The debate was coordinated by was coordinated by Emmanuelle Bastide, journalist at RFI. The speakers were Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou, President of the Bélier Region and President of the Association of Regions and Districts in Côte d’Ivoire, former Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, lawyer; Gilles Pargneaux, Member of the European Parliament, President of the EU-Moroccan Friendship Group, National Secretary of the French Socialist Party in charge of North-South relations; Mary Gely, PhD Student in Territorial Sciences, PACTE laboratory, University of Grenoble Alpes, former officer for Decentralized Cooperation at the Regional Council of Isère; Jérémie Daussin Charpantier, thematic specialist in Local Finance and Decentralization at Agence Française de Développement; Anne Raimat, Director of International Relations and European Affairs at the Urban Community of Bordeaux.
In the midst of a major world economic crisis, decentralized cooperation is being called into question and there is debate over its solidarity objectives. The international action of local authorities is experiencing increasing pressure on its budgets and human resources. Without having to disappear, it is obliged to renew itself. Consequently, one of the major challenges is to know whether decentralized cooperation can combine solidarity towards the South and economic benefits for regions in the North.
Recent trends in decentralized cooperation
“4,800 regional and local authorities are involved in decentralized cooperation projects” (Jérémie Daussin Charpantier). Decentralized cooperation has recently changed, particularly since the French Act of 7 July 2014 relative to the development and international solidarity policy. There has been a shift from cooperation mainly based on international solidarity towards more comprehensive external action allowing authorities to “seek benefits in the North from their international action” (Mary Gely).
For the territories, decentralized cooperation now makes it possible to seek economic benefits, promote living together better at the local and global levels, learn from the know-how of their counterparts, and increase their outreach. The large regional and local authorities are also seeking international visibility. The authorities in the South are also often sensitive to this “win-win” partnership approach.
There can be mutual enhancement: “Experiences in the North must allow the South to save time and keep errors to a minimum”, while countries in the South and their double-digit growth can be an engine for economic recovery in the North (Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou). However, “reducing cooperation to this economic objective means losing part of its meaning” (Anne Raimat). Ethics and economics can be considered together in a relationship of equality between the territories that exchange.
Economic crisis and lack of resources
New objectives should be synonymous with new resources. “Theoretically, the resources allocated by authorities should be in relation to the stated policy objectives” (Mary Gely).However, the European budget context leads to a reduction in the financial and human resources of authorities and the international action departments are particularly affected.
Regional and local authorities can today address this lack of resources by turning to new forms of financing. For example, “authorities can turn towards international donors” or seek support, such as from France’s Delegation for the External Action of Local Authorities – DAECT (Mary Gely).
In order to make this financing sustainable in a context of economic and political difficulties in countries in the North and South, demonstrating that there are real benefits must be a permanent concern (Gilles Pargneux).
Take action in a multi-actor framework
It is for this reason that decentralized cooperation partnerships are increasingly integrated into a multi-actor framework at local level, as well as at the national and international levels. At local level, authorities organize their exchanges in networks of local actors in order to increase the outreach of their messages on the international scene, defend the interests of decentralized cooperation, and promote the role of local authorities.
At national and international level, AFD, the European Union and UNDP support the decentralized cooperation of French regional and local authorities via various financial tools (FICOL, delegation of funds…). “Decentralized cooperation is thereby a triangular partnership between regions in the North, regions in the South and the financial partner playing a pivotal role” (Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou). The latter often focuses on capacity building by supporting exchanges of know-how and good practices for local management.
Decentralized cooperation and decentralization processes
It is indeed essential for local authorities, especially in Africa, to be placed back at the center of territorial projects, and “institutional autonomy is necessary for the effectiveness of regional and local authorities” (Koné Souleymane).
However, while “everywhere in Africa, decentralization has a framework set out in the texts which is on an equal footing with what exists in Europe, the problem is the incredible gap between the texts and the implementation” (Jérémie Daussin Charpantier).
The dialogues with authorities in the North can encourage authorities in the South to claim and assert their position and their local legitimacy. For them, decentralized cooperation is an effective driver to allow them to be recognized as real political and institutional actors in territorial projects.
Need to strengthen dialogue
It is essential to strengthen the dialogue between authorities in the South and North. Firstly, because the overly different cultural and political references may prevent effective cooperation between them: “long-standing relations and a common language make it possible to establish a relationship of confidence, which allows projects to bet set up” (Jérémie Daussin Charpantier).
Secondly, because the know-how and methodologies of authorities in the North are not always adapted to the South: “authorities in the North need to carry out some self-analysis and permanently question their practices” (Anne Raimat). Finally, because North countries also have something to learn from South countries: “the North benefits from the innovation of the South” (Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou).