The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the balance between local, regional and national levels in many countries, sometimes even putting local democracy in jeopardy. A debate on the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in times of crisis, organised on 17 September 2020 by the Monitoring Committee, presented the situations experienced by local and regional elected representatives in several member States.
The enactment of states of emergency and the strengthening of centralisation, as well as the increased financial difficulties linked to the cessation of economic activities have complicated co-operation between the different levels of authority, highlighted Leen Verbeek (Netherlands, SOC/G/PD), Chair of the Congress Monitoring Committee, during his introduction.
Jakob Wienen (Netherlands, EPP/CCE) detailed the situation in his country, which had seen a transfer of local competences to the national level and then, in recent months, a return to the local level. A situation that does not necessarily satisfy Dutch mayors, he believes: “If we are given responsibility for closing establishments, we are also made responsible for the economic repercussions that may result,” he worries, even though the government has planned to compensate municipalities for the economic losses linked to the crisis.
Describing the situation he encountered in Brussels, Marc Cools (Belgium, ILDG) did not hesitate to speak of a “lockdown of local democracy” to describe the events of the last few months. “Local councils were only held via e-mail, and sometimes we were simply asked to ratify decisions already taken by others, including on subjects that nevertheless deserved real debate,” he lamented. For him, “these exceptional rules have been in place for six months now, and it is high time for life to return to normal”.
Bernd Vöhringer (Germany, EPP/CCE) believes that the German municipalities have come out of this crisis well, thanks to their broad competences and the good balance between the State, the regions and the municipalities. Nevertheless, there has been a drastic decline in the number of local political meetings since the beginning of the pandemic, and citizen participation has also fallen sharply. Conversely, the municipalities feel reassured by the aid and subsidies that will be paid by the State to get the economy moving again.
David Eray (Switzerland, ILDG) considered that the division of powers between the federal level and the cantons, redefined in the name of emergency, had gone well in the country. However, some cantons have experienced difficulties in implementing the decisions taken at federal level, but overall the measures have been implemented quickly.
Hasan Akgün (Turkey, SOC/G/PD) deplored the isolation of people over 65 along with the difficulties in helping them. He stressed that the municipalities have received insufficient support from the central government, especially as the government cut their budgets.
Local authorities from several other countries, including Austria, France and Russia, presented communications on the same topic. Congress Secretary General Andreas Kiefer announced the Congress has set up a web exchange platform called “Covid-19: Local and Regional Responses”, which aims to collect and share local experiences with those of partner networks. These all reveal a need for the clarification of competences and show the value of policies adapted to the situation in each region. They also underline the need to better identify the respective roles of politicians and virologists.
The Monitoring Committee will contribute to a general report on the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis on local democracy to be debated at the next Congress session.
Stéphanie Poirel, tel. + 33 3 88 41 28 24