Albania country brief
The Republic of Albania is a small, mountainous country on south-eastern Europe's Balkan Peninsula, bordering the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Ionian Sea to the south 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 capital of Albania is Tirana.
Albania's population is approximately 2.8 million (2013). 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. Albania's national day is celebrated on 28 November.
Australia first established diplomatic relations with Albania in 1985 when the isolationist communist regime established by Enver Hoxha following WWII was still in power. As of 3 July 2013, non-resident accreditation to Albania has been 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.
High Level Visits
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 Albanian Government including then Prime Minister Sali Berisha, then Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto and then Deputy Defence Minister Arjan Starova. 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.
Bilateral trade and investment
Trade between Australia and Albania is small; two way merchandise trade in 2013 totalled $3.4 million. Australian exports to Albania were worth approximately $2.8 million and consisted mainly of margarine, raw hides and skins (excluding fur-skins) and coke and semi-coke. Imports from Albania were valued at $0.6 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 Rome, 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.
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 with members elected for four year terms.
On 23 June 2013, Albania held a largely peaceful and smoothly conducted election which produced a clear turnover of power. The 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.
Albania is a member of a number of international and regional organisations and initiatives, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN, the Stability Pact, the Atlantic Charter, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 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 in Afghanistan
Having applied in 2009 to become a candidate country for accession to the European Union, Albania's candidate status was confirmed by the European Council on 27 June 2014.
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 remains a poor country by European standards and has high levels of public debt. It is now making the difficult transition to a more open-market economy, but has suffered from slow economic growth, down from an average of 6 per cent between 2004-08 to 1.3 per cent in 2012 and 0.7 per cent in 2013. Strong trade and banking sector ties with Greece and Italy make Albania vulnerable to future spill over effects. Greece's economic crisis has already prompted some Albanian workers to return home, resulting in a decline in remittances.
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 13.1 per cent.
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. 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's key economic growth sectors of mining, energy, infrastructure, tourism and telecommunications are complementary to Australia's economic capabilities and there is scope for bilateral cooperation based on Australia's proven expertise in these areas