There is no universally accepted definition of decentralized cooperation. Jangu Le Carpentier, former president delegate of united towns organizations emphasized in 1994 that: “What is important today is the realization that decentralized cooperation is a concept with considerable impact. … It is a notion, which is still a little vague. … if we attempt to define it more precisely, we would be taking a risk: either it would be defined in such general terms that it becomes a maze of contradictions, or it would be defined in such a restrictive manner that everyone would be completely lost”.
However, many forms of it share a common characteristic of involving non-state actors in development and service provision. In January 2000, Philip Lowe from the European Commission developed an operational guide to decentralized cooperation in which he defined the concept as first and foremost a different way of doing things which seeks to put stakeholders of every kind at the centre of the cooperation process and involve them throughout the activity cycle, setting out each party’s role and responsibilities, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. A UNDP study carried out in 2001 defined decentralized cooperation as “a long-term partnership between communities in different cities or towns and as a mechanism for establishing a novel partnership modality, which focuses on direct relationships between regional territories, as opposed to the model that promotes bilateral cooperation at the national level”. A Committee of Decentralized Cooperation of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), that met on 10 February 2006 in Washington, defined decentralized cooperation as “a solid partnership between foreign local communities” [aimed at] “encouraging mutual prosperity and consolidate local development and governance”. The UN-Habitat viewed decentralized cooperation as a process “whereby cities (and indeed other institutions) work together on defining their problems and devising appropriate solutions on the basis of shared experience among peer groups”. Decentralized cooperation is known under different names, such as twinning, city-to-city cooperation, city link, and jumelage. More recently, a new concept of municipal international cooperation (MIC) has joined the literature of decentralized cooperation opening the possibility of providing long term technical and financial assistance to municipal governments in the spirit of partnership and global common interest.
The underlying principle is that closer cooperation and exchanges between municipalities in Romania and Belgium can lead to creative and effective solutions for local development issues. MIC also encompasses networking and cooperation between associations of local and regional authorities in Romania and Belgium. As stated before, there are many definitions of decentralized cooperation, sometimes rather conflicting among each other, and none of the said definitions can be said to be prevailing. For the purpose of this assessment document, keeping in mind the overall goal fora on decentralized cooperation between Belgium and Romania, decentralized cooperation is defined as any project, initiative, or partnership among at least one Belgian and one Romanian sub-national authority.
- Local authorities from both countries (county, department, city, town, village levels), civil servants from local administration,
- NGO’s representatives from both countries and other countries invited as special guests, representatives of associations with local level activities,
- official representatives of Belgium and Romania, EU experts
- Businesses active in Belgium and Romania
The first links were formed in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, cooperation between communities or “twinning” as it was called, was seen by local leaders first and foremost as a means to build bridges of understanding and confidence between peoples of nations which had been at war. Twinning was aimed at bringing about social and cultural exchanges between civic officials, schools and community groups.
The twinning between Belgian and Romanian cities has another input. After being elected as general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965 and consolidating his power by becoming president of the State Council, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu planned a large scale destruction of Romanian villages and municipalities. This communist systematization ended a respectful relationship with the countryside and was the largest European destruction in peacetime. By the end of the 80s of the 20th century, together with the rising internal and foreign protests, Adoption Villages Romania was set up to safeguard the destruction of rural communities in Romania. In 1988 the idea of the adoption of a Romanian village at risk, was an unilateral protest against the Ceausescu regime.
At the end of 1989 – beginning of 1990 this changed into a humanitarian action. For shortly after the first convoys, the need grew to collaborate on a structural way. Bilateral agreements resulted in governmental supported projects and actions. Around 2000 a new need came up: how could we evolve from external funded projects towards community driven projects. The development of bottom-up and inside-out projects became the headline of the last 10-15 years. Slightly the collaboration evolves from a problem driven approach towards an asset based community development.
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