The “Danube Governance Conference: Towards European integration with the SDGs” has kicked off today and is underway with rich and interesting sessions to offer.
The welcoming remarks were delivered by Mr. Michael Ludwig, Mayor of the city of Vienna and President of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns.
Furthermore, Mrs. Katalin-Tuende Huber from the Austrian Ministry of European Integration stressed the importance of the European Integration of the Western Balkan Countries in her opening statement.
NALAS President, Mr. Emanuil Manolov participated at the Panel Discussion on “Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges and responses of local governments in the Danube Region”. Mr. Manolov emphasized that SEE local governments remain at the forefront in responding to this crisis.
“In a recent NALAS Study we looked at the impact of COVID-19 crisis in local governments in South East Europe, documented the challenges and collected a number of good practices on how to respond to the crisis and how to support our communities.
The Study has shown that COVID-19 has had major impact on all SEE local governments – 45% of them think that the impact from the crisis is strong or very strong, while 38% perceive a moderate – but still significant impact. COVID-19 has a strong territorial dimension – there are differences in the impact within and across local governments throughout SEE. Although a challenge everywhere, our study suggests that local Governments from Kosovo*, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Turkey seem to have experienced a stronger impact compared to the rest of SEE.
At the COVID-19 outbreak, the lack of adequate financial resources was the most important challenge of SEE LGs. Currently, their key challenge is the reopening and revival of local communities and economies.” – highlighted Mr. Manolov.
Moreover, Mr. Manolov stressed that: “The Study also confirmed that in such difficult times, SEE local governments not only coped with the crisis, providing the necessary prevention measures, supporting vulnerable groups and subsidising local economies, but many of them also took a brave step forward: using innovation and digitalisation to solve the problems caused by the pandemics.
There are three important points from the Study I would like to highlight: The dramatic impact of the crisis on local finances, the need for intergovernmental policy consultation and coordination and the importance of cross-border cooperation in coping with the crisis by searching for the best solutions.”
The NALAS President concluded his opening address by acknowledging that over a decade KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research and their BACID Programme have played a very important role in strengthening governance structures in the region and in supporting NALAS promote decentralisation and the role of local government. The know-how transfer in the fields related to European Integration and modernisation of local public administration, facilitated by KDZ and BACID, have been highly appreciated by NALAS and its members.
In addition, as part of the Conference program, a good practice of the Localizing and Measuring Sustainable Development Goals in Riga will be presented.
In parallel, the Conference will further be enriched with sessions with local actors working towards implementing the Agenda 2030. Four sessions on different topics regarding SDGs and local governments will be addressed:
- Governance and democracy
- Climate adaptation and Smart Cities
- Participation and civil society
- Local economic development
NALAS Decentralisation and Public Finance Expert, Mr. Elton Stafa, presented at the Governance and democracy session, underlining that decentralisation is a process, not a goal. The goal is to improve the quality of life of citizens. Furthermore, Mr. Stafa added that Local governments can act as catalysts for improving the quality of services and creating more economic opportunities for citizens, but to do so, they must be supported with adequate financial resources.
Mr. Darko Mrvaljevic, NALAS Regional Expert on EU integration and EU funds, spoke at the session on Local economic development. In his presentation, Mr.Mrvaljevic highlighted the significant role that NALAS has played as a regional knowledge hub in collecting and disseminating replicable practices and recovery measures that can be utilized by local government in SEE in their post Covid 19 socio-economic recovery.
Additionally, Expo booths with presentations of organisations and projects are being presented and NALAS is participating with its own booth on this event.
The Danube Governance Conference is organized by KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research and proudly supported by Austrian Development Cooperation, Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and NALAS.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.