EU urges Albania to tackle property title mayhem
The EU's ambassador to Tirana, said economic progress in Albania had suffered because of fuzzy ownership titles affecting almost all families
Albania must solve the huge problem of unclear and disputed property titles in order to attract foreign investors and meet European Union criteria for eventual membership, an EU envoy said on Friday.
Helmuth Lohan, the EU's ambassador to Tirana, said economic progress in Albania had suffered because of fuzzy ownership titles affecting almost all families and eroding citizens' confidence in democracy and the courts.
"Clear property titles and legal security are essential prerequisites for the prosperous development of the country, the attraction of foreign direct investment, social peace as well as for the country's European integration process," Lohan said.
Successive conservative and leftist governments since Albania toppled Communism have tried with little success to return property to rightful owners who were expropriated after World War Two by the late Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha.
Rural land has been distributed to those living on it while real estate in cities has been returned to pre-war owners, but the process has been marred by red tape and corruption, resulting in multiple registration of property titles.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha has played down the problem, saying it has not prevented foreign investors from buying up cheap land.
Lohan said tourism along Albania's Adriatic and Ionian Sea coasts, one of the country's main sectors for economic development, was a victim of the uncertainty.
A planned Club Mediterranee resort has been delayed for five years because of unresolved property and access issues, forcing Club Med to put the project on standby.
"Many interested investors have visited the Albanian coast after identifying its potential long ago. However, actual investments in tourism remain highly fragmented and minimal, precisely because of unresolved property issues," Lohan said.
He added that disputes over ownership had not only caused violence and even deaths, but also led to courts becoming tied up with property cases that take many years to be resolved. Disheartened by their own courts, many Albanians have complained to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, which has ruled in their favour, asking Albania for compensation.
Edlir Vokopola, head of the Urban Research Institute, said numerous changes to the laws governing arable land and real estate had made the restitution process and the clarification of rightful ownership even more difficult.
"This is the last time the train can stop at this station and we need to catch it, otherwise it will be much more difficult," said Vokopola, a former head of the state property registration office.
He said the Albanian state itself had failed to register as its own asset 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of land it owned at the end of World War Two, with the result that it owns much less today.
Deputy Economy Minister Eno Bozdo said Albania acknowledges the problem. "Unfortunately, it cannot be solved in the next few years," Bozdo added.
Reuters Last Mod: 07 Şubat 2009, 14:43