16th NALAS General Assembly Statutory Session

Over 220 participants took part in the Statutory Session of the 16th NALAS General Assembly, acknowledging the importance of the Network and its contribution to local democracy in South-East Europe.

The session was opened with welcome addresses by the hosts:  

  • HE Maia Sandu, President of Moldova;
  • Tatiana Badan, CALM President, Mayor of Selemet, Moldova;
  • Ion Ceban, Mayor of Chisinau, CALM Vice-President, Head of Moldovan Delegation to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe; and
  • Emanuil Manolov, NALAS President, Mayor of Pavlikeni, Bulgaria.

In her extraordinary inspiring and passionate speech, HE Maia Sandu, President of Moldova emphasised that throughout South-East Europe we often encounter similar challenges, but also share similar goals, and similar aspirations – to get closer to the European family of nations and ensure EU living standards for our people.

“Our common goal is to create thriving and strong communities, with job opportunities, access to water and sanitation, healthcare and education services”, said President Sandu. “We want people to stay and we want those who left to return. And we know that to achieve this we need to build Europe at home. Our dream is to create European villages and cities here in Moldova and I have made a strong commitment during the presidential campaign to help local public administration achieve this objective”.

President Sandu suggested that this could be done by equitable access to public funding to all communities and fiscal decentralisation, and here, the role of CALM is crucial. “Few weeks ago, the Moldovan Presidency and CALM signed an Agreement of cooperation. We also support the signing of a Roadmap for the implementation of the Committee of Regions’ recommendations“

“I would like to also express my appreciation for NALAS. NALAS is a strong partner for our local authorities, having also a strong contribution in the creation and strengthening of CALM. We are grateful for NALAS expertise and guidance, which has been contributing to enhancing the capacity of our local authorities to grow stronger and more independent”, said President. Sandu.

Ms. Tatiana Badan, CALM President, Mayor of Selemet, Moldova stressed that these difficult times more than ever emphasise the role of local governments and the importance of NALAS. “Local governments are on the forefront in responding to this crisis, but they are also the first ones that respond to citizens’ everyday needs, be it social, economic or environmental. The challenges of local governments need to be listened to and understood, and they must be supported to address these challenges in the most effective and efficient manner”, appealed Ms. Badan.

Further on, Ms. Badan focused on three key priorities: 1) Decentralisation and local democracy; Role of local public authorities in stabilising democratic processes, development and combating crises; and Role of Local Government Associations and NALAS as their network in strengthening local governments and voicing their interests.

“Centralised response to crisis is an outdated concept that does not materialise where it is mostly needed – in the communities, where life happens. Instead of centralisation, we call for effective intergovernmental policy consultation and coordination and direct access to funds for local authorities. There is a need for a real, effective and mutually respectful partnership between central and local authorities. Therefore, real decentralisation and local democracy must be recognised as essential and priority values, approaches in the process of accession to the European Union and in EU programs, by all key actors, including national governments and European Union institutions”, said Ms. Badan.

“We believe that national associations of local authorities, but also NALAS, should be considered as strategic partners in the processes of economic recovery and reform, both for central governments and for the European Union”, concluded Ms. Badan.

Mr. Ion Ceban, Mayor of Chisinau, Moldova, CALM Vice-President, Head of Moldovan Delegation to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, emphasised that without local development we cannot talk about national development. “I would like to highlight the work of mayors and local elected representatives for their steady support to one another, to the principles and ideals of local self-government during this unprecedented time we are experiencing”, said Mr. Ceban.

At this General Assembly, Mr. Emanuil Manolov, NALAS President, Mayor of Pavlikeni, Bulgaria, rounded up an important year as NALAS President. “Leading NALAS in such difficult times was a big responsibility, but as Ms. Badan noted, it was an opportunity to strengthen our leadership as a representative organisation of local authorities in the region. I believe that NALAS managed to meet the expectations of its members and thanks to the efforts of each one of you, we adapted to the changes and transform our way of work, thus achieving even better results for the local self-government at the day”, said Mr. Manolov.

The keynote addresses, focused on Local Democracy and European Integration in South and Eastern Europe, were delivered by:

  • Leendert Verbeek, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe;
  • Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council;
  • HE Sybille Suter Tejada, Ambassador of Switzerland in North Macedonia;
  • Maciej Popowski, Director General, Directorate General Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR); and
  • Mr Nikola Dobroslavić, Prefect of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, rapporteur for the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) opinion on 2020 Enlargement Package.

