Local and regional democracy central to Albania’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers

By placing the furtherance of local and regional democracy among the priorities of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers (May-November 2012), Albania highlights the importance of the local dimension for strengthening democracy in general and bringing the country closer to the rest of Europe. “Visible and close to the citizens, local democracy also allows better management of local public needs,” says Ferdinand Poni, Albanian Deputy Minister of the Interior in charge of local government.

08.08.2012 - Ferdinand Poni recalls that the development of local democracy is all the more necessary as the budgets of the Albanian local investments have been multiplied by ten every year since 2006 when the country commenced its decentralisation, hence devolution to local level of numerous powers formerly wielded at the central level. At present, Albania is “digitising” the management of its local administration, and stakes a lot on “e-democracy”, at local level too. “These initiatives are moreover part of the experiences that we wish to offer the rest of Europe,” Mr Poni goes on to point out, also discerning other examples of what Albania can bring to its neighbours in the development of good governance or in peaceful cohabitation between the Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic religions.

The programme on local democracy devised by Albania, with the active participation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, is a concrete illustration of the country’s interest in this sector, and is built around several conferences and events. Two of these, in September and October 2012, will concern the promotion of human rights at local level and citizen participation in local public life, themes identified in 2011 as high in priority by the European Ministers responsible for Local Government. Likewise, a day will be devoted to multi-level co-operation facilitating cross-border co-operation. This topic is all the more important for Albania as it means to develop such co-operation with all its neighbours including Greece and Italy which are European Union members. Furthermore, a seminar and a conference will deal with the progress of Albania’s regionalisation and European integration. The country wishes to obtain in the near future the status of candidate to the European Union, and compliance with European standards in respect of regionalisation, as well as local democracy, constitutes a significant step towards this goal for it. Lastly, European Local Democracy Week will have a particularly high profile in Albania and will enhance the visibility both of Europe and of local democracy.

Over and above all these events, Albania now feels ready to perform its role in the Congress to the full, according to Mr Poni: “An association of local authorities has just been established, and a delegation to the Congress acknowledging every political sensibility is being formed,” he emphasises. The Congress has moreover made a strong commitment in order to achieve this result, and since late 2011 has arranged several encounters with Albanian local elected representatives to encourage them to reopen dialogue irrespective of their political divergences. A co-operation scheme conducted jointly by the Council of Europe and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, in which the Congress participates, sets out to strengthen local democracy structures in Albania under a three-year action plan.