The 2021 European Union – Eastern Partnership Local Leaders’ Forum focused on “Deliver more, serve better: Local Public Administration Reform as a booster for sustainable and inclusive development” was organised today by NALAS, in cooperation with PLATFORMA and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) and the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania (ALAL).
Almost 100 participants and 15 speakers took part in the Forum, discussing the Local Public Administration Reform in the EaP and EU, the renew EU-EaP Agenda – how to make it more local oriented and the EU support to Local Public Administration Reform in Neighbourhood East.
This was the third edition of the European Union – Eastern Partnership Local Leaders’ Forum, happening in a crucial moment for decentralisation and local public administration reforms. Decentralisation reforms have increased the role of local governments in key strategic sectors and while significant progress has been made, major challenges remain in terms of political commitment and advancing the fiscal dimension of trends.
“We have been talking about decentralisation, local democracy and public administration reform for a long time. Probably more than you would like and more than just reasoning allows”, said Mayor Tatiana Badan, NALAS President, in her opening speech. “It cannot be said that there is no advancement on this subject, and in some countries even some successes. At the same time, if we talk in general, we notice slow tempo of these reforms. Moreover, lately, mainly due to the pandemic crisis, we have heard about certain attempts of re-centralisation, cuts in local finances, and in some countries even attempts to constrain local autonomy and democracy”.
Ms. Badan also appealed to the international community, to support local government autonomy and reforms as European values enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. At the same time, she called the donors to shape their assistance programmes based on the everyday, specific needs of local communities and their people, which are not always related to the global development trends.
Mr. Frederic Vallier, CEMR Secretary General, emphasised that decentralisation and PAR are boosters for sustainable development. Since 2015, CEMR with the Committee of the Regions and the EU Commission initiated a programme for Eastern Partnership, helping local governments and their associations exchange and grow together.
Ms. Mudite Priede, Secretary General of the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments highlighted the association is centring its activities around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SD4-education and SDG13-climate action.
The first session of the Forum focused on the Local Public Administration Reform in the EaP and EU and included inputs by:
- Viorel Furdui, Executive Director, Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova, Local Councillor
- Yaroslav Raboshuk, Deputy Executive Director of AUC and Director of their Analytical Centre
- Emil DRĂGHICI, Mayor of Vulcana-Băi, Romania, President of ACoR
- David Melua, Executive Director, National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia
- Silvia Georgieva, Executive Director National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria
Mr. Viorel Furdui appealed to European institutions to hear the voice of local governments of the EaP region and not to confuse local public administration reform with territorial and administrative reform. Reforms cannot be replicated from elsewhere, but must be adjusted to given reality and existing current resources at hand to carry out reforms.
Mr. Yaroslav Rabushuk emphasised that today local governments in Ukraine celebrate their national day and have a lot to celebrate. He referred to AUC’s experience of almost 35 years, in particular the operationalisation of MoUs with relevant ministries for improving local public services.
Mr. Emil Draghici called the Committee of the Regions to establish a working group on Moldova – apart from CORLEAP.
The three speakers shared that rural pact for Romania; integration of the decentralisation reform in the constitution in Ukraine and a package of regulatory documents for institutionalising the dialogue with the central level in Moldova are some of the priorities for intergovernmental dialogue in these three countries.
Mr. David Melua shared important lessons from Georgia, related to local government’s independence, but also local democracy, citizens’ participation in local decision making and leaving no one and no place behind.
Ms. Silvia Georgieva explained the complex political situation in Bulgaria, which currently does not have a government, but emphasised that as always, the local level is that one that operates and achieves results. Still, Bulgarian municipalities face major challenges in their financial independence, related specifically to three issues: 1) financial dependence from central transfers (70%), 2) small proportion of municipal resources from local taxes and fees, and 3) local financial system not viable.
The strategic plan for the local level for 2030 developed by NAMRB has three main directions: 1) Everything is local-no one and no place is left behind,
2) Everything is green-climate change adaptation and transition to greener society;
3) Everything is digital-innovation and digitalisation.
The second session of the Forum focused on the renew EU-EaP Agenda – how to make it more local oriented and the EU support to Local Public Administration Reform in Neighbourhood East and included inputs by:
- Michael A. Rupp, Team leader DG NEAR – Eastern Partnership
- Kata Tüttő, Deputy Mayor of Budapest and CORLEAP member
- Tomasz Ostropolski, Decentralisation, Public Administration Reform at the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine – Support Group for Ukraine
- Vaida Aleknavičienė, Deputy Mayor of Joniškis (Lithuania) and PLATFORMA spokesperson
- Viacheslav Nehoda, Deputy Minister for Communities and Territories Development of Ukraine
Dr. Michael A. Rupp stated that economic growth, creating jobs and interconnection between EU and EaP are some of the priorities of the EaP-EU renewed agenda. Mayors for Economic Growth is the core of this approach, helping local governments design and implement Local Economic Development Plans.
Ms. Kata Tüttő said that trust is being created at local level bringing in citizens to participate and to cooperate and be part of the decision-making process. The pandemic showed rising trust for mayors and local level since they were frontrunners and the one who confronted the challenge even before the central level acted. Ms. Tüttő pointed out that to be able to implement the ambitious EU agenda related to green transition and green growth, local governments need to have the financial autonomy.
Dr. Tomasz Ostropolski emphasised EU’s support to the decentralisation process in Ukraine, through the Unite with Europe programme, that committed 150 million EUR for these purposes.
Ms. Vaida Aleknavičienė stated that it is important for local government to take the lead on reforms, as it is at the local level that citizens can see the benefits of reforms. Ms. Aleknavičienė also mentioned decentralised cooperation as an effective tool to reinforce local democracy in EaP countries.
Mr. Viacheslav Nehoda presented some of the key results of the local public administration reform in Ukraine, related to territorial reform, sectoral decentralisation and financial decentralization.
Ms. Marlene Simeon, CEMR Director of Operations and Mr. Kelmend Zajazi, NALAS Executive Director closed the 2021 EU-EaP Local Leaders Forum, summarising the key conclusions.
Ms. Simeon stated that autonomous local government, based on the European Charter is a fundament. PLATFORMA will continue to support EaP local governments through peer exchanges, trainings and much more. “We believe that the EU is now better placed to engage with EaP states in a more effective manner and to implement the post-2020 partnership policy agenda at all levels”, said Ms. Simeon, emphasising that EU institutions must see local governments as a key partner in local public administration reform. “There is now a need to localise the reforms, to increase the involvement of local elected representatives in reform agendas and consider them as significant policy-makers”.
Mr. Zajazi summarised the key challenges for the future. “Fiscal autonomy remains a key challenge in the EaP countries, but also throughout South-East Europe and beyond. Decentralisation is a complex reform that is unfortunately over time often overshade by other national reforms and agenda”, said Mr. Zajazi. “To overcome this, the process of decentralisation has to be aligned with other reforms, at national level, but also with the international donors and their programmes. The intergovernmental dialogue needs to be strengthened and institutionalised”, concluded. Mr. Zajazi.
Forum video recording