It is not just the earthquake that is affecting the Balkan state of Albania

ATuesday morning at 4 o'clock the Hackaj family almost fell out of bed. "The walls wobbled, my wife and children hid under the tables," reports Ardian Hackaj, still agitated by the devastating earthquake that shook Albania two days ago. "We pulled our coats over our pajamas and ran seven floors down the street. And that at only 7 degrees, "says the man. In the meantime, like thousands of other people, the family has fled south from the capital Tirana. Again and again there are aftershocks that made a fierce fear.

Christian Geinitz

Christian Geinitz

Business Correspondent for Austria, East Central and Southeastern Europe and Turkey based in Vienna.

The fear is not unfounded, so far the authorities have counted 500 earthquakes. The number of victims rose on Wednesday to 28 dead and 650 injured. The quake on Tuesday reached a magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was located 34 kilometers northwest of Tirana, even closer to the cities of Durres and Thumane, where there were the most victims. The government has since declared a state of emergency. Affected Hackaj explains what it means when the state replaces all damage: "That's right, but puts the budget under pressure, with which it is not the best."

Hackaj is an economist and research director at the Institute for Cooperation and Development CDI, a respected think tank in Tirana. He can not yet foresee the economic consequences of the disaster. What is clear to him is that not only has the infrastructure suffered, but private consumption is also falling, one of the main pillars of growth. On this Thursday and Friday, the Albanians celebrate their national holidays, traditionally with big purchases like in America for "Black Friday".

Immediately rushed to help

This time, however, the people held back because they were confused and avoided Tirana. The capital is home to 30 percent of all inhabitants, who make 50 percent of private consumption. But the catastrophe also has positive aspects for the scientist. Within Albania, the need leads to more solidarity, and exposes some political conflict as a triviality. Now that society is calling for state aid and functioning institutions, the erosion of public institutions and the "privatization rage" are being checked: "In difficult times, the functionality of the state is in demand, it turns out that the market can not regulate everything".

As a forward-looking Hackaj also assesses the current European support. The EU, individual Member States but also the neighboring countries in the Western Balkans rushed to help immediately. "Maybe this will lead to a rethink that we should all be in the same boat and all should belong to the EU," hopes Hackaj, whose institute is doing a lot of research into European integration and Albania's reception perspectives into the EU.

Credit increase for the middle class

The country with 2.9 million inhabitants has been a candidate country since 2014. But so far there has been no decision by the heads of state and government to start negotiations with Tirana. The Commission and the European Parliament have indeed spoken out in favor, as has the German Bundestag. However, individual governments are blocking talks with Albania and North Macedonia, including France and the Netherlands. That is why the European Council postponed the opening of negotiations for the third time in October.

As long as that is the case, the exodus of young and comparatively well-educated Albanians continues, who see no perspective in their homeland, warns Hackaj. Since the 1990s, a quarter of the workforce has left Albania. "Imagine that in a company, that would have to close," he says. The Viennese Institute for Eastern Europe WIIW has counted in the last decade a migration of 165,000 people, 6 percent of the population. The Albanian economist at WIIW, Isilda Mara, fears that a further delay in EU negotiations could jeopardize reform efforts, such as in case law or in the fight against corruption.

The country is also affected by climate change. Albania is struggling with increasingly severe droughts that are damaging not only agriculture, but also hydropower, a key economic sector. On the other hand, Mara considers encouraging consumption (in normal times) to be driven by rising real wages, a rise in lending for small and medium-sized enterprises and households fueled by a loose monetary policy and the growing importance of tourism in the Adriatic. The unemployment rate is decreasing, but still amounts to almost 12 percent. The growth prospects for 2019 have lowered the economist to 2.8 percent. By 2018, the increase had amounted to 4.1 percent.

. (tagsToTranslate) Ardian Hackaj (t) European Union (t) Earthquake (t) Family (t) Balkan state (t) Crisis (t) Albania

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