As political jostling continues about the future of Europe, it is important to remember that there are six countries in the Western Balkans that have firmly tied their colours to the European mast.

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all actively working towards the ultimate goal of EU membership. All six have a formal contractual arrangement with the EU through Stabilisation and Association Agreements which are all now in force.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), an international financial institution that sees cross-border integration as one of its priorities, fully supports this goal. For the countries of the Western Balkans, EU approximation does not just mean reform and investment. It also represents a vision of lasting peace and prosperity – goals that the EU itself has achieved for its member countries. Read more

I am the leader of a country of Muslims and Christians living in religious fraternity and with a proud history of the salvation of Jews during the Second World War.

I am the leader of a country, Albania, that, for all the problems we face, has made great strides in showing what a harmonious multi-faith nation can be. The highlight of my premiership so far was a visit a year ago to our capital city by Pope Francis. As people of all faiths and none came out to welcome him, I was proud to be Albanian, I was proud to be from the Balkans.

I believe that very moment in the Balkans had a broader significance, in terms of the enormous challenges we all face together. Read more

By Alan Riley of City Law School

Following South Stream’s demise the Danube nations must look again at their energy vulnerability. These low income states, locked into antique energy infrastructure and facing high renewable bills, face a major energy dilemma – a dilemma shared, in a less acute form, with the rest of the European Union. One way forward is to look again at whether a deal on gas between Russia and the EU could be made to work as a means of encouraging economic growth and helping to settle the dispute over Ukraine. Read more

The last time an Albanian prime minister visited Belgrade, the Iron Curtain was just descending across Europe, rock and roll had yet to be invented and Pelé was just six years old.

In this context, the decision of current Albanian premier Edi Rama to delay his planned trip to Serbia by a mere two and a half weeks may not seem hugely significant. But Rama’s postponement comes after a spat triggered by an episode bizarre even by Balkan standards and in the wake of subsequent attacks on Albanian property in Serbia. Read more

By Nicholas Watson of bne

The Albanian government has cancelled the winning bid from a consortium headed by a local businessman in the tender for state oil firm Albpetrol after it failed to come up with a down payment.

The decision ends what was rapidly becoming a national embarrassment for Albania, at a time when it is trying to convince the EU it is raising transparency standards. But, serious questions remain about the conduct of the winner of the tender, local tycoon Rezart Taci’s Vetro Energy, and of the government. Read more

Emerging markets usually warrant a risk premium because they tend to be pretty risky – as CEZ, the Czech utility, is finding out with its troubled Albanian investment.

CEZ is moving to claim a World Bank guarantee on its investment in CEZ Shperndarje, a power distribution company in which it holds a 76 per cent stake (with the Albanian government holding the rest) – and a complete writedown of its total €160m investment is looking increasingly likely. Read more

By Phil Cain of bne

The Albanian government looks on course to complete the $850m sale of state oil company Albpetrol by its December 3 deadline.

Vetro Energy, a US-run consortium controlled by an Albanian businessman seen as an ally of the prime minister, has finalised the financing needed for the ground-breaking privatisation. Read more

In 2009, with the global economy in recession, Albania was one of the few countries in Europe to register GDP growth. While some Eastern European countries saw double-digit negative growth, Albania clocked up an impressive plus- 3.3 per cent.

The country’s economic performance since then has been steady, if unspectacular, as an IMF staff team reported at the end of its visit to Albania. The going is getting tougher, however, with external and fiscal pressures building. Read more

The ongoing crisis in Greece, and the possibility that the country will abandon the euro, is widely seen as presenting an existential threat to the eurozone. But it is also having an impact on Greece’s southeast European neighbours, which are not in the euro but are closely linked to Greece through Greek foreign investment and the financial sector.

But reports differ on the effect of the deepening Greek crisis on the region, and indeed on what would happen in the case of a “Grexit”. The shape and extent of the regional fallout is one of the many “known unknowns” of the unfolding drama. Read more

The eurozone crisis might have left south-eastern Europe in an economic doldrums since 2009 but that has not stopped one company from seeking its fortunes in the region.

Tobacco AD, a fast-growing Macedonian convenience store chain, is betting that even in these times of financial austerity, people will continue to drink, smoke and pay their utility bills.

The Skopje-based company, with 55 stores open already in the former Yugoslav republic, is planning to raise €2m via an initial public offering to fund its expansion around the western Balkans. Read more

With the eurozone in crisis, the small states of the Western Balkans are bracing themselves for another round of pain without gain. For the immediate future, their economic destiny of will be almost totally out of their own hands.

So warns the World Bank in a report released on Tuesday. Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – dubbed “SEE6” in Bank terminology – can expect to be bruised by every financial tremor in the eurozone and European Union. Read more

By Borut Grgic of the transCaspian project

Turkey and Azerbaijan have signed a historic agreement for the shipment of gas from the huge Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea to Turkey, the Balkans and central Europe.

This deal is a win-win for everyone, and it is especially important for the Balkans, which are energy-deficient in every way imaginable. Balkan energy infrastructure is old and inefficient and the whole region is over-dependent on gas from Russia. But the new gas deal won’t solve these problems – unless governments also accelerate long-overdue reforms. Read more

Albania’s local government elections on May 8 are shaping up as a grudge match between the governing Democrats and opposition Socialists – so much so that a European Union envoy has flown in to urge politicians to stay cool and behave responsibly.

Albania’s poor electoral track record is the main reason why the country is stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder that leads to EU accession. Read more