With regards to Basic Legal Guarantees of Freedom, it is observed a tendency to increase state control over CSOs operations and to infringe on their independence, through the preparation and approval of several laws and regulations. To be mentioned are: – The new Law on Accounting and Financial Statements which introduces new reporting requirements for CSOs with a total assets or income over 30 million ALL (approx. 235,000 EUR). According to the law, this group of CSOs should prepare and publish a performance monitoring report.
Although not officially regulated, the format of this report increases the reporting requirements from the state and is expected to include requests for information that is already provided by CSOs through other reports already submitted to state authorities. Also, it would allow for an assessment of the work of these CSOs by the state. While this is a normal requirement for CSOs that benefit from state funds or other forms of state support, in this case it is not justified and creates space for state intrusion in the work of SCOs. – The anti-money laundry and anti-terrorism legal package and its sub-legal acts, which introduce a number of risk indicators to measure the activity of CSOs. Completion of the legal package with a framework which determines the risk criteria is not accompanied by an awareness campaign and education of CSOs on these risks and the preventive measures they should take. As a result, there is no comprehensive understanding of how the government’s anti-money laundry and counter countering financing of terrorism actions (AML/CFT) may impact different types of CSOs and the challenges that the sector is facing as a result of AML/CFT efforts. – The Law on Youth foresees the establishment of a National Youth Representation Organization, and the criteria that it should fulfil to be recognized as such from the institution responsible for youth, are approved through a decision of the Council of Ministers. This is considered a severe violation of the independence of CSOs from the state, and is in contradiction not only with the non-profit law, but also with the Civil Code and the organization right as a Constitutional right (article 13). The Law foresees also a grant fund from the state budget dedicated to youth that will be used to finance projects of youth organizations and projects for youth. The criteria and the selection procedures are determined by a decision of the Council of Ministers. This is another concerning issue which further strengthens the independence of the national youth representation organization from the government, turning it into a GONGO (a government-organized non-governmental organization).
On the other hand, nothing has been done to address the long-term concern and recommendation of CSOs for the decentralization of the registration process, and the preparation and publication of an electronic register of CSOs, which are also included as priority issues in the Roadmap (the old and the new one).
Another negative development in this area regarding freedom of expression was the approval of the anti-defamation legal package, which was widely criticized by the media community and the international organisations as being in contradiction with the international standards and violated the freedom of expression. After the veto of the President to draft amendments of Law no. 97/2013 and Law no. 9918/08, the vote on these draft amendments by Parliament was postponed until the Venice Commission opinion, which is expected to be issued in 2020.
With regards to CSOs financial viability and sustainability, it continues to be a challenge for CSOs, with most of them depending on project-based funds from donors (mostly international). State support, either financial or non-financial one, remains weak, sporadic and allocated in a closed and non-transparent way. In the last years, there is an increased tendency on the establishment of social enterprises by CSOs as a means to ensure sustainability and continuation of their activities, which is also supported by donors’ strategies. These developments are not supported through an enabling legal framework for the establishment and functioning of social enterprises. The Law on Social Enterprises approved in 2016 and its legal sub acts presents real barriers for the normal functioning of social enterprises, such as: the lack of a clear definition of the concepts of “social enterprise” in the law, determination of a set of economic and social criteria accompanied with a range of penalties and ambiguities, considering of social enterprises as entities dependent on public funds, failure to take into consideration forms of support from local government and public procurement, and the condition to use profit entirely for the development and expansion of social enterprise’ activity.
Although included as a policy area in the Roadmap, philanthropic activity is still not legally regulated, and not fully used as an opportunity neither by CSOs nor the individual and corporate donors.
Referring to financial treatment and benefits for CSOs, the main development in 2019 is the issuing of an instruction from the Ministry of Finance and Economy on VAT reimbursement for foreign donors’ funds to CSOs, as part of all bilateral and multilateral agreements ratified by the Albanian Parliament or grant agreements approved by the Council of Ministers. The instruction was prepared based on the requests and suggestions of CSOs presented through a successful advocacy initiative led by Partners Albania. Its implementation is to be assessed in the following years.
With regards to state – SCOs cooperation, a new Road Map for the Government Policy towards a More Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development 2019-2023 was approved in 2019. A low number of CSOs participated in the consultation process, because of lack of information on the process, lack of trust that their opinions will be taken into consideration, or lack of interest to be engaged considering the failure with the implementation of the first document (Roadmap 2015-2018) at the end of which implementation period no assessment report was prepared and published. The new document is improved including concrete evaluation indicators and a foreseen budget for the implementation of its measures. It also foresees the participation of CSOs in the monitoring of its implementation. To ensure this, it is recommended to design a monitoring process and mechanisms that would enable a broader participation of CSOs in the monitoring.
Regarding mechanisms of cooperation, the National Council for Civil Society failed to prove itself as an effective advisory body. Even this year it was characterized by lack of interaction between members from civil society and their constituencies, with no discussions nor concrete actions to address concerning issues of CSOs and to influence government decisions toward the creation of an enabling environment for civil society in the country.
Another important advisory structure where civil society is represented is the National Council for European Integration, whose membership selection procedures, as well as operation are unknown to CSOs. Moreover, even among its members, there is confusion and lack of information on these issues. CSOs are expected to play an important role in the implementation of the National Plan for European Integration, through their participation in the governing body and consultation tables to be established in this regard. The effectiveness of these bodies as well as the role and contribution of CSOs remain to the assessed in the following years when they will be operational.
In overall, the consultation processes should be improved and organized in compliance with the requirements and criteria set in the law. They should be considered as a mean to improve the documents taking into consideration the input of CSOs and other interest groups, and not just as a law requirement.