Guest post by Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
As African and European Heads of state and government have concluded their 5th African Union and European Union summit (AU-EU summit) in Abidjan, local and regional governments from both continents can be proud of a successful first Africa-Europe Local Government Forum. It is a shame that despite all the supportive messages received the AU-EU Summit failed to open the floor to local governments, civil society and youth.
“We, the towns and regions of Africa and Europe…”
Local leaders of both continents have delivered the Abidjan Declaration of Local & Regional Governments, calling upon the Heads of state and government to strengthen the content, modalities and objectives of the Africa-Europe partnership by taking on board society’s key stakeholders, and local and regional governments in specific.
The Africa-Europe forum of local and regional governments was the first of its kind. Local leaders pledged that it will not be the last. We demand that it be considered the starting point of true integration of subnational governments in the political dialogues and planning between the African Union and the European Union.
Both Unions have recognized the key role local and regional governments play in sustainable development. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 commits to renew leadership at both the national and the local levels. The ‘European Consensus on Development’ and ‘next steps for a sustainable future’ explicitly recognise the role of cities and regions and decentralisation processes in achieving a sustainable future.
The topics local and regional governments are tackling as priorities for sustainable development are not disconnected from what is on the AU-EU agenda. during the Summit, the heads of states discussed at length about migration but seemed to forget that cities in Africa and Europe are the ones on the frontlines to temporarily or permanently host migrants. Migrants leave their city of origin to settle or transit into another host city in Africa or Europe.
The Forum of local and regional governments welcomed a delegation of the AU-EU youth plug-in initiative. Involving youth in local public policies and keep attractive opportunities within the territories they live in are among the main challenges of local and regional governments in Europe and Africa. Empowering youth was also the overarching theme of the AU-EU Summit and despite being on the agenda, together with civil society and local governments, none of these representatives were heard by the heads of states and governments.
It is clearly a missed opportunity, a mistake even, that the Local Governments nor the civil society organisations got the chance to address their vision at the AUEU summit.
“Think local, act local!”
Sustainable development will be local or it will not be. This is recognised in a growing number of policy documents, but too often practice is lagging behind.
In Africa, the challenges for local and regional governments are pressing. In often non-conducive legal and political frameworks, subnational governments face a lack of proper resourcing in relation to the tasks ahead. Furthermore, a skills gap has been repeatedly identified as one of the major hindrances to sustainable development. Without the legal competences and conducive political frameworks, local governments are not able to deliver the services their territories require, nor can they guarantee the democratic participation and transparency required to build truly inclusive societies.
Building these local and regional governance capabilities to deliver, engage, commit and interact with stakeholders will be a key lever to reach the goals captured in the 2030 agenda and the European development and neighbourhood policies.
For example, the EU will not be able to successfully and sustainably mobilise and implement private financing and investment without involving the local governments where the investments take place. Doing this requires a legal framework, fiscal and tax decentralisation, appropriate technical and financial management capacities, etc.
Where the local government does not have the capabilities to engage, these capacities need to be built. It is increasingly accepted that peer-to-peer learning is one of the most effective and efficient avenues to build capabilities. At the local level, the peers of subnational governments in Africa are the subnational governments from Europe. Triggering the wealth of experiences and expertise of local governments from both continents would significantly contribute to reaching the sustainable development goals.
Do it better! Empower and include local and regional governments
Local and regional government networks invest in boosting the local capabilities to govern and deliver. The powerful network of locally elected women in Africa (REFELA) is an inspiration across continents. The network of Young European Local Councillors (YELAC) has mobilized young people to participate in local public life. PLATFORMA facilitates innovative partnerships between towns and regions from Europe and their counterparts in other continents. Local governments across both continents increasingly engage in the Covenant of Mayors initiatives.
These few examples show the power to act and the potential to do more at local and regional level. But clearly, scaling-up will need a different approach. One that truly mainstreams the local dimension across the AU-EU partnership and the future “Post-Cotonou” cooperation framework. Both cannot be seen separately and both yet have to deliver on their potential and their commitments to empower subnational governments to take their role as the development actors they are.
Many stakeholders other than the national governments are working hard to contribute to sustainable development and to a new paradigm in the partnership between Africa and Europe. The European and African states need to recognise this and build on the energy that exists within their countries and include their voices in the process.
Stefano Bonaccini is president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and president of the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. The first AU-EU The Forum is organised at initiative of PLATFORMA, CEMR, United Cities and Local Governments – Africa (UCLG-Africa) and the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoMSSA), with the support of the European Union, the African Union, the Assembly of Regions and Districts of Ivory Coast (ARDCI) and the Union of Cities and Local Governments of Ivory Coast (UVICOCI).