The Concluding activity of the First Cycle, of the Academy of European Integration and Negotiations (AIEN) 2018 took place on February 19-20, 2018 in Tirana. This activity was attended by 53 participants of AIEN, as well as senior representatives of Albanian politics, foreign representatives, academics, civil society and other stakeholders. The introductory speech was held by Mr. Gledis Gjipali, Executive Director of European Movement Albania who presented the program funded by the European Commission in the framework of Erasmus. He explained to the participants the Academy’s main goal, that is to say to strengthen dialogue between academia, civil society and state institutions regarding the European integration process of Albania, focused on membership negotiations.
Part of the opening speech was the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, Mr. Ditmir Bushati. During his speech, Mr. Bushati emphasized the fact that while in the European Union is not the same enthusiasm for EU enlargement as in 2004, Albanian citizens in particular and of the Western Balkan countries in general, want EU integration even more than the citizens of Member States themselves. He praised the EU Enlargement Strategy published on February 2018, as an opportunity that provides a horizon in which each of the countries and all of them altogether have the opportunity to use the instruments in function of their enlargement perspective, placing the focus not on the intended dates per se, but as an incentive to move forward and focus on the reformation process. Another peculiarity that the minister brought to attention was the fact that there are still bilateral disagreements in the region related to issues of citizenship recognition, co-operation with regard to international tribunals and European or non Europian affiliation in concrete actions. To Mr. Bushati, the strategy draws lessons from all other enlargement processes by resolving or addressing bilateral issues from the countries themselves, at a moment before these countries join.
Panel I: Role of Albanian Parliament in EU Integration process
The first AIEN thematic panel which highlighted the role of the Albanian Parliament in the process of European Integration and the National Integration Council was moderated by Ms. Mona Xhexhaj, Coordinator of AIEN,
Former Minister of EU Integration, Parliament Member from Social Movement for Integration Ms. Klajda Gjosha emphasized the fact that the parties have always been in favour of the country’s EU integration, but the most important thing is for Albanian citizens to be in favour as integration will also include a series of distressing reforms that will affect their lives. Ms. Gjosha added that the responsible individuals who will deal with the EU negotiations must be firm, highly capable in their field of expertise and insusceptible of political parties and reliable.
When asked about the 12th meeting of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, on the way in which both sides look for a more positive continuation towards integration, Ms. Elisa Spiropali, Member of Parliament of Socialist Party responded that integration is a catchphrase for the Albanian politics. She went on to say that in Albania there is not enough talking with citizens about what is the integration process to them. According to her, the Integration Committee and the Permanent Stabilization and Association Committee have defined tasks. European integration is assessed as a national issue for Albania. While the European Union reports on Albania’s steady and undergoing progress, she expressed her beliefs in the opening of negotiations, but of course this is at the discretion of the Council and the member states. She concluded her speech by saying that integration is a choice and is in the hands of political leaders to show their commitment toward European integration, to their citizens and European citizens as the vote will be on the hands of EU Member States.
Panel II: Strengthening Public Administration Capacities and Civil Society during EU Accession Process: Sharing Experiences from the Region
In the second panel of discussion moderated by Ms. Nirvana Deliu, EMA, were invited representatives of civil society and public administration from Western Balkan countries to discuss about the role and capacity building of public administration and civil society organisation in Western Balkans.
Ms. Venera Hajrullahu, : Executive Director of the Kosovar Foundation for Civil Society; Ms. Nataša Dragojlović, European Movement in Serbia; Mr. Muhamed Halili, European Movement in Macedonia and Mr. Fatmir Demneri, Director of the School of Public Administration in Albania (ASPA).
expressed her enthusiasm for the conference and for the fact that the initiative undertaken by the Kosovar Foundation for Civil Society – the European School had served as a model of inspiration for AIEN. Appreciating the progress made by the Balkan countries, since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 , she assesses the 2018 Enlargement Strategy as a confirmation for the integration of Western Balkan countries, but also showing the difficulties and challenges that await for them. She said that the Balkan countries have never used all social mobility to push the European agenda forward. Regarding the role of public administration, she stressed how it holds the main weight for reforming processes related to the European agenda, but the European School is also dedicated to other sectors such as the media, civil society and business community. Also for the participation in policy-making, it is necessary to create conditions, where consultation with stakeholders and the public should be done, which is in itself an obligation.
When Ms. Nataša Dragojlović, European Movement in Serbia was questioned for a long-established mechanism in Serbia such as National Convention on European Integration, she said that the situation in Serbia regarding the aspiration for European integration is not similar to that in Albania. The citizens of Serbia are dwindling between the desire for European integration and between Russia. However, through the work of the Convention and the working groups, more than 700 member organizations have been gathered together in 21 working groups that follow the 35 chapters for three years already. She explained that as soon as the government conducts negotiations with the EU, national parliament of Serbia should approve this for each chapter. Citizens can also give their opinion and for the first time, the government is obliged to respond in writing form if it accepts or refuses its suggestions and the reason why is so.
