What’s New in the European Integration Process in Local Democracy Issues?

Since 2014, the Albanian Government has introduced the Administrative-Territorial Reform in parallel with the Decentralization Reform, reducing the number of municipalities from 378 to 61 but giving them greater competencies. Poor income collection at the local level and the low budget transferred from the central budget continues to accompany the weak municipal capacities to provide quality services. Various donors, mainly the European Union, are determined to support local government to face the challenges of Albania’s re-institutional reality.

Albania’s transition to democracy and a market economy has been turbulent. Even after 28 years of transition, the state of democracy is uncertain both at national and local levels. There is still an important politicization of the public institutions and there is a tendency for the centralization of powers in the hands of the executive. The poor implementation of mechanisms to demand accountability to the institution and the lack of an independent judiciary system that is incapable of giving justice has a significant impact on the lives of almost every citizen. At local level, these deficiencies of democracy are even more pronounced. This is particularly problematic, as at the local level citizens are closer to public institutions and there is a lack of results in governance that is more affecting their lives.

According to government statistics, local government receipts for the first quarter of 2017 were 43% higher than in 2016, while local government spending increased by 70%. This imbalance was partly due to increased personnel and operating expenses, which increased by 25% and 52% respectively for the first quarter of 2017, compared to 2016.

Following local government reforms, it was hoped that the cooperation of local government with civil society and citizens would improve, however co-operation remains limited both due to lack of capacity and willingness to draft public policies with public participation and consensus.

What’s New in the European Integration Process in Local Democracy Issues?

19 December 2018, Ura Vajgurore

The Integration Policy Forum, in co-operation with the House of Europe, with the support of the European Union Delegation in Albania, held a roundtable discussion at the Municipality of Bridge Bridge about the opportunities and obligations arising from the European Integration process in the field of local democracy, focusing on in the challenges of implementation at the local level in the territory of the Municipality Ura Vajgurore.

This meeting was attended by members of the Integration Policy Forum, as well as representatives of two other civil society organizations active in the field of youth support: Liburnetik and ATA Kamza Group.

At this meeting, was discussed with the youngsters of Ursa Vajgurore on the context in which Albania is on the road to membership in the European Union and the main challenges that local government faces in this context. By introducing and inviting young people to consult the Citizens Manual “Albania’s EU Membership”, the discussion focused on the argument that EU integration is not a process exclusively related to power, but a transformational path that encompasses society as a whole. In this framework, there is an important role to play in the interaction between local elected and citizens. As the most active part of society, young people have a catalytic role in this regard.

The deepening of decentralization reform carries with it opportunities for direct participation in local government and decision-making, as well as legislation on public information and consultation can and should be used by young people to increase accountability and transparency of local governments. The latter play a not least important role in the country’s integration agenda.

In this way, briefly discussed the obligations that municipalities have to fulfill within the political criteria in terms of democracy, law enforcement and human rights. What matters in this regard is the growth of human capacities of local government, accountability, transparency, participation in decision-making and interaction with civil society. Within the scope of the law enforcement was emphasized the strengthening of mechanisms for conflict of interest and anti-corruption measures at the local level. Even within the chapters of the acquis, municipalities play a significant role for each of them, considering their new or delegated functions by the central government. Importantly, agriculture and food safety, transport and road safety, local taxes and tariffs, environment and social protection and employment were highlighted.

The EU’s regional policy, otherwise known as the cohesion policy, now accounts for one third of the EU budget and aims to increase regional development and competitiveness.

It is precisely this reality that the municipalities of Albania will have to design, engage in to stimulate the business climate and provide services to support small and medium enterprises. In this regard, the Ura Vajgurore Municipality with the potential for the development of agriculture and agro-processing is provided with real opportunities to contribute to the economic consolidation of the region. The meeting also discussed the challenge of increasing the capacity of municipalities to absorb assistance and support from numerous EU funded instruments and programs at regional, bilateral and thematic level, such as cross-border cooperation programs, the Western Balkans Investment Framework , etc. The present youth also highlighted thematic programs of interest to them, such as Europe for Citizens, Creative Europe, etc.

The interest shown by the participants was reflected in the questions they came from regarding the opportunities for activating and hiring young people, as well as the curiosity regarding a clear perspective for opening EU membership negotiations. The activity also highlighted the need for information and knowledge on the process, actors and roles in Albania’s EU integration and the more frequent activation of young people in cultural and educational activities in order to strengthen the values ​​of active citizenship.

During the activity was inaugurated the opening of the open photo exhibition by the youngsters of Urgay Vajgurore on the social and cultural situation of the city and surrounding areas where improvements of cultural life are evidenced. Photos will be fired by activists who point out the current state of the city and administrative units and exhibitions with young people who will be invited to create their works on the topic “What is Decoration and Local Government?” In order to raise awareness of them specific topics such as environmental pollution, social inclusion and public service delivery.