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Interview with Sokol Olldashi

  • Minister of Public Works and Transport of Albania - Albania
  • Newsletter n°12 / Special edition - December 2010 /January 2011

Sokol Olldashi

1. SEETAC is managed by the Central European Initiative, the oldest regional forum including Albania in its membership since 1996: do you think that a regional forum like the Central European Initiative can be of help for a non-EU country to get closer to the EU, its institutions and policies?

Albania has joined the CEI in 1996 and ever since that moment, it has taken great advance of participation in various activities organised under the framework of the Initiative and in coordination with its Executive Secretariat. Its full potential was reached in 2006 when Albania held the CEI Presidency, and organised several important events and high - level meetings. For countries such as Albania, having the possibility of working in the framework of a regional initiative is a very important aspect of cooperation with countries belonging to the EU and countries working to join in.

The CEI conveys the message of interregional cooperation at the EU level and beyond, focuses on areas of mutual interest with the EU, and offers an added value for all its Member States. More concretely, Albania's participation in EU funded projects through the leadership of the CEI provides concrete opportunities for collaboration. Albania is a crucial actor in the Western Balkan countries and Europe is the way ahead for the Western Balkans. Any effort to involve them in the dialogue and the inclusion of EU policies is crucial for the development of our country.

2. Inyour opinion, how could SEETAC contribute to the Albanian transport system, and what is, in your opinion, the role of this project in the process of integration of Albania into the EU?

In joining this organization Albania's objective was to facilitate its integration within the Southeast Europe in compliance with the goals of the SAA including segments of the Pan-European Corridors IV, V, VII and X and specifically, Corridor VIII (Durres-Varna via Tirana) as well as the ports of Durres and Vlora, and Tirana International Airport.

Albania, being a full IPA partner in the SEETAC project has participated actively in all activities and successfully completed the 2nd SEETAC Ministerial Conference held in Tirana on 16th November 2010.

I am convinced that SEETAC will serve as an important data base for the necessary financing near the relevant institutions and bodies.

This project could contribute to generate transport continuity and infrastructure development in the European area and beyond, thus implicitly leading to a rising competitiveness and economic development with the ultimate aim of integrating the Western Balkans countries in the European single market.

Also this project could contribute to the solution of the cross-border bottlenecks and the lack of harmonization among the participating countries; promoting legal transnational framework, as well as common safety, security and environmental standards, harmonisation of transport modes. Moreover, it aims at harmonising and standardising, wherever feasible, technical standards and regulatory or administrative provisions affecting the flow of transport in and across the region, in line with the EU standard and directives, promoting and enhancing local capacities for the implementation of investment programs, management and data collection and analysis in the Regional Participants

3. Inwhich measure would the Albanian seaports and rail systems benefit from the realization of the missing link on rail Corridor 8?

Transport Corridor VIII is one of the Trans European Network Corridors recognized by the European Union. The Corridor VIII development project is an internationally recognized plan for the development of highway, rail and pipeline links between Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria. Many of the components are already underway, but many more remain unfunded.

The rail project study Durres-Skopie-Sofia links the two ports of Corridor VIII to the Balkan region, Durres and Vlora. The potential development of freight traffic on Rail Corridor VIII should proceed as a part of a regional Balkan transport network.

It is also important to mention the international linkage through Corridor VIII. Once the rehabilitation of the rail network is well underway, Albanian Railways will need to complete the connection to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Albania, as a member of the South-East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO) has committed itself to providing rail access to its port facilities at Durres and Vlora as a partner in Corridor VIII as well as in the construction of the missing link Lin-Qafe Thane (Albanian-FYR of Macedonia cross border), in the Albanian territory. The construction cost of a 2.8 km connection to the border amounts to about 7-10 million Euros. The length of the railway line in FYR of Macedonia to the Albanian border is roughly 66 km. (AL-FYROM cross border - Struga-Kicevo). In addition, the link between Skopje and Sofia has to be completed.

Railway freight transport during the year 2010 has been showing signs of improvement of domestic and international freight traffic.

Albania is a coastal country, its coastal border is 440 km long, which provides favourable conditions for the development of the Maritime Sector. There are six commercial ports and the Port of Durres is the main Port in Albania and the Gateway of Corridor VIII, for manufacturing goods, containers and passengers. Despite investments made for the rehabilitation of infrastructure and superstructure, which have  been giving positive effects in increasing the freight and passenger traffic, it is necessary to continue to increase investments in infrastructure and processing technologies to achieve European standards.

A comprehensive well functioning transport infrastructure is of crucial importance for efficient and cost effective mobility and especially for the rapid freight transport to international markets. Improved infrastructure along the Pan-European Corridors will help Albania in meeting the EU standards of operational delivery.

Combined Transport in the Republic of Albania is achieved only on a minimal level. There is only one container terminal in the Port of Durres, which serves for two types of transport, land and sea transport. Moreover in our country no logistical centre operates this kind of transport.

Medium-term objective is a gradual development of combined transport, connecting the Albanian ports to the neighbouring countries especially along the axes (i) Corridor VIII (completing the construction of the railway line with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, aiming at the connection with the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea ) (ii) Tirane - Shkoder - Podgorica and (iii) ports Durres-Vlore-Shengjin towards Kosovo and beyond.

4. How will the exemption from EU visa requirements, foreseen for the end of this year, contribute to the development of the Albanian transport system?

The liberalization of the EU visa requirements for Albanian citizens, which started on 15th December 2010, was one of the big priorities of the Government of Albania. This process will contribute to the free of movement of people and goods towards the  EU countries (toward the Schengen zone countries).

