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Strategic Partnerships: Uniting the European Commission and Local Authorities

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13 August 2015

“Although development is a global [issue], the implementation is always local. Because it’s at this level that it is most effective,” said Mr Khalifa Sall, President of United Cities and Local Governments and Mayor of Dakar. He believes that including local authorities in sustainable development is only ‘natural’. So what does it take to unite the European Commission and Local Authorities?

In January 2015, Neven Mimica, the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) signed a Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA) to form strategic partnerships with five Associations of Local Authorities (ALA):

“In some countries, the link to development processes may require larger capacities and stronger local governance structures. […] We want to help unlock [Local Authorities] full development potential as the public institution closest to citizens,” said Commissioner Mimica. He believes that “Strategic Partnerships create an institutional space for policy dialogue based on shared interests and common objectives. They must deliver real and concrete results.”



In this video, Elena Asciutti, former colleague from DEVCO Unit B2 – Civil society, Local Authorities, explains how this FPA came about and how it could be re-used in other areas of development. Ms Asciutti now works for DG NEAR in the EU Delegation to Lebanon.

The strategic partnerships will each last six years – up to the end of 2020 – with a budget of just over 20 million euros for the period 2015-2017, allocated under the Thematic Programme "Civil Society and Local Authorities". Work will be carried out on two levels: regional and continental with the following five signatories

  1. United Cities and Local Governments – World Secretariat (UCLG): they represent over half of the world’s total population through their Local Authority (LA) members, present in 140 countries. They are the united voice and global advocate for democratic local self-government.
  2. The International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF): AIMF's mission is to improve LAs' capacities as well as to foster exchanges of experiences and expertise among francophone LAs.
  3. Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF): they promote and strengthen effective democratic local government throughout the Commonwealth.
  4. United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG-A): they work to advocate for the adoption and implementation of decentralisation policies in African countries.
  5. The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and PLATAFORMA promote the respect for the principle of subsidiarity and the participation of citizens in the European integration process, as well as coordinating the voice of European local and regional authorities in the field of development cooperation.

“It’s going to improve the work that we have been carrying out. It’s going to assist us in even going deeper and deeper in our aims and goals,” said Dr Lazaros Steliou Savvides, CLGF Board Member and Mayor of Strovolos. “So I’m very delighted that we have signed this particular agreement.”

In the video below, several of the signatory ALAs share their thoughts on the partnership and how it will help them to implement the post-2015 agenda.



Moving forward, this partnership will be crucial in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Central governments will not be able to achieve these targets on their own; local needs also need to be taken into account.

Although LAs have recently emerged as important development actors, their involvement in development processes is still a work in progress. They are in a unique position to link local concerns and priorities to national, regional and international debates. Yet they still face significant constraints to their effective contribution to good governance and inclusive development, as well as to provide their members with adequate services. This is, among other things, due to the lack of an adequate level of institutional and organisational capacities as well as human and financial resources.

In 2013 the European Commission (EC) Communication Empowering Local Authorities in partner countries for better governance and more efficient development outcomes [Communication 280 (2013)] identified the priorities for supporting Local Authorities in partner countries:

  1. Support to Decentralisation Process
  2. Capacity Development of Local Authorities
  3. Sustainable urbanisation
  4. Reinforcement of Association of Local Authorities.

This FPA takes things one step further, looking at implementation of development policies and long-term strategies:

“It will tie up the [links] between the EC and our networks,” said Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of CEMR, speaking about the partnership. But “now it’s time to implement. And this partnership is all about that. How are we going to implement?” Strategic Partnerships and the related grants should create renewed awareness on the need to focus on territorial dimension of development. From a political point of view, they will offer a more stable collaboration with ALAs as well as higher technical standards. In operational terms, they will allow a long-term view focusing on the achievement of strategic priorities and political objectives as defined in their own mission statements and multi-annual strategies.

They will also further promote dynamic bottom-up and long-term development processes based on multi-actor and multi-sector approaches.

But will they be successful?

