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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 6,124 4,695 4,100 109
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,740 1,380 1,340 120
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Alfred Moisiu

Update No: 108 - (30/05/06)

The turn-around of a poor country
If there is one country that has been doing well in the new millennium it is Albania. In the twentieth century it had the misfortune to fall into the hands of a particularly brutal and dire communist regime, run by a megalomaniac dictator, Enver Hohxa, who was for all that a cultured man, a schoolmaster, speaking several languages fluently and with a wide knowledge of world literature. 
The one and only boon he bequeathed his people was a sound educational system; he made his backward nation literate and numerate. In the new world of computers and the internet this is a big advantage.
He departed the scene in March 1985 just as Gorbachev came to power in Moscow, an event that was to sweep away communism throughout Europe, including in Albania, in the next few years. 
Albania had an unfortunate first decade of freedom in the 1990s, remaining a very poor country, the poorest in Europe indeed. The economy contracted disastrously under misguided Western tutelage of 'shock therapy' and privatisation that handed over much of the country's assets to crooks and bandits who came out of the woodwork, where communism had banished them, with remarkable rapidity. They had allies among the corrupt members of the previous regime.
A disastrous financial crisis broke in 1997 due to madcap pyramid banking schemes, that the Albanians with savings, quite untutored in the ways of capitalism, fell for, hook, line and sinker. The Socialist Party, heir to the Communist Party, made a comeback in that very year and ruled until 2005. They were lucky in their timing. The Kosovo War broke out in 1999 and proved a godsend for Albania, putting it definitively on the map. 
Foreign aid and credits, plus expert help from Western institutions, came to the rescue of the benighted land, this time with more caution and wisdom, having learnt something from previous mistakes. Albania has not looked back since, its GDP growing by 7% or more per annum in the 2000s.
The conservatives under Sali Berisha, premier in the mid-1990s, made a comeback of their own in elections last year. He is pursuing the same policies as the socialists before him - full integration with the West. Recent events have furthered this ambition mightily. 

US backs Albania, Macedonia, Croatia for Western alliances 
The major development is that Vice President Dick Cheney lent US support on May 7th to three Balkan nations, including Albania, seeking to join NATO and the European Union as he wrapped up a tour of ex-communist states dominated by his criticism of Russia and Belarus. 
Speaking at a summit of the Adriatic Charter group made up of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, Cheney told leaders their countries' entry would help revitalise the democratic values of the two Western clubs. He praised them for reforms to meet NATO and EU eligibility and said their involvement in US-led military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan was also "a very important step." "You who aspire to those organisations help rejuvenate it and help us re-dedicate ourselves to the basic and fundamental values of freedom and democracy," he said at the opening of the meeting in the picturesque Croatian port of Dubrovnik. 
Cheney's praise for the Adriatic leaders' efforts stood in marked contrast to the stinging rebuke of Russia and Belarus that he delivered to Baltic and Black Sea heads of state in Vilnius on the first stop of his five-day trip. 
Cheney made diplomatic waves at a time of increasingly chilly US-Russian relations when he accused President Vladimir Putin of backsliding on democracy and using Moscow's vast energy resources to "blackmail" its neighbours. Russia brushed off Cheney's remarks as "incomprehensible," but lingering tensions between the two former Cold War rivals could bode ill for a G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July. 

Russia's anger
Further integration of Moscow's neighbours into Western alliances could compound its anger. Many Russians worry the US push for global democracy is really aimed at achieving dominance in what they considered their sphere of influence before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a sphere that included Albania. Hohxa regarded Tito as a vile revisionist and always cleaved to Moscow.
Reflecting post-communist Eastern Europe's embrace of the West and persistent concerns about Russia, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha told the conference his government would "pay any price" to implement NATO's membership requirements. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the group hoped to receive a "strong signal" on membership prospects at the military alliance's summit in Riga in November. 
Croatia opened EU accession talks in October and hopes to join around 2009. It is also further along than its Adriatic Charter partners in its NATO drive. The three signed the US-backed Adriatic Charter two years ago after missing out on NATO's two eastward expansion waves. 