The Prime Minister Mr. Berisha expressed his gratitude to all those who took the noble decision on visa-free travel for Albania citizens. He also expressed his trust that every Albanian citizen travelling to the Schengen area will behave himself in full dignity and will strictly abide by all regulations and obligations stemming from the visa liberalization process.

Following the liberalization of EU visa requirements the Albanian transport system will assist to an increase in passengers traffic (road, maritime and air transport) and the volume of freight transportation as well as to a simplification of  custom procedures and the reduction of the waiting time at the border crossings (soft-measures).

The exemption from the EU visa requirements is now also important for professional vehicle drivers and the limitations on market access.

5. Which role could the Albanian ports play in the development of the domestic economy?

In pursuance of the National Plan for Transport and the Sectorial Strategy for Transport the Albanian ports are in top priority of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

As far as the Durres Port is concerned the growth in container traffic has been high since it applies a more efficient method of shipping on a large variety of imported goods to Albania.  Ferry traffic makes up a large portion of the operations in the port. The quantity of cargo transiting through Albania is relatively small. In future, the port should increase the quantity through traffic from Kosovo (medium term) and eventually through Corridor VIII (long term).

Strategically, the Durres Port is the only port whose scope of its operations is only national, and it will continue to retain this position. Smaller ports serve niche import markets linked to their hinterland. They generate little export traffic and are likely to witness large variations in their cargo movements from year to year due to the smaller markets they serve and to competitive conditions in the shipping industry and in the types of goods traded through these ports. The planned investments in these three ports are likely to be sufficient for the foreseeable future.

Whereas, in the Vlora Port the ferry traffic represents an important share of operations. Conventional cargo ships still use the port, and the handled cargo is oriented to the importation of construction materials. The commercial port will undergo a major upgrading funded through the Italian Government based on an earlier masterplan.

On the other hand we have the Shengjin Port, whose management might be turned over to the Government of Kosovo. It is uncertain how this arrangement might work. Ferry operations began this year and are expected to grow.

For the port of Shengjin, the turnover of its management to the representatives of the Government of Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244/99) might bring to a further  traffic development. Increased traffic might also occur in line with the construction of specific industrial and mining projects located in the northern Albania or in Kosovo. However, road access to the port is poor and its storage area is limited.

For all three ports, offshore exploration and development of petroleum resources could have a major impact.

For the Port of Vlora, the proposed transhipment container port will see most of conventional ship activities probably operating out of this larger facility leaving the ferry operations at the present commercial port.

The two petroleum terminals serve regional markets: Porto Romano - northern and central Albania and Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244/99), and Vlora2 southern Albania and the export of crude oil. The requirements for other industrial goods, for example, cement or mineral exports, where the volumes are high, might be needed in the longer term. Approval of these innovation activities should await a coastal management plan that would take into consideration a number of land use factors and conflicts among which: different economic uses of the coastal lands, for example, between tourism and industrial development; environmental concerns regarding the adverse impacts that could result from building and operating these facilities and the land use and zoning maps and regulations that would be prepared on the basis of the outcome of a participatory process involving stakeholders. If done properly, the process is long and arduous. Once they are available they are easily managed. The types of infrastructure covered would include marinas which are linked to the tourism development.

In the Saranda Port the commercial traffic has been dropping while passenger traffic from Corfu and cruise ships has been increasing. This port will see a major make over. Under World Bank funding, the old commercial port will be converted to a cruise ship dock while the commercial (cargo) port has been moved to a nearby cove.

The Portual Authority of Durres is financing the construction of the eastern berth No. 10 with a value of 9.8 Million Euro. The contract on the service of maintenance of electric cranes and vehicles was signed in July 2009 with the Austrian company KALMAR. The third stevedore company was designated in November 2009 in accordance with the study and recommendations of the World Bank.

As for the development of the Port of Vlora, the support of the Italian Government for the implementation of the first and second stage of its rehabilitation was provided, at a cost of 15.3 Million Euro, consisting in the construction of the new berth for ferries and cargo ships. This investment is made in accordance with the Masterplan development for the Port of Vlora prepared by the GIBB Company.

6. Which are the local development projects foreseen for the present infrastructure situation in the main Albanian cities?

There are some strategic priorities in these areas, such as aligning the legislative framework with the acquis, road safety measures, rehabilitation of ports, air safety modernisation of railway infrastructure, amongst others.

Namely the priority is given to the Corridor VIII (Durres - Varna via Tirana), the ports of Durrse and Vlora (the segment of Levan-Vlorë, is under construction; completion in 2011; Qafe Plloce-Korce 29 km, it is under construction, state budget), and the Rinas Airport. This network also gives a regional value to the infrastructure connection C VIII and X, Durres-Kukes-Morine-Pristina-Nis by considering it a Corridor.

The segment of Shkodër-Han i Hotit, (39 km) was newly started. The design cost and its construction are financed by the Italian Government.

The infrastructure development in the area of Western Balkans, in which Albania is included as well, has been the object of several studies financed by the community institutions such as: Regional Balkans Infrastructure (REBIS), (EU CARDS 2003), etc.

The central southern corridor, Tiranë-Elbasan-Berat-Tepelenë, has recently introduced the modified main network upon the proposal of the Albanian Government and the approval of the Steering Committee of SEETO, Skopje 2009), through which Greece is linked with Montenegro and further with the Corridor Durrës-Morine (the border with Kosovo), which connects the Paneuropean Corridors VIII and X.

Fushe Kruje-Rrogozhine 62 km, (short link on North-South Corridor).

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