30th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – 22 to 24 March 2016

Conclusions fo the fact-finding mission in Albania (24-26 February 2016)

Speaking Notes by Jos WIENEN, (Netherlands EPP-CCE)

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Dear colleagues,

It is my pleasure to outline for you major findings of the Congress’ Fact-finding Mission carried out in February in Tirana. This was a new experience, in addition to the post-monitoring, since – for the first time – further to the observation of the 2015 local elections in Albania, the Congress engaged in a post-electoral dialogue in the broader framework of its mechanisms to assess the situation of grassroots’ democracy. You may know that in the context of the administrative-territorial reform and the local elections held on 21 June of last year, the redrawing of electoral borders was much debated between the Albanian Government and the Opposition. Further to a request by the Opposition, the Congress decided to organise a Fact-finding Mission after the elections, taking into account also latest developments with regard to the implementation of the decentralisation reform.

Consequently, a delegation composed by Anders KNAPE, President of the Chamber of Local Authorities, Barbara TOCE, Vice-President of the Congress and Stewart DICKSON, Rapporteur on the 2015 local elections, and myself, visited Albania from 24 to 26 February. We were also accompanied by the Congress’ Expert on electoral matters, Professor Christina BINDER and our secretariat.

The high-level meetings in Tirana with different stakeholders - notably the Minister of State for Local Government Issues, the Mayor of Tirana, the Head of the Democratic Party, representatives of  local and regional Associations, members of Parliamentary Committees and of the Central Electoral Commission as well as civil society representatives - made this mission a truly interesting experience. 

Against the background of the very recently adopted Law on “Organisation and Functioning of Local Governance” (which was enacted only in January), our delegation was to assess the climate in the aftermath of the local elections and the state of implementation of the decentralisation reform.

The somehow sluggish pace of reform implementation is partly due to the time-line of the events: the new administrative-territorial structure was adopted already in July 2014 but it mainly concerned the so-called “map” by which the number of Municipalities was reduced from 373 to 61.  This created a much heated debate in Parliament. Further to this first piece of legislation, the law which provides for the legal basis of the broader scope of competencies for the local authorities came only in December 2015 and was enacted, as I said, recently.

In between, the 2015 local elections were held and the local and regional representatives elected therein often felt left alone with the implementation of the reform.  In an atmosphere of confusion regarding their new competences in the newly amalgamated Municipalities, they were also confronted with financial problems inherited from the past and with the lack of human resources. Altogether, this contributed to the complexity of the transition process.

Regarding the post-electoral environment, the overall polarised political situation – that we already know for quite some time in Albania – has not changed much, in particular after the victory of the ruling coalition in the 2015 local elections. Already prior to these elections, the Opposition had brought to the Congress’ attention allegations of gerrymandering. According to the Democratic Party, the redrawing of the electoral boundaries occurred in favour of the Socialist Party currently in power. It seems that the redrawing process might have lacked grounded justifications in some places, in particular in Tirana and Shkoder. However, the new Law on Local Governance provides for several procedural safeguards aiming at ensuring fair representation of all Albanian citizens. The Congress thus welcomes these provisions and will support their full implementation.

 A broader electoral reform is only at the earliest stage of preparation and representatives of the Ad-hoc Parliamentary Committee in charge of this reform ensured that the recommendations of the Congress and of OSCE/ODIHR will be followed-up. Major issues in this respect include the de-politicisation and professionalisation of the election administration and voting rights of approximately 1 million Albanian citizens living de facto abroad. There is also the issue of strengthening the right of independent candidates to stand on an equal basis in elections. It is crucial for Albania to achieve a legal framework in line with European standards which constitutes a prerequisite for increased public confidence in electoral processes.

Last not least, corruption has been identified as a major concern by all our interlocutors.  At local level, political patronage remains a wide-spread phenomenon in Albania. It consists in rewarding electoral support in the form of jobs in public administrations or state-affiliated businesses. In this respect, a legislative package aiming at tackling corruption at local level is under preparation.

In conclusion, we can say that there is room for development with regard to several issues:

-       continued reform of legislation, in particular with regard to fiscal decentralisation and the fight against corruption ;

-       duly implementation of existing legislation;

-       de-politicisation of the public sphere  including electoral bodies at all levels and

-       the creation of a climate of political consensus between the Government and the Opposition with regard to fundamental decisions such as the territorial division of the country. 

The Congress will continue to assist Albania in achieving these goals through innovative assistance programmes and established mechanisms to monitor the situation of local and regional democracy. In this respect, we are looking forward to an in-depth Monitoring visit to assess the implementation of the administrative-territorial reform in the light of the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government after the next general elections, which are due to be held in 2017.

Thank you for your attention!