Just a few days ago at the “Vienna Summit” there were discussed
infrastructure projects for the 6 Western Balkan countries between the leaders
of the region and the EU. You were present in many economic meetings. What was
discussed there and what was said about their financing?

GERI
SELENICA:
First, let us analyze in a cause and
effect line, to clarify for your readers on what is the “Berlin
Process”, what is the “Connectivity Agenda” of the EU, what are the
“Trans European Corridors” and then what was achieved at the
“Western Balkans Summit Vienna 2015” and what did Albania win.

The so-called “Berlin Process” is an original
initiative of the German Government and Chancellor Merkel to accelerate the
integration of 6 Western Balkan countries in the EU (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova,
Montenegro, FYROM, Serbia and Albania). One of the instruments that are used
for this purpose is to accelerate and support the “Connectivity
Agenda” of the European Commission for these countries. This is a very
positive thing economically, as the basic reason why these Balkan countries are
economically underdeveloped is because they are far away from the main markets
and the economic epicenters. In short, they are some remote areas of Europe.
Improved connectivity with the most developed countries of Europe, as well as
between the Balkan countries themselves (regional market expansion) is the most
important step to increase their economic potential. The “EU Connectivity
Agenda” provides capital investments in better connecting their
infrastructures in transport (road, rail, river, port, airport) and in energy
(electricity and gas). In fact, it should have been included also the broadband
internet infrastructure. The “Connectivity Agenda” foresees also
legislative improvement in the transport and energy sectors by some “Soft
Measures”. These are combined with technical support from SEETO (http://www.seetoint.org/)
and the Energy Community Secretariat (www.energy-community.org).

The development of transport in the EU is governed
by a program called “TEN-T” – “Trans European Transport
Network”. TEN-T has identified 9 trans-European transport corridors, out of
which 3 run through the Balkans (2 of them in Albania: “Med” and
“Orient / East Med” Corridors). These corridors have two layers: the “Core
Network”, which carries the most important flows of passengers and goods
and the “Comprehensive Network”, which provides access to the main
network. The “Core Network” projects are the priority projects which
are legitimized for possible funding from the EU over the next six years.

There have been several meetings in support of the “Berlin
Process” at the level of prime ministers, ministers and experts. The
second meeting of prime ministers was the “Western Balkans Summit Vienna
2015”. At this summit, the 6 Balkan countries I believe had much higher
expectations, but the Commissioner Hahn cut them short by saying that “the
EU is not an ATM”. In fact, every initiative has its bill to be backed up.
The real bill to implement 100% the “Connectivity Agenda” for 6
Western Balkan countries is over 30 billion euros. According to studies, a
total of over 100 billion euros are needed in investment in the 6 Western
Balkan countries, in order to make competitive and sustainable their economies.

In Vienna was not mentioned any investment figure
(other than the 1 billion euros Commissioner Hahn has launched time ago), but
simply were presented projects or better saying some pre-identified project,
that were discussed in advance at the technical level with the EU and were held
political speeches, especially for the energy. EU published a list of intended project
in the infrastructure of the transport (TEN-T Extension Indicative Core Network
to Western Balkans) and of the electricity (Electricity Infrastructure Projects
of Energy Community Interest – PECI).

The EU presented a list of ten mini projects that
were ready to co-finance, under “Pre-Accession Program”, 4 in energy
and 6 in transport, worth 616 million euro, which benefited from a grant of 205
million euros. Albania won only one power project – “the interconnection
with FYROM” and received 14 million euro grant and did not win any transport
project.

I do not know exactly what projects did Albania
present to the EU, but the EU presented 24 transport projects, out of which
Albania received only 1 project.

Here are the 24
projects
that were presented:

Bosnia and
Herzegovina, 5 projects:

1 – border highway Croatia / Bosnia –
Sarajevo – Ploče;

2 – railway Bosanski Šamac / Šamac – Sarajevo;

3 – Sarajevo Airport;

4 – border highway Croatia /
Bosnia-Gradiška-Banja Luka-Travnik;

5 – Port of Brčko.

