No people-centred partnership with Africa without local governments
Local and regional leaders from Africa and Europe discussed on Tuesday (15 February) the future of their continents during a forum dedicated to cities and regions at Africa-Europe Week. They made it clear that the new AU-EU Partnership will only work if local governments are actively involved, because they are the closest level of governance to citizens.
After a whole day of debates between African and European local and regional leaders, the five co-organising networks of the forum adopted a joint Declaration, handed over to Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen. In the opening, Urpilainen said it was the time for discussion and defining recommendations that she could take directly to the leaders, promising to share the message during the 6th European Union – African Union summit (17-18 February).
This forum was jointly organised by the European Commission, PLATFORMA, the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), the Commonwealth Local Governments Forum (CLGF), United Cities Local Governments (UCLG) and United Cities Local Governments Africa (UCLG-A).
The Commissioner highlighted the common ambition of an equal and people-centred partnership: the two continents need each other to evolve and face present and future challenges. The Mayor of Valongo (Portugal), José Manuel Ribeiro, highlighted this interdependence by stating that they almost form a single continent, depending on one another. He also advised leaders to “imagine Africa and Europe like two gigantic trees. Local and regional powers like the powerful roots that guarantee that we can build a partnership for the future.”
Local and regional governments are part of the solution, with citizens
Now that the financial plans have been approved, Commissioner Urpilainen stated that local authorities and the civil society have to be consulted to define concrete projects. Indeed, local and regional governments are needed to assure that those large investments are as efficient as possible, and actually reach the populations, reminded Ronan Dantec senator of Loire-Atlantique (France), CEMR and AFCCRE spokesperson on climate.
Lord Mayor of Sala (Sweden), Carola Gunnarsson, stressed that “65% of the targets within the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda can only be fulfilled if it is done by the local level”. It is the closest to the citizens and therefore the one able to actively involve them in the decision-making and taking process.
“Problems are global but solutions are local” later said the head of unit at DG for International Partnerships, Chiara Adamo. This was echoed by the mayor of Valongo who called for citizens’ involvement. He stated that without investing in civic participation, there is no chance of changing human behaviour, and therefore of fighting climate change efficiently: “Citizens are the best allies to the different level of governments”, he said.
Already on the front line of development cooperation
“We are all links in the same chain” said Annie Chrystelle Limburg, vice-mayor of Libreville (Gabon). She presented the importance of the city’s actions in its citizens’ everyday life on all topics such as: health, education or fighting insalubrity. She also explained that it is only through a partnership that puts forward local authorities and that relies on decentralised cooperation, that “we will be able to pass together the challenges we are facing” and to reach the objective assigned in the national and international agendas.
Cécile Gillot, cooperation officer at Lille (France) described the long-standing exchanges between her city and Oujda (Morocco) in terms of decentralised cooperation, starting from cultural cooperation and developing training opportunities to strengthen technical knowledge. “We don’t send staff or material to Oujda, we train people and recruit on site“. In 2020, the partnership was rewarded with the 3rd prize of the PLATFORMAwards for its components on energy and climate change.
This importance of local governments in managing crisis and finding solutions was also highlighted by Valérie Dumontet, vice-president of Aude (France) representing Cités Unies France: “Local governments are on the front line because that is where the people are and therefore where the solutions can be found”. Indeed, the systems must be adapted to take into account the differences between territories. She asked the states to strengthen their support to decentralised cooperation. “Decentralised cooperation could be the pilar of a fair partnership between Africa and the EU”, repeated also Ronan Dantec.
A leading role in facing urban and environmental challenges
“We are at a crossroad: the recovery has made us realise what our relationship was with nature. We need to find out how we can go towards a green transition, how we can re-create our links with nature.”, said UCLG Africa’s Secretary General, Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi. He highlighted the key role of local and regional governments in these realisations. To create a sustainable and inclusive planet, they must be included in policy-making at all levels.
Indeed, local authorities are privileged actors as emphasised the president of the Nouakchott region (Mauritania) Fatimetou Abdel Malick: “Cities are places where many people live. This is where the future and specifically the green transition will take place.”
Local and regional governments are already committed to a sustainable, green and just transition and have had an exemplary role in this objective through planning and public procurement, as the president of CEMR, Stefano Bonaccini, underlined. This commitment is also present in national and international organisations of local and regional governments. “They coordinate, raise concern, advise and articulate the voice of local and regional governments.” said Bonaccini.
Therefore, this leading role of local authorities has to be recognizsd as pointed out Vaida Aleknaviciene, representative of the CoR and PLATFORMA’s spokesperson: “At the COP 27, we should aim at promoting cooperation and dialogue between local governments in the EU and across the world, with the ultimate goal of getting global recognition of cities and regions”. Valérie Dumontet stressed the same point, asking for local governments to be allowed to play their role of active actors in the fight against climate change. Indeed, local climate actions can be extremely effective, but only if they are recognized and encouraged.
- Read the Declaration of the Africa-Europe Forum of local and regional governments
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