Elton Stafa, NALAS – Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe
The new Law on Local Self-Government rules that intergovernmental relations in Albania are based on the principle of subsidiarity, consultation and cooperation and that the national government is legally obliged to consult with local self-government units on policies, legislation and norms that have a direct impact on local self-government. Furthermore, such consultation is performed through the associations representing local self-governments. From this perspective, intergovernmental dialogue and consultation, as a key element for improved governance, in Albania is directly related to the functioning of Local Government Associations (LGAs). On other hand, in practice, the political landscape in Albania remains constantly tense and highly polarized along party lines resulting in an inability to achieve consensus and forge a unified position on important issues. LGAs, too, remain bifurcated on political lines, and are not able to contribute to the consensus building process. The boycott of the opposition in the June 2019 local elections, has further exacerbated the political environment in Albania.
Intergovernmental relations are therefore under continuous pressure. Historically in Albania there have been three LGAs, representing the interests of their constituent communes (Association of Albanian Communes – AAC), municipalities (Association of Albanian Municipalities – AAM) and regions (Association of Regional Councils – ARC). AAC and AAM were created in 1993 and their constituents were all communes and all municipalities in Albania, regardless of the political affiliation of the mayor. In 2009, because of the political tensions, socialist mayors established the Association for Local Autonomy in Albania (ALAA), as a political response to the national government and the inability of AAM leadership to represent the interest of their socialist constituent municipalities, in front of a continuous reduction of local government tax powers and grants. As a result, ALAA continues to represent the interests of socialist mayors, while AAM represents the interests of the center-right democrat mayors. Since then, the participation of the local government associations in the process of consultation with the central government has been carried out, at best, on an ad-hoc basis. Further, with the amalgamation of the communes in municipalities with the 2014 Territorial and Administrative Reform, AAC ceased to exist further reducing the scope for bi-partisan dialogue and the opportunities to defend the interests of the rural areas of the new municipalities.
To respond to such challenges, a growing focus from Albania’s development partners was dedicated to building bi-partisan mechanisms of cooperation and coordination between the various levels of government and the local government associations regardless of their political affiliation. Under the auspices of the new Law on Local Self-Government in 2016, with a Government Decree it was established the Central/Local Government Consultative Council, to serve as a non-partisan forum between central and local government officials. The Consultative Council is Albania’s first formal structure obliging the central government to consult with local government authorities on draft-policies, draft-laws and other matters affecting local governance. To be sure, before the introduction of the Council, consultation took place through a direct exchange between the national government and the local government associations.
In terms of structures and participating institutions, the Council is composed of 20 members, with an equal participation of members, of which nine representatives of the central government (deputy ministers) and eleven representatives of the local government as follows: nine deputy ministers; the president of the ALAA and two mayors representing ALAA; the president of AAM and two mayors representing AAM; the president of the RCA and two regional council chairmen; the executive director of ALAA and the executive director of AAM. The Deputy Minister of Interior, that covers local governance issues within the government, co-chairs the Consultative Council, together with one of the presidents of the LGAs, on a rotation basis, starting from the LGA that has a larger number of members. The Consultative Council is supported by a technical secretariat, which is the Central Government’s Agency for the Support of Local Self-Government, recently established as well to support the implementation of decentralization reforms. As the Consultative Council is obliged to consult also on fiscal and financial matters of importance to local governments, the Ministry of Finance and Economy serves as a technical secretariat.
The legal framework reads that the consultation process within the Council shall be based on: (i) the principles of ‘information’, by making available to LGAs and all their members all the draft-policies, draft-laws, draft-decrees and draft-strategies that shall be put forward by the central government, before their approval by the government and parliament’; (ii) on the principles of ‘consultation’ through exchanging, discussing, and putting forward proposals on the draft-policies, draft-laws, draft-decrees and draft-strategies put forward by the central government and that have an impact on local governments; (iii) on the principle of ‘engagement’ of the LGAs and local self-governments’ themselves in the processes of drafting and approving public policies; (iv) on the principle of ‘constructive dialogue and cooperation’ with all LGAs.
