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Albania: What Has Been On Our Mind These Days



Let me start by introducing myself. I have the privilege of being Country Manager for the World Bank in Albania, so my job basically means two things: first, ensuring that the World Bank’s program focuses on the most important priorities for the sustainable development of Albania and, second, making sure that we deliver what we promise, as fast as possible and in the most efficient way possible. Now, let me share one personal thing: in my childhood, growing up in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City, I was a beneficiary of a World Bank project that built my primary school and gave us food every day. It was thanks to that project that I had a path out of poverty, and into a world of opportunities. Why do I share this? Because I know for a fact that a better future is possible, and I also know that together we can transform lives. But I also know that we need to act fast! 

I started this position around six months ago, and you probably have not heard a lot from me. Before expressing views, I wanted to start by learning about Albania, not only about the economy, but most importantly, about its people. This has been a fascinating experience and I have enjoyed it a lot. I will gladly continue learning as long as I am here. 

But at this point I also wanted to share with you some of the issues we have been working on, the issues we plan to work on in the future and ideas that we would like to share. But I am also mindful that we are all swamped by concerning news and uncertainty from everywhere in the world. So, I am making a conscious effort to not focus on what is worrying and we can’t influence, but on what is important, and we can change. There’s plenty to talk about and I don’t want to burden you with a long list of things, so I will start sharing some thoughts today and will share a few more things in the next rounds. 

One project 

Albania is blessed with the most amazing nature and landscapes, from rivers and coastline to mountains and cultural heritage. It is no wonder that Albania is becoming a major touristic destination. However, it is always very sad when traveling through the country to see garbage thrown away even in the most beautiful areas. There is also a less visible but even more worrying pollution – the wastewater from houses and businesses that goes directly to the rivers and sea. So, we were delighted to receive a request to work with authorities to remediate two main areas: wastewater pollution along the Vjosa river and solid waste pollution (mainly from construction waste) along the Vlora coastline. Similarly, we are supporting the Ministry of Tourism and Environment on the upcoming ban on plastics – by the way, hats off to the Government of Albania for taking bold action on this!

One result

With all that is happening worldwide, COVID-19 sometimes seems like a distant memory. Knocking on wood and fingers crossed, we can mostly consider that Albania has weathered the pandemic and it seems mostly a thing of the past. However, this is not by chance. We witnessed first-hand the enormous efforts from health workers at all levels and the high commitment and efficient guidance of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. I want to pause and thank all of them for tending to those of us that got sick and helping us to turn the page on this pandemic through vaccines and care. Thank you!

At the World Bank we were very glad to support the Ministry of Health and Social Protection for acquisition of equipment (including ambulances, CT scanners, X-ray machines, an angiography system, ultrasounds, and tests) and reconstruction of three hospitals (Pediatric Hospital, regional hospitals of Laçi, and Kukes). We still owe you one more thing: the reconstruction of the Infectious Diseases Clinic (IDC) within the Mother Teresa Hospital in Tirana. This was a bit delayed as it was the main facility for treatment of COVID-19 patients, but we plan to finish it within the next two months. 

One idea: Changing behaviors

I mentioned that we are very glad that we will be working on remediation of pollution in Vlora and Vjosa, but I keep thinking that that will not be nearly enough to ensure that we can preserve Albania’s natural beauty for the next generations. We need a massive change in how each one of us contributes to that. To put it simply, the cleanest country is not the one where garbage is collected rapidly from the rivers and the ground. The cleanest country is the one where nobody throws away garbage carelessly. So, while it is good to change the laws and invest in the infrastructure needed to clean rivers and coastline, what is more important is to change our behavior.

Going forward we are planning to be more active on something called “behavioral economics”. This is a fascinating area that combines elements of economics and psychology to understand how and why we behave the way we do in the real world. Behavioral economics differs from traditional economics (which assumes that most people behave ‘rationally’) by recognizing that we often make decisions that are ‘irrational’ or that can hurt us even if we have information to make the right decision. Behavioral economics is a way for us to really observe behaviors in real life and ask questions that help us identify why we behave in certain way and what can be done to change that behavior.