The EC and the ALAs set ambitious objectives in these partnerships, including:

  • support to LAs in partner countries on capacity gaps;
  • equal access to power for men and women;
  • decision-making and accountable leadership at the local level;
  • and improved service delivery.

LAs are also expected to play a more important role

  • in defining and implementing national public policies;
  • in responding to rapid urbanisation process;
  • and in responding to crisis situations.

In order to measure the progress towards these objectives, the EC created a Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism (MEM). The monitoring will ensure coherence, promote knowledge exchange among FPA beneficiaries and when necessary suggest mitigation solutions. While the evaluation will evaluate the ALAs performance against the objectives defined in the partnership agreement.

Although the EC has been using FPAs for several years, this was the first time one was used by DEVCO. This is just the first step: DEVCO is currently working on a guidance note and revising the FPA templates, so that this new cooperation modality can be re-used by the European Union Delegations and other DEVCO services.

For more information on how ALAs work and how the FPA will be implemented please click on the links below which will reveal more information on the details behind this new instrument.


1. Find out more about Associations of Local Authorities and their role:  

Associations of Local Authorities

Associations of Local Authorities (ALAs) are umbrella organizations based on membership. They are represented at national, regional, continental and international level, by a permanent body established as an autonomous entity in accordance with the legislation enforced by the country of registration. ALAs are usually headed by a politician elected at the local level, and composed of a representative body elected by its LA members and a permanent secretariat.

The role of the Associations of Local Authorities

Despite being different political institutions, the European Commission (EC) and ALAs both support the vital role that Local Authorities (LAs) play in:

  • shaping development policies and partnerships
  • implementing cooperation funds
  • promoting citizens’ participation in public life
  • and in improving living standards by providing services in response to their needs.

They work together to achieve enhanced governance, eradication of poverty and more effective local development.

ALAs' main functions include:

  1. advocating for members' interests in national policy dialogues with central governments and other national stakeholders as well as in international fora;
  2. lobbying for decentralisation policies leading to more autonomous and empowered Local Authorities;
  3. coordinating and providing a platform for discussion among members;
  4. experience and knowledge sharing with the view to enhance Local Authorities’ capacities;
  5. quality supervising Local Authorities performance in matters of local policy-making processes and service delivery;
  6. promoting and coordinating participative local development plans.


2. How are Strategic Partnerships Established?  

Strategic partnerships can be established and regulated through Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA). They spell out [1]:

    • the common objectives agreed by the strategic partner (not for profit “non-state actors") and the Commission. To this end, the FPA contains a preamble which specifies the Union policy area concerned and the general objectives shared with the partner as justification for this agreement;
    • the type of action envisaged to achieve the defined general objectives;
    • the procedure for awarding specific grants, in compliance with the principles and procedures in the Financial Regulation (Calls for Proposals and direct awarding in the case of de jure and de facto monopoly);
    • and lastly, the general rights and obligations of each party under the specific agreements.

The duration of the partnership is usually for a maximum of four years.

[1] Article 121 of the EU Financial Regulation and Article 178 of Rules of Application (RAP), Framework Partnership Agreements shall be treated as grants with regard to programming, ex-ante publication and award, and respond to the principles of transparency or equal treatment of applicants.
FPAs can be awarded through Call for Proposals or can be directly awarded to strategic partners with de jure and de facto monopoly.


3. How are FPAs structured?  

FPAs are structured on two levels:

  1. The political level, which is spelt out in two documents: the Preamble and the Strategic Plan. These documents define the common and general political objectives of the partnership under a specific Union policy and Partner’s Multi-Annual Strategy, as well as the respective roles and responsibilities of the EC and its partner in implementing the partnership. At this level, no reference to funding is made, as the FPA does not constitute an obligation for the EU to provide the strategic partners with funds.
  2. Operational level, which is constituted by the Specific Grant Agreement (SGA). Whether one-off (action grant) or as part of an approved annual work programme (operating grant), SGA defines the operational terms of the strategic partnership (specific objectives, activities, target groups/beneficiaries, results, financial and human resources, indicators), instrumental to achieve the common political priorities between the EC and its strategic partners. As per grant regulation, SGAs are made by the following documents: description of the Action, Logical Framework and Budget.

