Brussels, 2 April 2021
EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on Decentralisation and Local Self-Government in Eastern Partnership countries
All Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries face great challenges related to strategic planning, transparency, accountability in budget spending decisions, and civil society’s participation in decision-making. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the implementation of the European principles of decentralisation and local self-government in the EaP region. Hence, the next policy paper analyses the successes and challenges in the process of decentralisation and local self-governance in the EaP countries and offers a set of recommendations for strengthening decentralisation processes in the EaP countries.
Recently, concerns have been raised over the impact of COVID-19 on the leadership potential of local authorities, where their ability to partner with civil society was mainly determined by decisions made in the areas of health, public education, and e-services. This analysis examines the EaP countries’ performance in terms of transparency of decision-making, the development of digital services, and the level of decentralisation of local budgets.
EU and EU member states should support the EaP countries in strengthening the capacity of local budgets, by developing institutional capacity and balancing local community development. Moreover, the paper recommends the EU to strengthen its support in further developing gender budgeting at the local level and implementing inter-municipal cooperation. EaP countries should intensify inter-municipal cooperation efforts, which will be the basis for a network for the sustainable development of local communities in EaP countries. Although in the EaP region, trust levels toward civil society organisations are higher than to government initiatives, their potential is declining. Thus, EU initiatives should aim at supporting and strengthening the financial capacity of civil society organisations.
The level of decentralisation and approaches to local self-government significantly vary among EaP countries. For instance, Belarus remains the only country that has not yet signed the Charter of Local Self-Government, while in Ukraine, local authorities have received a lot of powers. At the same time, all local governments of the EaP countries face similar limitations in implementing initiatives. This is because the ability of local authorities is restrained by the dependence of local budgets on transfers from the central budget, imbalance in territorial development, and low financial potential of local budgets. Finally, the potential of the business sector in diversifying municipal services and protecting public interests remains underutilized.