Dear Chief Negotiator,
Dear Deputy Minister,
Dear representatives from the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Finance and Economy, Agency for Support to Local Government, and School of Public Administration,
Dear Regional authorities,
Dear Mayors and Heads of EU Units,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for accepting my invitation!
It is a great pleasure for me to have this working conference today with all of you. As much as I enjoy working and living in Tirana, I enjoy very much being in touch with the rest of Albania when I get the chance to see the country and the core of its people, their aspirations, living conditions, priorities.
And what a stunning setting for our discussion today! Thank you, Mayor/Flamur, for your kind hospitality!
I need to start my remarks from the title of this conference: ‘Albanian Municipalities and the EU integration process’. If anyone still has any doubt, let me stress: the role of local government in the EU accession process is fundamental.Approximately 70% of the implementation of the EU acquis in Albania will happen at the local level. Therefore, local government is expected to take on an increasingly active role in this process and establish an enabling environment that promotes EU values and meets the real needs of citizens according to EU standards.
Timely preparation, full involvement of the local government, and building the required capacities at the local level are all essential to the EU integration success. It is important to note that many of the EU legislation and standards start to apply well before accession.
It is equally important – just the other side of the same coin –that the national authorities take into account local needs and concerns in preparing the Albanian negotiating positions and in amending national policies and legislation in line with the EU rules and requirements.
This does not mean involving only the local authorities, but also civil society, entrepreneurs, youth groups, and others into the process. It is necessary to develop a dialogue and debate in multiplayer circles that will facilitate the country’s progress towards the EU integration and eventual membership. The role of the municipal leadership and elected councils in fostering and supporting such dialogue is crucial.
These are the reasons why the EU is paying more and more attention and increasing assistance to local government in Albania, as Albania is progressing towards EU accession. The financial support to local government has not only increased in the volume of financing - amounting today to EUR 34 million - but it has also enlarged and broaden its scope.
Today the EU supports all the four areas of the decentralisation strategy:
Institutional and capacity development for a better understanding of EU accession requirements and access to EU funding through the consolidation of the EU units at municipal level.
Local service delivery and economic development – strengthening human and infrastructural capacities at the local level in order to increase the efficiency of public service delivery to citizens and enhance local economic development and local democracy.
Policy development through the support to the Consultative Council, fostering a more efficient and effective dialogue between central and local government.
Fiscal decentralisation and legal harmonisation: the new Good Governance budget support to the central government is linked (with two specific indicators) to Albania advancing efforts and delivering results in these fields.
In this context, I am pleased to launch today our latest initiatives in support to local government.
Two previously-supported projects have produced good results so far and they are continuing in their work:
‘Municipalities for Europe’ has been instrumental in assisting Albania establish EU Units at municipal level. The EU units – the ‘local EU Ambassadors’ as I like to refer to them - play an important role. We have invested to raise their capacities. They need to be further supported, especially by their Mayors.
STAR has been a backbone ensuring that one-stop shops are available for citizens to request and receive administrative services in all municipalities of Albania. I understand the ambition is now to bring the services even closer to the citizens, at the level of the administrative unit, and develop modalities to make services available also remotely, in line with the overall government e-policy. The EU marks today its contribution to STAR (EUR 2.5 million) and I like to take this occasion to remind that we support UNDP’s implementation of this project together with other donor partners like Switzerland and Sweden.
But most notably, today I welcome and introduce to you our new programme - ‘EU for Municipalities’, a scheme of direct grants to municipalities in response to many field visits when local authorities and local communities raised their concrete needs with us. All municipalities will be able to apply and we will have a call for grant applications every six months! The first call will be in November forgrants up to EUR 200 000 (for a grants total of EUR 1.75 mill). The grants will support local public infrastructure and services, local economic development, innovation, job creation, environmental protection and youth empowerment. We expect that – through a competitive process – about one third of Albanian municipalities benefits from these EU-funded grants. Again, it will be crucial that municipalities consult with their local communities and reflect on their needs and priorities when deciding on what projects to propose.
One very important point on the grant scheme: in the IPA 2020 Financing Agreement, the Government of Albania has committed – as a formal condition - to provide a co-financing of at least 10% of the amount of each sub-grant included in the EU for Municipalities grant scheme. I am looking at the Government Representatives in a hope that they will confirm this commitment, as the budget for 2022 is being prepared, so that we can deploy this EU financial assistance to the benefit of local communities.
The success of these activities will depend both on the implementers and on all stakeholders’ positive contribution. Our channels of communication remain open whenever further improvements are possible.
But there is only so much that donors and international partners can do. The next speakers are much more competent to outline where Albania itself wants to go next in the decentralisation efforts and how central and local governments themselves can work together so that every Albanian is involved in the EU integration process. These are the key topics on which I hope to exchange during the second hour of today’s event.