The Congress and the Assembly of European Regions (AER) jointly organised a debate on the role of local and regional authorities in peace-building, held in Caen on 4 June 2019 as part of the World Peace Forum in Normandy, which took place on the eve of the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
Thomas Andersson (Sweden, ILDG), a member of both the AER and the Congress, drew attention to the significant contribution made by local and regional authorities to a country’s stability, pointing out that frequently “dialogue is more fruitful at local level than at national level”. Among current threats to peace, the speakers mentioned societal fragmentation, exacerbated by challenges surrounding diversity management within societies, a loss of confidence in public institutions and a problem of access to reliable information.
“It is often by taking the local route that progress is made,” emphasised Congress Vice-President Xavier Cadoret (France, SOC), making specific reference to the Congress’s monitoring and post-monitoring activities. Dörte Liebetruth (Germany, SOC) underlined the importance of the exchanges between local authorities and communities made possible by cross‑border co-operation and exchange programmes between towns and cities. Open government, participative democracy and transparent public policy are key to reinforcing the role of local and regional authorities in peace-building. Equal access to quality public services for all citizens is also a core component of social justice and cohesion. There are nevertheless a number of obstacles which hamper local and regional peace-building activities: in addition to a lack of political will, knowledge and expertise, inadequate resources are a major problem.
Kelly McBride, a Director at The Democratic Society, spoke of the opportunities for direct communication between local authorities and citizens and the possibility of involving the latter in decision making processes. Towns offer a space for intercultural dialogue which should be cultivated and harnessed. Local elected representatives can indeed initiate a direct dialogue with and between citizens and thereby work towards debunking prejudices and restoring confidence in public authorities.