Representatives of local and regional authorities from the EU and developing countries gathered on 9-10 April in Brussels to promote a sustainable development policy having local authorities as its main drivers. They also called upon the EU to put decentralisation and multi-level partnerships at the centre of development. This 3rd edition of the "Assises of Decentralised cooperation" also gave participants the opportunity to reiterate their call to see 2015 declared "European Year for Development."
The event, jointly organized by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Commission, marked a new stage in involving cities and regions in development policies at a challenging time: the ongoing negotiations on the next EU budget will determine the future financing of EU policies, whereas the European Commission is working on increasing the impact of development policy, in particular through a new initiative aimed at enhancing the role of local authorities in development – a communication is to be tabled later this year. Discussions are also taking place at global level to design a new global development agenda for the next 20-30 years and taking over from the Millennium Development Goals.
In his concluding address, CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel expressed his wish that the Commission's communication will allow to move one step closer to the establishment of a multilevel partnership with local and regional authorities: "When local features have a strong impact on the content of a policy, meaning that the policy needs to be adapted to the particular context, local and regional authorities need to shoulder their responsibilities fully. It is therefore vital that development cooperation work towards building up partners' capacities, especially the capacity to create and use their own resources." According to the President, this is where the forthcoming Commission's Communication should be heading to.
Also speaking at the event, Mercedes Bresso, CoR First Vice-President, stressed the added value brought by the EU in development cooperation thanks to the experience gained thought its cohesion policy: "To a large extent, such a development policy having territories as a focus is similar to the EU cohesion policy, which aims at strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion while supporting regions lagging behind. The EU therefore has a strong asset here, as well as experience and know-how that can be further developed to the benefit of partner countries. In this context, decentralized cooperation with partner countries further demonstrates its relevance".
Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development Cooperation, confirmed the need to put greater emphasis on a territorial approach to development: “We particularly see a stronger role for local authorities in partner countries as key to achieving better governance and the sustainable development outcomes set out in the international agenda. That is one of the reasons the Commission is now working on a Communication on the role of local authorities in development.”
As regards the international agenda for development post-2015, the CoR President called for the establishment of a "genuine partnership" involving local and regional authorities and supporting them as they take part in discussions on the post-2015 world programme. In this regards, Commissioner Piebalgs stressed that '“Global commitments can be only bear fruit if action at local level is real and effective. That is why we believe that local authorities’ involvement is crucial to our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and in our continued efforts to eradicate poverty once and for all.”
The CoR and the Local Authorities Council of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) also signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation between the two institutions in promoting the objectives of multi-level governance and local democracy. The agreement seeks to enhance the participation of local and regional authorities within representative political bodies and promote the concept of sustainable cities and regions. The aim is also to support local government capacity building.
Signing the agreement on behalf of the WAEMU, Soulé Alagbe (Benin), Mayor of Parakou and Vice-President of the WAEMU Council of Local Communities, stressed the added value of decentralised cooperation and capacity building for local and regional authorities which "is priceless because it supports the exchange of experience and transfer of technology, which generates great added value. Decentralised cooperation is a gain for the population and generates mutual benefits. Capacity building must be strengthened by engaging not only the government and the opposition, but also the technical staff of city councils who do not change every five years with the elections".
The CoR will adopt a resolution on the future global approach to ending poverty at its plenary of 11-12 April to emphasise that, even in times of economic downturn, the EU shall continue supporting developing countries to maintain their efforts in reaching the Millennium Development Goals until 2015. The CoR is also preparing an opinion on the role of local authorities in development cooperation (rapporteur Hans Janssen (NL/EPP)), with a first discussion to be held at the next meeting of the CoR commission in charge of external affairs (CIVEX) on 22 April.
On 15 May the CoR will host in its premises an international aid conference on Mali, organised at the initiative of the French Republic and the EU, to help the reconstruction of the country and support the stabilization process. The event will also be an opportunity to highlight the contribution of local and regional authorities in this context.