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"Decentralised Governments and the New Multilateralism" – Speech by Roland Tricot, European Commission Legal Counsellor

Summary: 19 October 2009, New York – Statement by Roland Tricot, Counsellor for Legal and Disarmament Affairs of the European Commission Delegation to the United Nations, at the Joint United Nations University (UNU) - Government of Catalonia Symposium on Decentralised Governments and the New Multilateralism (Panel II) at the Dag Hammarskjold Library, UN Headquarters

I would like to thank the UNU and the Government of Catalonia for organizing this important event. It is my privilege to represent the EC and DG Stefano Manservisi from DG DEV who could not participate today. In my presentation I will address three questions: 1) Why does the Commission think local authorities as development actors is an important issue? 2) What can local authorities achieve? And 3) How can we optimize their contributions?

Why does the Commission think local authorities as development actors is an important issue? One of the fundamental principles of the European Union is that of subsidiarity. It means that decisions should be taken, as far as possible, at the level closest to the citizens affected. It is based on the belief that devolution of power leads to the most appropriate decisions and the highest levels of accountability, and in Europe, that Union action is only desirable where it is more effective than action taken at national, regional, or local levels.

Given this background, the European Union is committed to encouraging and supporting action at the local authority level. One aspect of this is the support offered by the European Commission to local authorities acting in the field of development cooperation.

The support offered by the Commission has evolved from simple financial support in the early 1990s to the political recognition of the importance of this field in the 6th October 2008 Communication of the Commission. This Communication, entitled “Local authorities, actors for development,” recognizes the added value of local authorities as development actors in their own right, identifies various challenges, and proposes a European non mandatory strategy to promote greater and more efficient local authority action. In particular, it highlights that the rationale for strengthening local authorities’ role in development is first, as an effective contribution to poverty reduction and of achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and, secondly, as a method of mainstreaming democratic governance at the local level.

What can local authorities achieve? There are three elements that contribute to the significance in Europe of the work of local authorities in the field of development.

The first of these is the funding available to many of Europe’s local authorities. To give a specific example, Spanish Local Authorities are the donors of 15% of the total official development assistance given by Spain. The development cooperation budget of Catalonia alone doubled from €30.5 million to €60 million in 2007. By 2012, it is expected to reach €80 million.

The second reason for the significance of local authorities in development is their sheer numerousness: Europe comprises a total of more than 91,000 local authorities and 1,150 intermediary level organizations (districts, counties).

The third and final element is the skills and experience possessed by local authorities in development issues. The Commission Communication recognizes that local authorities’ “proximity and territorial presence, as well as knowledge of local needs and expertise in traditional sectors conducive to poverty reduction – urbanization, water and sanitation, assistance to vulnerable groups and poor populations in remote areas” puts them in an ideal position to assist in international development programs.

The combination of these three factors provides a great opportunity for Local Authorities within Europe to effect real progress in the development sphere both within and beyond Europe’s borders.

For instance, the idea of twinning between Europe cities has in some cases been extended to cities outside of Europe. One example of this is the partnership established between Leipzig and the region of Ambalangoda in southern Sri Lanka to promote fund-raising for emergency aid for drinking water and electricity.

Finally, I would like to touch upon the issue of how to optimise the contribution of Europe’s local authorities. Without coordination of their actions with international governmental and non-governmental actors working in this field, it is impossible to optimize the impact of actions taken by individual local authorities.

To take an example, the success of the partnership between Nueva Guinea (Nicaragua) and Sint-Truiden (Flanders, Belgium) in advancing educational and other projects is at least in part due to the impressive level of cooperation achieved between the local authorities and various civil society groups based around those two localities.

One way the Commission has promoted cooperation, and therefore optimization, is by encouraging in its 2008 Communication the voluntary application at the local level of the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Since the Communication, the Commission has continued to strive for greater effectiveness of Local Authority action. To this end, the European Commission has proposed three tools:

The first of these is to organize Annual Meetings with local authorities, as an opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest in development policy. The first of these, whose theme is “Local authorities, fully-fledged actors in EU development policies,” will be held in Brussels on 2 December 2009.

The second tool is the establishment of an “Atlas of decentralized cooperation”. This Atlas will be compiled by a private consultant on the basis of both official data gathered at the national level by Ministries, and information provided by the local authorities themselves. The first version of the Atlas is expected to be presented at the first of the Annual Meetings on 2 December.

The third and final tool is the development of a “portal of decentralization,” which will enable local authorities to search for partners with the desired skills and interest via an online database. The database will use information contained within the Atlas, as well as information on funds available from the European Commission for local authorities acting in development cooperation. It is expected to be ready for use in mid-2010.

In conclusion, the European Commission believes that Europe’s sub-national authorities have a key role to play in achieving real progress in international development aims. It is with this in mind that we have committed €1.64 billion to its development strategy in the period 2007-2013. The Commission will continue to be committed to supporting local authorities, the Government of Catalonia among them, in their work as actors for development.

Thank you.

  • Ref: SP09-406EN
  • EU source: European Commission
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 19/10/2009

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