International Seminar “The state of Regionalisation in Albania : Progress and Challenges”, Tirana (Albania) 27 July 2012.
Working session: Regionalisation in Europe: general framework and new tendencies.
Speech by Mr Andreas KIEFER, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
It is a pleasure to be back in Tirana to share with you experiences on the way to strengthening local and regional democracy in Albania. I am very grateful to Deputy Minister Poni for his tireless efforts in making use of international developments to bring information back to your country, to share it with the representatives of all levels of government. I am also very satisfied to see that the different governments Albania has had in the last few years, share the view of promoting a further decentralisation process, which was started in 1999.
During Albania’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, several issues of special concern for local and regional authorities have been identified. The Congress is very happy to contribute to making Albania’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers a success. The issues of common interest are, for example:
These activities of Mr Poni and his team and of you, the members of the National Association of local and regional authorities show continuous active involvement at the international level. I am very pleased to see this climate of openness and of exchange that is also represented in today’s conference.
When I was responsible for European Affairs in the Land of Salzburg in Austria, a couple of years ago, we had close cooperation with the Albanian Regions members in the Assembly of European Regions, and we had very concrete cooperation also in the area of development of tourism. The delegation from Durres came to Land Salzburg to study the experiences of a small region where tourism is also an important source of public income. This openness to draw conclusions from other experiences is something that makes the Albanian regions quite well known among their regional partners in other European countries.
I am also happy to see some participants that contributed to the conference that the Congress organized with the support of Switzerland. I would like to thank the Swiss authorities for that support in the process of establishing a national association of local authorities in order to identify special needs and the positions of local and regional authorities in the dialogue with national government. One element is that the regions and the local authorities play a role in implementing national legislation. As far as we are concerned, we see that the Albanian legislation is, in comparison with another countries, good and advanced, but the implementation needs some improvement. In all these cooperation activities the philosophy of the Council of Europe and the Congress in particular, is to offer the variety of choices, which are discussed by yourselves, adapted to your specific needs, you take ownership and implement what you find fit and useful for your concrete situation. I would like to encourage you to continue this way.
The Congress in the Council of Europe
At the beginning please allow me a remark concerning the different actors, institutions and organisations at Council of Europe level. In the Council of Europe there are three political bodies:
These political bodies work together: the Congress presents recommendations to the Committee of Ministers and interacts also with the Parliamentary Assembly. The members of the Congress are proposed by national associations of local and regional authorities and adopted by the national government for a period of 4. The Congress is fully involved in the institutional architecture of the Council of Europe. For example, the Secretary General of the Congress is participating in the bi-weekly meetings of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies, of the Ambassadors. The Congress is an Assembly of 318 elected politicians from regions and municipalities and from the intermediate level from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe and comprises a variety of experiences of local, of intermediate and of regional authorities, with different responsibilities, different traditions and with different identities.
The Congress has a task to promote local and regional democracy. We do that by being a forum of exchange for local and regional politicians, for experts to discuss in our sessions and in our committee meetings. We are very much looking forward to receiving your new Albanian delegation in the Congress as of October this year and I understand that the negotiations between the Ministry and the Associations are proceeding very well.
The Congress is also a monitoring body. It has the responsibility to look into the performance of member states who have committed themselves to obeying the principles of local autonomy laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, a European Treaty, signed and ratified by 45 of the 47 countries. Our politicians, both regional and local, supported by an academic expert, visit the countries and look how the legislation and the political practice comply with the commitments undergone by the member state. It is not a surprise when I announce that Albania is on the monitoring calendar of the Congress for the end of this year. This follows the monitoring report from 2006. The report will serve both the national level as well as the local and the regional levels, to feed the discussions for the process of further decentralisation.
The Congress promotes ethical behaviour, good governance, transparency and fighting corruption and it developed a code of good conduct for local and regional politicians. We are working closely with the Fundamental Rights Agency and with the Committee of the Regions of the EU in promoting human rights at local level. So there is full coherence with our partners.
