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Local authorities and development assistance
The Commission emphasises the importance of the recent emergence of local authorities as key actors in development assistance and proposes the first elements of a European strategy intended to strengthen their participation in the design and implementation of European development policy.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions - Local authorities: actors for development [COM(2008) 626 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
The purpose of this Communication is, on the one hand, to recognise the importance of the local authorities’ contribution to the development policy of the European Union (EU), and, on the other hand, to present the first elements of a strategy that will make it possible to capitalise on the experience of the local actors in this area by reinforcing their participation in the design and implementation of development activities, in a coordinated and strategic manner.
The Commission considers that local authorities bring unique added value to development processes, by virtue of, in particular:
- their ability to mobilise different stakeholders to work together, to increase public awareness,
- their knowledge of local needs and expertise in sectors conducive to poverty reduction (urbanisation, water and sanitation, etc.),
- their direct experience in territorial development.
According to the Commission, it is necessary to exploit this potential while avoiding excessive fragmentation of development assistance.
The European Union should therefore introduce a framework enabling local authorities to operate as actors for development, in accordance with the general principles adopted at international level. The Commission also considers that local authorities as sub-national actors should be better represented on the European scene and suggests that they organise themselves in order to make their voices heard in the international donor groups. It proposes the establishment of a structured dialogue on development policy with local authorities, a dialogue which could take place under the aegis of the Committee of the Regions and take the form of annual assemblies. In addition, the EU could develop specific tools which would allow local authorities to better coordinate their actions with those of European development policy.
The Commission also underlines the importance of local authorities in the developing countries. It believes that they can play an essential role in reinforcing governance and local democracy, public services and territorial (regional) planning. Moreover, a large number of EU partner countries have launched a process of decentralisation but face many challenges that stronger relations with local authorities in EU Member States could help to overcome.
The Commission suggests that the future European approach could be based on the following:
- aid effectiveness: enhancing development cooperation in support of local governance, with the aim of increasing the coherence, complementarity and effectiveness of different local actors, in accordance with the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness ;
- identifying actors and activities: creating mechanisms to improve overall knowledge of development activities implemented by local authorities. This may include an Atlas of Decentralised Cooperation, a compendium of best practice, or an observatory;
- creating a “stock exchange”: matching supply and demand in development cooperation by means of a platform for the exchange of information, in order to reconcile expertise and financial resources, to reinforce the network of local authorities involved in territorial cooperation and to create partnerships. This “stock exchange” under the aegis of the Committee of the Regions would act as a point of contact between local authorities in the EU and partner countries and as a tool for creating new partnerships;
- supporting decentralised cooperation actions: the Commission wishes to continue to support the actions carried out by local authorities for development in order to enhance the exchange of experience and build closer and more long-term partnerships. The Commission also considers that the EU and local authorities in the EU should support the role of national associations of local authorities in partner countries, in order that they can participate in their national political dialogue.
The importance of the role of local authorities in European development policy has already been emphasised several times, notably in 2003, in the Commission Communication “Governance and development”, in 2005, in the context of the EU Strategy for Africa, and in 2006, in another Communication devoted to Non-state Actors and Local Authorities in Development.