Andreas Kiefer: “The Congress is actively involved in the Albanian Chairmanship’s local democracy priorities”

    “The activities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities systematically form part of a close partnership with all levels of governance. This involves not only joint work with the other operational departments and bodies of the Council of Europe, but also direct co-operation with the governments of the Council of Europe member states,” explains Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress.

    Accordingly, under the current Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Congress has taken specific action to cooperate with Albania in promoting local and regional democracy in that country, and Albania, for its part, has involved the Congress to a significant extent in implementing its first ever Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Andreas Kiefer warmly welcomes this enhanced co-operation which benefits both partners.

      Interview - 27.07.2012

      Albania has incorporated many of the Congress’s major themes in its programme for the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. It also intends to promote local and regional democracy among its citizens: how is it going to do this?

      Andreas Kiefer: The Congress has been fully involved in drawing up the programme of the Albanian Chairmanship. With regard to the “visibility of Europe”, a number of conferences and seminars are planned to be held in Albania, and the Congress will contribute to these in order to publicise what it does and to share its experience of local and regional democracy. In addition, European Local Democracy Week, which we co-ordinate each year in many of the 47 Council of Europe member states, will take on particular significance in Albania. We have also had the Congress’s core texts like the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the Reference Framework on Regional Democracy etc. translated into Albanian so as to reach out to the elected representatives of all local authorities, big and small. It is absolutely essential to promote the principles of local and regional democracy in the language spoken in the field, and therefore to go beyond just French and English, the two official languages of the Council of Europe.

      At the same time, what will Albania’s contribution to the Congress’s major policy programmes be?

      Andreas Kiefer: There will be a number of seminars and conferences during the Albanian Chairmanship relating to several of the Congress’s priorities, which are shared by the Ministers responsible for local government who met with the Congress in Kyiv in November 2011: the events will focus on citizen participation in local political life, the promotion of human rights, cross-border co-operation and the problems faced by local and regional authorities due to the financial crisis. In October, an international conference will look closely at the role of devolution in strengthening democracy in Albania and its moves towards European integration. In this context it should be remembered that the Congress’s last monitoring visit to Albania dates back to 2006; however the next one is planned for the end of this year. That visit will enable the Congress to take stock of developments and put forward recommendations for additional improvements. Monitoring of local and regional democracy in member states approximately every 5-6 years makes it possible to assess the progress made and to identify any difficulties, so that we can help find solutions. Nonetheless, we need to emphasise that the Congress’s work does not end with the adoption of recommendations; it carries on through the support we provide to the national, regional and local authorities and our co-operation on action plans and concrete measures.

      In 2011, the Congress offered to support Albania in restoring dialogue between the different political parties at local level. The aim was also to help them speak with one voice in order to promote local democracy and self-government. Are these efforts now bearing fruit?

      Andreas Kiefer: Following the observation of local elections in May 2011, we sought to restore dialogue between mayors from different parties and to make them aware that local and municipal interests must take precedence over party interests when entering a structured dialogue and formal consultations with the national government. This assistance programme, which is supported in particular by Switzerland, is an illustration of the Congress’s new working methods resulting from its reform: we can now undertake real follow-up to our recommendations and focus as closely as possible on the needs on the ground. The President and several members of the Congress went to meet and talk with Albanian local elected representatives, and a national association of local elected representatives is currently taking shape. We also hope that Albania will soon have, once again, an active delegation to the Congress, which has not been possible in recent years because of difficulties over its composition.