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ALBANIA


  
  

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
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)

Books on Albania


Update No: 119 - (30/04/07)

The pauper on the mend
Albania is a very backward country, for many years utterly destitute under the grimmest communist dictatorship in Europe. That came to an end, as all things good or ill must. But the years of transition to capitalism in the 1990s were grim too.

Salvation came from an unusual direction, the Kosovo War of 1999, which put the country on the map. Massive aid and aid personnel came to Albania under the spotlight of the world media, reducing the great risk of it all getting into the wrong hands, although a lot has of course.

Still growth of GDP has been around 7% per annum since then. Albania is no longer the poorest country in Europe.

Support grows for Nano's candidacy for presidency
But the old proclivities are coming back, albeit in a much milder form. The Unity for Human Rights Party leader Vangel Dule blamed the Prime Minister Sali Berisha of totalitarian rule and threatened to drop out of the governing coalition unless things changed.

There is a looming election for the presidency. Unity for Human Rights Party, representing Albania's ethnic Greek population, said it would stand behind the ex-prime minister Fatos Nano's candidacy for president of Albania. Leonard Solis, the head of party's parliamentary group, said the party would back Nano as the best choice for head of state.

The Unity for Human Rights Party, although a government ally, refused to support the Democratic Party's candidate Bamir Topi. The Democrats' candidate also ran out of support from the government ally - the Republican Party, which came up with its own candidate for president.

Media in Albania give a nationwide publicity on Fatos Nano's participation in a ceremony in Vatican on the occasion of 80th birthday of Pope Benedict XI. The media say the invitation to pontiff's birthday confirms Nano's worldwide reputation. he did, indeed, preside over the boom years until 2005.

The media against the Sali Berisha government 
Albania's main television station claims the government is putting pressure on it because it has criticised the ruling party, while the government insists it is only tackling fiscal evasion. Top Channel has long had poor relations with the authorities. It has been fiercely critical of the centre-right government of Sali Berisha ever since his Democratic Party narrowly won the 2005 general elections.

Top Channel, the most popular television station in the country, and the company that owns it, Top Media Group, say that they are under continuous and unwarranted investigation from the tax authorities, and that this is a form of intimidation. They also fear a new government sponsored bill, presented in the Albanian parliament in mid - April, is designed to cripple their finances by forcing them to sell half of their digital and satellite services for free. 

Analysts are divided over who is right in the latest media battle. Some say that Top channel should come under exactly the same close financial scrutiny as any other business and blame the station for exaggerating the matter. Others insist that the authorities are putting pressure on the independent media.

"Both sides are telling their own half of the truth," said Fatos Lubonja, an independent analyst in Tirana. "The government is right when it says that the media is distorting the truth," he added. "But Top Channel is right when it complains that the government is conducting a selective campaign against them."

Croatian and Albanian Ministers on Cooperation 
Croatia and Albania for long had very little contact. They were both formally communist, but of very different persuasion. Tito, half Croat and half Slovene, was the least fanatical of communist leaders, a fact spotted by the young Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, who advised Churchill to back him in the second world war. He allowed a market economy to thrive and allowed people to travel abroad. Yugoslavia was the only communist country that was not a prison.

To Enver Hoxha, leader of Albania, this was all pure heresy. Yugoslavia was the ultimate 'revisionist' state. Relations were put in deep cold storage, pending the overthrow of the revisionists by the true comrades. Hoxha came to have the same view of the USSR. He died in March 1985, the very month a certain Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. Things have not quite panned out as Hoxha would have hoped.

This all goes to explain why, although the total trade between Croatia and Albania was increased last year by almost 50% over 2005, it was at a level of only US$33.6 million, of which more than US$30 million consist of Croatian exports to Albania. This is a paltry scale of trade between near neighbours.

New contacts have been made to rectify matters. The Croatian Minister of Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship Branko Vukelic met up in mid-April with the Albanian Minister of Economy, Trade and Energetics Genc Ruli, who was heading the Albanian economic delegation in a two-day visit to Croatia. Business meetings were held, among other things, between these two economists. 

According to the ministers' statements, the meeting was dominated by topics of co-operation in the field of small and middle entrepreneurship and of energy, as well as the participation of Croatian companies in the privatisation process in Albania.

The two sides agreed, according to Minister Vukelic, to start the procedure over a co-operation memo of the two countries in the field of small and middle entrepreneurship; and the Albanian side was requested to support the initiative on establishing a regional centre for education of small and middle entrepreneurs in Croatia. Croatia has strong support from the European Commission for the realisation of this project, Vukelic pointed out, because of the progress that was made in this area in the past few years.

