A Mapping of Decentralised Cooperation Projects by Local and Regional Governments in the EU and Partner Countries
Decentralised international development cooperation has been present since ancient history but as a concept is relatively recent, dating back to the 1980s. Its goal has been to involve different levels of subnational governments in order to increase the effectiveness of development cooperation by strengthening local institutions, improving the design of sustainable local policies and ensuring the delivery of adequate public services to and with local communities and stakeholders. The expected strengths of this approach include the ability to introduce a bottom-up, context-specific design, and implementation of international development projects. According to OECD (2019) estimates, most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets require the engagement of subnational governments in its member countries. Although several OECD subnational governments generate GDP high enough to rank among the world’s largest economies, there continues to be only limited evidence on how they contribute to sustainable development: only less than half of OECD Development Assistance Committee members provided relevant subnational data. In this regard, the most-common weaknesses concern the lack of coordination and coherence, which is why platforms for sharing of know-how based on available data and reporting are essential for an effective design of impact-driven policies. This is even more vital in the context of the challenges of recent years in Europe, its neighbourhood, as well as globally, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other humanitarian crises around the world. Decentralised international cooperation is thus inadvertently intertwined with wider policy developments at the supranational level, most recently in the context of the European Union following the adoption of its Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - Global Europe (2021–2027).
Authors: Jakub Csabay and Anton Marcinčin, Comenius University Bratislava
Managing Editor: Fabrizio Rossi, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
Edition: Chahaiya Pilkington, PLATFORMA Adviser – Policy and Advocacy, Boris Tonhauser, PLATFORMA Executive Adviser
Editing and Liaison with the Graphic Design Team: Hervé Devavry, PLATFORMA Communication Officer
Design: Page Inextremis
Information current as of April 2023
PLATFORMA was established as early as in 2008 to advocate and promote decentralised international cooperation. Local and regional governments gained access to EU funding in 2007 that allowed them to enter further into partnerships with their counterparts and finance development projects in Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, in Mashreq and in Eastern Europe (PLATFORMA, 2016).
In 2013, the European Commission acknowledged that “Centrally-led, top-down development policies and programmes cannot alone succeed in addressing the complexities of sustainable development and fighting poverty.” While local authorities have all the prerequisites and responsibility to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction, “The quality of local governance is primarily linked to the political willingness of central governments to create a conducive environment at local level, through legal and regulatory instruments”. Therefore, the EU approach was to focus on 1) decentralisation processes supported by the financial support to local authorities, 2) capacity development of local authorities, 3) sustainable urbanisation, and 4) involvement of associations of local authorities in the EU programming and partnership-building between the EU and partner countries. The EU wanted to “support and coordinate decentralised and cross-border cooperation between Local Authorities from Europe and partner countries”. (EU, 2013) Two years later, PLATFORMA became a strategic partner with the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG INTPA).
The United Nations in the same year 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, and in 2016 the New Urban Agenda. Together with the New European Consensus on Development from 2017 they formed a background for the EU working document “European Union (EU) cooperation with cities and local authorities in third countries”. The document describes how EU external cooperation supports the following four areas in the third countries: urban governance, the social dimension of development, green and resilient cities and prosperity and innovations. While it reaffirms the importance of decentralised cooperation in achieving these crucial agendas and, therefore, that subnational governments have adequate access to finance development projects, it fails to provide – or refer to – an analysis that would evaluate the results of the assistance provided. This lack of analytical evidence is recognised by OECD (2019).
In 2021, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe (NDICI – Global Europe) was established with an objective to help achieve the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. The total allocation of €79.5 billion for the period 2021–2027 was divided into four pillars: 1) Geographic programmes (€60.388 billion); 2) Thematic programmes (€6.358 billion); 3) Rapid response actions and crisis management (€3.182 billion); and 4) Unallocated reserve (€9.534 billion).In its Article 26 Methods of cooperation, the NDICI-GE Regulation includes partnerships between local authorities from the EU member state and the partner region. In Article 11 the Regulation elaborates on the methods of how to “Strengthen the role of local authorities as actors of development”. (Regulation EU 2021/947).) As a result, the EU renewed partnership agreements with three global associations (UCLG, CLGF, AIMF), one African association (UCLG-Africa) and one European association (CEMR-PLATFORMA) of local authorities, highlighting the importance of decentralised cooperation and the need to “Improve current decentralised cooperation practices through efficiency and innovation”. (IISD, 2022) Supported by €50 million from the NDICI-Global Europe instrument, the agreements support the role of local authorities and their associations in formulating policies to promote local, regional, and global level sustainable development.
The role of local and regional authorities in international development efforts and of decentralised international cooperation has been recognised in a number of key international documents, at present most notably in the 2030 Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and in the EU context, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - Global Europe (2021–2027).
