Albania Unitary state

History and trends

Albania is a parliamentary republic. Its constitution was adopted on 21 October 1998.

The accession of Albania to NATO took place at the Strasbourg summit in April 2009. The government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, which was returned to power at the June 2009 elections, called Albania’s accession to NATO the “first step” towards European integration. But the country likely has a long way to go before joining the European Union.

Albania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in 2006 and submitted its formal application for EU membership.

There are currently 2 million Albanians living outside the country, yet there is little diversity within its population. Greeks are the only minority of any significant size, amounting to 150,000 people, mostly living in the south of the country.

Albanians are, however, divided along religious lines (70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox Christian and 10% Catholic) and ethnicity (Ghegs to the north of the River Shkumbin, and Tosks to the south). The Ghegs are a tribal society, while the Tosks have a more land-owning and urban culture.

Other than the city of Korçë and the ports of Durrës and Vlorë, the country’s main cities are situated along a north-south axis that follows the boundary between the coastal plains and the mountains (Shkodër, Krujë, Tirana, Elbasan, Berat and Gjirokastër).

Internal travel restrictions under the communist regime restricted urban growth and caused heavy demographic pressure in the mountainous regions of the north and south. Mass population movements followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1990, with more than 300,000 Albanians emigrating to Greece and Western Europe and the population of Tirana rising from 240,000 to 370,000 in just a few years.

The decentralisation process began in 2000 with the adoption of the “Decentralisation Strategy”, which divided the country into counties, municipalities and communes and signalled the end of the old district system.

The decentralisation process continued between 2000 and 2007. The most recent milestone came with the adoption of the “Inter-Sectoral Strategy for Regional Development”, which was approved in 2007 but has yet to be fully implemented.


The country is divided into two levels of local government – 12 counties and 61 municipalities, mostly urban areas and rural communes/zones. The municipalities and communes are the smallest unit of local self-government. The counties are the second, higher level.


The city (or municipality) of Tirana (Tiranë in Albanian, also the seat of the new prefecture of the same name, and formerly of the district sub-prefecture of the same name) has a special status (in national areas not otherwise devolved to the new prefecture or the former district, or to the new municipality or the former city) because of its size and its expansion, as the country’s capital.

Rather than being subdivided into communes and then into villages (or settlements) with no real powers, the city of Tirana is carved up into administrative units with expanded powers (similar to communes elsewhere in the country, but comparable to districts in France’s big cities). Public services are delivered locally and sectorally, so as to better serve the city’s growing population (whereas emigration is high in the rest of the country).

For administration purposes, Albania is divided into 36 districts (rrethe) and 12 counties (qark), each headed by a governor appointed by the Council of Ministers. These are the devolved state entities.