Meeting of NALAS regional coordinators in Bar




After two years without physical participation meetings, the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) organised a number of meetings on its working and advisory bodies in Bar, Montenegro.

On 7 and 8 April, the traditional meeting of NALAS regional coordinators was held. 14 member Associations attended by leaders and representatives of the associations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Montenegro. NAMRB was represented by Yana Docheva, Head of International Cooperation Department.

At the beginning of the meeting, there was an exchange on the main challenges facing associations in recent years and priorities in the short and long term. As a common problem for all, topics such as rising energy prices, the limitation of the powers of local authorities as a result of the pandemic, delayed reform processes and decentralisation were mentioned, efforts to increase the share of municipalities' revenues from tax receipts, etc.

Almost all countries in the region have held national or local elections, and in Montenegro, after the vote of no confidence in the government in February, they are preparing for new ones.

Director of the Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova shared about the problems of local authorities with the wave of refugees from Ukraine. It was shared that there was a lack of good coordination at national level in taking concrete steps to support people leaving Ukraine and that local authorities had made significant efforts to manage the situation on a voluntary basis.

Representatives of the associations of Moldova and Kosovo shared their positive experience in working with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. With the support of Congress, the Moldovan Association has adopted a Strategic Plan for the next 6 years (until 2027), and the Kosovo Association is completing a successful project to promote democracy and improve local self-government.

On the topic of local authorities' revenues from different types of taxes, the associations shared the following information: in Moldova, local authorities already receive 100% of the road use fee, as well as 100% of the income tax of individuals living in rural municipalities. In the case of urban municipalities, 50% of the revenue from this tax is transferred to the budget of the municipality. Association's efforts are now focused on negotiating to obtain part of the corporate tax. Standing Committee of Cities and Municipalities in Serbia informs that the property transaction tax is already collected by the local authorities, while it was previously transferred to the budget of the municipality, but was collected at national level. With the change, they hope to achieve improved collectability. Representative of the Union of Municipalities in Montenegro stressed that following the pandemic, a number of laws, were adopted, which strongly and negatively affect municipalities. Since the fall of the Montenegrin government in February this year, the situation has been severely complicated. Thus, draft legislative changes cannot be considered and adopted due to the lack of parliament, and as a result, a number of measures remain in place, such as exempting the income of persons up to 700 EUR. The amount is equivalent to the average payment in Montenegro and leads to serious losses for municipalities. It is estimated that in the absence of changes by the end of the year, losses for municipal budgets can reach 30%. Similar exceptions apply locally in Serbia.

Other highlights include the Training Centre of the Association of Municipalities in Kosovo and trainings for newly elected officials last year. Albania is also in the process of setting up its own training centre, collaborating with Serbia's association. The Council of Cities and Municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the process of establishing a support fund with a budget of up to 2 million euro.

From the side of NAMRB was presented the complex political environment in which the Association has worked with two cabinet offices in the past year. Information was presented about the challenges around the lack of an adopted state budget at the beginning of the year, the problems with high energy prices and the appreciation of building materials, as well as the work of Bulgarian local authorities in the context of the refugees from Ukraine. Participants were also informed about the continuing efforts of the NAMRB to give away 1/5 of the income tax to individuals and 10% of the corporate tax for the benefit of the municipalities.

Based on the preliminary survey on delegate preferences, it was decided that the next NALAS General Meeting should be held on 12-13 May in Belgrade, Serbia.

The day before the coordinators' meeting, a consultative meeting of the South-East European Forum of Women Mayors was organised. Fist Forum was set up in December 2019 and brings together female mayors and chairmen of the 12-country municipal councils in South-East Europe with the aim of: empowering and building a coalition for enhanced gender mainstreaming in local politics; facilitating opportunities for cooperation and interaction between female mayors; recommendations and initiatives for gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting at local level in the SEE region.

NAMRB was represented by Mrs. Korneliya Marinova, Mayor of Lovech Municipality and Yana Docheva from the NAMRB team. Other local elected officials invited to participate were the mayors of Krusevac, Serbia, Luzhnia, Albania, Danilovgrad, Montenegro and Cruzesh, Moldova. Representatives of the national associations from Romania, Serbia and Moldova also participated.

According to a NALAS survey, there was a slight improvement compared to 2019, when female mayors in SEE were 7.5% and in 2021 they were 8.3%, with an EU average of 15%. In Bulgaria, the female heads of municipalities are 14.4%, and the Mayor of Sofia is one of the three female mayors of capitals in the region. Quotas for women introduced in Serbia have led to a positive development and an increase in the percentage of women in local politics. Despite the requirements introduced for candidate lists in Albania, which should be equally divided between men and women, after the elections the results showed that male mayors prevailed.

In his introductory speech, the Mayor of Lovech stressed that "Policies for young people, children and family are at the heart of the sustainable economic development of each community". Ms. Marinova said that the more active participation of women in local life is an important element for the development of the community. She resented an example with the summer Business Academy for start-up entrepreneurs in Lovech, realized under a project of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and in partnership with the Council of Women in Business in Bulgaria, in which the first and third prizes for projects were awarded to representatives of the fair gender.

With regard to the topic of creating public spaces tailored to everyone's needs, Ms. Marinova presented the municipality's experience in building new spatial solutions and renovating the central urban part of Lovech. "In implementation of the project, three playgrounds will be built for children of different ages and for children with disabilities, as well as a skate park", said the mayor of Lovech, adding that "this is an expected project" designed after an in-depth study of the needs of citizens and fulfilling a commitment to children and young people in the community.

In the discussion on the challenges for ladies to lead a successful career and to raise children in parallel, a number of good practices were shared, including organizing a summer school for children in Luznia, Albania, setting aside an additional budget for the construction of kindergartens in rural areas on the territory of Dinilograd in Montenegro. On the same topic, Ms. Marinova shared about the adopted changes in the Ordinance on the terms and conditions for enrolment, write-off and relocation of children in kindergartens. The changes regulate, among other things, the organization of work in kindergartens during non-school hours during the summer months. Decision was adopted after conducting a preliminary study and discussion with the parents of the children. Thus, parents do not have to seek alternative care for their children during the summer months or compromise on their work commitments.

Participants agreed that among the main challenges there are the lack of data and analyses on women's needs, as well as a clear methodology for designing budgets taking into account their needs. It was also decided that the next Forum will present the most successful models and practices in the field of equality, as well as discussions on the role of women in the development of the different sectors of the local economy.