Secretariat Memorandum

Prepared by the Directorate of Democratic Institutions

Directorate General of Democracy and Political Affairs

Introduction [1]

The Strategy for innovation and good governance was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 26 March 2008. It had previously been endorsed by the European ministers responsible for local and regional government on the occasion of the 15th session of their conference, at Valencia (Spain), on 15-16 October 2007.[2]

The Strategy aims at better local governance on the basis of a shared commitment by governments, associations of local authorities and individual local authorities. To this end, the Strategy gives a comprehensive definition of Good Democratic Governance at local level in 12 Principles and sets up a mechanism for implementation based on four pillars:

The implementation of the Strategy thus hinges on the efforts of national (and/or regional) authorities, associations of local authorities and, ultimately, individual local authorities. It goes without saying that these efforts must be well prepared, planned, co-ordinated and accepted by all.

The following suggestions for (1) the preparation and (2) the content of a Programme of Action are based on the conclusions of the exchange of views held in Strasbourg on 22 January 2008, with the participation of representatives from Italy (Association of Municipalities, ANCI), Spain (Ministry of Public Administration, Association of Municipalities and Provinces, FEMP), Norway (Ministry of Regional Development, Association of Municipalities, KS) and the Walloon region of Belgium (Ministry of the Interior, Association of Municipalities). Bulgaria is also committed to the Strategy but was not able to be represented at the meeting.



1.        The methodology for preparing and adopting the Programme of Action


Getting started: Appointing a Project Manager

Somebody has to take the first step. Typically this will be one or more persons responsible for local government issues in the national or regional administration and/or persons within the national/regional association of local authorities. The first step consists of exploring whether there is an interest in the country to take up the Strategy. Rather quickly this will involve discussions between key persons from both sides. The discussions between national authorities on the one hand and the associations(s) on the other should lead to a first more formal meeting at which a basic agreement is worked out on how the partners will go about the implementation of the strategy and developing a Programme of Action. This agreement should include the designation of a project manager, a description of his/her tasks and responsibilities and the arrangements for his/her remuneration. Typically, the project manager will be in charge of the various measures and actions needed. 

Assessing the situation

The first substantive stage in the preparation for the Programme of Action is to assess the situation in the country.

This analysis should take as a basis the 12 Principles of Good Democratic Governance at Local Level and (a) review the existing legal framework relating to them, (b) assess whether it is adequate or needs improvement, (c) assess how local authorities are currently performing in respect of the principles, (d) identify what programmes already exist to help local authorities and, on that basis, (e) assess the needs for further action.

Discussing the results of the technical analysis within participating countries

Once drafted, this technical expertise should be discussed by the national stakeholders with a view to coming to an agreement on it. This is particularly important as the analysis will provide the basis for the future programme of action. 

In each country, the government and the association(s) of local authorities could, in the light of the in-depth analysis mentioned above, hold a series of meetings, both at technical and political level, in order to discuss the findings and to identify the main actions and measures to be included in the Programme of Action for the implementation of the Strategy. The preparation of the Programme should thus be a privileged moment of dialogue between the national administration in charge of local government and the local government association(s). Measures included in the Programme could concern legal and institutional reforms relating to the 12 Principles, institutional dialogue, training and capacity building etc.

The Council of Europe could, upon request, provide support and guidance throughout the process, subject to the availability of resources. 

Sharing experience and know-how

Implementing the Strategy is not only an endeavour at national level, but also a shared experience by the countries that commit themselves to it. Therefore, it is envisaged that a meeting of the project managers from the countries engaged at the same time in implementing the Strategy (and other persons in charge of the Strategy in the participating countries) be held to discuss the technical analyses carried out.

The meeting should serve to exchange views and experience on the establishment of the analyses of the national situation, to identify issues to be tackled, programmes already on going, etc. with a view to arriving at a sort of “common” approach to the identification of issues. The purpose is not to dictate uniform action across the participating countries but to have a common “matrix” enabling all countries to assess the situation and envisage action on a comparable basis. Here too, the experience of the five countries implementing the Strategy in 2008 may provide a good basis for drawing up guidelines.

