“Dialogue with citizens is the best strategy to deliver transparent and ethical governance”
In December 2016, local and regional government associations from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, discussed the future of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in Europe and in particular the role of municipalities and regions in 2030, during a PLATFORMA seminar in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Citizenship and governance, Decentralisation and national dialogue, and Global agenda and local geopolitics were the three themes on the programme.
Additionally to the three Eastern neighbourhood partners (AUC, CALM and NALAG), several PLATFORMA partners also took part to the discussions. Among them CPMR, SMOCR (Czech Republic), VNG International (Netherlands), Nantes Metropolis (France), LSA (Lithuania), as well as close allies ALDA, or the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and the European Committee of the Regions.
Citizenship and governance: a growing lack of engagement
Despite their proximity to citizens, EaP and EU local and regional governments face the similar growing lack of engagement and interest from citizens. However, dialogue with citizens is the best strategy to deliver transparent and ethical governance. Citizens’ participation is indeed a major goal for 2030.
Not only should the citizens be included in the decision-making process, further efforts should be made on gender balance and minorities representation to guarantee an inclusive participatory democracy. David Melua, Executive director of the National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia (NALAG) outlined the gender challenge in Georgia with only 10% of women participating to local executive and representative bodies. He warned: “We will never be a local democracy champion without gender balance”.
In this framework, international development cooperation allows to organise exchange of experts, study visits and prepare trainings on ethic, transparency or citizens participation in governance. Such initiatives at local and regional level allow to asses needs and adapt solutions based on existing results abroad.
Decentralisation and national dialogue: a need for financial autonomy
Local and regional governments of EaP countries still lack the financial autonomy to address the competences devolved by their central governments. This limits local and regional governments action and citizens’ involvement.
The Mayor of Rustavi and President of NALAG, David Jikia, outlined: “Local taxation would be an incentive for citizens to participate in local public life”. Indeed, financial autonomy and citizens’ participation allow to develop and deliver tailored-made public services and create a link between citizens and their local and regional governments.
International organisations support local and regional governments in their engagement towards central governments, in particular regarding decentralisation. All 47 member states of the Council of Europe, including EaP central governments, have ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government. However, its Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority has only been signed by Armenia and Ukraine in the EaP region. The ratification of the additional protocol by all 47 member states remains a challenge to reach by 2030.
Global agenda and local geopolitics: deepening the partnership
The EU can no longer have a unique approach to its Eastern partners. Three countries – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – have chosen to develop their relations with the EU by signing an association agreement. The signatories already integrated several European standards such as political dialogue, participation of civil society, deep and sustainable democracy and institutional arrangements for European integration.
The three countries paved the way for further cooperation with the EU. Therefore, by 2030, the EU should adapt its tools and funding accordingly to deepen its partnership to every level of governance. The institutional support of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and the European Committee of the Regions, through the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) could develop a support platform for local and regional governments from association agreement signatories.
Further cooperation with the associations of local and regional authorities of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine could develop stability and peace where it is particularly needed: raising citizens’ awareness on European integration, adapting the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, improving business climate and energy and environment efficiency at local level.
Based on the progress made at national level, cities and regions of the EaP countries can support the localisation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region. Beyond the numerous city and region twinning agreements, organisations such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the Conference of Peripheral Maritimes Regions (CPMR) have strengthened associations and regions’ capacity-building and keep advocating for EU development aid to reach all of EaP regions and cities, and provide tangible results for citizens.