The US is giving help in another vital quarter, as the following article attests:-

US helps Albania tackle corruption
A US$13.8m agreement signed by Albania and the US Millennium Challenge Corporation is expected to help the country tackle corruption and improve the business environment. 
By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 08/05/06

Under a two-year agreement signed in April, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) will provide US$13.8m in assistance to help Albania implement a "Threshold programme" aimed at tackling corruption and improving the business environment. 
The funding is expected to start this summer, after USAID declares the winners of a tender for monitoring the project's implementation. The Albanian government has requested MCC assistance with fighting corruption in three areas: tax administration, public procurement and the business registration process. 
Corruption has threatened Albania's democracy and stifled its growth, said MCC's chief executive officer, Ambassador John Danilovich, at the signing ceremony. 
"Corruption also weakens foreign and private investment and undercuts the efforts of those laboring to promote a transparent, level playing field for their own development," Danilovich said. The government's plan is "a manifestation of Albania's dedication to moving forward and embracing genuine development, growth, and poverty reduction," he added. 
Prime Minister Sali Berisha describes corruption as "a cancer, a national emergency to be tackled." 
"The Albanians have been suffering from this phenomenon in the last years, while corruption has been causing a lot of damage to the country. The Albanian government is working seriously to make the fastest and the right response," he said. In fact, Albania has been about as lawless a country as Europe has ever known and a cheerful disregard for laws of any kind seems almost to have been bred in the bone. One wishes them well, but it will be interesting to see how the US$13.8m aimed at tacking corruption, is itself in due course actually accounted for. 
Albania slipped 18 places in October 2005 to 126th of the 159 nations in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perception Index -- an annual ranking that is closely watched in Eastern Europe. The international community has said that Albania must fight corruption, curb human trafficking and improve the judiciary in order to achieve its goals of joining the EU and NATO. 
The Threshold programme in Albania is expected to produce a number of results. Tax collection should increase from 30.4 per cent to 50 per cent; the cost of government procurements is to be trimmed by 20 per cent; and the number of new businesses registered monthly is to increase from 625 to 1,000. It currently takes 47 days to register a new business; under the programme, this should be cut to one day. 
The programme also seeks to meet benchmarks in reducing bribery in tax collection, business registration and procurement of government contracts. 
The MCC was established by the US Congress in 2004 to administer the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), set up to provide development assistance to countries that "rule justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom." If it successfully completes the Threshold project, Albania could qualify for further assistance under the MCA, which has given aid of up to US$1.6 billion to a dozen countries. 

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Albania-Italy sign 15.3m Euro deal for Vlore port works 

The Albanian and Italian governments signed a 15.3 million Euro deal recently to reconstruct the port of Vlore, the second most important in Albania, ANSAmed reported. 
The project funding agreement was signed by Albanian Transport Minister, Lulezim Basha, and Italy's Ambassador to Tirana, Attilio Massimo Iannucci. Some 300,000 Euro of the Italian funding will be granted for preliminary engineering and monitoring activities both during the launch of the tenders and during the works, while the balance will be allocated in the form of credit. The loan will be destined for engineering services for the executive planning and supervision of the works and for the main interventions of rehabilitation and reconstruction. The Vlore port project envisages the construction of a pier for commercial ships and for passenger ships, as well as improvement of the operations of loading, unloading, storage and customs clearance of goods.

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Italy loans 51m Euro for energy system 

The Albanian government has approved a credit agreement with Italy for the realisation of the three-year "Programme for Restructuring and Improvement of Albania's Energy System" at a total cost of 51.5 million Euro, ANSAmed reported.
The programme's objective is to integrate Albania's energy system into the Balkan regional market. The funding will be used for the construction of new headquarters for the Transmission System's Operator, monitoring equipment, construction of a new power station in Tirana, enlargement of the existing power plant in Elbasan and a new 400kW power line connecting them.

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Balkan presidents meet in Durres 

The presidents of eight Balkan countries met at an informal conference recently in the Albanian coastal city of Durres to discuss economic and tourism cooperation, New Europe reported. 
Bulgarian President, Georgi Parvanov, Croatia's Stjepan Mesic, Suleman Tihic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro's Filip Vujanovic, Serbian President Boris Tadic, Macedonian leader Branko Crvenkovski, Albania's Alfred Moisiu and Traian Basescu of Romania also discussed activities the region could undertake to speed up its inclusion in Euro-Atlantic structures, it was reported. The "informal meeting ... serves in the best way to bring us closer together and to integrate our countries in NATO and the EU," the Albanian ATA news agency quoted conference host Moisiu as saying in his opening address. Before the start of the conference, the participants also held separate meetings to consider bilateral cooperation.

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