Decentralisation, the challenging reform of Ukraine new government
Following the organisation of its regular Eastern Partnership Coordination seminar, the PLATFORMA network assesed the state of play regarding the continuation of the Decentralisation reform in Ukraine. This ongoing process is key for the organisation of the next local elections in Ukraine. The new President Volodomyr Zelensky made it a priority for the new government in an announcement on 2 September.
The exchanges organised in cooperation with NALAS, the network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe and the Association of Ukraine Cities (AUC), allowed participants to discover the new political framework and assess the challenges ahead for Ukrainian local and regional governments.
The decentralisation reform in Ukraine is considered one of the most successful. The main objective of the reform is to amalgamate municipalities (Hromada), thus merging services and rationalising their budget. However the reform has not been integrated in the constitution yet, which represents a threat to the sustainability of decentralisation according to Ukrainian local elected representatives.
In 2019, the government registered 878 amalgamated Hromada – AHs (it represents 34% of the territory in which 69% of the population lives). 24 main cities integrated neighbouring municipalities. The reform is aiming at 1289 AHs in order to cover 82% of the territory. The incoming local elections should be organised on the basis of the new Hromada territorial organisation.
During the meeting, Benedikt Hermann, First Secretary of the European Union Delegation in Ukraine, pointed out that the EU acknowledges the importance of Municipalities in Ukraine. He presented the advantages of the fiscal autonomy of local authorities in the Ukrainian reform: allowing them to better answer to citizens and Businesses demands. Furthermore, fiscal autonomy allows a frank and balanced dialogue between local and national level of governance.
The previous day, Ruslan Trebushkin, Member of the Parliament from the Opposition bloc, and former Mayor of Pokrovsk, a city of the Donetsk region, outlined that a new axe of decentralisation would allow the country to develop faster. He recalled the major role of the Association of Ukrainian Cities in the former Parliament Committees and he hopes the new majority will continue consulting the Association for future work.
Growing costs for local authorities
Oleksandr Slobozhan, Executive Director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities, acknowledged the success of the reforms however he recalled that it is still incomplete. The current Hromada are still transitional structures and still require substantial efforts to be modernised.
Ukrainian Mayors participating to the exchanges raised their concerns about the growing cost for local authorities following the amalgamation of Hromadas. Some municipalities can no longer afford to pay teachers. They also regret the growing gap between main cities and rural areas in Ukraine and called the European partners to take these challenges into consideration when addressing development cooperation.
Andris Jaunsleinis, PLATFORMA Spokesperson and Latvian Member of the European Committee of the Regions presented PLATFORMA position paper on the Future of the Eastern Partnership. In particular: facilitating the access of Eastern Partnership (EaP) municipalities and regions from countries which hhave signed Association Agreements (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) to European Union programmes and grants.
Marlène Siméon, PLATFORMA Director, concluded the Seminar by presenting the main priorities identified during this two days of exchanges: to continue the decentralisation reform carefully, mainstream Youth, Gender equality and Climate action in programmes and further develop decentralised cooperation projects, such as the one of several French municipalities with the City of Mariupol.
The exchanges were also successful thanks to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, GIZ and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) for their work in the U-Lead project, the European Investment Bank, the European Business Association in Ukraine, the associations of local and regional authorities from Croatia, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova and Poland.
The Coordination Seminars support the dialogue between national and local governments in partner countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood. The next PLATFORMA activities is the Forum of EU-EaP Local Leaders to be held on 24-25 October in Vilnius, aiming at contributing to the European Local and Regional Governments position for the Eastern Partnership Summit of 2020.