Kosova, 3
projects:

1 – highway Niš-Pristhina;

2 – highway Prishtina – Kosova / FYROM
border;

3 – railway Kraljevo – Prishtina –
Gorce Petrov;

Montenegro, 3
projects:

1 – highway Croatia / Montenegro border – Bar
– Montenegro / Albania border – Lezhe – Albania / Greece border;

2 – railway Belgrade – (Vrbnica) –
Bar;

3 – highway Belgrade – Bar;

FYROM, 4
projects:

1 – highway Kichevo – Gostivar;

2 – common railway station Tabanovce –
Serbia / FYROM border;

3 – railway Beljakovce – FYROM /
Bulgaria border;

4 – highway Rankovce – Kriva Palanka –
border FYROM / Bulgaria;

Serbia, 13
projects:

1 – railway Niš – Dimitrovgrad – Serbia / Bulgaria border;

2 – railway Belgrade – Novi Sad –
Serbia / Hungary border;

3 – railway Belgrade – Niš;

4 – highway / Belgrade Ring (Strazevica-Bubanj
Potok);

5 – highway Niš – Prishtina;

6 – common railway station Tabanovce –
Serbia / FYROM border;

7 – railway Belgrade – (Vrbnica) –
Bar;

8 – highway Belgrade – Bar;

9/10 – two projects on the Sava River;

11/12 – two projects on the Danube
River;

13 – Intermodal Terminal in Belgrade.

Albania, 1 project:

1 – highway Croatia/Montenegro border – Bar
–MN/Albania border – Lezhe– AL/Greece border, which in Albania includes studies and works for sections
Thumane – Kashar/Vorë, Lezhe bypass and Tirana bypass.
Studies ongoing, works needed on Tepelena bypass.

As you see, Albania has received very little from
the EU or demanded too little from the EU. For this you can ask the Albanian
authorities.

For this, you do blame the Albanian authorities or the EU?

GERI
SELENICA:
I believe that the main responsibility
for this falls on the Albanian government, because according to EU Commission
the National Investment Committees, I do not know whether such a one exists in
Albania, are responsible for determining and managing the priorities of the
national projects (Single Project Pipelines) and should serve as the basis for
programming of all possible sources of financing (including domestic and other
donors).

With our domestic and foreign experts we have
made it clear many times and with many scientific arguments to the Albanian
government, that in addition to “Adriatic-Ionian (Blue) Highway” (or
“Mediterranean Corridor” – EU classification), they should have
presented to EU also these very strategic projects, as “TEN-T Core Networks”:

1 – highway Elbasan – Qafe Thane – Kapshtice /
Albania-Greek border;

2 – railway AL-Greek border / Kapshtice-Pogradeci-Hani
Hoti / AL-Montenegro border.

Perhaps also these additional projects, to meet our full
transportation needs:

3 – Railways Milot-Prizren / Kosova

4 – Spitalla Multimodal Terminal integrated with
Durres Port or Porto Romano.

EU may classify these projects as “Med” or
“Orient/East Med” Corridors. In my opinion, the EU has not paid the proper
attention to the “Adriatic/Med Corridor” and much less to Albania. In
fact, I raised this issue in Vienna in the meeting with the director of the
expansion of the European Commission responsible for Albania, Mr. Jean Eric
Paquet, and I gave him a written note (including Commissioners Hahn and Bulc),
which consisted of:

– the total exclusion from the EU corridors of the
“Adriatic Aegean (Blue) Railway” (Croatia-Montenegro-Albania-Greece) and

– the total exclusion of Albania from the TEN-T
Railway Corridors for the Western Balkans, thus de-facto isolating us from the
European rail connections.

Many Balkan high officials considered very right my
observations and I have official information from the Croatian and Greek
government, that they would strongly support by the EU the above two issues. The
Albanian government has given us no answer so far.

Geopolitically, if there isn’t any EU technical negligence
or any incompetence on our part, reading the list of projects and their categorization
in “TEN-T Core Networks” and “Comprehensive Networks” seems
very clear that the EU strongly supports “Corridor 10” versus
“Adriatic Corridor”.

Hence these projects are indicative and not final,
there should be done a great work from the governments of Albania, Croatia,
Montenegro and Greece, to change this reality at the EU.

How the EU does fund these projects?

GERI
SELENICA:
The European Commission, via the Western
Balkans Investment Framework – WBIF, co-finances only mature energy projects
from the list of PECI (Projects Interest Energy Community) and mature transport
projects from the “TEN-T Core Network” list, in cooperation with
international financial institutions.

