- City governments in South-East Europe are beset by an erratic decentralization process, weak local institutions, shifts in political structures, and slow reforms.
- The Urban Partnership Program (UPP), a joint effort of the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Austrian Government, brings together cities in the region by opening up a space for dialogue and providing tools.
- The Mayors Symposium “Transformational Leadership in South-East Europe,” held on February 10-12, 2014 in Vienna, was a culmination of the first phase of UPP.
March 4, 2014―Despite strong efforts to bring about economic and democratic reforms, city governments in South-East Europe are beset by an erratic decentralization process, weak local institutions, shifts in political structures, and slow reforms. Corruption remains one of the significant worries and is a major priority at the national and local level.
City leaders are challenged to meet rising citizen demands for services and face severe inefficiencies in urban land use that block economic development. Moreover, city revenues are highly vulnerable to central policy changes and economic crisis. Local governments are stymied by these problems and lack strong networks and strategies to address them. The Urban Partnership Program (UPP), a joint effort of the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Austrian Government, brings together cities in the region by opening up a space for dialogue and providing tools to help locally elected officials, city administrators, technical staff, and citizen groups to improve urban management practices, and prepare to leverage financing for well-prioritized investment needs.
Transformational Leadership in South-East Europe
The Mayors Symposium “Transformational Leadership in South-East Europe,” held on February 10-12, 2014 in Vienna, was a culmination of the first phase of UPP, and organized in cooperation with the City of Vienna and the Austrian Ministry of Finance. UPP targets cities in South-Eastern Europe, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The symposium showcased work that had been achieved during the past three years on the themes of municipal finance, urban planning and land management, urban governance and anti-corruption, and social accountability in the service of citizens.
More than 100 people from these seven South-East European countries attended the Symposium. This group included more than 20 mayors and city leaders as well as municipal finance and urban planning practitioners, local government associations, ministry representatives, and civil society leaders.
It takes time to develop a relationship with citizens to create trust.Ibone Bengoetxea Otaolea, Deputy Mayor of Bilbao
The Conference opened at the City Hall on February 10 by the Vice Mayor of Vienna, Maria Vassilakou, Harald Waiglein, Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance, and Ellen Goldstein, Country Director, South-Eastern Europe, World Bank Group. The Vice Mayor described Vienna’s strategy of cooperative planning aimed at ensuring socially integrated, transit-oriented and environmentally healthy development of the city.
Other keynote speakers included Ibone Bengoetxea Otaolea, the deputy mayor of Bilbao, Ronnie MacLean Abaroa, former mayor of La Paz, and Graça Fonseca, the deputy mayor of Lisbon who all gave concrete examples of their efforts to integrate transparency and accountability in city leadership.
“It takes time to develop a relationship with citizens to create trust,” said Otaolea, and he also emphasized the systematic role of transparency and participation in the successful regeneration of Bilbao. Abaroa talked about the approach to “demystify corruption” that worked in La Paz and is being applied through UPP. Finally, Fonseca spoke about the integration of participatory budgeting and a comprehensive employment innovation strategy in Lisbon, which has “repopulated an empty downtown center.” These messages resonated with the audience whose cities share these aims, and they have started to apply some related approaches with UPP support.
City leaders took part in UPP to send a strong signal that corruption was not the status quo, to highlight the problems of accountability in local government, and to inspire others. According to a participant from Kucova, Albania, ”Bringing the anti-corruption component along with other strategic documents was very useful, because we did not have an anti-corruption strategic plan.” One example shared was the development of Center 72, which allows citizens to share their grievances digitally with the local government and provides a way to collect citizens’ complaints and to put pressure on the government to respond. It is being used by the municipality of Ilidza, Sarajevo, and developed, together with CPI Foundation, it is the first e-Gov application in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be adopted by the local authorities. It came about after a regional exchange workshop where participants learned about different initiatives implemented in other cities and how they could be adapted to their own needs.
The UPP program focuses on the conditions for sustainable development of cities, with particular emphasis on making municipal governments more transparent and accountable, giving them tools to improve their performance in finance and land use planning, and forging coalitions for change. It was created in response to the need expressed by these cities for knowledge exchange within Europe and beyond. UPP has built on the recent political stability and peace in the Balkans and fostered a multi-stakeholder dialogue among cities that were once alienated by conflict.
Sharing Knowledge and Learning Together
A number of new knowledge products were shared at the Symposium. One piece of note is Improving Local Governments Capacity: The Experience of Municipal Finances Self-Assessment in Southeast Europe, which contains two-page data profiles on 13 Southeast European cities from Bar (Montenegro) to Tirana (Albania), and a step-by-step user guide on how to conduct a financial self-assessment. Two other knowledge products, Collective Engagement for Results in South-East Europe and Curbing Corruption and Modernizing Local Governments in South-East Europe were also disseminated at the Symposium and are available on the UPP program website.
Following the symposium, city leaders have expressed an interest in scaling up, a desire to embed some of the tools in regular municipal management practices, and an appetite to continue the journey and conversation with more of their peers in the region and beyond.