The establishment of the Council holds the promise of improved climate of cooperation between central and local authorities in Albania. The government and many development partners consider the Council as ‘an important milestone’ for local democracy in Albania.  The results of the first three years of operation of the Council are diverging. From one perspective, through the Council, the number of laws and bylaws that are consulted with local governments has increased exponentially. This could be considered an improvement in intergovernmental dialogue and consultation. On the other hand, effective intergovernmental dialogue and consultation is not a numerical issue. Indeed, many have raised the concern that the discussions in the Council are mostly formal, as the vast majority of its members from both the central and local government level come from the same political party and therefore discussions on core issues and problems are regularly avoided. The attendance and participation of the Council’s members in the Council’s meetings is also an issue.
There are a number of issues that still need to be addressed, such as the mechanisms in place for setting up the agenda of the Consultative Council meeting, meaning the draft-policies to be discussed – to date, the agenda is set in a closed manner by the Technical Secretariat. This approach forces local governments to discuss what is decided by Technical Secretariat or the line ministries, which may not necessarily be their priority. Over time this would cause fatigue and reduced interest to participate. Secondly, and equally important, some follow up procedures should be put in place, securing the actual implementation of decisions or local government’ proposals so that LGAs and local governments feel that participation in the Consultative Council meeting leads to action and that their efforts and proposals are taken into consideration and are followed up. The frequent organization of the meetings on a monthly basis, and the very dense agenda leave little room for discussions. And even when such room is provided, local government voice is still very much divided on political affiliation. Some observers consider the Consultative Council more like another instrument at the disposal of the central government and a way to circumvent LGAs, in particular the one representing the interests of those local governments affiliated with the opposition.
There are no major differences as regard how the Consultative Council discusses issues that affect urban and rural local governments. Unfortunately, to date little attention is being paid to the urban and rural divide in Albania, although some concerns are emerging, because the gains of the Territorial and Administrative Reform and the other decentralization reforms enacted recently, are uneven across municipalities and there are questions about whether some of them are adequately servicing their newly incorporated rural areas.
On a more general note, it is important to highlight that the Consultative Council should be seen as an instrument to complement the role and work of the LGAs, which remain the key interlocutors for the national government in particular in the early stages of the design of public policies. When policies are presented to the Council, they are already in their pre-final form. On this end, LGAs play a fundamental role in the intergovernmental relations in Albania and the quality and effectiveness of the intergovernmental relations depend on the effective functioning of the associations.
Decision of the Council of Ministers no 910/2016 on the Organization and Functioning of the Consultative Council between the Central Government and Local Self-Governments
Law no 139/2015 on Local Self-Government
Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:
—— ‘Mechanisms and opportunities to support and promote the Central Government and Local Self-government Consultative Council (CC) of Albania’ (Research Paper, Council of Europe, October 2018)
Clavelle P, ’A Perspective on Decentralization in Albania’ (Internal Working Document, USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project in Albania PLGP 2017)
Haxhimali A, ‘Local Government in Albania. Status Report’ (Albanian Association of Municipalities 2019)
Murati B, ‘Intergovernmental Dialogue and Consultation Lead to Better Policies’ (XI Newsletter, USAID PLGP 2019) <https://www.plgp.al/wp-content/uploads/PLGP-Newsletter-11-English_web.pdf> accessed 19 May 2019
Philimore J, ‘Understanding Intergovernmental Relations: Key Features and Trends’ (2013) 72 Australian Journal of Public Administration 228 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Office in Albania, ‘Governance Perception in a Reforming Albania: Nationwide Local Governance Mapping in Albania 2020’ (Survey conducted by IDRA Research & Consulting and Human Development Promotion Center (HDPC) 2020)
 Law no 139/2015 on Local Self-Government, Art 10.
 Peter Clavelle, ’A Perspective on Decentralization in Albania’ (Internal Working Document, USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project in Albania PLGP 2017).
 Decision of the Council of Ministers no 910/2016 on the Organization and Functioning of the Consultative Council between the Central Government and Local Self-Governments.
 Bekim Murati, ‘Intergovernmental Dialogue and Consultation Lead to Better Policies’ (XI Newsletter, USAID PLGP 2019) <https://www.plgp.al/wp-content/uploads/PLGP-Newsletter-11-English_web.pdf> accessed 19 May 2019.
 Haxhimali A, ‘Local Government in Albania. Status Report’ (Albanian Association of Municipalities 2019)
 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Office in Albania, ‘Governance Perception in a Reforming Albania: Nationwide Local Governance Mapping in Albania 2020’ (Survey conducted by IDRA Research & Consulting and Human Development Promotion Center (HDPC) 2020)