In the case of ALAs, FPAs were awarded directly because of ALAs' situation of de jure and de facto monopoly. The main objective of these strategic partnerships is to contribute to the implementation of the EU policy on LAs empowerment in partner countries to unlock their development potential. Under specific objectives, strategic partnerships aims to strengthen the structure and capacities of the afore-mentioned ALAs, with emphasis on individual, institutional and organisational capacity development, in order to reach a legitimate and effective coordination role, to provide their members with adequate services as well as to concretely represent the needs of local communities in institutional dialogues.

In designing the partnerships, the EC wanted to take some factors into account:

  • the current and future challenges pinpointed in continuous dialogue with ALAs;
  • the subsidiarity principle;
  • the principles underpinning the future post-2015 development framework;
  • the policy priorities defined in the Communication “Empowering Local Authorities in partner countries for enhanced governance and more effective development outcomes” (280)2013;
  • the ALAs multi-annual strategies reflecting a path, a vision that the EC shares.

The joint work with all of the ALAs will also have to be in line with the respective country’s national policies and in a constructive articulation with central authorities.

For more information on the content of the FPAs between the EC and the five ALAs, please consult: Overview of Framework Partnership Agreements (FPAs) with Associations of Local Authorities (ALAs)


4. What is the added value of an FPA?  


  • Long-term vision and purposes based on mutual interests and objectives
  • Grounded on a single and comprehensive policy vision that could be implemented by several EU-funded actions through different cooperation instruments
  • Alignment and integration into the strategic partner's processes and operation
  • Strengthening of existing and representative ALAs
  • Leadership and ownership by the FPA beneficiaries
  • Enhancement of their capacities to engage both in policy dialogue and in operations
  • More structured policy dialogue and cooperation with the EU
  • Potential for simplified procedures of reporting.


5. Where are there FPAs currently in place?  


Despite the geographical focus of each ALA, the strategic partnerships will ensure collective work between the EC and the ALAs, joining forces towards the creation of an enabling environment where LAs can play a role in good governance and sustainable development. ALAs will seek to foster synergies and coordination among themselves during the implementation of the strategic partnerships, thus ensuring the success of the empowerment of LAs and those citizens that LAs represent in democracy, peace and inclusion.

For more information on the work that the EC carries out with Civil Society, LAs and on their decentralisation policies, you can visit the following groups:

This collaborative piece was drafted by Elena Asciutti with support from the Coordination Team.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


It is great to unite the work of European Commission and local authorities. The challenges however lie on how to make strategic partnerships inclusive. In many African countries Mayors are appointed and local authorities are based on party lines and "toe the line" principle and the principle that the council should be based on tribal majority that is people of a particular place must be the majority in a council even if the city or town is hugely cosmopolitan.
The level of collaboration and partnerships between local authorities and councils is marred by suspicion and conflicts based on the fact that civil society organizations are grouped wrongfully under political opposition rather than development facilitators or the bridge between local governments and various sub-populations.
The EU commission may have to develop an effective strategy of working with individuals and some skill-based civil society organizations in such partnerships it creates with local authorities in order to be holistic inclusive and proactive to the actual needs of the people. This is not to say local authorities cannot deliver in themselves but it is to ensure that delivery is not politicized or based on totally tribal underpinnings even though cultural inclusion in project designs must be put in focus.

It is great to learn about the creation of this partnership.

Social media, wikis and hashtags provide a low cost tool to enhance both local policy dialogue and global sourcing. For a couple of years already I have been elaborating proof-of-concept wiki to prove this. A summary that may be relevant to the partnership is this page about Global engagement for local development ( ).

You may be surprised there are ads on these pages.
The proposition is that local stakeholders can own and maintain wikis (and earn from the ads and other ways to monetize media) as explained at

Writing the day after Google made the Mundaneum a globally known initiative, I would like to conjecture that lgu and other tags proposed, alongside structured wikis ( as illustrated by the Actor Atlas and aligned social capital wikis) will be instrumental in turning the internet into a Mundaneum with local utility everywhere... more than search engines.

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