The Agency for the Support of Local Self-Government and the Association of Local Authorities of Albania, with the support of the EU-funded projects “Municipalities for Europe” and “EU for Municipalities” and NALAS, organized in Tirana, on 13 October 2023, the Local Government Forum: “Municipalities and EU integration process: Exchanging good practices in South-east Europe”.

The quality of life experienced by each and every citizen in urban and rural areas is by and large determined by the quality of public services, public infrastructure, and public space created and managed by Cities and Municipalities. Due to their extensive service responsibilities, local governments play a fundamental role in the EU integration process as well, as up to 70% of the EU Acquis is implemented at the local level.

The Forum underlined that with the support of the European Union (EU), the central and local governments in Albania have made significant progress in setting up the building blocks for local authorities to contribute to and benefit from the EU accession process and EU financial assistance. The EU is supporting key reforms in the area of local government and regional development, while at the same time increasing its support for the development of municipal infrastructure and services via grants to local governments. In this frame, Mr. Hubert Perr, Chief of Cooperation, EU Delegation in Tirana, stressed the fact that: “EU will continue its support to municipalities and local communities in Albania, by allocating an amount of around 10 million EUR through successful programmes of the European Union, to support municipalities through direct grants and technical assistance.”

The role of local government remains closely related to the integration process, especially at this moment when the process of analytical assessment of the legislation – the screening process, is coming to an end, which will be followed by discussions of each chapter in the frame of EU-Albanian negotiation. Local government itself takes a specific weight on the negotiation chapters, as it relates to environment, food safety, social inclusion, and enhancement of administration, along with an array of other developmental priorities.

Minister of State for Local Government, Mr. Arbjan Mazniku, underlined that some 70% of EU legislation is implemented at the local level and that his Ministry, together with the Agency for the Support of Local Self-Government and the Association of Local Authorities of Albania, with the support of the EU, are playing a fundamental role in creating an enabling environment for Albanian municipalities to better contribute to the EU accession processes. Mr Mazniku stressed that: “Until some time ago, the EU Integration process was a dream, a vision, to which we couldn’t see the end. Change has occurred in the last six months upon the clear statement of the European Union for a swift and technical process of integration of the entire Western Balkans into the EU, like that moment when sailors could see land from the sea.”

Mr. Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana Municipality, emphasized the extraordinary progress made by Albania, especially in recent years, on the acceleration of the EU integration process in Albania; he also invited the European Union to undertake more direct steps and facilitate procedures regarding absorption and management of EU funding. “If back in 1992, Albania was ranked last among Western Balkan countries on integration processes, today we may well say that it ranks first. Today we are the first in the region concerning this process”, said Veliaj.

NALAS Executive Director Kelmend Zajazi, underlined the importance of local government and their association, in the process of European integration. “Municipalities have an important role in the implementation of EU acquis/legislation which creates the frame of service standards, but at the same time have a role to ply to implement them by modernizing public services. In this context, the role of national municipality associations, is extremely important in the European integration process”, said Mr. Zajazi.

In the forum, Mrs. Adelina Farrici, Executive Director of the Association of Local Autonomy in Albania, mentioned that municipalities and their associations constitute an integral part of the EU integration of the country. “They are responsible for implementing EU standards at the local level, engaging with citizens, building capacities, provision of services and infrastructure and at the same time, promotion of local and regional development”, said Mrs. Farrici.

Despite the clearly tangible progress, there are many domains on which municipalities from South-East Europe, may benefit from practices and experiences of neighboring countries, which have progressed in the process of integration or are already EU members. At the regional level, the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS), as mandated by South-East European local governments and their associations, continues to advocate for a more structured involvement of local authorities and their associations in the EU integration process and the creation of more opportunities for local authorities in the Western Balkans to benefit from EU financial assistance.

At the end of the first panel, Mr. Elton Stafa, Team Leader of the “EU for Municipalities” Project, underlined that: “This forum is important as a platform to exchange experiences and interact with partners from Southeast Europe.”

Forum had also contributions of good practices presented by Mr. Gledian Llatja, Mayor of Elbasan Municipality, about the project of Elbasan Municipality in the field of energy efficiency; from Mrs. Emiriana Sako, Mayor of Durres Municipality, on initiatives of sustainable development; from Mr. Albert Mëlyshi, Mayor of Mirditë Municipality, on the role of municipalities in the process of European integration; from Mrs. Alma Hoxha, Mayor of Përmet Municipality, who presented the experience of Permet Municipality in strengthening municipality capacities on the absorption of European Union funding, as well as from Mr. Hil Curri, Mayor of Fushë-Arrëz Municipality, who presented his perspective on the need of coordination among different levels of government and municipalities themselves, for the purpose of better accession to EU funding.

On this occasion, two publications of the project, “Municipalities for Europe” and the Agency for the Support of Local Self-Government, namely the Performance Report “Municipalities in the process of EU Integration” and Progress Report “Projects funded by Donors”, were presented by the Team Leader of “Municipalities for Europe” Project Mrs. Jolanda Trebicka.

Participants found specific interesting experiences of countries from the region such as Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Austria.

In her concluding remarks, Mrs. Marie Augou underlined the progress made by the central government and municipalities in Albania and the continued support of the European Union to the governance and local communities in Albania. “Local governments are expected to take an increasingly active role in this process and establish an enabling environment that promotes EU values and meets the real needs of citizens according to EU standards,” Augou emphasized.

This forum was organized as a forerun of the Berlin Process Summit organized in Tirana on October 16, 2023 and opened a window for the positioning of local government in the framework of the Berlin process, relying entirely on the previous experience of the Forum of Local Authorities that was initiated as part of the Poznan Summit by the Polish government and NALAS in 2019.