The 3rd European Congress of Local Governments
Krakow, 27 – 28 March 2017
Local governments in the face of the challenges of the twenty-first century
Krakow became a self-government capital of Europe for 2 days. Nearly 1800 guests – regional leaders, representatives from state administration, scientific and business institutions, cultural and non-governmental organisations from over 40 countries participated in the 3rd European Congress of Local Governments that took place in Krakow on 27th and 28th of March. The theme of this year's meeting was: Local governments in the face of the challenges of the twenty-first century. This Congress is one of the international conferences in Europe devoted to the issues of regional politics, cooperation between local governments, representatives of state administration, science and business.
The programme of the 2-days Congress consisted of over 80 different events (thematic blocs, report presentations, panel sessions, workshops and lectures) divided into several theme paths: Business and Local Government, Finances, Economy, Innovations, Society, Environment, Tourism and Local Government. Among the conference guests we hosted journalists who will prepare detailed reports from the Congress.
According to Zygmunt Berdychowski, President of the Programme Council of the Economic Forum, Founder of the Congress, local politicians have not only presented what they have gained but also complained about poor relations with the central administration. “Management, healthcare, culture or self-government’s economic activity – these were the topics that have dominated the side meetings. I believe, that many of them have decided to attend the Congress to get to know how the other local politicians are solving those problems they have to face as well”, said Zygmunt Berdychowski.
“We, the local politicians in Poland have to build the cooperation foundations whithin the EU. As for now, it is a prerogative of the central government”, said Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of the City of Krakow, during the opening plenary session: “Global Changes Facing Europe and Local Governments in the 21st Century”. He pointed out that the local governments are for example not allowed to invite immigrants to settle in Polish cities and communes which significantly limits them in enhancing the EU politics on the local level. Another guest, François Decoster, Chair of the Commission on Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs at the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has stated that the Committee of the Regions is a very complex, technical institution whose main goals are to support the economic development of the member states on the local level. “It is a kind of local voice on the EU stage which aims to bring EU decision-makers closer to the regional problems”, summed up François Decoster.
“In Romania, most of the money from the Cohesion Fund of the financial perspective 2007-2013 was invested in infrastructure, in my city, effectiveness on this field reaches up to 90%,” claimed Emil Boc, former Prime Minister of Romania (2008-2012), currently the Mayor of Cluj-Napoca.
Ossi Savolainen, Regional Mayor of Helsinki-Uusimaa, briefly presented the concept of regional policy in Finland as a non-core EU member. “The administrative units in Finland are independent, although from the EU point of view, we are like a remote island,” said Savolainen.
One of the most important guests taking part in the 3rd European Congress of Local Governments was Anna Zalewska, Minister of Education who delivered a speech on "Personnel Training for a Modern Economy. The Implementation of Education Reform". Minister Zalewska explained the aims and assumptions lying at the foundation of the recent educational reforms and their implications for local governments, providing examples of how the ministry of education takes into account the expectations and the input of local authorities.
Considering the upcoming local elections in Poland in 2018, the presentations of the main Polish parties, on the local government’s future development, have attracted the interest of the Congress participants.
According to Grzegorz Schetyna, the Chairman of the Civic Platform self-government in Poland is a symbol of a great succsess, a kind of a milestone of the Polish transformation towards democracy. However, there are still several elements in this system that might be improved to be more effective. “Self-government is much faster than the central government”, stated Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz the President of the Polish People’s Party (PSL), adding that PSL is in favour of the decentralised self-government in Poland.
During the Congress much attention was devoted to the international cooperation of European cities and regions. According to Jean-Michel Berlemont, Deputy Mayor of Nancy, France, relationships often go beyond the near abroad. "We create partnerships with Brazil or Australia," said Mr Berlemont, while conceding that Nancy’s most important project is cross-border cooperation between France, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium. Oleksandr Hanushchyn, Chairman of Lviv Regional Council, noted that each region is different, and cooperation priorities differ between Mexico and the USA, Poland and Slovakia, or Ukraine and Moldova.
During the discussion panel “Intelligent Regions and Cities – from Vision to Strategy” Adam Hamryszczak, Undersecretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Development, spoke about the importance of “social participation and submission of new solutions for evaluation by citizens”. He added that the Polish government intends to support regions, towns/cities, and above all their inhabitants, experts and innovators. According to Roman Ciepiela, mayor of Tarnów, this process is strongly associated with the level of local government and cannot be imposed from above. Jacek Krupa, Marshal of Malopolska Region, pointed out that the main objective of smart growth should be long-term improvement of the quality of life of residents. "Another aspect of smart development should be smart specialties," he stressed.
The issues related to the interaction between business-government have not been forgotten. Grzegorz Lot, Vice-President of TAURON Sprzedaż Sp. z o.o., drew attention to the fact that the introduction of the "Breathe The Air" programme requires a joint anti-smog initiative, education, involvement of residents, building proactive attitudes among local residents, gaining knowledge about the attitudes of local residents and their needs and motivations. Cooperation with local governments is the key here.
How does national heritage shape the local community? George Alibegashvili, Chairman of the Tbilisi City Municipal Assembly, recalled that Georgia has always felt part of the West, as it resulted from the merger of cultures of ancient Greece, Rome and Israel. "However, we had a lot in common with Eastern cultures – Arabic, Turkish, or Persian, so for Tbilisi the concept of multiculturalism and tolerance is important," Alibegashvili stressed.
The first day of the 3rd European Congress of Local Governments in Krakow ended with the Local Government Leader Gala. The title of the Village Mayor 2016 went to Grzegorz Niestrój, Mayor of Kornowac. The title of the Town Mayor 2016 went to Grzegorz Niezgoda, Mayor of Szczawnica. The title of City Mayor went to Piotr Grzymowicz, Mayor of Olsztyn. The Partner of the competition was "Rzeczpospolita" daily. Additionally, the Jury decided to honour with a Special Award H.E. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who stressed that the “reform of self-government is one of the best reforms conducted in Poland after the 1989”, adding that “local authorities remain close to the problems of the local communities and therefore are respected and trusted by voters".
ICE Kraków Congress Centre
ul. Marii Konopnickiej 17
Institute for Eastern Studies, organiser of the Economic Forum in Krynica.