.

The protesters, organized by the opposition movement Vetevendosje (Self-Determination), also called for unification of Kosovo with neighboring Albania and demanded interruption of talks between Pristina and Belgrade.

Kosovo's majority Albanians declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, which Belgrade opposes. But Belgrade and Pristina have agreed to European Union sponsored talks on resolving outstanding problems which would improve lives of ordinary people.

Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti accused the government of corruption and crime, saying “politicians are the richest people in Kosovo. During the day they work as politicians and at night they are businessmen,” Kurti said.

“They are stealing from the budget by setting up tenders to their friends who later finance their election campaigns,” Kurti said. The protesters carried banners reading “Hasim the Thief” and calling for unification with Albania.

The protest passed without incidents and deputy prime minister Hajredin Kuci said it will be remembered only by insults hurled at the government.

“Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, with the biggest rate of unemployment, now we are leading in biggest corruption rate as well,” another Vetevendosje leader, Spend Ahmeti, told the crowd.

Albania, World Bank join to boost social, health sectors


The World Bank and Albania sign a $25m loan. Also in business news: a Regional Finance Fair and Matchmaking Event were held in Skopje and the economic downturn in Croatia deepened in the first quarter of 2011.

The project aims to help Albania improve health financing. [Reuters]

Albania and the World Bank signed an agreement on Monday (June 20th) for a Social Sector Reform Development Policy Loan worth $25m. The project aims to help Albania improve the efficiency of its social safety nets and strengthen the effectiveness and equity of health financing.


Economies in Eastern Europe will have to increase their competitiveness if they want to attract more foreign investments, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in its latest Eastern Europe and South Caucasus Outlook presented in Prague on Friday (June 17th). The governments in the region should try to overcome three main obstacles -- poor education, limited access to financing and lack of appropriate incentives.


Skopje hosted a Regional Finance Fair and Matchmaking Event last week that aimed to bring together businessmen from Southeast Europe with investors and financing institutions. The event, which was co-hosted by USAID, attracted over 100 participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia, providing them with an opportunity to explore new financial opportunities and ways to expand business networks in the region.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Albania: Letter of Archbishop Anastasios to Berisha for the profane movie


"The autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania is very concerned about movie «Ballkan Bazar». In the protest letter addressed to the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, the Minister Culture, the Ambassador of Italy in Tirana and interfaith Council of Albania, characterized the issue of film Edmond Budina as offensive and defamatory, "says the Albanian newspaper.

Given that the film is extremely sarcastic as priests and
relatives of the dead appeared to be blasphemous and immoral because haggle over the bones of the dead.

In the letter, the Holy Synod of the autocephalous Church of Albania mentioned in interviews the creator of the film that the total cost of 600,000 euros, 60% financed by the Albanian
State and that lying o manufacturer claims that the film is based
on real events.

Noted the desecration and sacrilege of the director and creator of shamelessly offends the orthodox clergy and the Christians of Albania. Notes:

"Edmond Budina trying to put a painful historical reality supposedly in the old village cemetery Kosinë, made illegal exhumations of graves of the old village and the bones were sold as belonging to Greek soldiers of the Albanian Front. For this there is a decision of the Prosecutor of the District Court of Permet, before five years, which restores the truth. The prosecutor Silvana Pani, taking into account all the information about the incident and assisted with forensic expertise, said in writing that "The research shows that during the excavations carried out in the church of St. Mary of the village have Kosinë made actions that reduce respect for the dead. "

And below:

"The goal of the film is cynical insult to the hundreds of Orthodox Albanian citizens, who in a democratic period and
money them, offended the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox clergy. "

Poll: Russia, Greece and China Deemed Serbia's Friendliest Nations

Serbians perceive Russia, Greece and China as friendly countries, while Americans and Albanians are seen as their biggest enemies, according to a recent poll.


