ECONOMY

Kosovo and Albania explore projects

TIRANA (Reuters) – Kosovo and Albania have begun exploring how best to bring their economies closer, focusing on energy projects, infrastructure and trade, officials said yesterday. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia three months ago, quickly winning recognition from the United States and most European Union states. Albania is the only neighbor to have recognized landlocked Kosovo, most of whose people are also ethnic Albanian. Serbia vows it will never accept the secession, while Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have not yet recognized it. «Energy is one of the greatest challenges for the world and the Balkans. Truly, we should not lose the chance of harmonizing not just the policies but also the projects,» said Genc Ruli, Albania’s minister of economy, energy and trade. «In the very near future, we could have an efficient system,» Ruli added. «Naturally, we need to cooperate not just as blood brothers but as neighbors seeing immense opportunities.» Both Albania and Kosovo suffer long hours of power cuts because their systems cannot produce enough electricity and they lack the right grid connections. But lignite-rich Kosovo could supply Albania in winter when it needs more power than its hydropower stations can supply, and Albania could give it back when it has plenty of power in the spring. Ruli said the Balkans were doing a better job of coordinating their energy policies, but national policies were still determining many projects and more cooperation was needed. Germany’s KFW and the German government have financed a feasibility study on a 400-kilovolt interconnection line from Albania’s Vau i Dejes hydropower plant to Prizren in Kosovo. Albania’s KESH power utility and Kosovo’s KEK have signed a memorandum to build a lignite-fired power station in Kosovo. Kosovo’s Energy and Mining Minister Justina Pula-Shiroka said the new government was also sticking to plans to build a big, probably 2,100-megawatt, power station in Kosovo. «Kosovo offers extraordinary opportunities for private investments and partnerships in mining and power production. Kosovo values potential joint projects with Albania,» she said. Pula-Shiroka with her fellow ministers Ahmet Shala of finance and economy and Lutfi Zharku of trade and industry were in Albania to talk with the government about «challenges and opportunities as two independent but naturally sister states.» «We need to identify the investment chances for our joint benefit, not just the Albanian nation but the citizens of both states and the whole region and beyond,» Shala said. Albania is building a road costing well over 600 million euros to bring the two countries closer and boost trade and tourism. Trade is just 2 percent of Albania’s total exports, with iron, fuel and watermelons the main exports.