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Sustainable development goals - an urgent priority of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Sustainable development goals - an urgent priority of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

On the last day of the 44th session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the delegates, among whom are the mayors of Kavarna - Elena Baltajieva, Ruse - Pencho Milkov, Panagyurishte - Nikola Belishki, Sozopol - Tihomir Yanakiev, Venets - Nehriban Ahmedova and Mirkovo - Tsvetanka Iotina, discussed the issues of localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. A report and recommendation on the implementation of the European Charter for Local Self-Government in Romania was adopted.

Delegates adopted a Recommendation and Annex thereto representing Congress's contribution to the UN Summit on the SDGs. The United Nations will hold its annual High Level Political Forum in July 2023 and the SDG Summit in September 2023 in New York. Although the main responsibility for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda lies with the Member States, the role of the Council of Europe is to support and facilitate the countries in their contribution to the implementation of the SDGs. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is responsible for the territorial dimension of the implementation of the SDGs. Since two-thirds of the objectives can only be met at the local or regional level, their localization is an urgent priority.

The Congress is committed to helping local and regional authorities achieve the sustainable development parameters set out in the 2030 Agenda and, with its 130,000 European and local authorities, offers a platform where cities and regions can share best implementation practices and monitoring of sustainable development goals. The work of the Congress directly addresses 12 of the 17 goals set out in the UN 2030 Agenda. The Congress regularly contributes to the UN Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Geneva and the High-Level Political Forum in New York focused on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

In the context of the mid-term review of the Agenda, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities calls on national governments to accelerate the process of giving local and regional authorities more autonomy in actions and the necessary means to implement the 2030 Agenda in communities, by encouraging voluntary local reviews and by engaging local and regional authorities in the development and implementation of national SDG action plans and voluntary national reviews.

In a subsequent debate, the delegates also discussed the report on compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government in Romania. This is the fourth report assessing the implementation of the Charter in the country. The rapporteurs conclude that the system of local self-government in the country is working well and that the obligations under the Charter are generally being fulfilled. The report notes with satisfaction the improvement of the consultation framework as well as the burden of local authorities in public spending. The delegation that carried out the monitoring notes the valuable role of the Audit Chamber in improving the efficiency and transparency of the local sector.

The speakers emphasized the positive effects of the reform of metropolitan areas and the proposals made to strengthen cooperation between rural municipalities. The report also points out several issues that deserve special attention. Among them are: the weakness and fragmentation of municipalities in rural areas; the transfer of competences, which are not always accompanied by the necessary financial resources; strengthening the regional level and the limited ability of local authorities to finance investments. There is also a lack of transparency in the allocation of financial resources between the central and local levels.

Therefore, it is recommended to improve and facilitate voluntary mergers or cooperation between municipalities; to allocate financial resources corresponding to the responsibilities exercised by local authorities. National authorities are encouraged to respect legal deadlines to ensure the smooth running of the consultation process. The delegation recommends that the capital Bucharest be granted significant procedural guarantees for its autonomy.

Romania is encouraged to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the Charter (CETS No 207) and to withdraw its reservations under Article 7.2. In the Chamber of Regions, delegates discussed the report and adopted a recommendation for the cantonal elections in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the invitation of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congress conducted a monitoring and evaluation mission for the cantonal elections held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 2, 2022. On election day, nine teams, including nineteen congressional observers, visited approximately 125 polling stations to monitor election procedures from opening to counting.

Overall, the Congress delegation described the 2022 cantonal elections as calm and orderly, despite the long-standing political deadlock and continued segmentation of all levels of government along ethnic lines. The election campaign is rather low-profile and marked by a lack of public debate, as well as by widespread disillusionment and distrust of citizens in the political system. The election day was peaceful, well organized and in accordance with the law.

The Congressional delegation welcomed the numerous practical improvements implemented by the election administration to reduce the possibility of electoral fraud. Several areas where improvements should be made were identified, in particular the accessibility and establishment of polling stations, the appointment of polling station commissioners, the secrecy of the vote, the equal participation of women in cantonal political life, transparency and the review of the financing of campaigns, as well as the recurring question of voters residing de facto abroad voting in cantonal elections.

The delegation also regrets the difficulties after the election day regarding the announcement of the results and the formation of the cantonal authorities. The delegation also reiterated the Congress' previous recommendation to organize cantonal elections separately from national elections to avoid overshadowing regional issues.