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Local communities in developed countries are becoming increasingly involved in international development, spending 1% a year more on cooperation with the developing world between 2005 and 2015 and collaborating in more diverse ways, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) told members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 11 April. Sub-national governments now account for 6% of the overseas development aid provided by the OECD countries that provided figures.
Climate change and women’s empowerment are the priorities for European cities and regions that have established partnerships with peers outside Europe, Stefano Marta of the OECD told the CoR’s Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) during a presentation of early findings of a report on financial flows, emerging trends and innovation in cities and regions efforts to contribute to global sustainable development.
Mr Marta was one of five speakers invited to highlight the potential and challenges of city diplomacy and peer-to-peer cooperation. Libya and Ukraine – two countries with whose cities and regions the CoR has launched partnerships – were particular case studies. The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Habitat III and the Paris Climate Agreement all recognise that local and regional government have an important role to play in meeting global challenges.
The OECD’s study, the first since 2005 and the financial crisis, found that communities in Germany, Canada, Spain and Austria are investing most, but it also notes that data collection and reporting remain a weakness, with only 13 of the organisation’s member states providing information.
A representative of the European Commission, Anna Lixi, said that rapid urbanisation – together with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Habitat III (United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development) – had prompted a new focus on cities by the European Commission, which had been “supporting partners more on rural issues than on urban issues”. The UN’s 11th sustainable-development goal is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, but many of the other 16 goals require action by sub-national governments.
Ms Lixi said that the Commission’s “old approach was to support cities as service providers; now, the Commission supports them as key actors”. Its focus, however, is on a limited number of leading cities and metropolitan areas, with a view to underpinning wider, inclusive growth.
The CoR is a political supporter of greater collaboration between cities and regions, known also as decentralised cooperation, and every two years it co-organises an event – Assises de la coopération décentralisée / Regions and Cities for Development – that brings together local and regional authorities from the EU, Africa, Caribbean, Pacific and Latin America to discuss ways of developing sustainable partnerships. The OECD was an important partner at last year’s event.
Reflecting its belief that cooperation between cities and regions can be a significant contribution to meeting global challenges such as climate change and the UN’s SDG, the CoR in 2016 launched an initiative to match the needs of Libyan cities with support available from its members and other cities and regions around Europe. Eight Libyan municipalities from all parts of the country and across conflict lines are involved: Tripoli, Gharyan, Zintan, Zliten from the west, Sirte from central Libya, Sebha from the south, and Benghazi and Tobruk in the east.
Jean-Louis Romanet Perroux of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies said that Europe could learn from cooperation with local governments in Libya, “because they are facing challenges that our ancestors faced after the war, for example” and that, in Europe, “we sometimes forget the roots of our development”. Such cooperation requires the humility to learn about the local context, he said, recommending that partners should not be “technical and innovative” – with the possible exception of e-government – but should rather focus on “core skills”, because Libyan local governments are at a “basic level”.
Kurt-Michael Baudach said that the experience of Engagement Global – Service für Entwicklungsinitiativen (Service for Development Initiatives), a German non-profit organisation, said that the many challenges of cooperation – ranging from resources, institutional turnover, communications barriers, expectations and scepticism – could be overcome through political support, broad participation, shared goals, mutual benefit, tangible projects, respect, and clear and sensitive communication.
A country that has recently seen an upsurge in collaboration between sub-national governments is Ukraine, which has now begun a process of decentralisation. Stefan Schleuning of the European Commission’s Support Group for Ukraine said that “decentralisation is that this is turning into one of the most popular reforms” in Ukraine, and that “at city level”, the benefits and the programme of the decentralisation reform are now “tangible”. He cited the example of attitudes in Vinnitsa, a city of around 650,000 people that Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman once served as mayor: “65% of respondents believe their city is heading in the right direction, while 57% believe their country is heading in the wrong direction”.
The CoR itself launched a peer-to-peer programme in March with five Ukrainian cities and regions that draws on money provided by the EU’s ULEAD programme for Ukraine. Mr Schleuning welcomed the initiative, saying that it is “very important” that the project, which is managed by GIZ, the German development agency, is not an “isolated, stand-alone action”.