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SE Europe: Albania looks to next steps

Albania has something of an image problem abroad. What scant coverage the country has received in the international press in the past has almost universally been negative in tone, focusing on drugs-trafficking, Mafia shootings, banking scandals and political mismanagement. It’s hardly the ideal news recipe if you’re looking to attract much-needed investment to a country often dubbed the poor man of Europe.

However, government officials speaking at a roundtable workshop at Euromoney’s Central and Eastern European Forum in Vienna had a much more upbeat tale to tell of recent developments.

Although acknowledging Albania’s difficult transition from central planning to a market economy, Erald Themeli, head of the monetary policy department at the Bank of Albania, claimed that the macroeconomic picture makes for compelling viewing.

Private sector

With recent economic growth averaging an impressive 5% to 6% – more than double the eurozone average – the country is enjoying rising levels of wealth and business confidence, with the services and construction industries the key growth drivers. The private sector now accounts for more than 75% of economic activity.

At the same time the authorities have reined in inflation, with CPI a respectable 2% to 4% in recent years – in line with the government’s own target of 3%.

According to Themeli, GDP should grow by 6% a year and the country’s budget deficit and public debt burden should continue to fall.

Having been plagued by a rash of corruption and fraud scandals in the 1990s, the Augean stables that used to be the Albanian financial services sector have been thoroughly cleaned up – business is practically 100% in private hands and more than 90% of it is under foreign ownership.

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