In terms of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, while the role of local authorities and of decentralised international cooperation is not explicitly mentioned in any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, its importance is highlighted in Articles 34, 45, and 52 of the document, and is implicitly implied in the Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, Goal 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and perhaps most importantly in the Goal 17 Partnership for the Goals. (United Nations, 2015)
In contrast, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - Global Europe (2021–2027) outlines the role of local and regional authorities and decentralised cooperation much more directly in a number of domains. The regulation establishing NDICI - Global Europe mentions involvement of LRGs as important partners in consultation and programming, as well as their role in the implementation process of the policies and their contribution to the efforts via partnerships under the broad thematic umbrella of Global Challenges, specifically highlighting the “Territorial Approach to Local Development”. (EUR-Lex, 2021: 7, 55, 73) Furthermore, the indicative programming document of the Global Challenges thematic programme for the period of 2021–2027 further notes that “It is estimated that 65 % of the 169 targets underlying the 17 SDGs will not be reached without the engagement of local and regional governments”, linking it back to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (European Commission, 2022: 18)
What is, however, more ambiguous is the funding allocation to decentralised international cooperation under the NDICI - Global Europe Instrument. The indicative programming document of the Global Challenges thematic programme for the period of 2021–2027 outlines an indicative allocation of €304 million to the Priority area 4: Partnerships, where local authorities are mentioned as one of the three main components (EU Commission, 2022: 2) In 36 of the recital, NDICI indicates that support to local authorities under the geographic programmes should amount indicatively to at least €500 million.
This shows that while the new European Union’s instrument gives greater recognition to the role of decentralised international cooperation in comparison with the 2030 Agenda, this programming period will demonstrate whether this is going to be matched with adequate funding allocation. To put into perspective, €165 million have been mobilised to support 57 projects under the programme “Partnerships for Sustainable Cities” under three calls between 2018 and 2021 in the previous programming period. (European Commission)
It is clear that monitoring decentralised cooperation gained crucial importance – both to help improve efficiency of the assistance programmes, increase transparency, share lessons from experience and thus meet the objectives of the development agenda.
The OECD started publishing their Development Policy Papers in December 2015, and in 2017 started the project on Decentralised Development Cooperation in partnership with the DG INTPA. Together with PLATFORMA, these are two main sources of information and analysis on the topic.
In 2018, OECD and the European Commission published a joint study “Reshaping Decentralised Development Cooperation: The Key Role of Cities and Regions for the 2030 Agenda”. It took 15 months, cooperation with more than 100 stakeholders, organising four surveys and carrying out several case studies to produce the study. The study concludes that “Decentralised development cooperation is increasingly driven by a territorial network model based on demand from peer regions and cities”. Its main findings include:
The OECD (2019) confirmed that subnational governments were best suited to provide assistance to their peers. Firstly, there was a huge demand for assistance at subnational level: the municipal financing gap in Africa alone was estimated at $25 billion per year, however, only $1.9 billion or 1.3 % of total bilateral official development assistance (ODA) was provided in support of cities and regions in developing countries. Secondly, OECD subnational governments were responsible for 40 % of public expenditure, 57 % of public investment, and 55 % of environmental and climate-related public spending. They had funds and competencies to efficiently provide development assistance. OECD highlighted a need for systematic data collection:
OECD continued utilising data collected by surveys and case studies to find out that:
In their recent publication, Gupte and Aslam (2022) noted that the number of publications and citations on decentralised cooperation and local government in 2020 almost tripled compared to 2009–2013 period. To overcome the lack of data, they used a survey, interviews and a workshop.
In 2023 OECD organised a Roundtable on Cities and Regions for the SDGs. One of the topics was “to develop monitoring and evaluation systems to measure the impact of DDC on development outcomes”. This could serve as a promising platform to move forward in data collection and evaluation. (OECD, 2023)
Analysis of the existing datasets indicated that information on decentralised cooperation activities is incomplete, and its assessment provides only limited and fragmented picture:
In 2018, among 21 projects the Belgian municipalities were the most active. The winner was the partnership between the cities of Roeselare (Belgium) and Dogbo (Benin). In 2020, 26 projects were considered with the French municipalities most active. Winners were a grouping of 6 municipalities from the Barcelona province in Spain and 6 municipalities from the Marrakesh region in Morocco. Finally, 18 projects were considered in 2022.
International decentralised development cooperation aims to involve different levels of subnational governments in order to increase the effectiveness of development cooperation via a more participatory, need-based and bottom-up engagement. The role of local and regional governments in international development efforts, and in international decentralised cooperation has been recognised in a number of key international documents, at present most notably in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in the EU context, in the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - Global Europe (2021–2027). Monitoring of decentralised cooperation thus gained crucial importance – both to help improve efficiency of the assistance programmes, increase transparency, share lessons from experience and thus meet the objectives of the development agenda.
In this study we first review projects submitted to the PLATFORMAwards in the period of 2018 to 2022, constituting one of the ways proposed by OECD “to incentivise reporting on official development assistance by subnational governments”. This guided our methodological design, which comprised review of literature, survey-based data collection, and selection of case studies. We realised that literature on decentralised cooperation is too often short of analysis made on larger data samples. Our survey attracted only 24 respondents, however, given the short period and high quality of data received, we consider it a useful lesson for enhancing the survey and use it for regular data collection. Finally, soft data described in the case studies show in-depth the value and effectiveness of the decentralised international cooperation projects, and very importantly, the project development and implementation were described as an equal and participatory process and mutual learning experience on both EU and non-EU side of the collaboration.
This mapping is the result of a pilot exercise and study conducted by PLATFORMA and should not be considered as exhaustive. The map will be updated on a regular basis.
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