Round table: United for Ukraine Co-operation mechanisms of local and regional authorities in
times of war
6 July 2022, 14.00-17.00 (CEST)

Speech by Andreas KIEFER, Secretary General of the Congress

Contribution to the session on “Wartime democracy: strengthening multilevel governance and partnership between central and local authorities” (14:15 – 15:15 CEST)

Dear Mr Tymoshenko

Dear Deputy Minister Nehoda,

Dear Mr Bezhin,

Dear mayors, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen, 

It is a great pleasure to be again with you and to discuss issues of crucial importance for Ukraine today and for the future, such as the topic of multilevel governance, partnership-building and dialogue between local and central authorities, in rebuilding Ukraine.

Our recent visit to Ukraine, mentioned by the President Verbeek at the opening, only underlined the sense of urgency to provide immediate and
co-ordinated support to Ukraine – an urgency that we all share. Besides this urgency we must look ahead and help building the new post-war Ukraine – a long-term project for the infrastructure, but it needs structures and co-operation methods to be put in place immediately, in order to achieve the expected results. Multi-level governance and capable local and regional self-government are prerequisites for starting to rebuild the tangible infrastructure. The – sometimes – invisible democratic infrastructure with checks and balances is crucial for the whole system, to function and to deliver. 

And in this sense, I hope that we will all leave today with a common understanding of Ukraine’s recovery requirements and plans how to act united. 

Over the past decades, local and regional authorities and their associations have become key players in national and European policies. They are the most direct link between national governments and citizens, making sure that national policies are implemented for the benefit of their communities. It is especially so when we speak about response measures in times of crises.

Although war is incomparable to any other crisis, the current situation has proved once more that local and regional authorities are the most efficient actors to give response to a crisis in full respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights.

From the beginning of the war, local and regional politicians, mayors, councillors, presidents of Oblast councils, have found themselves at the frontline and have - together with central authorities - taken up an increasing share of responsibilities.

The response of the European society and institutions to the war in Ukraine with an immense wave of solidarity also brought a compelling need for co-operation among all levels of governance. The first players in the field responsible for translating this solidarity into concrete benefits on the ground are local leaders and the civil services under their authority.

Everyday tasks of mayors and councillors aim at guaranteeing basic as well as emergency services, relaying and implementing national policies and co-ordinating their action with other levels of government and other partners across all sectors of society.

The consequences of the war have also brought to the fore the need for more effective multi-lateral co-operation and co-ordinated action among and multi-level governance within countries. It is especially important as we speak today about post-war reconstruction.

Multi-level governance systems can increase the quality of decisions and solutions and multi-level governance allows greater flexibility in coping with emergencies as they are better suited to provide solutions tailored to specific needs.

Therefore, the planned and further reforms to strengthen democratic local self-government should be carried out at national level to build an even more resilient and more efficient system of multi-level governance in which every level is equipped with proper competences, means and resources, weaving a fabric of cooperation and creating a climate of mutual trust to better  
- and jointly - respond to any emergency situation.

The Congress is convinced that the effectiveness of responses to the aftermaths of the war, as well as the success of post-war recovery, largely depends on the quality of governance, that is to say on the right balance and interaction between centralised and decentralised capacities, which must complement each other in the system.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Congress always emphases the core principles and provisions of the European Charter regarding supervision, autonomy and consultation of local authorities by higher levels of government These principles of the Charter have to be respected during the times of war and other crises and for all amendments to the national legislation. The Charter was ratified by Ukraine without any reservations and Ukraine’s obligations under the Charter remain valid under the exceptional circumstances of war and martial law.

These exceptional circumstances Ukraine, Europe and actually the whole world are faced with, undoubtably require exceptional measures. Yet, such measures should respect certain general principles which aim to minimise damage to fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. They should observe the general principles of necessity, proportionality and temporariness.

Emergency measures, coupled with the general principle of necessity, allow tolerating some derogations from the basic principles and provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, as far as these derogations are proportional and temporary, and their implications will not irreversibly determine mid- and long-term policy choices after the end of martial law.

In other words, derogations must be temporary in nature, proportional to the requirements of the situation, and introduced under democratic control, and they must be lifted as soon as the situation allows it.

Moreover, emergency mechanisms must not neglect the need to establish and maintain co-ordination between different levels of governance and a system of regular consultations with the national associations of local and regional authorities, making subnational authorities and their associations an integral part of national crisis management and reconstruction.

Dear colleagues,

Dialogue and consultations between different levels of government and the promotion of citizens’ civic participation is a major requirement of any democratic society today, as part of a participatory democracy model.

I would like to highlight in this regard that national associations of local authorities play a vital role in consultation mechanisms because they voice and defend collective interests of local governments, acting as a kind of trade unions for local elected representatives.

In concluding, I would like to stress that consultations with local authorities, beyond being a legal requirement, are also a very practical tool for strengthening democracy. After all, it is all about establishing and maintaining a dialogue between different levels of government – a dialogue for rebuilding democracy in the country and for protecting the resilience of local communities in the post-war context.

The participation of local authorities in making national decisions, under the martial law or in the times of peace, give these decisions greater legitimacy and shared ownership, thus ensuring their better implementation at local level.

Through consultations and joint decision-making, a sense of belonging, of being part of a common mission, of the same national community, of one country is being preserved and nurtured.

And this is why we are here today. To pave a path to a new, stronger, more resilient, democratic European Ukraine.