Flag of Albania

Albania country brief

Bilateral relations

Australia first established diplomatic relations with Albania in 1985 when the isolationist communist regime established by Enver Hoxa following WWII was still in power. As of 3 July 2013, non-resident accreditation to Albania held by the Australian Ambassador in Rome. This was previously held by the Australian Ambassador in Athens. The Albanian Ambassador to China has traditionally been accredited to Australia. Albania is represented in Australia by Honorary Consulates-General in Adelaide and Brisbane. The 2011 Census recorded 13, 141 people of Albanian ancestry living in Australia and 2,396 people born in Albania who now live in Australia. Albania's national day is celebrated on 28 November.

Then Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles, made the first visit by a member of an Australian Government to Albania in April 2012. Mr Marles met senior members of the Government including Prime Minister Sali Berisha, then Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto and Deputy Defence Minister Arjan Starova. He also met with the Speaker of Parliament, Josefina Topalli, and the Mayor of Tirana, Lulzim Basha. In August 2012, then Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Panariti visited Australia, meeting with senior political figures including then Foreign Minister Carr, then Parliamentary Secretary Marles, President of the Senate John Hogg and then Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper.

Trade between Australia and Albania is small; two way merchandise trade in 2012 totalled $1.9 million. Australian exports to Albania were worth approximately $1.6 million in 2012, and consisted mainly of margarine, raw hides and skins (excluding fur-skins) and coke and semi-coke. Imports from Albania in 2011-12 were valued at $0.28 million and consisted mainly of clothing.

In recent years, the Australian Government and a number of humanitarian aid organisations such as the Children First Foundation and the Melbourne Overseas Missions have provided financial and humanitarian assistance to Albania. Through the Embassy in Athens, Australia has supported several developmental projects with benefits for local communities. In 2012-13 the Embassy committed $22,000 to NGOs for programs relating to agricultural income generation, school safety and social activities for children with disabilities.

General overview

The Republic of Albania is a small, mountainous country on south-eastern Europe's Balkan Peninsula, bordering the Adriatic Sea to the west and with land borders to Greece to the south, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the East and Montenegro and Kosovo to the North. Albania occupies an important strategic location in the Balkans along the Strait of Otranto which links the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The name Albania is derived from an ancient Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, forebears of the modern Albanians. The Albanian name for the country is Shqiperise or 'Land of the Eagle'. The capital of Albania is Tirana.

Albania's population is approximately 3.2 million (2012 est.). The main ethnic minority groups are Greeks (1.17 per cent) and other (0.23 per cent) comprising of Vlachs, Romani, Serbians. Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Balkan Egyptians and Macedonians. Seventy per cent of Albanians are Muslim, 20 per cent Albanian Orthodox and 10 per cent Roman Catholic. In November 1990, religious practice was again permitted after prohibition by the communist government in 1967.

Political system

Albania's political system is a presidential parliamentary democracy. The Parliament of Albania consists of a unicameral assembly known as the 'People's Assembly' or 'Kuvendi Popullor'. The assembly has 140 seats; 100 are elected by direct popular vote and 40 by proportional vote for four year terms.

The most recent elections for the assembly were held on 23 June 2013. The opposition Socialist Party coalition, led by former Mayor of Tirana Edi Rama, defeated the incumbent Sali Berisha, leader of the Democratic Party coalition government. Mr Rama’s ‘Alliance for a European Albania’ won 57.7% of the vote, translating to 84 seats in the 140-seat parliament. Mr Rama was confirmed as Prime Minister and sworn in to office in September 2013.

The People's Assembly elects the President for a five-year term. In June 2011, Albania’s former interior minister Bujar Nishani was elected President, replacing Bamir Topi, whose term ended on 24 July. Nishani won 73 votes in the 140-member Parliament after three failed ballots where other candidates were unable to achieve the required three-fifths majority. This requirement shifted to a simple majority in the fourth and fifth rounds of voting, enabling the Democratic Party to unilaterally elect their preferred candidate.

Foreign relations

Albania is a member of a number of international and regional organisations and initiatives, including NATO, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN, the Stability Pact, the Atlantic Charter, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Albania chaired the Council of Europe from May to November 2012.

Albania joined NATO on 1 April 2009, following formal agreement to its accession at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, and is a contributor of troops to the International Security Assistance Force.

Albania applied to become a candidate country for accession to the European Union (EU) in 2009 and is recognised by the EU as a "potential candidate country". In November 2010 and October 2011 the European Commission concluded that Albania had made progress toward accession criteria, but that this was insufficient to warrant being granted EU candidate status. In December 2012 the European Council stated that elections in line with international standards would be essential to Albania’s progress towards EU integration. After the 2013 elections, which were declared by international observers to be relatively orderly, but for one incident of violence, the head of the EU delegation to Albania described candidate status as ‘definitely within reach’. Albania is a participant in the European Commission's Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), which provides a strategic framework for bringing stability to the Balkans through achievement of a series of political and economic reform milestones, together with targeted financial aid to assist structural improvements.

The Government has remained committed to ensuring stability in Kosovo and has continued to call for the protection of the rights of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Albania has been responsible for a number of initiatives and played a constructive role in the region, and showed willingness to address the issue of people smuggling over the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. It has also made progress in addressing money laundering and organised crime issues in partnership with the EU, the US and other national and international agencies, including the AFP and AUSTRAC.

Economic overview

Albania is now making the difficult transition to a more open-market economy. Macroeconomic growth averaged around 6 per cent between 2004-08, but declined to about 3% after 2009 and in 2012 dropped to 1.3%. The government has introduced measures to reduce crime and has implemented a fiscal reform package to improve the economy and attract foreign investment. The Socialist Party coalition plans to introduce a more progressive tax regime.

Twenty per cent of Albania is fertile, arable land. It has untapped natural resources (including chrome — one of Albania's most important sources of hard-currency income) and a strong human resource base (a young population and a national literacy rate of 99.1 per cent). In 2012, the unemployment rate officially stood at 13.3% .

Although agriculture is Albania's largest sector - it accounts for about one-fifth of GDP - it is yet to modernise and small landholders predominate. This has caused inefficiency in the agricultural industry and, in addition to energy shortages, has stalled foreign direct investment (FDI) - the lowest in the region. The Albanian Government has developed a new thermal power plant near Vlore and plans to upgrade transmission lines between Albania and Montenegro and Kosovo to help relieve the energy shortages. Fiscal and legislative reforms have also been introduced in an attempt to improve FDI. Using EU funds, the government is upgrading the country’s poor national road and rail network, another long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth.

Albania's main industries include food processing, textiles and clothing, lumber, oil, cement, chemicals, mining, basic metals and hydropower. Export commodities include textiles and footwear, asphalt, metals and metallic ores, crude oil, vegetables, fruits and tobacco. Albania remains an extremely poor country by European standards, with 12.5 per cent of the population living below the poverty line (2008 est.) and public debt at 60.6% of GDP in 2012. Whilst the Albanian economy has been partially sheltered from the global financial crisis, the impact has materialised in a slower economic growth. Strong trade and banking sector ties with Greece and Italy make Albania vulnerable to future spillover effects. Greece's economic crisis has already prompted some Albanian workers to return home, resulting in a decline in remittances.

Updated September 2013