Acting for a Better Local Democracy. CEPLI 2020 European Week of Regions and Cities workshop

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Local Intermediate Authorities (NUTS III) are the political and administrative embodiment of the principle of subsidiarity. Acutely aware of the growing divide between EU citizens and their governments, they have been at the forefront of the implementation of concrete initiatives aimed at empowering citizens in order to bridge this gap and can therefore serve as an inspiration for higher levels of governments and the EU.

Good practices that are replicable by potential attendees include:
Citizens Assembly, participatory budgets, transparency and open government initiatives, citizen-led initiatives backed by Local Intermediate Authorities, notably regarding the transition to a sustainable economy.

Nicolas Reynès, Coordinator, Partenalia, Belgium.
José Manuel Baltar Blanco, President, Partenalia - Deputación de Ourense, Belgium.
Pilar Diaz Romero, Deputy for International Relations - Mayor, Diputación de Barcelona - Esplugues de Llobregat, Spain.
Serge Hustache, President, Province du Hainaut - APW, Belgium.
Alexandrina Najmowicz, Director, European Civic Forum, France.
Jan Olbrycht, MEP, European Parliament, Poland.
André Viola, President - Member of the CoR French Delegation, CEPLI, Belgium.

Session summary

The Département de l'Aude has made a commitment to develop actions aimed at encouraging citizen participation in order to prevent the gap between elected officials and citizens from widening further. Energy transition commissions have been set up, including a citizens' committee drawn by lot. There is also a participatory budget of EUR 1.5 million.

Manuel Baltar, emphasizes transparency. In his Province of Ourense, provincial electoral programmes are presented to citizens before the vote containing quantified and adapted measures accompanied by a realistic timetable. There is also a service charter indicating what the administration does. This allows citizens to take ownership of the administration. They also have a channel for making proposals (notably via the Diputación website). Each suggestion is processed within five days.

The province established the principle of a "Smart Province" for better cooperation with mayors and citizens.

Mr Hustache pointed to the dual democratic and climatic emergency. The Province du Hainaut proposed to the young people, elected in their schools, to join a newly created Provincial Youth Council. They are given the opportunity to set up sustainable development projects with a budget of EUR 100 000. This allows a real experience of democracy: choice of projects, negotiations on budgets, majority/opposition game and implementation of projects.

Alexandrina Najmowicz recalls the crucial role of the intermediary level in bridging the gap between the European Union and the citizens.

She analyses the current democratic crisis: she observes that discontent increases when citizens are not involved in public affairs.

The political sensitivity of the citizen increases with the crisis, local intermediate authorities must take advantage of it.

A question is asked about the role of political parties and the weakening of representative democracy.

Serge Hustache considers that the more citizen commitment there is to public life, the more the policies will be consolidated. We must dare to participate and thus reconcile the political world and the associative world. This is a response to the fight against populism.

For Mr Viola, there is no risk that political parties will collapse by increasing citizen participation outside of their framework. Participatory democracy makes it possible to have a long-term vision and garner to support of the citizens.

Pilar Diaz Romero observed a growing demand for public services. She noted that it is essential to educate citizens to use the channels of participation effectively. This happens, in her Province, through a public hearing system for young people, a children's council or even participatory budgets.

Jan Olbrycht, MEP, insisted on the absolute necessity of fully applying the principle of subsidiarity so that the decision-making process is as efficient as possible. In Poland, the intermediate level is essential between municipalities and regions; it promotes participation in the decision-making process, not just in discussions.

Take away message

Democratic life not only happens during election periods but also in between those

Citizens' participation initiatives (participatory budgets, youth assembly, etc.) are instrumental in regaining the trust of citizens in their representative elected bodies

Transparency initiatives are key to ensuring public support for the actions of local governments

Subsidiarity and multi-level governance must be fully implemented to make sure political decisions meet the needs of local populations

Political parties and citizens' participation initiatives are complementary



"Provincial projects, espacially related to renewable energies, are sometimes rejected by the local population simply because they were not consulted beforehand and made part of the decision-making process." André Viola


"We need to clearly redefine what we mean by subsidiarity, participation and multi-level governance, in order to avoid interpretations that turn out to be incorrect." Jan Olbrycht


"The provincial council proposes clear timetables for the implementation of projects, a charter of services and is committed to answering any citizen request within five days." Manuel Baltar


"The health crisis has exacerbated the need for frequent contacts with the citizens." Pilar Diaz Romero


"The emerging trends at the local level are interesting: local authorities are bold in tackling problems that other levels of power fail to solve. It is essential to allow the citizen to feel like an actor and that starts at the local level." Mrs Najmowicz