Regional cooperation and mutual learning for a prosperous future
Municipalities in the South Eastern Europe region are often demonstrating lack of legal, organizational, and technical capacities to deliver their responsibilities, thus making the decentralization process one of the major transition challenges. This results in a situation where decentralised competences are not in line with currently insufficient financial resources and obsolete standards of service, causing poor quality of services, as well as economic inefficiencies and scarce local development. Furthermore, due to the history of conflicts in the region, cooperation and sharing experiences between countries is at a low level, even though several municipalities in the Western Balkans countries have implemented good practices in service delivery which respond to the needs of citizens. Here lies great potential for mutual learning and assistance across country borders, which could benefit the modernisation of municipal services, improvement of living conditions, and joint efforts for a prosperous future in the region.
Overcoming common challenges in the region
Through the contribution to the Open Regional Fund for Modernisation of Municipal Services (ORF MMS) of GIZ (Deustsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), the Swiss government aims to support the reforms in the countries of South East Europe in order to ease their accession into the European Union. The project operates in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia, but also encourages networking to neighbouring countries of the region.
The second phase of the project was implemented in the period 2013-2016, with a total value of 8 million Euros. Within this phase 11 projects were financed by the Governments of Switzerland and Germany, with each investing 4 million Euros (equivalent to 4’8 million CHF). The first and third phase of the project are funded solely by the German Government.
With representatives of municipalities, municipal associations, political decision-makers and other relevant partners, ORF MMS first analyzes the most urgent problems of communal services. Specific project ideas are then developed by these partners, with a focus on improving regional dialogue, business environments, management of water supply utilities, cooperation within the area of solid waste, energy efficiency, protection of users of municipal services, etc. These are major challenges in about all municipalities of the WB region. Special emphasis is placed on identifying the best practices implemented by these municipalities and replicating them across the region, thus enticing cooperation and joint initiatives. The ORF MMS provides support in improving the range of services offered by the municipalities and capacity building of their respective management, all with the aim of covering the basic needs of populations in urban and rural areas.
Ultimately, the municipalities embed principles of good governance within their service delivery, which includes establishment of responsive management efforts as well as the empowerment of citizens in decision-making processes with inclusion of all ethnic and social groups. Users of the municipal services are also empowered to participate in the regional cooperation to advocate for good quality of municipal service delivery.
Successful projects benefit over 1’5 million citizens
Since 2007, the ORF MMS project provided funding for 25 projects in the Western Balkans region, with a total investment of 15 million Euros. Over 1’5 million citizens benefited from improved municipal services. Additionally, three new regional networks for replicating relevant practices have been established. Municipal actors developed methodologies and measures for effective and efficient service delivery to citizens, with recommendations for modernisation available to other local governments and public utilities management.