We must understand that the EU has its own financial
problems. Investments in the EU have fallen from 3 trillion euros in 2007 to
2.6 trillion euros in 2013. To fill up this gap in EU investments, President
Juncker has launched the European Investment Strategic Plan (EFSI) of 315
billion euros. The novelty of this plan is that through innovative financial
mechanisms, it will enable attraction of third parties capital in the EU
investments, including investments in “Connectivity Agenda” for the 6
Western Balkan countries. This is good news, as the EU will allow the capitals
from the third parties and in fact capitals of third parties that can
realistically be absorbed are mainly the Chinese capitals. President Juncker
agreed in principle with Prime Minister Li Keqiang in May 2015 in Brussels for
the establishment of a China-EU Investment Platform, which will materialize
during the visit of President Juncker at the end of this month in Beijing. So
the EU co-financier may be even China. Especially the Balkans is a good part of
the Chinese strategy “Silk Road Economic Belt”, which has as entry
points in Europe the Port of Piraeus and Istanbul. At several meetings in
Vienna, this was admitted also from the top executives of EU financial
institutions, provided that Chinese financing should be carried out according
to EU banking institutions rules.

But almost all transportation projects, even if
financed or co-financed by third parties are not really self-payable and
affordable for the poor Balkan countries. So there must be an EU financial
support in the form of grants or traffic guarantees. So the classification of
our projects as “TEN-T Core Network” increases the theoretical
possibility of obtaining EU funding and support.

So without the real commitment of the EU, the financing of these projects
will be put in difficulty?

GERI
SELENICA:
In a great extent yes. In my view, the
Vienna meeting was a political meeting without much real tangible economic
value to the implementation of the “Berlin Process”. I believe, and this
opinion had many prime ministers and leaders of the Balkans, the EU is not really
focused and has not taken seriously the Western Balkans. Simply is keeping them
with promises. If the EU would take seriously our 6 countries, as seriously as
they took Greece, with a fraction of the funding that is helping Greece, EU could
make tremendous contribution to our 6 countries.

How is the issue of “Blue Corridor”? What is this project?

GERI
SELENICA:
“Blue Corridor” is the most
strategic artery linking Albania with Europe and is a great success that EU
classified it few months ago as part of the EU “Med Corridor”. As the
highway is concerned, it must be built from Ploče, Croatia to Ioannina,
Greece (according to the EU). A very positive achievement of the Croatian, Montenegrin
and Albanian Governments is that they determined the right approximate crossing
points of this highway from Debeli Brijeg and somewhere between Muriqan and Velipoja.
The exact track will emerge from the detailed feasibility study and the final
project, which will be funded by the EU immediately. The greatest financial and
engineering difficulty of this highway is in Montenegro, due to its mountainous
terrain and financial constraints, although 10 km of this highway will be provided
as a grant from Azerbaijan’s Socar.

In our opinion, which I have said many times to
Albanian and Greek governments and to EU, the “Blue Highway”
connection with Greece via Kakavija is out of economic logic. We have brought
in facts that the Kapshtica connection is better, because:

– the highway route via Kakavija needs other 70km new
highway up to the Egnatia Motorway A2 south of Ioannina. And still it nees over
100 km of new motorway (A5) to connect with Athens. While A2 Egnatia motorway
has reached 3 km south of Kapshtica (Ieropigi). So via Kapshtica Greece does
not need to build a new highway.

Tirana-Athens via Kapshtica is 100 km less than via Kakavija.

– According to the socio-economic study, Kapshtica
route serves faster and better 90% of the Greek economy and population, living
in the north and south of Greece.

– Kapshtica route is about 200 km closer to Istanbul,
than via Kakavija.

– Kapshtica route makes “Blue Highway” and
“Egnatia Highway” more competitive against Corridors 4, 10 and 8. The
distance Piraeus-Tirana-Trieste will be 150 km shorter than the
Piraeus-Belgrade-Trieste and Istanbul-Tirana Trieste only 75 km longer than the
Istanbul-Belgrade-Trieste.

– Kapshtica route is integrated for 120 km from
Tirana to Qaf Thane with the Corridor 8, thus increasing significantly and the
profitability of this route.

