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Albania’s reformist government has pinned its hopes on EU accession. Ahead of a crucial vote by the European Council in June that saw Albania’s wishes granted but on a delayed timeline, minister of finance and economy Arben Ahmetaj tells Courtney Fingar that the country's European identity and reform plans cannot be extinguished.

Q: How is the Albanian economy doing?

A: The economy is doing pretty well. When [this government] took office growth was lower than 1%, close to a recession, and all the public finances were running into high deficit. So we went through a restructuring right away, we entered into an agreement with the IMF with quite a lot of conditionalities for structural, fiscal, financial and institutional reforms.

Today the economy is considerably improved: the growth of 2017 is 3.84% of GDP. In the meantime we have been able to close a very successful three-year programme with the IMF. We have seen manufacturing production go up considerably, and the tourism sector is growing and contributing very positively to the economy. In the first three months of 2018 we received a record of about €284m in FDI. If we go on with this schedule, we will surpass $1bn. For a big country it might be a symbolic number, but for us it is a breakthrough.

I believe we will see on June 28 [at a European Council summit to discuss enlargement], if Albania gets a green light for [accession negotiations] it means the EU sees that we have done all our homework. Next we will launch another set of fantastic reforms related to quality of administration, legislation, justice system, food safety. And it will boost the confidence of the Albanian people.

Q: What if you do not get it?

A: Well if we don’t get it it will be very unfair for Albania. Albania at the end of the day is a European country. Our anchor will continue to be Europe. If we don’t get [a path to accession], there will be broken hearts, there will be a little bit of despair, there will be a chance missed for Europe and for us, but our destination is the EU. I do believe that our European dream is not at all threatened.

Q: So you would not give up on EU membership and the reforms path either way?

A: How can we give up on Europe? We are European at the end of the day. Europe has decided to draw a map and say ‘this is the EU within the map’, but even outside the map Albania is a European country. You believe we have not done the homework if you don’t open the negotiations, but we believe we have done it. But beside the debate that does not make us any less European. We might look not as sophisticated as some other European countries, but we are Europeans for sure, fundamentally, and in our genetics.

Editor’s note: The European Council decided to set June 2019 for the start of formal accession negotiations with Albania, later than many in Albania hoped but overcoming fears that France and Netherlands would block the talks altogether.  

Q: What future reforms can be expected?

A: There are some that would make the life of investors easier in Albania. One is reform of the public administration, which is continuous, to make the public administration much more ready to receive FDI. Our tax system is pretty simple, but we need to improve the administration. Justice system reform is ongoing and then food safety reform is the next one one we have just started.

One of the elements we are spending a lot of money and energy on is professional training to match the gap of the needs of the market with what the education system has to offer. This is not something that bears fruit in one era, but I am sure that in four to 10 years it will completely change the game here in the labour market.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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