Let me give you an anecdote of a very early application of this: apparently in London many years ago, somebody came up with the idea of painting a white line dividing Tower Bridge Road into two lanes. By doing that, a massive congestion problem was solved – just by dividing traffic into two flows. What I like about this anecdote is that traditionally we would think that to solve traffic and chaos one more bridge was needed, but it shows that solutions to many problems are a lot simpler and cheaper – as cheap as a can of paint. 

We will start bringing a behavioral economic approach to our projects in Albania going forward. This will probably be more difficult than building things (as there is no cooking recipe for that), but I think we need to try. We have some ideas to start, but we want to hear your ideas too. Think of behaviors that we should try to change and share those ideas with us. 

Originally published in the Panorama daily newspaper ( via World Bank.

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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Considering the fact that relations between China and the EU are shifting, they will continue since China’s position as a crucial economic powerhouse for the EU cannot be understated, especially as the EU confronts a real and technical economic downturn. In the Eurozone, countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Germany are experiencing a deceleration in economic growth, which requires immediate consideration. The primary reason for this is the industry-related crisis caused by the collapse of export operations on both domestic and global markets due to a lack of purchasing power.

If this mild downturn becomes a full-blown crisis, the economies of both the European Union and the United States could stagnate. Because of these challenges, the European Union (EU) must strike a fine balance between resolving the current crisis and accommodating U.S. demands. The recent summit of European Union leaders holds great importance as the EU determined its policy towards China. The EU’s economic prospects are highly dependent on developing strong ties with China.

When combined with China’s growing consumer market and massive expenditures in infrastructure, the European Union’s economy has a once-in-a-generation chance to rebound and thrive. The European Union (EU) stands to gain from closer economic connections with China due to the opportunities it presents for increased collaboration, broader trade, and the infusion of much-needed Chinese investment into the EU’s flagging industrial sectors.

Recognizing this undeniable potential, the EU must priorities capitalizing on the benefits of its partnership with China, whilst likewise making sure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and sustainable. The path towards achieving such equilibrium, however, is fraught with obstacles, mainly due to external pressures from the United States. Notably, the United States has imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on a number of European products, creating financial challenges for European companies. These actions are frequently used as pressure to influence Europe’s approach to China.

The EU is in a precarious position, compelled to navigate an environment where financial goals, geopolitical issues, and common values intersect. Maintaining a delicate equilibrium is essential. The pressure exerted by the United States highlights the necessity for Europe to assert its own interests and independence in international affairs. It is essential that the EU devise an independent and principled strategy that protects its own interests while approaching China with a productive discussion.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement that it is in the EU’s best interest to maintain “stable and constructive” ties with China has, in a sense, confirmed the continuation of EU-China relations. In a latest commentary, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, pointed to how the EU could modify its policy towards China. However, he advocated for “vigorous engagement” between the EU and Beijing.

Under the weight of US pressure, maintaining a delicate balance in EU-China relations requires careful handling. European leaders will have the opportunity to define the EU’s position on China at the upcoming EU summit, ushering in a future of balanced, constructive, and mutually beneficial engagement. It is essential that European leaders seize this opportunity and set a course that protects their economic interests and fundamental values. In this manner, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

At this critical juncture, leaders must engage in exhaustive dialogues that incorporate the many facets of the EU’s relationship with China. The promotion of human rights should be coupled with economic considerations. Considerations such as trade disparities, rights to intellectual property protection, and the development of equitable market practices must be addressed in an open discussion. This strategy will ensure an equitable playing field for EU and Chinese businesses, fostering an environment conducive to healthy competition and long-term economic growth.

The foundation of Sino-EU relations should base on mutual interest and respect, multilateralism, and economic exchanges, and they should be exempt from illicit US interference and pressures. By navigating these complexities and forging a path that safeguards economic interests and fundamental values, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation



photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The China-Germany cooperation exemplifies the transformative potential of collaboration based on mutual regard, shared objectives, and complementary strengths. This exceptional partnership has spawned a domino effect that extends beyond bilateral relations, inspiring other nations to pursue similarly mutually beneficial partnerships.

