13 August 2020
Posteado en : Interview
El coordinador del proyecto de cooperación europeo de competencia en Albania nos cuenta cómo han sido los últimos meses de trabajo en plena crisis sanitaria
Alberto Herrera, coordinator of the Twinning cooperation project financed by the EU “Strengthening of the competition authority in Albania”, shares his view from this country on the current context caused by COVID19. He tells us how the project has managed to rapidly adapt the training and activities to the new situation, without sacrificing the results. He also talks about the importance of monitoring competition in the midst of a health crisis and cooperation as the cornerstone to promote exchange between specialists.
What is the project about and what difficulties have arisen with the pandemic?
The project that I coordinate is a Twinning project funded by the European Union and carried out by the National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) and the FIIAPP. The aim of the project is to ensure the protection of free competition in Albania through training activities between Spanish experts and their Albanian counterparts, which until the pandemic began required the presence of Spanish experts in the country.
The COVID19 outbreak and the resulting social distancing and confinement measures imposed both in Spain and Albania caught us totally off guard, I suppose like everyone else. This meant that planned activities had to be cancelled, as the experts were unable to travel from Spain, which plunged us into great initial uncertainty.
However, this did not result in a shutdown of our office in Albania’s activities, from where, from the outset and working from home , we focused our efforts on analysing the most appropriate strategies to ensure the continuity and achievement of project goals, coordination between all parties for an adequate design and re-planning of activities and the reconsideration of the communication strategy.
What security measures were established in Albania? How has the project work been adapted to the situation?
In Albania, measures were taken similar to those in the different neighbouring
countries and in the states of the European Union: confinement of the population, curfews at certain times of the day, closure of land borders, interruption of regular air and sea passenger transport services, suspension of activities for a large part of the public and private sector institutions and the closure of sports, cultural and leisure facilities.
However, once the situation in Albania improved, with the return to office work in mid-April, the project decided on how to resume activities with the aim of achieving the same results as those obtained face-to-face.
Based on this condition, as well as taking into account the preferences and needs of our beneficiary, from the project we suggested the possibility to institutions of going beyond the on-line teaching of master classes and organising e-learning in a form similar to those used by many universities and companies.
Finally, the chosen platform was Moodle, made available by the FIIAPP and which allows the development of interactive training from the didactic materials prepared by the CNMC experts.
Has the pandemic affected the subject on which the project is working?
Since the start of this crisis, the main goal of the European Commission and the Competition Authorities of the Member States, such as the National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC) in Spain, has been to ensure that essential products to protect consumer health against the virus, such as masks and gels disinfectants, should continue to be available at competitive prices.
Investigations aimed at discovering and sanctioning anti-competitive agreements between operators or abuses by companies with a dominant position in sectors sensitive to the health crisis have become a priority for the Competition Authorities in our surroundings, and in Albania too.
In line with these objectives, and with the purpose of contributing to the fight against the pandemic in Albania within the scope of our project, we launched an interesting initiative that has allowed us to deepen the collaboration given to our beneficiary.
This consisted of the CNMC making non-confidential information available to the Albanian Competition Authority regarding the actions and investigations carried out by the it with the aim of protecting consumers. One example was the launch of a mailbox to centralise complaints and queries related to the application of competition rules in the context of COVID19 or the initiation of investigations in the markets producing and distributing health care or funeral services.
Why is it important, at a difficult time like this, that cooperation should not stop?
In these difficult times in which the notions or values of transnationality and universal citizenship are being questioned, cooperation between countries becomes even more meaningful – the exchange of experiences, technical and managerial knowledge established within the framework of technical cooperation projects like ours works both ways. Both ways because it not only works in favour of the beneficiary country, but is also enriching for the implementing country. Therefore, in adverse circumstances, international cooperation offers a unique chance to exchange solutions to problems that affect us all.
What is the current situation in Albania? And that of the project?
Although there were infections, the effects of the disease in Albania were less widespread than those of Western Europe. The country has worked to reactivate its activity and economy, and the measures taken have been gradually lifted, but naturally with the adoption of the necessary precautions.
Regarding the project, the parties involved have agreed on a two-month extension, which is approximately the time for which the activities have been suspended, to allow the completion of what had been planned.
How has the relationship with the FIIAPP been at this difficult time?
Since the beginning of this crisis, there has been constant concern and coordination from the FIIAPP, firstly, to guarantee the safety of those of us abroad and secondly to ensure the continuity of the projects, given the importance of cooperation for the parties involved, as I have said before.
Once the parties to the project agreed on the resumption of on-line activities, the support of the FIIAPP, by making the Moodle platform available to the project, was decisive to guarantee optimal results, as well as the technical support and collaboration of the Department of Knowledge Management responsible for it.
The commencement of activities in e-learning format would certainly not have been possible without the support and intervention of Knowledge Management, which loaded the didactic content onto the platform.
Despite everything negative that the pandemic has brought, is there anything positive that you can draw from the situation?