The distinguished speakers talked about the post COVID-19 recovery, the importance of investing in public administration reform for the benefit of the citizens of the Region, and the crucial role of local self-governments and their national and regional associations.

Crises will continue affecting our communities in such ways where democracy, constitutional values and civil and human rights are at stake”, said Mr. Leendert Verbeek, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. “The coronavirus pandemic has tested both the policies implemented in our respective countries and our democratic systems themselves. It has aggravated the so-called recurring issues in the application of the European Charter on of Local Self-Government. And this include the lack of consultation, inadequate distribution of competences and financial resources and excessive supervision repeatedly pinpointed by the Congress over the past years. Although we noted many good practices at all levels of governance, we have also observed the tendency to recentralised, which became especially evident during this crisis”, warned Mr. Verbeek.

Mr. Verbeek also emphasised that Congress’ priorities in the upcoming years will focus on creating resilient, democratic, cohesive, sustainable and digital societies and he sees NALAS strategic plan fully aligned.

Ms. Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), spoke about the importance of public administration reform throughout the Region, for the benefit of its citizens. “We know that there is a lot of work ahead of us and we can do it only jointly. You find in RCC a reliable partner working hard for the Western Balkans and inviting local governments to have an active role in implementation of the common market and green agenda”, said Ms. Bregu.

“I extend my praises to all the Mayors and local government staff who have been on the forefront in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring that their citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, are taken care of”, said HE Sybille Suter Tejada, Ambassador of Switzerland in North Macedonia.

Mr. Nikola Dobroslavić, Prefect of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County and Rapporteur for the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) opinion on 2020 Enlargement Package stated that the opinion emphasises the challenges of democracy in the Western Balkans, especially at local level. The key pitfalls notified there are the state capture, usurpation of the governance by the ruling parties, shortcomings in rule of law, freedom of media, gender equality and organised crime. 

“Collaboration and partnerships are important for positive economic and social development in normal times, but during crisis of a current scale they become essential. NALAS is for me a symbol for collaboration and partnership”, said Mr. Maciej Popowski, Director General, Directorate General Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

“Such an association of many local authorities that NALAS represents will help strengthen the voice and will help finding positive solutions to recover and emerge from this crisis. European Union has launched an ambitious economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans and local authorities will have a key role to make it a success. The strength of NALAS is in my view that it transcends the boundaries between inside and outside of the European Union. NALAS represents local government associations from both within the EU and the neighbours. This allows you to support each other and exchange experience in a unique way”, stated Mr. Popowski.  

During the Statutory Session, NALAS commemorated a special person, Mr. Mico Micic, Mayor of the City of Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, NALAS General Assembly Delegate and a former NALAS President. Mr. Micic will be remembered for his unique leadership, wisdom, support and inspiration in leading and developing the Netowork. In the same time, he touched our hearts with his friendliness, kindness and care and the positive aura in everything he did. Mr. Micic’s presence will always be missed among us. What we can promise is that we will proudly continue his mission for strengthening local government and improving people’s lives. 

Based on the new format of the General Assembly this year, the Delegates brought the decisions by online voting between 29 March and 9 April 2021. All delegated casted their votes and the General Assembly has unanimously approved the proposed decisions related to 2020 reports and 2021 workplan and budget.

NALAS Executive Director Mr. Kelmend Zajazi, presented the 2020 reports. 

Thanks to the very fast adaptation of our knowledge system to the new circumstances we have managed to have a very successful year”, said Mr. Zajazi.

Mr. Elton Stafa, NALAS Project Manager, presented NALAS Observatory, a comprehensive data repository on local government issues in South-East Europe, aimed to support creation of better policies and providing better local public services for citizens.

Based on the rotation system for NALAS Presidency, Ms. Tatiana Badan, Mayor of Selemet Municipality of Moldova and President of the Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova, was appointed a new NALAS President.

The First Vice President of NALAS is Mr. Antonio Ratkovic, President of the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities of Serbia and Mayor of Sombor, the Second Vice President is Mr. Lokman Cagirci, Mayor of Bagcilar Municipality of Turkey, on behalf of Marmara Municipalities Union and the Third NALAS Vice President is Mr. Dusan Raicevic, Mayor of Bar, President of the Union of Municipalities of Montenegro.

“I would like to thank you all for your openness and commitment to support us in further developing the regional cooperation among local governments in South-East Europe. It was a pleasure to serve for our common cause even under difficult circumstances”, said Mr. Manolov. “We have better times ahead of us and I am sure that in the future we will find an opportunity to meet again in Bulgaria”.

