At the Rogner Hotel in Tirana, the AER was joined by the Albanian regional representatives to discuss common challenges the Albanian regions are facing and what the international state of play is for regional cooperation. 3 Days of debates, presentations and exchanges led to some new insights that we are delighted to share with you here.
The challenges for the newly born regions of Albania
On March 28-30, representatives from Berat, Diber, Durres, Elbasan, Gjirokaster, Korca, Kukes, Lezhe, Shkoder, Tirana and Vlore joined the Assembly of European Regions and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung at the Rogner hotel to share their impressions of their young administrations and the challenges they are facing. As the regions in Albania have a relatively young history, the purpose and the shaping of each region has been subject to many different challenges. When the regions were formed, there was a hope to meet the requirements set by the Council of Europe to have the new regions adhere to the Framework Reference for Regional Democracy. However, as this mid-level governance did not exist previously in Albania, the first years of their existence has presented the following to the regions.
- Clear definition of regional authorities‘ responsibilities. When it comes to granting the regions their purpose and mandate, clear distinctions have to be drawn up regarding the division of responsibilities. At the moment, in most matters of governance, the responsibilities for municipalities, for regions and for the central government remains unclear. Where does the jurisdiction of one entity start, and that of the other end? This has been a continued struggle for the regions and as we have seen today in March 2022, the future will pose some significant decisions to be made. Some of the responsibilities from the central government on the one hand, and from the municipalities on the other, will need to be redistributed to the regions. Which competencies should belong to the regions? This should be reflected in an adjustment of the laws responsible for competency distribution.
- Redistribution of funds. As the process of forming the regions and their capacities is ongoing, the regions are faced with an increasing list of responsibilities. However, the funds needed to adequately function within these responsibilities is lacking. At the moment, the central government redistributed some of its responsibilities to the regions, but did not reallocate the funds needed. This limits the regions in their ability to succesfully function
- EU funding for regional cooperation not reaching the regions. At the moment, if regions are involved in international cooperation with their counterparts from the European Union, for specific funds the allocated finances are handled by the central governments. This limits the efficiency of the projects, while regions who are responsible for the execution, do not receive the proper funds to do so.
- Brain drain. Regional representations notice that young talent moves abroad to the United Kingdom and other countries to pursue opportunities, instead of creating opportunities in their own regions.
- A shared narrative for citizens. In local economies, daily challenges for entrepreneurs are directive in their decision-making. Regional representatives are facing adversity in creating a shared policy and narrative for entrepreneurs in their respective industries. Tourism, as one of the primary focuses of public policy, is one of the examples where businesses look for short term, personal survival, rather than being part of the larger, societal development.
Which challenges are the Albanian regions facing regarding the activation and enablement of civil society?
Currently, when looking at civil society, the regions of Gjirokaster, Vlora, Shkoder, Tirana and Berat shared some of their insights in how their current situations are. For Gjirokaster, in tourism, it proofs to be difficult to organise civil society around tourism as the civil activity is mostly fragmented. The members of the discussion group shared common challenges in general.
- The definition of civil society within the Albanian context. What organisation actually make up civil society, along with civilians? After identifying this, policy can be set in order to activate these organisations.
- A strategy for the activation of the civic society in Albania in cooperation for better results with other actors in the Albanian territory. As mentioned under number 1, regions in Albania need help from each other and their policy makers to set policy in a more structured way.
- Clarification of competencies between region and municipality. This point was given with examples of the Estonian reforms after 1990 and its success on a national level, and the Swedish example of organisation on a regional level.
- The lack of human capacities and resources to cope with the demands from civil society. The regions of Albania feel a necessity to work together to share resources and capacities. The regions of Albania proposed a re-starting of the activities to bring the regions together aiming to raise the capacities on projects implementation together.
- Challenges regarding financing of EU projects. The Albanian central and regional administrations’ current lack of mechanisms to handle EU projects is a challenge that needs tackling in the near future. There is a need for the reconstruction of the domestic system. This will facilitate the process of EU programmes implementation for AL beneficiaries.
A call for action
In conclusion, the Albanian regions decided that creating more efficient and effective regional administrations is key. Decisions need to be made on the central, regional and municipal level on which responsibilities lay with which administration. In order to cooperate closely with each other and to face the challenges together, the regions of Albania have been meeting monthly already. In the future, meetings like these where the Albanian regions share experiences with each other and to bring transparency will be held monthly as they have in the past. Through exchanges with other non-EU countries handling EU funding, the Albanian regions have the possibility to learn about how to model their administration with regards to handling finances. To this end, the AER is offering an information session with a non-EU member to share knowledge on the handling of EU funds. This is not only crucial for the engagement of civil society, but for the regions as a whole.