The principle of subsidiarity is fundamental to the functioning of the European Union, and more specifically to EU decision-making. In particular, it aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and by the level of power acting more efficiently in a particular subject. However, subsidiarity is not strictly European related: Ukraine has recently introduced the principle within its constitution and it is aiming at establishing a modern municipal government in accordance with the principles and the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
On 14 February, the European Liberal Forum (ELF) held a Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable on “Subsidiarity as Guiding Principle of Decentralisation” on the fringes of the 8th Forum of the Network of Free Local Politicians in Odessa, Ukraine. The roundtable was organised with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and co-funded by the European Parliament. At the invitation of ELF, Bas Verkerk, President of the ALDE Group in the European Committee of the Regions and Mayor of the Dutch city of Delft, was asked to share his experience of decentralisation in Europe and in the Netherlands in particular.
In his intervention Mr Verkerk stressed that Ukraine should find its own model of decentralisation. Based on his experience, there is no one-fit-for-all solution, but it is a trial and error process. However, two basic principles should always be kept in mind: decentralisation must not be defined as a sharing of competences; and a strategic approach should take into account the actual situation of the country. He further explained that subsidiarity is a daily puzzle for the local bodies that have to address the citizens’ needs. Political and strategic decisions are taken at the national level, but the implementation is done on a regional or local level. National laws normally depict a ‘frozen’ situation. ‘A good politician has to deal with the real situation, adapt to the circumstances and be courageous‘, he said. While the local level is competent, national, regional and local authorities have to nevertheless work together and not shy away to use experts to ensure that the best cost-effective situations are put in place and exchange on best practices.
Ukraine has today the very rare chance to design a new layout of administration in the country, and government and local bodies will have to work together to implement decentralisation in a full and consistent scheme. Echoing the work that the CoR does with the Ukrainian government via its Ukraine Task Force, the roundtable confirmed that the Committee of the Regions can be of great help in assisting Ukrainian politicians in this process by exchanging good practices and providing experts to further continue debating important topics such as cross-border and inter-regional cooperation, administrative empowerment, fiscal decentralisation, and much more.