 As the world becomes more interconnected, countries can learn from the China-Germany model of cooperation, which fosters economic development, technological advancement, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange. By adhering to the principles of win-win cooperation, nations can construct a more prosperous, sustainable, and harmonious global community.

China and Germany’s dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation is a shining example of win-win collaboration on the global stage. Both nations have nurtured strong economic and diplomatic ties over the years, resulting in enormous advances and benefits for their respective societies.

Strong and coordinated global action is needed immediately to combat climate change and advance sustainable development. There is still a lot to be done, but China and Germany have already shown their dedication to environmentally friendly and low-carbon development. By aligning their strategies and exchanging best practices, they can expedite the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 shows its commitment to a deep low-carbon transformation of its economy and society. Through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) administered by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Federal Government supports Sino-German climate change cooperation.

 Collaboration in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy, and sustainable transportation can lead the way for a greener future, mitigating the effects of climate change and nurturing ecological equilibrium.

China and Germany have established a strong economic partnership that has benefited both countries significantly. Germany’s main commercial partner is China, and vice versa, and this strong bilateral commerce has led to significant economic growth and employment creation. This collaboration has given German businesses access to the sizable Chinese market.

Notably, the exchange of products, services, and knowledge between the two nations has fostered innovation, productivity, and economic resiliency, thereby laying the groundwork for long-term cooperation. This commitment to cooperation has yielded an array of beneficial effects, strengthening the conviction that win-win partnerships can drive progress and prosperity in an interdependent world.

The dynamic economic partnership that has grown between the two nations is one of the pillars of China-Germany cooperation. Germany, known for its scientific prowess, inventiveness, and precision engineering, found a favourable market in China, with its enormous customer base and rapidly expanding economy.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing expertise and devotion to infrastructure development have presented German businesses with incredible possibilities to expand their operations and enter new markets. Entrepreneurs from both nations could keep pursuing openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, as well as keep the stability of industrial and supply chains with high-level practical cooperation. This symbiotic relationship has allowed both nations to capitalize on their respective strengths, resulting in economic expansion and job creation for both countries.

China and Germany have also established cooperation in the fields of innovation and research, recognizing that advancements in these fields are crucial agents of economic and societal progress. Through joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institution-to-institution collaboration, both nations have been able to pool their intellectual resources, foster innovation, and address global challenges. This cooperation has not only led to revolutionary scientific discoveries, but it has also set the groundwork for future innovations in technology that will benefit all of humanity.

China and Germany have fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy in addition to their economic and technological cooperation. By encouraging education exchanges, cultural events, and intercultural dialogue, both countries have built bridges of appreciation, understanding, and friendship. Not only do these interactions enrich the lives of individuals, but they also strengthen the bilateral relationship as a whole. They facilitate dialogue, eliminate preconceived notions, and set the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships and respect.

By expanding on these accomplishments and upholding a spirit of mutual respect and shared objectives, the China-Germany partnership can continue to advance progress and inspire global collaboration.

The China-Germany model of win-win cooperation provides valuable lessons for nations seeking to forge prosperous partnerships. It emphasizes the significance of mutual respect, trust, and open communication as the foundations for productive collaboration. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on balance in strengths and resources, which allows nations to maximize the positive effects of cooperation.

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The Eurasian Zeitenwende: Germany and Japan at the Crossroads

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Image source: X @Bundeskanzler

Russia’s decision to invade in Ukraine in February of last year has been nothing short of a critical juncture in recent history—sending reverberations across the entirety of Eurasia. Seldom have events on one end of the continent been so consequential on the other. Russia’s invasion has shattered the prime directive underpinning the long peace after the Great Wars—the inviolable right to sovereignty has been shattered, as mass armed aggression has reared its head once again. Nowhere is this sweeping change felt than in Berlin and Tokyo—to capitals separated by over 12,453 kilometers of land and sea.

