News 25 Jul 14
Plans to slash the number of municipalities in Albania – partly to reflect rural flight – are being fiercely contested by opposition and ethnic minority parties.
Albania’s main opposition party has slated plans to drastically cut the number of rural and urban municipalities from 350 to 61, three of which will be ethnic minority municipalities.
If the law is passed on July 31, it will be Albania’s first territorial administrative reform since 1992, following the collapse of the Communist regime.
The bill was approved by the government on Tuesday and passed in the parliamentary commission for territorial reform on Wednesday.
However, both the Greek minority Union for Human Rights Party, PBDNJ, and the opposition Democratic Party object strongly, albeit for different reasons.
The PBDNJ objects to the failure to denominate the southern municipality of Himara as an ethnic minority area.
Minority municipalities have their boundaries drawn based on ethnic criteria, while the other municipalities have a mixed population.
Himara, which includes a number of villages on the Albanian riviera and the town of Himara, has a large Greek-speaking population.
On Wednesday, the Greek foreign minister, Evangelos Venizelos, expressed concern about the new set-up in a phone call with his Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati.
“Venizelos stressed how critical and sensitive this issue is, and the need to move ahead to the resolution of the pending issues between the two countries, without adding new issues,” the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement
However, the statement added that Albania, “having gained the status of candidate country for accession to the EU, has additional obligations, given that the country is evaluated based on its compliance with the European acquis and the Copenhagen criteria”.
The Democratic Party has also contested the reform since its launch last autumn, boycotting the special parliamentary commission tasked with redrawing the map.
In a statement on Facebook on Wednesday former Prime Minister Sali Berisha said the reform was “unconstitutional and discriminatory.
“Whoever sees the map… can easily conclude that demographic, geographical and cultural criteria have not been respected,” Berisha wrote.