By Orlando Fusco, Program Manager, Delegation of the EU to Albania

Given their extensive service responsibilities, Albanian municipalities hold the promise to improve the quality of life of Albanian citizens. Similarly, Albanian municipalities play fundamental role in Albania’s path towards EU integration as up to 70% of the EU Acquis Communautaire in Albania is implemented at the local level.

Given the importance of local governments in the EU integration process, the EU is paying more and more attention and providing increased assistance to local government in Albania. The financial support to local government has not only increased in the volume of financing, with a support programme amounting to EUR 34 million[1], but it has also enlarged its scope.

As part of this support programme, in 2021, in addition to the technical assistance for local governance and decentralization reforms, we launched the EU for Municipalities Grant Scheme Project in Albania (EU4M). This grant scheme project is conceptualised as a direct response of the EU to the needs and priorities raised by local authorities and communities during most field visits. As a result, the EU4M investment grants will tackle the fields of local public infrastructure and services, local economic development, innovation, job creation, environmental protection and youth empowerment. All these dimensions are crucial for the future of Albanians and the EU integration process.

As the applications for the first call for proposals are concluded on 17 January 2022, we congratulate the municipalities of Albania that fulfilled the eligibility criteria and applied for investment grants. The great interest shown on grants supporting sustainable and inclusive local economic development and the upgrade of municipal infrastructure indicates that Albanian municipalities are very keen on supporting their local communities thrive. Through these investment grants, municipalities will be able to improve access to and quality of services for their communities while promoting economic activity, which in turn will help create new jobs and transform the quality of life for local communities.

We wish good luck to all the applicants in the current stage when their proposals are being evaluated by a competent evaluation committee involving also external experts from South-East Europe. We are confident that NALAS, as project coordinator and as a regional organisation, will conduct a most transparent and impartial evaluation of each application.

On average, through this first call for applications the EU will provide grants of up to 200.000 EUR for up to 6 municipalities. A second call for applications will be launched in the spring of 2022, where another 15 Albanian municipalities will be awarded investment grants of up to 50.000 EUR. On average, about one third of Albanian municipalities will benefit from the EU funded grants.

As any competitive process, only the most relevant and impactful applications will be selected to proceed to the next stage. It is therefore crucial that Albanian municipalities continue to invest in strengthening their own capacities to apply for and manage EU and other donors funding. They municipal EU units have a unique mandate in this direction. The EU4M Project, in partnership with the Municipalities for Europe 2.0 project, will deliver tailored made trainings and capacity development measures for the municipal staff involved in the preparation of the proposals for funding in the EU4M Grants Scheme. We hope that municipalities will build on this opportunity and continue to invest in the capacity of their local staff.

One very important point on the grant scheme: in the IPA 2020 Financing Agreement, the Government of Albania has committed – as a formal condition – to provide a co-financing of at least 10% of the amount of each sub-grant included in the EU for Municipalities grant scheme. We hope that the Government of Albania will keep this commitment and allow the deployment of this EU financial assistance to the benefit of local communities.

I would like to congratulate the project implementing team for their efforts so far, and thank the two Local Government Associations, the Association of Local Autonomy and the Association of Albanian Municipalities which have and continue to play a fundamental role not only n this project but in advancing decentralization and supporting municipal development in Albania.

[1] This amount includes assistance to the municipalities both from the portfolio of good governance and from other sectors such as rule of law, social inclusion and circular economy.

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