“I will be serving as the 13th NALAS President, which I hope to be our lucky number. In the same time, I am the first women President of NALAS. Although I am especially proud of that, I hope we won’t be waiting another 13 years for the new women President. Empowering women to have leadership in politics, business, science and elsewhere is very important for the progress of our societies and communities”, said Ms. Badan in her inauguration speech.  “We have to join our forces, both women and men, and use all available resources to address our challenges at local level. And they are many, starting from the most pressing one – economic and social recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. As NALAS President, my priorities will centre around sustainable and inclusive local economic development, digital transformation, improvement of local public services, and successful rollout of the Covenant of Mayors on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change for our Region”.

PLATFORMA Eastern Partnership Coordination Seminar: Reinforcing Dialogue on Local Government Reform in Moldova and in South and Eastern Europe

Our second event today was organised in partnership with CEMR PLATFORMA and focused on the challenges and opportunities of local public administration reform in Moldova and the Region.

Opening and introduction addresses were delivered by:

  • Constantin Cojocari, Mayor of Edinet, CALM Vice-President, CALM Network of Cities & Towns
  • Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, Council of European Municipalities and Regions
  • Adrian Ermurachi, Deputy Secretary General of the Government of Moldova
  • HE Peter Michalko, Ambassador of European Union delegation to Moldova

“We are still looking for the right formula for local public administration reform in Moldova that will please all – the society, local community and political forces”, said Mr. Constantin Cojocari, Mayor of Edinet and CALM Vice-President.

Mr. Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) emphasised the important role that local governments and CALM have to play in building the democracy, local governance and rule of law in Moldova.

“Dialogue is key for a sustainable public administration reform. Any decision that is being made needs to be made exclusively in the interest of citizens”, said Mr. Adrian Ermurachi, Deputy Secretary General of the Government of Moldova.

HE Peter Michalko, Ambassador of European Union delegation to Moldova stressed that public administration reform in Moldova will remain in the focus of the European Union, as it is an essential step for serving citizens and improving their lives. “We need to see clear political will to unlock the comprehensive reform”, said Ambassador Michalko.

Policy dialogue: Priorities and opportunities for reform in Moldova and South and Eastern Europe

The policy dialogue on priorities and opportunities of the local public administration reform encompassed inputs by:

  • Igor Munteanu, Member of the Parliament of Moldova, Chairman of the Budgetary Control Committee
  • Nicolae Dandis, Mayor of Cahul, CALM Vice President, Moldova
  • Davit Melua, Executive Director, National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia
  • Oleksandr Slobozhan, Executive Director, Association of Ukrainian Cities and
  • Alexandra Schantl, Program Manager, KDZ – Centre for Public Administration Research

All speakers appealed that the local public administration reform must accelerate, based on the principles of local democracy, subsidiarity, decentralisation and fiscal autonomy. The recent negative trends of political shaping of the reforms, recentralisation and control of local government must stop and be replaced with a dialogue, institutional communication and coordination of different governance levels and building trust. Capacities of local governments and their Associations shall be strengthened further and relevant data shall be collected and used for evidenced policy-making.  

“Local Governments in Georgia, Ukraina and Moldova have an important role in service delivery, education and social protection, but very limited financial autonomy. The main challenges remain high political instability and lack of willingness for decentralisation and local PAR, unclear roles and responsibilities across levels of government, improving quality of services, accountability and citizens participation”, said Ms. Alexandra Schantl, Program Manager of KDZ – Centre for Public Administration Research.

In the session Reflections: Reform priorities supported by development partners, inputs were provided by:

  • Ms Marité Moras, Head of Unit, Co-operation and External Relations Division, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (tbc)
  • Mr Radu Danii, National Program Officer, Swiss Cooperation Office in Moldova
  • Ms Diana Cazacu, Project Management Specialist, Project Management Specialist Democracy and Governance, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Ms Valeria Ieșeanu, Planning and Partnership Development Specialist, UNDP Moldova

All speakers emphasised that the local public administration reform must accelerate, with involvement of local governments and CALM. The local governments are not only being closest to people, but they must be able to serve them, concluded the speakers.

“We have to rethink the process of local public administration reform. It shall start by establishing a platform for exchange and dialogue, but one run by local governments. Any reform shall focus on decentralisation and its directions, especially on financial decentralisation”, said Mr. Viorel Furdui, CALM Executive Director in his concluding remarks.