'Decentralization Promotes Cooperation': The Role of Local Authorities

UN Chronicle, March-May 2001 | Go to article overview

'Decentralization Promotes Cooperation': The Role of Local Authorities


Joan Clos is Mayor of Barcelona, Spain, and the current President of the World Associations of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination (WACLAC). This global alliance was formed in the wake of the Habitat II Conference, held in Istanbul in June 1996, which called for the strengthening of cities and local authorities. Mayor Clos is also President of the World Association of the Major Metropolises (Metropolis). The first-ever World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities (WACLA) was held on the eve of the Istanbul Conference. On 6 May 2001, one month before the Genera Assembly special session reviews the implementation of the Habitat Agenda (Istanbul+5), a second World Assembly (WACEJA II) met in Rio de Janeiro. On the eve of WACLA II, responding to questions from Horst Rutsch for the UN Chronicle, Mayor Clos insists that "the good governance of cities is one of the keys to channelling the positive effects of globalization and counterbalancing its negative aspects ".

On the priorities for WACLAC

We seek to unite local governments in a single voice and to be recognized as valid interlocutors before international organizations and governments. It is vital that at all times we maintain and reiterate the same objectives--this gives our mission both coherence and weight.

While our objectives are clear and concise, their achievement has been a long and complex process. Istanbul was a crucial step towards consolidating this local government movement. Until then, local governments could only officially participate in international forums with the status of non-governmental organizations. Yet, it is untenable to treat local authorities as anything other than a level of government.

With well over half the world's population living in cities, and with this figure vertiginously rising, it stands to reason that our voice and experience are necessary and must be heard. National and regional governments cannot faithfully reflect the needs of urbanized centres; they are too far removed from the day-to-day at the local level, from the root of the human system.

The mechanisms WACLAC has engaged to strengthen the voice of cities and local authorities on the international stage have been, firstly, to seek specific official status for local government with the UN Economic and Social Council, while assuring that we play an active part in the policy formation bodies of the United Nations dealing with urban issues, in particular the Commission on Human Settlements and the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Secondly, we have strived to assure the progress of the role of cities and local authorities in international cooperation. This task involves securing higher priority for capacity-building in local government via international programmes, such as those of the UN Centre for Human Settlements, the UN Development Programme, the European Union and development banks; pressing for increased allocation of development aid to urban development and the formation of an inter-city solidarity fund; and obtaining greater effectiveness from aid programmes by building upon direct local-to-local cooperation mechanisms ("decentralized cooperation"). Thirdly, we have consolidated the process of structuring the world city organizations as a means to ensure a stalwart network that will serve all our objectives.

On the Habitat Agenda

We believe that our major contribution must be to promote the principles of local self-government and good governance. This involves the preparation of a World Charter of Local Self-Government, for promulgation by the United Nations, which draws upon broadly-based consultations on the factors to be taken into account in all the world regions.

By enhancing the negotiating capacity of cities and local authorities, we are actively involved in the follow-up and implementation of the Habitat Agenda and that of the Local Agenda 21. To this end, a framework cooperation agreement with the UNCHS (Habitat) has been drawn up. …

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