Research carried out by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy has revealed that none of the countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence are viewed as friendly by Serbians. "What connects Russia, Greece and China is that all three countries have not recognized Kosovo," says Sonja Stojanovic, Director of the centre. Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, once viewed as Serbia's worst enemies, no longer appear on the list of the country's enemies. With the exception of Greece, no other EU member state made the list of countries perceived as being friendly to Serbia. "Kosovo is obviously very important for our citizens to declare how they view certain countries. Citizens have not forgotten that the former Yugoslavia disintegrated due to the will of the EU. If Serbia were, for example, to recognize the secession of part of France, there is no doubt that the French would not see us as friends," says historian Cedomir Antic. He goes on to note that America's involvement in the Yugoslav crisis was not a crucial factor at all, but rather the fact that the U.S. quickly became the strongest proponent of the disintegration of the country. The poll also split Serbia's political parties. According to the poll, voters of the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, and the Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, see Russia as the country's best friend. In contrast, voters of the ruling coalition and the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, avoided specifying which countries they considered friends or enemies of Serbia or those posing the biggest threat to the security of the country.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

No partition, exchange of territory, Kosovo president says

PRIŠTINA -- Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga has stated that partition of Kosovo and exchange of territory are not good solutions.

Atifete Jahjaga
Atifete Jahjaga

She told Priština-based Albanian language daily Kosova Sot that Kosovo would not discuss its internal issues with anyone.

Jahjaga stressed that she could not say whether Belgrade would request partition “although the parties in the dialogue do not have a mandate to do so”.

“We are not talking with anybody, especially not with Serbia as they say, about partition or exchange of territory. Those are not solutions and they will not contribute to stability and peace in the region. At the same time they do not represent a European perspective and they are not a good example either,” she was quoted as saying.

She assessed that partition of exchange of territories would not be good for continuation of the Belgrade-Priština talks.

“I don’t think that Belgrade and Priština have such mandate and I don’t think that the European mediator will accept the concept that belongs to past centuries and that can cause a chain reaction. If Belgrade opens the subject, taking into account the ethnic map, I don’t think that Serbia can remain with the current borders,” the Kosovo president stressed.

She stressed that the dialogue was important for both Serbia and Kosovo, their citizens and the entire region.

“I support and advocate for the success of the dialogue because that way we will overcome an unstable situation in some areas and normalize relations between the two countries,” Jahjaga pointed out.

When asked to comment on Serbian President Boris Tadić’s decision not to attend international meetings in Warsaw and Rome because Kosovo officials were there, the Kosovo president said that such decisions “represent a responsibility issue of the Serbian president himself before his people and country”.

“Every leader and his voters assess gain and damage of such moves. His actions have nothing to do with Kosovo or with my responsibilities as the country’s president,” she pointed out.

Jahjaga said that she had already been invited to the next Balkans mini-summit in Macedonia, in which representatives of Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania would take part.

“I am advocating that these countries form a mini-Schengen and other joint development programs in the field of tourism, education, culture and that way help each other on the European integrations path,” she concluded.

Tirana, SP: The elections may be repeated

If there are found serious irregularities during the recount of votes, the Socialist Party does not exclude the possibility of repeating elections in Tirana.
Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs in the Socialist Party, Damian Gjiknuri said this Friday that the repetition of elections is not an issue that may be determined by the SP but it is determined by the Electoral Code .

"This is an option that we do not arrange, just the Electoral Code does. After the CEC finishes the whole procces we will judge if this process is legal or not. Illegal means a process, such risks being considered by any judicial instance based on the Electoral Code, but I can not prejudge, "noted Gjiknuri.

Petersen: There can be no partition of Kosovo

Former UNMIK chief, Soren Jessen-Petersen is convinced that there can be no partition of Kosovo. "I never believed that this can happen. Because I want to believe in the ′big players′ in the international community, the European Union, the United States and others that have reiterated that there can be no partition, "Jessen-Petersen said in an interview for the "Voice of America".

He said that the best for both countries is to move forward on issues of EU integration and not to talk about partition.

Minister: Greater Albania poses risk to region

BELGRADE -- Creation of a “Greater Albania” would harm not only Serbs but also other neighboring nations, Serbian Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanović has said.

Goran Bogdanović (FoNet, file)
Goran Bogdanović (FoNet, file)

He added that this would also destabilize the entire region and that the Serbian government opposed forming any unreal countries.

“It is well known that the ever since the 'Prizren League', the Albanians tend to create a 'Greater Albania' and this is nothing new. But now everyone knows how dangerous such a project could be and how much it would threaten other nations and their cultures,” the minister told Belgrade-based daily Večernje novosti.

“The illegal declaration of independence of Kosovo was only an initial step by Albanians in making the mosaic of the ‘Greater Albania’,” Bogdanović was quoted as saying.

“The whole international community should therefore urgently send out a warning alarm,” he added.

“The international community must seriously address this problem and prevent the creation of some unreal state on the territory of another sovereign and internationally recognized country,” the minister stressed.