High-level Conference: The Role of Decentralisation on the Consolidation of Democracy in Albania and European Integration

Opening session – 30 October 2012

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Nataliya Romanova, President of the Congress Chamber of Regions

Prime Minister Berisha,

Minister Noka,

Deputy Minister Poni,

Mayor Basha,

Your excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I address you today at this High-level Conference, on behalf of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

I also greet the Representative of the Swiss Government and the Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, as well as the EU and USA Ambassadors. In the past year, both the Swiss co-operation agency and the OSCE have supported Congress’ activities in Albania aimed at creating a common platform for dialogue for local and regional authorities in this country.

The presence of so many international actors at this conference shows just how important Albanian decentralisation and consolidation of democracy is to us. I thank the Albanian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe as well as the Ministry of the Interior for taking the initiative, with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, to organise this Conference and to invite members of the Congress to participate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me now to present in a few words the Congress itself, for those of you who may not be familiar with its work. The Congress is a political assembly of local and regional elected representatives from 47 European countries that are member states of the Council of Europe. Congress members represent more than 200,000 territorial communities of our continent. This pan-European dimension makes the Congress the voice of municipalities and regions of Europe vis-à-vis national governments, defending the interests and rights of local and regional authorities.

We do so by monitoring the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and respect of its principles of local democracy, which is the core mission of the Congress. The Charter entered into force in Albania on 1 August 2000 and the next monitoring of the application of the Charter (which Albania ratified without any reservations or declarations) will take place from 12 to14 December this year. Complementary to monitoring, we also observe local and regional elections in member states, as we did for Albania in May last year.

We know that the full implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the respect of its principles in member states is the foundation upon which we can build good governance in Europe, and Albania is no exception.

We are convinced that decentralisation and full implementation of the Charter are crucial to the further development of effective, transparent and democratic governance in Albania and for its further integration into Europe.

The Congress is offering its expertise and assistance in helping both national and territorial authorities to overcome problems and implement the changes proposed in its recommendations – in particular on the issues of competences, role and mandate of local and regional elected representatives, as well as on the role and functioning of their associations. Our activities in Albania are part of this assistance.

The Congress has joined the Council of Europe Action Plan for Albania and will soon take concrete steps forward with a project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation that seeks to build a sustainable and unified platform for local and regional elected representatives based on dialogue and political pluralism. The overall aim of this project is to improve local and regional democracy by empowering elected representatives and enhancing their role, capacity and co-operation.

We already started our action in September last year when we organised a seminar which brought together local elected representatives and associations. As elected representatives, we have a primary responsibility for the well-being of our citizens, which must be above and beyond any political divide.

We all have a duty before the voters to work for their benefit. In a pluralist democracy, this means establishing dialogue, negotiating solutions and making compromises with other parties of the political spectrum, both in power and in opposition.

This shared responsibility of putting the citizen in the centre of our action is something that unites all elected representatives, and this unity of purpose is the basis of a common platform on which political dialogue should be built.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The issues on the agenda of this Conference are of crucial importance for further decentralisation in this country and the strengthening of its local and regional democracy.

We hope that through conferences such as this one, Albania will move towards a common platform for local governments, based on a dialogue between different political parties and as well as between local and central authorities – in other words, towards a climate of confidence that is so needed for further progress and for enhanced governance.

I look forward to our thematic sessions this afternoon, which -  I am sure-  will be stimulating and will feed into our future work together.

Thank you.