By Rena Dourou, Regional Governor of Attica
To what extent does the dialogue on the reform of the institutional framework of the local self-government concerns the society and our fellow citizens? Is this an intra muros discussion between certain elected representatives or technocrats? Or should it concern us all as this is primarily a question of protecting the environment, supporting entrepreneurship and improving the quality of life of local societies?
There could be many answers to these questions, yet one thing is certain: precious time has been lost with regard to the opportunities, the role and the functioning of this level of power which is closest to the citizens and their concerns. It is quite telling that the Council of Europe considers local and regional authorities to be crucial tools for deepening Democracy, ensuring social cohesion and addressing racism and xenophobia.
And, it is no coincidence that, since the establishment of the modern State of Greece, the central government has never trusted this nascent decentralised power; on the contrary, it has always treated it with mistrust, sometimes even fear. Hence, its great efforts to exercise control over it. The last example is the adoption of the Decentralised Administration by virtue of “Kallicratis” Law; an institution that is set up in order for the central government to monitor the elected regional authorities. Nor is it fortuitous that the planning of the Medium-Term Programme and of Hans-Joachim Fuchtelstruck from the outset the local self-government, putting it under guardianship and diluting its institutional importance, as it brought about its employment and financial deregulation by reducing central independent resources for it. Indeed, the local self-government was the first victim of the memoranda. Admittedly, however, the LRAs have always been the “last resort” for those who failed to take political centre stage or a “stepping stone” for those coveting a ministerial career.
Nevertheless, local self-government is too important, at all levels, to be treated as a “secondary” institution, put aside by central planning. Reform of the local self-government by the central government today is urgent and critical, apart from being symbolic. It can and it must, after months of delay, become a break with the past and a landmark for a new, decentralised model of administration, taking into account that public dialogue is crucial to ensuring the momentum for Constitutional Reform.
In that regard, with a sense of responsibility that is proper to largest region of the country, the Region of Attica has timely elaborated concrete proposals related to the second level of local self-government. These proposals rely on experience and willingness to make the Hellenic regions pillars of sustainable growth and modern entrepreneurship, thereby generating jobs and ensuring social solidarity. Regions should play, that is, for the first time in the country’s history, a twofold role that is self-evident in the EU, i.e. a developmental and a social role. For instance, to be able to effectively address issues such as the refugee/migrant crisis. So far, local and regional authorities carry out their task with only support being received by citizens and their sense of social solidarity, whilst they should be able to act on all fronts within a clear regulatory framework and without institutional barriers.
In particular, the proposals made by the Region of Attica cover a wide range of issues and specifically relate to the following issues:
- Metropolitan functions,
- State responsibilities,
- Policy areas.
In addition, when working on further legislative proposals on the reform of “Kallikratis” Law, we have drawn up proposals which are ready to be discussed in view of the Constitutional Reform, and relate to constitutional consolidation of:
- Metropolitan Self-Government,
- the competences of the LRAs with regard to spatial and urban planning,
- financial autonomy.
It is clear that institutional changes are required in an area combining overlapping of responsibilities and institutional blurring. There are many examples of resource squandering and human capital wasting. For example, the installation of a traffic light involves work by the municipality, the region, the decentralised administration and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport! Also, an Environmental Impact Assessment requires the involvement of the regions, the municipalities, the Greek Archaeological Service (for example, in the case of a flood protection project), even the decentralised administration!
However, these proposals require political determination to grant necessary autonomy as well as resources to the regions. For, that is the only way in which they will be able to serve a new approach to LRAs, toward effective management instead of hetero-administration.
In other words, towards a local self-government that represents popular sovereignty whilst crystallising, at local and regional level, the call for the realisation of the democratic idea, as expressed by Alexandros Svolos, which remains the pertinent and relevant issue today, and not only in our country. A local self-government that will be a guarantee and a condition for Democracy.
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