Unfortunately, I feel unable to draw any positive consequences from the whole situation. Perhaps, after a time and with some hindsight, it might be possible to make a constructive reflection on all this, not limited to the repetition of clichés and stock phrases.
I personally believe that this health crisis has placed us in a very complicated situation, with a scope and consequences as yet unseen. Not only has it caused the pain of all those who have lost a loved one, but it has also deprived many people of their livelihood, putting them in a situation of economic and labour uncertainty and precariousness.
For long periods of time, a large part of the population has been subject to great pressure and stress as a consequence of the confinement and social distancing measures taken by different governments, with subsequent harm to physical and mental health.
Neither should we sight of the curtailment suffered by principles, values and rights that we believed unquestionable in democratic societies. For example, the rights of assembly and freedom of movement, among others. I am sorry I cannot offer a more positive view, but as of today, I do not believe that these events will contribute to improving our world or making us better people.
02 April 2020
Posteado en : Entrevista
'This experience is posing a fascinating challenge'
Alberto Herrera, coordinator of the Twinning project ‘Strengthening the Competition Authority of Albania‘, tells us about his experience as an FIIAPP expatriate.
What was your arrival in Albania like? Do you remember anything amusing at that time?
The start of the Twinning project was at the end of last July, specifically on the 23rd, coinciding with the start of the summer holiday period preferred by the Albanians, which, as in Spain, and due to the high temperatures, is the month of August.
As a result, throughout that month, my team (made up of an assistant and an interpreter) and I were working practically alone, which, having recently arrived and working in a foreign institution, made the beginnings a little more complicated.
On one occasion, we even got locked inside the building of the project beneficiary institution, the Competition Authority of Albania. Those in charge of closing the facilities at the end of the day, seeing that the usual Albanian staff had left, proceeded to lock up, forgetting that “the Spanish”, as my collaborators (also Albanian) called us, were still working. We had a hard time finding the person with the keys, but we took it all with great humour.
Apart from that, I would highlight the complicated times as a result of the earthquake suffered in the Tirana-Durrës region, in the early hours of 25-26 November, and the strong aftershocks that occurred for more than a week.
And the adaptation period? What were the most and least difficult things for you?
Tirana is generally a pleasant and peaceful city, full of cafés, restaurants and terraces. Albanians have a warm, Mediterranean character: they like to enjoy public spaces and gather around a good table or chat for hours in cafés. Their cuisine is highly elaborate and the result of an interesting mix between the country’s Balkan heritage and Italian, Turkish and Greek influences. The variety and quality of its fish is particularly striking, which for a person from the coast like me, a native of Cartagena, Spain, is really appreciated.
The main adaptation problems come from the different cultural codes, and from the difficulty communicating. In this regard, the gestural and body language (ways of agreeing, showing disagreement, etc.) is different from that used in Spain or in other countries around us, which can sometimes be puzzling.
Is this your first experience of living outside Spain? Is it proving to be very different from your previous ones? How long have you been there and how much time do you have left?
Apart from academic stays abroad in countries of the same historical and cultural context, such as Portugal, this is my first long-term work experience in another country.
Given that the project started at the end of July 2019 and is expected to go on for one year, I might be said to be just over halfway.
What is your work like, your daily routine? Is it very different from the routine you had in Spain?
My daily routine is very similar to the one I had in Spain, given that the Albanian Public Administration hours are very similar to those in our country. You start work very early and finish at a reasonable time, which makes it easier to achieve a balance between work and family.
What does differ a lot is the way of working with respect to my position in the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), since my functions as Resident Twinning Adviser require constant coordination between multiple players, not only from Albania but also from Spain and, of course, from the European institutions, as it is a project funded by the European Union.
What is the relationship with FIIAPP like?
FIIAPP is in charge of managing the budget and organising the trips of the experts from the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), and of supervising and advising on the preparation of internal documents and following up on the governing administrative procedures.
There is therefore very close and constant collaboration with FIIAPP staff, without which it would be impossible to achieve the objectives. The functions and support provided by the FIIAPP technician in charge of this project, Ángela García-Monge, are essential.
Likewise, the work carried out by the personnel in charge of organising the trips of the experts participating in the activities of the Twinning project is essential. Finally, I would like to highlight the advice provided by the FIIAPP Communication department as well as the always prompt response and attention provided by Human Resources.
How would you rate your experience of working as a FIIAPP expatriate?
Without a doubt, and after the first semester of the project, my experience is proving very positive. From a professional point of view, this is an opportunity to expand and diversify my CV and my job skills.
From a personal point of view, the experience of living in a country with a different culture and idiosyncrasy, in which people of different religions coexist in harmony, is totally enriching.
But as well as an opportunity, this experience is posing a fascinating challenge: leaving my comfort zone and facing new ways of thinking, working, observing and understanding life.
In short, realising that we are all equal, with or in spite of our differences. Or, in the words of the Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector:
“Life is the same everywhere and people have to be people.”