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Local self-government: France must pursue decentralisation and clarify division of powers, says Congress

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The Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities has called on France to pursue decentralisation, clarify the division of powers between the state and subnational authorities and provide better protection for mayors.

Adopting its recommendation based on a report by Bryony Rudkin (United Kingdom, L, SOC/G/PD) and Matija Kovac (Serbia, R, EPP/CCE), after their visits in 2023 to monitor implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government,  the Congress welcomed France’s planned decentralisation reforms, the general clause of competence enjoyed by municipalities, France’s ratification of the Charter’s Additional protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority,  the granting of special status to Paris in 2019 and the frequent references to the Charter in legal proceedings relating to local or regional governance.

The report underlined certain points that deserve particular attention, especially the incomplete decentralisation mentioned in the Court of Auditors’ 2023 annual public report; unclear distribution of powers; over-regulation of powers delegated to local authorities, and a gradual reduction in local taxation leading to excessive centralisation of local authority funding.

Local authorities lacked proportional funding from central government, were increasingly dependent on subsidies and contractual funding and consultation mechanisms were mainly used as channels for informing local and regional authorities of central government initiatives, plans and regulations, the report said. It also expressed concern at the increasing threats and attacks against mayors and local elected representatives from society at large, often via social networks, jeopardising democratic local governance. National authorities needed to strengthen legal protection of mayors and extend limitation periods in criminal matters.

The Congress called for the recently announced decentralisation reforms to be pursued and for division of power to be clarified, with over-regulation avoided. Fiscal autonomy should be strengthened and the costs of exercising delegated powers should be periodically reviewed to ensure that they are proportionately financed. It also stressed the importance of reducing local authorities’ dependence on contractual funding and central transfers, while implementing genuine consultation mechanisms.

The debate was followed by an exchange of views with Dominique Faure, French Minister with responsibility for Local Government and Rural Affairs, who then participated in a round table on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Congress.

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