"The big news in Albania," says Besnik Duraj, Partner at Drakopoulos, "not just in the legal market, but in the social and economic areas as well, is the ongoing struggle with judicial reform."
"The country", Duraj reports, "has been dealing with these problems almost since the beginning of Democracy." Even this current push towards reform is sliding towards failure, and Duraj's frustration with the inevitable delays, finger-pointing, and politicizing of the process is palpable. "This is not a really a new thing," he says with a sigh. "We’ve been struggling with this current process for at least two years now." According to Duraj, the country’s reputation for judicial corruption, lack of transparency, and lack of predictability is the biggest obstacle to moving talks about potential EU membership forward, and the market risks and inconsistent (and unreliable) law enforcement is the reason foreign investment in the country continues to lag. “So this is our country's number one priority," he says.
Still, and despite its importance, the actual process of addressing the necessary reform remains, unfortunately, highly politicized, which Duraj describes as "the no. 1 problem." Indeed, he notes that the Constitutional amendments alone took 18 months to pass — and even that only came after substantial international pressure. In addition, he reports, "what started as a technical matter, day by day turned into a political matter." The result, he said, is unsurprisingly muddy. "We know it’s not very clear when lawyers draft — you can imagine how bad it gets when politicians do it!"
Staying on the topic, Duraj also pointed to a shocking lack of transparency in the process, with the actual draft laws being debated very difficult to find. "Lawyers should be part of the solution," he says, unhappily, "but we are often seen by society as part of the problem. We have a passive role in the process, and it’s a pity."
"If even the constitutional process took 18 months …" he says, trailing off, before picking up with a combination of black humor and frustration: "And we still have 40 laws to debate! And we’re still discussing only the first seven!"
All of this, he says, delays the foreign investments the country so desperately needs. "And this is what bothers me," he says, "because this country has a lot to offer, and we are waiting for serious Western investors. And they are waiting for the country to be able to provide a secure market, financially and legally."
Otherwise, he says, there’s nothing really new to report. He’s not seeing so much M&A in the country, but he describes the energy sector as extremely busy, as the country’s Central Bank has reported that about 60% of all foreign investments in Q2 2016 were concentrated in major energy projects — 24% more than the same period a year ago. Mainly concession projects, Duraj reports, but also some privatizations and capital injection in building up hydro-power plants and putting the necessary infrastructure into place, as "the country is not yet at the stage where it’s all built up and energy can be sold."
There are some other industries going well too, he says, pointing towards exports in the garment and footwear industry, compared to the extracting industry, which has had a drastic decrease in investment recently. Client service, call centers, joint centers for data processing, technology information services are all strong as well, he reports, and "all seem not to be too affected by the crisis or the other political issues we’re facing."
"But also litigation," he says with a laugh. "I don’t think there’s ever a period where litigators aren’t busy."
In “The Buzz” we interview experts on the legal industry living and working in Central and Eastern Europe to find out what’s happening in the region and what legislative/professional/cultural trends and developments they’re following closely.