Adoption of the Programmes of Action

The process at national level described above should culminate in the formal adoption of the Programme of Action by both the government and the association(s), as a strong expression of shared commitment by the partners to work for the improvement of local governance.

Prior to that, the proposed Programme of Action should be reviewed by the Stakeholders’ Platform.

These Guidelines should ensure the consistency of the approach between the participating states as to the identification of major challenges and measures to tackle them. While means and actions may of course differ, depending on the situation and tools available, it is essential that these aim at achieving the common goal of Good Democratic Governance as encapsulated in the 12 Principles. Thus, the Guidelines are a tool for facilitating the task of stakeholders.

Following the adoption of the national Programme of Action, individual local authorities would be encouraged to sign up to and pursue the implementation of the principles of good democratic governance at local level. Typically this would entail making a formal and public commitment to the Principles, carrying out self-assessments and drawing up local action plans.

The implementation of the Strategy at national level could be undertaken in different ways, either by opening up participation in the strategy to all local authorities from the very start, or by establishing a kind of pilot group of local authorities with which the Strategy would be tested and developed before opening it up to more general participation. In the latter case, the local authorities could also be asked to contribute the technical analysis discussed above.

2.        Content of the Programmes of Action

While the need for improving local governance is recognised by all European states, it is clear that the ways and means for doing so may vary quite widely between countries. In some countries there is a strong need for further decentralisation, while in others decentralisation may have reached an optimum level. In some countries, central government may have a key role in the implementation of the Strategy, in others this may fall almost entirely in the sphere of activity of local government association(s). In some countries, tools for improving local governance such as capacity-building, performance management and methods for learning from others may already be very well developed and widespread, in other countries they may be at very early stages.

A national Programme of Action should be a political document that is tailored to the national needs and expresses the shared will of national and local authorities to work for the improvement of local governance and to subscribe to the 12 Principles of good democratic governance at local level. It should also set out the measures that governments and associations are to take in order to help individual local authorities to improve their governance, in particular in respect of those Principles which the technical analysis has identified as being the most problematic.

Depending on national circumstances, several of the following sets of measures could be included in the national Programme of Action in order to improve the practice in respect of the various principles of good governance:  

-        Measures to improve the legal and institutional context relating to the 12       principles;

-        Measures to strengthen the capacity of the main partners -central or regional         government and the association(s) of local authorities;

-        Measures to strengthen the partnership between central and local levels;

-        Measures to improve the training delivered to local authorities;

-        Capacity-building measures for the benefit of local authorities;

-        Measures to encourage the use of performance management schemes;

-        Measures to encourage the identification and sharing of knowledge.

3.           Label for Good Democratic Governance

The European Label for Innovation and Good Governance is an important element of the Strategy. Its aim is to encourage municipalities to take part in the Strategy with a view to getting an official recognition of the quality of governance they deliver at local level.

More information can be found on: under Strategy for Innovation and Good Governance at Local Level- Label

4.           Stakeholders’ Platform

A Stakeholders’ Platform is established in the Council of Europe with the task of further developing the Strategy and supervising its implementation. The Platform comprises representatives from the Council of Europe statutory institutions: the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Conference of International NGOs, as well as from Council of Europe’s steering committee working in the field: the European Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR).

For more information I refer to under Strategy for Innovation and Good Governance at Local Level- Stakeholders’ Platform.

[1]  In this document, all references to states, countries or “national” stakeholders, initiatives or programmes are to be understood as covering also regions and regional stakeholders, initiatives or programmes wherever the powers and responsibilities for local self-government are entrusted, by the constitution or the law of a member state, to regional authorities which commit themselves to the Strategy.

[2] The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities had expressed its support in Resolution 239 (2007) and the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly in a statement adopted on 28 March 2008.