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Local governments and civil society: a win-win relationship for decentralised cooperation

1 April 2016
Local and regional governments – through their decentralised cooperation activities – can play a decisive role to create a concrete link between their citizens and the international, national and local development policies, agreed participants of a session organised by PLATFORMA at the 2016 CEMR Congress in Nicosia (Cyprus) at the end of April.
In a context of rising nationalism in Europe, the international action of local and regional government for development cooperation is increasingly threatened by budget cuts and by increasingly predominant populist rhetoric, as highlighted Nawel Rafik-Elmrini, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg (France) for European and International Affairs.
Yet the participants emphasised that this was precisely the reason why local and regional governments’ commitment for global development was so crucial. In this regard, Massimo Toschi, adviser to the President of the Region of Tuscany (Italy) for cooperation and international relations, insisted on the fact that the action of local and regional governments plays a significant role in tackling global challenges, for instance by addressing the refugee crisis through partnerships, fostering social and economic development in the countries of origin. “We believe in local governments to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” concurred Michel Laloge, Head of sector unit B2 Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities, DG DEVCO, European Commission.
They also emphasised the necessity to combine territorial cooperation for development with Global Citizenship Education, or Development Education and Awareness Raising activities in order to strengthen public support to development cooperation activities. Secou Sarr, Director of the Senegal based NGO Enda Energy, Environment, Development also explained that these decentralised partnerships were creating a space for civil society organisations in both countries to be better included in local governments’ policies, thus strengthening the local democratic dialogue.
Finally, Miguel de Clerk, Director of the Belgium based NGO Echos Communication, warned that to be effective and sustainable, decentralised partnerships should not be limited to politicians meeting or to technical partnerships, but truly involve civil society actors in order to better define and design the policies best suited for all territorial stakeholders.
Following the panellists’ food for thought intervention, a number of key features to be pursued for an “exemplary” partnership emerged from the discussions between all participants, such as:  real consultation and co-operation between NGOs and local governments, especially to face humanitarian issues, ownership and empowerment of all territorial stakeholders, political commitment of elected representatives, and involvement of all groups of population, especially the youth.