Since the EU and the Albanian government want
Kakavija connection with Greece, then it is an urgent task for the Albanian
government to classify the segment Qaf Thane – Kapshtice as a “TEN-T Core
Network”. Either as a “Med Corridor”, or as an “Orient /
East Med Corridor”. But its lack of classification as a “TEN-T Core
Network” will automatically exclude it from the financial support of the
EU. Also Greek transport officials and experts prefer Kapshtica as the best
link between the two countries.

We believe that “Blue Highway” has been
designed as a major European artery, that beside serving our modest economies and
our scarce populations, would better serve bigger European traffic flows, as 25
million tourists go every year to Greece or 30 million tourists go to Turkey,
goods coming from Turkey, the Middle East, the Far East, China and for the EU
goods exported eastwards.

What is the “Blue Railway”?

GERI
SELENICA:
The “Med Corridor”, in
addition to motorway, should also include a railway. But it is missing in materials
distributed in “Vienna Summit”. It’s a fact that Croatia does not
have any study on this. Montenegro and Bosnia have made a study funded by the
EU, to link Montenegrin railway from Nikšic with the Bosnian one
in Čaplinja. Albania is conducting a study for the railway master plan funded
by the EBRD. I do not know if this study will include 52 km of new railway
line, connecting Pogradec and Kapshtica
(Greek border). Greece, for its part, has included its railroad to Kapshtica as
“TEN-T Core Network” and surprisingly “TEN-T Core Network” stops
in Albania!!!

Based on the vision expressed above, we are the main
promoters of the Blue Railway (Kalabaka/Florina-Kapshtica-Pogradec-HaniHotit-Nikšic-Čaplinja-Ploče-Split) and we have
protested to the EU for failing to include it in the “TEN-T Core Network”.
The partial railway solutions that we have heard from Albanian officials (as Tiranë-Hani i
Hotit or Vlorë-Hani i Hotit or Lin-Durrës)
are not logical, because if the railways do not cross Albania from North to
South and serve to the international freights, there will be no future. Albania
has neither the goods nor the passengers in sufficient quantities to make
profitable a railroad. With a clear economic vision and a solid political will
the “Blue Railways” may turn in a more feasible option than the “Rail
Corridor 10”. This needs a strong lobbying by the EU, supported by serious
studies and arguments, which thankfully Albanian government will have soon, from
the study funded by EBRD (which should have funded itself long time ago).

How is Albania positioned and what might be its economic and strategic benefits?

GERI
SELENICA:
I cannot give an exact answer on this,
as it needs serious studies, but our preliminary assumptions shows that traversing
Albania from South to North, from the East and Northeast to the West makes it an
important transit hub. This would have a much greater value if the Port of
Durres or Porto Romano will be developed as a regional “hub”, as the
Chinese are doing with the Port of Piraeus. But too much depends on the
interest of global shipping players.

At what stage is Albania compared with other West Balkan countries? What
difficulties are encountered to be coherent with them?

GERI
SELENICA:
What I have seen so far, all countries
in the region are far ahead with making projects. While here I have not seen
any serious project. In the opposite the only high value road that our
government is constructing, that enters in the natural space of EU corridors,
is a quite unnecessary investment of 150 million euros, 2 lane Road Qukës-Qafe
Plloce. A mountain road, out of which 20 km will be built from 1’000m up to 1’300m
altitude in the mountains of Mokra. Actually is totally impassable in the winter,
for whom knows the area, with temperatures reaching below -20’C. For your information,
Korca is only 800m above sea level. It will shorten the distance in relation to
the route from Pogradec just 3km. So a project with no parameters, at which our
foreign experts laugh at, that ‘de-facto’ was “designed” by a former deputy
minister of the last government, simply to obtain in a corrupt way the Arab funding.
This is very shameful and irresponsible misuse of our public funds. We have
notified about this the prime minister and many ministers.

How should lobby Albania? What should consider the Albanian government?

GERI
SELENICA:
In Tirana they might be happy only with
the “Blue Highway”, but I repeat again, the Albanian government
should immediately submit to the EU additional major projects. As a minimum, it
should seek urgently the inclusion of the second link with Greece “Elbasan-Kapshtica
Highway” and “Kapshtica-Hani Hotit Railway” in “TEN-T Core Network”.
They should not stop at the “Blue Highway”. Look at the surrounding countries.
All have introduced any project that they need, even they have been able to
classify many in the “TEN-T Core Network”. Needless to mention the projects
and the countries. You would better check the maps approved at the “Vienna
Summit”.