Mr. Muhamed Halili from the European Movement FYROM, initially spoke of Macedonia’s journey since the break-up from Yugoslavia and the not so positive situation that it has now, such as the name issue and the fact that Euro-Atlantic integration has been stalled during recent years. He claimed that the EU has not been fair as not involving some countries in the big family of the EU, but now it looks that has came to the conclusion that Western Balkan countries are also worthy of integration. The Macedonian state has an average level of preparedness for reforms in public administration, while civil society has played a constructive role, and has started the implementation of a legal framework for management. Regarding the Convention on European Integration, that has just recently being implemented in Macedonia, he says it is still the beginning, but it seems that work is going well and has high expectations for the role of this mechanism in the European Integration process of the Macedonian country.
Mr. Fatmir Demneri from ASPA introduced the institution he leads and then reflected its activity so far. According to him the Albanian School of Public Administrationis the only budgetary institution, which aims at developing the knowledge and skills of civil servants in general and in fulfilling the missions of their institutions with the ultimate goal of EU integration. He cited some of ASPA’s collaborations with civil society organizations, such as e-learning and e-library platforms. Given the ASPA activities, there are estimated around 350 training days, with the largest focus being on integration process towards European Union.
Third Panel: Competition and State Aid
Moderated by Ms. Ersida Teliti, a participant of AIEN and Executive Director of the Albanian Consumer Center, the third panel consisted in the discussion on Competition and State Aid.
The first speaker was Ms. Juliana Latifi, Head of Competition Authority in Albania. She made a brief overview for the year 2017 regarding the institution she leads, focusing on the main markets and the role of the Competition Authority as a leader of the 8th chapter in the SAA, a chapter included in one of the AIEN modules as well. During her speech, Ms. Latifi stopped in 3 directions. First of all, she discussed on the role of the Competition Authority in the framework of Albania’s EU integration process, particularly in adopting a secondary legal framework. Secondly, she emphasized the activity of institution consisting of monitoring and investigating of the markets. The Authority monitored in 2017 markets such as: in the banking sector, in the sector of import and storage of liquefied gas, mobile phone sector and so on. Among the key markets investigated by the institution were listed: the mobile telephony market, the retail market of mobile services, the banking market, the market for the screening of cinema films in Tirana and the international maritime transport market for passengers and vehicles at the port of Vlora. Thirdly, she was focused on the competition advocacy and the assessment of legal and sub legal acts, where the Authority specifically assessed the acts of the Ministry of Energy and Transport.
The discussion continued with Ms. Kletia Noti who works at Grimaldi Law Studio, in Brussels. She provided a general overview of the EU-related cases and practices in relation to competition. She highlighted three issues, about the abuse of the dominant position in the digital sector, which were investigated and reviewed by the European Commission between 2014 and 2017 – “Google Shopping”, “Amazon Books” and the issue of essential patents in cases of Samsung and Google Motorola. These issues include commitments from companies investigated by the Commission, such as measures initially taken by companies to the Competition Authorities, changes in procedure by the Commission, assistance with complainants made by law firms or decisions of prohibiting a specific product, as it happened in the case of Google Shopping.
During the 3rd panel, was present even Ms. Fjoralba Caka, Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Tirana, who provided an overview of aspects of state aid within the framework of the Albanian Legislation, the practical aspects of state aid and some concrete cases from Albania. According to EU Legislation, there are 3 categories of state intervention in the market, unlawful state aid that can be allowed and permissible. Inadmissible state aid consists in the transfer of state resources to some selected enterprises in the market, giving it a favorable position. Eligible allowance is what is provided to individual consumers, such as those in need, students or when a natural disaster occurs. Assistance that can be granted tends to distort the market but is assessed by the European Commission if it has a compensatory approach. Examples are those for low economic growth and high unemployment, or for projects of common European interest. The European Court also considers that interference is not only in the positive cases such as subsidies, grants or buying shares in companies, but also in negative and exclusive cases such as debt forgiveness or tax exemption. The problems of the Region in terms of state aid, Fjoralba Caka treated in two aspects. The first aspect concerns the approximation of the legislation of the respective countries with EU legislation and the mistakes made in this regulation and the second aspect, with the structure which controls state aid, which should be independent from the state.
Panel IV: Four Fundamental Freedoms
The fourth panel was moderated by Mr. Alban Tartari, AIEN participant and lecturer at the Department of Journalism and Communication at the University of Tirana. The discussion focused on 4 fundamental freedoms and approximation of legislation and the free movement of persons, goods and freedom to provide services as well as on the challenges of the Albanian legal system.
The presentation started with Mr. Florian Xhafa, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy and Law (IPL), who spoke on approximation with European Legislation, citing the screening process. For the free movement of goods, Mr. Xhafa mentioned compliance between the obligations arising from the Stabilization and Association process for the approximation of legislation and how it relates to international law, mainly to that of the World Trade Organization (WTO). When Albania will begin the process of membership, the country will have to harmonize the legal clashes of the two ratified international agreements. Mr. Xhafa said that IPL has taken unilateral engagement to align with European legislation.