The Congress deals thematically with questions in the core business of the Council of Europe like migration, integration, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, integration of Roma and with the campaigns of the CoE such as fighting violence against women violence against children.
The concrete and operational activities of the Congress aim at supporting the regions and local authorities in developing their autonomy, their responsibility and their capacity to act and thus to respond to the needs of the people. We are discussing and sharing experiences, for example, in the challenges that direct democracy brings from representative democracy in different countries. We see motivation in how to increase the participation in elections but also a way to delegate unpopular decisions from the elected politicians back to the voters.
So this sphere of citizens’ participation is a very important one and I am very glad that Mr Poni convinced the Albanian government to integrate this into the priorities of the Albanian Presidency.
The Reference Framework
Let me now mention some key aspects of the “Council of Europe Reference Framework For Regional Democracy”. I am happy to be able to offer this key document also in the Albanian language. In the brochure in your files you will also find the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and its additional protocol on citizen participation – all are reproduced in the Albanian language. Furthermore, you will find in English the latest recommendations of the Congress after the monitoring visit in 2006, and after the observation of the local elections in 2009. The one from 2006 may be obsolete in some parts but is interesting to see what the recommendations were and then to compare it with the developments that took place in the last few years.
The legal basis for local autonomy in Council of Europe member states is the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This international treaty is valid for local authorities only. This means that there is a common understanding in Europe that - to a different degree - municipalities, cities and towns, must have an area of their own responsibility without political supervision of the next level and an area of delegated competencies.
Within this Charter there are provisions on the necessary financial equipment of the local authorities, with own resources, with transfers. I am particularly pleased to see that the share of discretional parts of the budget of the municipalities in Albania has increased substantially over the last years.
The Congress is pleased that there is a real will to increase the responsibility, accountability and responsiveness of politicians at local and regional level towards the citizens and tax payers.
While there exists a legally binding document for local autonomy, there is no comparable legally binding instrument for the regional level. The Congress proposed a “Charter for Regional Autonomy” in the 1990’s, but this project was not supported by a majority of the member states. There were several attempts to come back to that project. There was, however, no sufficient will for a new legal instrument and therefore the Conference of Ministers responsible for local authorities and the Congress agreed to draft a so called reference framework for regional democracy. This reference framework comprises different options for different realities in member states and describes
There is a chapter about the regional bodies and its internal organisation, which means an executive, a controlling - and sometimes law making - assembly, and an administration which is under the responsibility of the respective regional authority. It should not be a national administration structure that is provided for to support the regional body. Furthermore, there are statements on governance, principles of good governance, about financing, the needs to have proper resources and also a very important element on national, international relations. It is not only the ability to engage in cross-border cooperation or in interregional cooperation, but it is also the right to participate in European and sometimes even global associations of municipalities and of regions.
This reference framework now is used by the Congress when it undertakes its monitoring visits concerning the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It does not have a legally binding force but member states have accepted those principles in the reference framework when giving responsibility to the regional level. It therefore will set certain standards although is only soft law.
The Congress used and mentioned the reference framework in several monitoring reports: Portugal, Bosnia, Romania, Finland, Serbia… just to mention a few.
I would like to invite you to draw your specific conclusions from experiences that the Congress offers. The Congress has the big advantage, that we can offer interlocutors at your level, at politicians’ level. We offer a dialogue with people who have a political responsibility as mayors, as presidents of regional councils, as presidents of regional executives and they can share these experiences with you. It is not consultants that come and want to sell you a certain concept, the Congress comes with a wide variety of experiences of people like you, who have concrete political responsibilities and who have the wish to improve their governance and performance.
I am very happy to see that there is a significant development towards strengthening local and regional democracy in Albania with full involvement of local and regional politicians. I invite you to draw conclusions from international experiences, to take ownership of your own process, and we, as the Congress, are very happy to support you in this process.