George Protopapas: Emirates investment wedge in Albania – Challenge for Turkey
The United Arab Emirates is penetrating the Western Balkans with significant investments in the context of foreign powers competing for political and economic influence. The development of the port of Durres by a multinational company of the Emirates with the aim of turning it into one of the largest tourist ports in the Adriatic, is a significant investment, in a country where Turkey has developed strong economic diplomacy and influence.
The construction of the port of Durres has been undertaken by the multinational group Emmar Group, whose founder is Mohamed Alabar, known as the builder and owner of the skyscraper “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai. The government of Eddie Rama and the multinational giant Emmar have reached an agreement for the construction of its Durrës marina and according to Albanian sources, government representatives went to the United Arab Emirates for talks with the contractor of the project.
Mohamed Alabar said in a statement that “this investment is expected to improve the quality of life of the people of Durres, turning the coastal city into one of the most beautiful attractions in the Adriatic”, adding that “it will be an incentive for further influx investment and consequently the creation of new jobs in Albania “.
Based on the project plan, the construction of a marina for yachts, a modern passenger terminal, as well as buildings for commercial use, and the creation of hotel units is envisaged. The amount of the investment comes to 2 billion euros and the works are expected to start next March.
It is pointed out that although it has been decided to move the commercial port of Durres to the Porto Romano area, the passenger terminal will remain in the marina of Durres. At the same time, an international tender has already been announced for the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and transport of the tourist port of Avlona, in the framework of a concession agreement.
Investments in Serbia as well
The United Arab Emirates has also invested in the city of Durres to build housing. Two months ago, the Abu Dhabi Development Fund approved a $ 70 million grant to finance the construction of more than 2,000 housing units in the city. The urban reconstruction program in Durres is taking place after the severe damage that the area suffered from recent earthquakes.
Durres is Albania’s second-largest city and its port one of the largest freight hubs in the Adriatic Sea, connecting Albania with Western Europe. The UAE has already invested in Serbia. Their investments in Serbia increased from 300,000 euros in 2010 to 180m euros in 2018.
Emirates state-owned Etihad Airlines has bought a 49% stake in state-owned Air Serbia. In 2015, an Emirates company entered into an agreement to develop a 3.5 billion euro real estate project along the Belgrade Riverfront. The Belgrade government has also been given loans totaling more than $ 1 billion on generous repayment terms.
The investment involvement of the Emirates in Albania also has a geopolitical dimension, as it is considered an attempt to offset Turkish influence. Tayyip Erdogan and Eddie Rama are close allies and signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement in January, as well as cooperation agreements on health, education, construction, infrastructure, and culture.
State-owned Turkish Airlines owns 49% of Air Albania and a tripartite agreement was also signed in February 2019 between Albcontrol, Turkish Airlines, and private companies. Turkey is also infiltrating Albanian society, as Erdogan exploits Islam to advance his strategic plans.
The Emirates, which is a strong competitor of Turkey in the Middle East, by investing in the port of Durres, aspire to gain a significant foothold in both the Muslim population of Albania and the political scene. The development of the region by another Muslim country, the Emirates, with strong economic weight, is a challenge for Turkey, which is promoting its neo-Ottoman expansionist strategy in the Western Balkans. It is known that Islamist extremist fighters from the Western Balkans have fought in Syria on the side of the opposition forces cooperating with Turkey.
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