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Local empowerment for Albania’s european integration

An EU-funded initiative is empowering Albanian municipalities to play a more influential role in the process of European integration.

In 2014, Albania embarked on a significant initiative to reform its local government system, striving for a genuine and essential decentralization, building upon previous but insufficient efforts. This initiative sought to empower local self-government with substantial financial and economic authority, rights, and responsibilities. It aimed to enhance administrative, investment, regulatory, and service capabilities in essential functions while also encompassing the transfer of additional responsibilities. 
Simultaneously, the territorial administrative reform aimed to streamline the country’s administrative boundaries by reorganizing fragmented local government units. This restructuring aimed to address the issues of unsatisfactory public services provided to local communities and the absence of economies of scale, which resulted in excessive administrative costs. The goal was to create a more cohesive and efficient territorial system that could better serve the needs of the population.
Another crucial aspect addressed within the local government reform in Albania pertained to the role of municipalities in the process of European Union (EU) integration. Jolanda Trebicka,  Executive Director of the Civil Society Organisation Europartners Development Albania (EPD) at that time was among the experts actively involved in the reform process. She highlights that there was a prevailing opinion among authorities that EU integration primarily focused on the approximation of legislation at the central level, neglecting the significance of local governance. 
“However, this perception is inaccurate, as a significant portion of legislation is actually implemented at the local level. Albania has started the process of harmonization of national legislation with the EU legislation. Like in the EU countries, assessment in Albania confirmed that 70% of the harmonized/approximated legislation with EU legislation is implemented at the local level. Finally, it was recognized that EU integration is a comprehensive practice, and municipalities play a crucial role in this process,” states Trebicka. Consequently, the initial decentralization strategy aimed to establish EU corners in 30 municipalities of Albania by the year 2020.
In 2017, the EU in Albania initiated the project “Municipalities for Europe” . This project aimed to elevate the role of municipalities in the EU integration process to a higher level. Commencing almost from scratch, the project provided comprehensive support in various areas, including assisting all 61 municipalities in establishing EU units and enabling them to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently. The project organized several training sessions to enhance the municipalities’ capacity to access EU funds and supported the EU units in organizing local community events to disseminate information relating to the EU.
Furthermore, the project has provided its support to the EU Delegation in implementing information and communication activities in municipal level. This includes assisting in campaigns against illegal migration, promoting the ERASMUS+ programme to young individuals in municipalities, and raising awareness about EU rural support programmes at the local level. An important campaign was ‘Europe is Here” that consisted on informing the local population on the EU contribution to social and economic development of local communities.
In general, the project has made a significant and substantial contribution to enhancing the municipalities’ governance capacities concerning EU-related matters, yielding positive outcomes. The project is considered as a best practice in Western Balkan countries during the event organized by the Committee of Region in the framework of the Enlargement Day, in 6 July 2022.  Nevertheless, Mrs. Trebicka acknowledges that there is still room for improvement. “There are areas that require further enhancements. More needs to be done to inform and raise the capacities of entire local administration and support the city councils to play a more proactive role in the important processes of EU integration on the ground. However, I can confidently assert that we have laid the groundwork for municipalities to assume a much more significant role in the EU integration process in the future,” Trebicka affirms. /