Project “Strengthening Local Government Structures and Cooperation of Local Elected Representatives in Albania – Phase II”

Building a platform of dialogue for local government in Albania

Seminars in Fier, Elbasan and Lezha (Albania) - 3, 4 and 5 April 2013

Opening speech by Erwin Mohr (Austria EPP/CCE), Member of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you on behalf of the Congress of Local and regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

This seminar is organised in the framework of the project Strengthening Local Government Structures and Cooperation of Local Elected Representatives in Albania which is funded by the Swiss Development and Co-operation Agency.

The Congress has proposed and initiated a line of action within this project with the objective to building a platform of dialogue for all LGUS and help nurture a process to enable further co-operation and a strong and unifies voice.

Let me first briefly introduce myself. I am Ervin Mohr, member of the Congress since 2008 and of its Committee on Governance, and member of the Wolfurt City Council after acting as a mayor for 24 years. I have also been member of the board of the Association of municipalities in Austria for more than 15 years. I will be glad to tell you more about my personal experience as elected representative in my community later.

The Congress, as many of you probably know, is an assembly of local and regional elected representatives from the 47 countries member states of the Council of Europe.

The Congress is a political body that has become a reference point for territorial democracy. Its core mission is to ensure the full application of democratic principles at local and regional levels both by national governments and by territorial authorities, notably through monitoring the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the respect of its core principles of local democracy, and through observing local and regional elections. Congress members represent more than 200.000 territorial communities of our continent.

The Congress offers its expertise in assisting both national and territorial authorities to implement the changes proposed in its recommendations, in particular in areas as the issue of competencies, the role and mandate of local and regional elected representatives, as well as the role and functioning of their associations.

This Project is a direct follow-up to a number of events and meetings organised by the Congress for Albanian local elected representatives, and particularly to a seminar held in September 2011, shortly after the last local elections, which was probably attended by many of you in the audience today.

The main output of that seminar, was a unanimous call for specific attention to the political dialogue and co-operation at local level, and for a strong and unified voice of all local government units in Albania.

The alarming lack of communication between elected representatives is a major obstacle for democratic, political and institutional development in this country. This has been extensively stated in the EU progress report on Albania of October 2012. In the Congress, we are convinced that, in the long run, it is also a major obstacle for Albania’s further integration in Europe.

Indeed, this issue about communication and co-operation is the starting point of this Line of Action that has been designed and conceived by the Congress with the aim of creating a common platform of dialogue for all local elected representatives in Albania across the political spectrum. The founding steps have already been laid, with an Executive Body composed by a small group of local and regional elected representatives from Municipalities, Communes, and regions authorities. This structure has met already twice, in January and February, to identify issues of common concern for the platform of dialogue. You will listen about this setting later today from a member of the Executive Body.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As elected representatives, we all bear the responsibility for the well-being of our citizens, which must be above and beyond any political divide. While political competition is certainly normal in a pluralist democracy, it is our duty before the voters to establish a dialogue, negotiate solutions and make compromises with other parties of the political spectrum, both in power and in the opposition.

In the end, what unites all elected representatives, is putting the citizens in the centre of our action, and this should be the basis for the common platform of dialogue which this Project is trying to create. What enables us elected representatives to find common ground and starting points from which to move forward with a unified voice is to focus on points of common concern and to discuss on the concrete problems of our communities.

I would like to point out that the whole purpose of this line of action is not to replace the existing associations, but rather to provide the means of supporting them in the decentralisation process. Any decision related to their organisation belongs to you, as elected representatives, in your capacity as member of Albanian associations of local and regional authorities.

We have here with us international and Albanian experts in the field of decentralisation and local democracy (some of whom have served as Mayors of their communities themselves) and members of the Executive Body of the Project. They are all here today to meet you, listen to you and contribute with their own experience.

We hope that this seminar will help building common ground, and to create a climate of confidence between you as local elected representatives, so as to move towards the creation of a common platform of dialogue for all municipalities, communes and regions of Albania.

As you might know, this is the first (…second, third….) of a series of three regional seminars that are organised between the 3rd and the 5th of April and that will bring together all ocal elected representatives in Albania.

On behalf of the Congress, I would like to thank the Mayor of …

(DAY 1)….Fieri,  Baftjar ZEQAJ

(DAY 2)…Elbasan, Qazim SEJDINI

(DAY 3)…Lezha, Viktor TUSHA

for hosting this event in his city and for the warm welcoming words he pronounced in the opening of this seminar.

I would also like to thank the Swiss Cooperation and Development Office in Albania, for funding the project and for offering the essential support for organising this seminar.

Last but not least, I would like to thank you all for having accepted our invitation to enter into this dialogue with your peers and with us.

I look forward to today’s fruitful discussions.

And for now, let me pass the word to the moderator of the next session, Ulrich Bohner, an expert on local and regional democracy and the former Secretary General of the Congress.

Thank you for your attention.