The Croatian minister announced that a more significant economic delegation will participate in this year's Autumn Fair, which should give additional incentive to the development of economic relations between the two countries, which are, measured by goods trade, still inadequate, in relation to their potential. 

Minister Ruli primarily expressed an interest on the Albanian side for co-operation with Croatian companies in the field of energy. On this occasion, he pointed out that the Ina oil company was invited during the meeting to join in the privatisation of the Albanian national oil company. Also, he said that Albania, among other things, is planning a construction of several hydroelectric power plants and expects that Croatian companies will show interest for the participation in these projects, especially those companies which are already present on the Albanian market, like Montmontaza, Dalekovod, Konstruktor etc.

Hoxha must be turning over in his grave at all this because all the parties involved are of course dreaded denizens of capitalism. Too bad.

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ENERGY

Albania fight power cuts with new plants


In a bid to reduce the risk of power cuts affecting its population and its attempts to attract western production facilities, Albania has begun constructing a new, big electrical power plant and will review all contract with foreign managers of its existing plants, Italian news agency ANSA reported on April 11th. 
According to daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the plan, coordinated by the Economy Minister, Genc Ruli, focuses on the construction of the new hydroelectric plant in Skavica, which will cost US$500 million and will be managed under a concession deal. The Tirana Government has also launched the tender for construction of a further 17 power plants and is currently renegotiating the contracts with several Italian investors, which are allocating increasingly growing funds to projects in Albania. 

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Albtelecom goes mobile as density soars

Albania's fixed line operator, Albtelecom, has been the key state-owned company slated for privatisation in line with the Albanian government's policy, in addition to the power utility company, KESH, the International Herald Tribune reported on March 30th.
Plans to sell the company were underway in 2005 when the former Socialist government signed a deal with the Turkish Calik Enerji Telekom consortium to sell 76 per cent of the company for US$120 million; however, when the new government came into office it did not recognise the agreement, saying it lacked transparency, competition and public discussion. Today, the government - instead of initiating a new tender - is renegotiating some of the contract's terms, a process which is expected to take up to nine months. Privatisation is expected to be completed by the end of 2007.
As the only fixed line telecommunications company, Albtelecom has a monopoly on the fixed line sector. The company posted a US$10.9m gross profit for the first half of 2006, due to network expansion and cutting costs, 46.3 per cent above its original forecast.
In the first half of 2006, the company installed 10,261 new fixed lines, up 80 per cent from the previous year and almost 30 per cent over initial targets. At the end of the year the company had almost 250,000 subscribers. Also offering a host of services, including broadband and internet, Albtelecom saw its internet revenue rise by 219 per cent year on year.
In terms of mobile carriers, Albania's major operators include Albanian Mobile Communications and Vodafone Albania. Albtelecom recently launched its mobile arm, Eagle Mobile. Mobile telecommunications in Albania is at a greater density than in any other country in the region as it is quite effective and covers almost all the territory throughout the country.
Ilirian Kuka, the company's General Director, says, "My priorities have been to change the image of the company and to introduce new products. WE are working on improving the infrastructure and increasing capacities. In ten years I see Albtelecom as a very modern company in line with other big telecoms firms in Europe, and also a big player in the Balkans.

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TRANSPORT

Air traffic expansion set to double passenger flow

"Flight traffic has increased and will continue to do so for two reasons. Firstly, Albania's success in managing its airspace and secondly, our strategic location," says Arben Xhiku, General Director of the National Air Traffic Authority (NATA),l the International Herald Tribune reported.
This increase in traffic is also a result of Albania's expanding political and economic relations. At the forefront of it all is NATA which, in order to meet tomorrow's challenges, has embarked on two groundbreaking plans. The first is the Master Air Traffic Management Plan, aimed at modernising Albania's air traffic system by 2010.
The other is the National Airspace Modernisation Program (NAMP), an Albania-U.S.-Europe partnership that first took flight in 2001. Two years later a US$50m contract was signed with Lockheed Marin to help Albania establish radar control capabilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics, install new navigation equipment and construct a new airport tower and traffic control centre.
The new system will triple capacity for flights over Albania, decrease flight times for airlines flying between north-western Europe and the eastern Mediterranean and provide Albania with self-sustaining over-flight revenues. This project will also allow NATA to improve safety by using the latest technology.
With European traffic expected to triple in the next two decades, Albania must take steps towards modernisation for the sector's economic development. The country's international airport in Rinas, which currently sees 750,000 passengers per year, will be able to welcome a southeastern European air-traffic hub. A growing list of companies fly to Albania including Olympic Airlines, Alitalia and British Airways.
According to Mr Xhike, "NATA is European in every sense of the word," and as Albania plays a key role in stepping up services and in European air traffic, it is very much a modern truth.

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