According to him, the approximation of legislation is not only a ‘protectionist’ context for foreign products coming to our country, but also has a limiting effect on the ability of Albanian products to access the European market. At the conclusion of his speech, he stressed that the process of approximation of legislation should be preceded by policy impact assessment and regulatory impact assessment, and that these estimates are those that make it possible public access, so that when an act become part of the norm, become and acceptable to society.
The Panel proceeded with Mr. Roden Pajaj, Director of Human Resources at Deloitte Albania and Kosovo. Mr Pajaj talked about free movement of workers, closely related to freedom of establishment and freedom of service, and the fundamental rights that can be provided that can be offered to Albanian employees to work in an EU member country without legal barriers. According to him, when Albania will be part of EU, workers, as driving units providing services and as a subject of fundamental human rights, will not be banned from the right to move between member states for employment purposes. Mr. Pajaj expressed that Albania needs to have a sound working force, and strategic plans should aim at focusing and developing the workforce in the country, in the future to meet the obligations it is required to be a member of the EU agency. Based on World Bank studies, he concluded that, in order to reach the minimum standard of EU countries, Albania should have at least 4% economic growth over the whole projected membership period, which will be thanks to human capital working in the country.
In the continuation of the discussion, the speaker was Mr. Altin Fuga, Head of Sector Policy Unit at the Ministry of European Affairs and Foreign Affairs of Albania. Mr. Fuga also stressed that Albania has the capacity to enable legislation to align with the European one, supporting the previously discussed opinions in this panel. As for Albania, but also for the European Union itself, the successful realization of four fundamental freedoms is still a work in progress, such as the freedom to provide services, where many services are not provided or have difficulties in realizing them in practice. With regard to the free movement of goods, Mr. Fuga voiced some problems encountered during the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, which deals with the scanning of introductory goods in Albania and the application of two excise bands for alcoholic beverages in Albania. On the free movement of capital, he said that this freedom is complete, with the only restriction that is the ban on the sale of immovable property to EU citizens.
Fifth Panel: EU funds and grant opportunities for the Western Balkans region
The last panel, moderated by Mr. Gentian Xhaxhiu, a participant of AIEN and Head of Territorial Cooperation Unit at Albania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Albania, made a brief presentation of the discussion on EU funds and grant opportunities for the Western Balkans region.
The first speaker of the panel was Mr. Gjergj Murra, Executive Director of the Western Balkans Fund (WBF). Opening the discussion Mr. Murra emphasized the importance of EU funds for our country in the current stage of integration, but also in the further stages we are expected to be part of. The special fund for the Western Balkans consists of regional cooperation between countries to develop joint projects and inclusion of the countries of the region, even in signing the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, and the ratification of the six parliaments of the participating countries. The fact that it is not supported by external donors, but only by governments, under the leadership of the foreign ministries of the countries, and which is among the first initiatives of regional cooperation remains another characteristic feature of this fund. The areas of cooperation that cover this initiative are cultural cooperation, education and research, sustainable economic development and cross-cutting issues on gender, borders and youth cooperation. Three are the main aspects in which projects are developed: Interconnectivity, mainly in the field of transport and energy, trade facilitation and mobility.With the closure of the first call for projects in December 2017, WBF had 361 applications with the creation of 1,291 partnerships, with a total project value of € 3.1 million. At the end of his speech, Mr. Murra shared some tips for success when collecting EU funds, such as the ability to justify grant applications, the EU institutions’ conviction of fundraising capabilities, full organization support, the involvement of as many as possible partners, being patient during the application process, and matching the project goal with the strategies that the EU requires.
Mr. Geron Kamberi, General Director of the National Agency for Scientific Research and Innovation (NASRI), spoke on one of the most important financial instruments such as Horizon 2014-2020, where NASRI also plays the role of coordinator. This program, focusing on Innovation and Scientific Research, which has started in 1980, is the largest program available to the EU with a funding value of 80 billion euros. Albania, which has been participating since 2007, competes with 3 500 education and development research institutions. The Horizon program is based on 3 pillars, namely: Individuals (scientists), businesses and institutions, with the “Europe 2020” Intelligent Growth Principle. Currently, with the opening of the second round of the program, for the period 2018 – 2020, focus is on the raise of information and promotion capacities.
Ms. Fjorela Vata, a participant of AIEN and the Finance Office Manager and Project implemented by GIZ, was the last speaker of this panel who discussed about the key points of the IPARD LIKE project, a simpler form of the IPARD project. These included an agreement with the EU and GIZ in Albania with a € 10 million fund, and a bilateral contract of a € 3.9 million pilot project, co-financed by the German government, the EU and the Albanian government, in the scheme of grants for the agricultural sector in Albania. Another key point in which Mrs. Vata stopped was building the capacity of persons employed in the operational and managerial structures of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Paying Agency and the Audit Authority.