German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz spoke to the Bundestag just three days after Russia’s invasion, on the ‘historic turning point’, the Zeitenwende this moment presented. Not a year later, on December 16, after much negotiation Japan finally released their first National Security Strategy in almost a decade. Ukraine provided for both governments the impetus to shed decades of consensus on defense policy. Berlin and Tokyo were once partners in the greatest conflict wrought on mankind, and today they are once again on the same page—but this time arming in the name of global peace.

The postwar consensus

With 1945 came the crashing down of the German and Japanese imperial ambitions that underwrote the explosions of violence from 1914 to 1945. The first half of the twentieth century saw successive orders predicated the passing of power; the imperialist order long preceded the turn of the century, and came crashing with the First World War. From there, a brief liberal interlude of the Washington Conference was doomed to fail given Anglo-American isolationism, and from that chaos was born—a return to imperialism. With these passing orders, German and Japanese leaders debated and sought to reinvent themselves in response to changing tides across the globe.

In fact, twice in the last century, during Twenty-five Years Crisis, Wilhelmine and Nazi imperialism exploded in the European theater. For the Japanese, a slow roll to imperial domination in Asia began much before the war and exploded in the 1930s. This imperial flame was extinguished almost as soon as it was ignited—bringing with it the deaths of millions through genocide and war, and the destruction of much of the world’s industrial capacity. In the wake of it, a similar thinking overtook both Berlin and Tokyo. In the wake of the horrors of war, both peoples came to a similar conclusion that militarism ought be eschewed—with Japan going as far as enshrining its anti-militarist urge in the constitution’s article 9. Though it must be noted, the Germans accepted their guilt—the Japanese continue to engage in denialism and apologia.

For decades, under the guise of guilt in Germany, and occupation-enforced constitutional limits for Japan, both countries eschewed providing for their own national defense needs—instead relying on the all-powerful U.S. security guarantee.

A new look in a new environment

This change that has occurred here has happened within the context of what Dr. Kent Calder described in The New Continentalism: Energy and Twenty-First Century Geopolitics, and Supercontinent: the Logic of Eurasian Integration, as ‘proto-continentalism’—the modern stirrings of transcontinental integration. The continent was transformed by China’s Four Modernizations, the Oil Shock, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union—all requiring readjustments on the continent. Continental integration followed the integration and modernization within China, the Oil Shock highlighted the need for energy-driven interconnection, and the collapse of the Soviet Union meant no more Cold War political antagonisms. These changes meant that there were suddenly lower costs for trade across the continent—one rife with great complementaries. Like some geographic providence, the world’s largest energy producers in the Middle East, sat between the world’s biggest consumers in Europe and Asia.

Of course, this integration isn’t just relegated to the economic realm—but also the defense sector. Whereas integration was predicated by the near-collapse of mass interstate conflict, the War in Ukraine would seem to threaten just that. But in fact, integration ensures the costs associated with this conflict are felt from one end of the continent to the other. This inherently ties the most far-flung countries on matters of defense—exactly what ties Berlin and Tokyo, and their similar responses to the war in Ukraine. This integration doesn’t just tie Berlin and Tokyo, but also Seoul and Warsaw, both of which have seen deepened defense cooperation not limited to the production of South Korean tanks and artillery in Poland. Furthermore, Japan has sought out increased cooperation with NATO.

The mutually-reinforcing loop

Russia’s invasion has been an unmitigated tragedy for the people of Ukraine—but a boon for solidarity in the ‘Western’ security architecture, including the West’s numerous Asian allies and partners, and Eurasian integration writ large. In fact, the mutual economic ties that have fostered closer defense ties across the region, will continue to reinforce each other. Integration between these partners, across various sectors is the greatest mitigator of future conflict—an idea that underpins the great postwar peace, and one that will continue to endure.

Today, Germany and Japan, once imperial menaces to the international system, now make a proactive contribution to global peace—in deciding to behave like normal countries, and arm amidst a threatening global environment. Their contribution to the peace is in the solidification of transcontinental defense ties—ones predicated on deep economic integration.

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