The Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU creates the necessary preconditions for implementing new approaches in regional policy. For Ukraine one of the most important areas concerning regional policy is the cooperation of territorial communities. The basic law of the decentralization reform that regulates this issue, similar to the EU-member countries, was adopted in 2014, but local communities only now begin to understand new perspectives and actively sign cooperation agreements on various subjects.
The law defined the principles, forms, legal framework and mechanisms of cooperation, as well as issues of stimulation, financing and control, and allowed jointly to solve problems that could not be solved by individual territorial communities on their own.
Several small communities can consolidate in a particular issue, pooling their resources and thus avoiding their common problem. It does not necessarily have to be something global: often agreements relate to joint purchasing, for example, garbage trucks, repair of a school hall, the installation of a lantern, the creation of a joint management institution due to lack of internal staff resources, or the use of services of same specialists, and the solution of a common legal, economic, administrative issue.
To date in Ukraine 187 agreements have been concluded, with the dynamics about 9 per month. However, the interest in such cooperation is very uneven across the country. For example, Poltava region leads with almost one-fifth of all territorial cooperation agreements concluded in the country, while some regions do not use this instrument at all.
The most common subjects of the agreements are the issues of dealing with solid household waste (for example, the purchase of special equipment, informational work with the public), the joint maintenance of municipal services (roads, car fleets, fire service), repair of educational institutions, as well as repair of local roads, provision of administrative services, centralized water supply, the establishment of joint security centers.
The duration of the contract depends on the project itself. On average, this term varies from six months to five years (for example, in the case of a joint municipal service). However, there are also contracts without a deadline, for example, in the case of joint maintenance of the fire department. There is also an arbitrary number of parties to the contract, which may vary depending on the needs of the community.
Cooperation financing can be carried out at the expense of local budgets of cooperation subjects, self-taxation, the state budget, international technical and financial assistance.
In the area of community cooperation, Ukraine implements its own model, which is, in fact, an integrated experience of many countries. In Europe, such format of cooperation is an active motive for the decentralization. Ukrainian legislators took particular note of the experience of Germany and Spain, where contractual relations envisaged a significant impact of the center and thus ensured the balance of interests of all communities. Also, the process of inter-municipal cooperation in Poland, Portugal and Macedonia was taken into consideration. The Hungarian, Czech and Slovak experience of creating small municipalities of “joint bureaus” for providing administrative services is also relevant for Ukraine, which allows communities to save money due to their scale of activity, since in small municipalities a high proportion of budgets is spent on administrative services.
Cooperation of communities is an important democratic initiative, as it enables locals to actively participate in solving local issues – this is foreseen, in particular, in the requirements for cooperation agreements that can be concluded only on the basis of the will of the inhabitants of the city.
Such cooperation is beneficial not only for the community itself. The tool also affects the quality and development of local administration, as well as expands the areas and opportunities of their cooperation not only with other communities but also with the involvement of the private and public sectors. Inter-municipal cooperation improves the quality of management in local administrations – the development of a corporate culture oriented to cooperation with another entity, with business and the community, which are involved in solving local issues. Consequently, credibility of the authorities increases, the gap between the voter and the elected ones diminishes. People begin to be interested in the future of the common territory.
The Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU aims to bring life standards in Ukraine closer to the European level. It is important that these standards apply not only to big cities but to all regions in Ukraine. For this purpose, it is not necessary to start from scratch with the Ukrainian territorial communities, as there is not only assistance from international partners willingly sharing their experience and practice, but also support of the state, not only at the legislative level. This is the provision of subventions to local budgets, the transfer of state-owned objects to communal ownership, organizational and informational support in the regions. The only question is that the territorial communities need to decide to take the first step towards cooperation, and then they will appreciate its advantages on their own experience. Also, it is important to understand that the benefits of cooperation are not always noticeable at once.
Authors: Liubov Akulenko, Kateryna Potapenko, Ukrainian Centre for European Policy (Kyiv, Ukraine).Author : Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels