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Länder and Municipalities

Development cooperation and the municipalities


A German city hall ("Rathaus")

The municipalities, of which there are around 11,500 in Germany, constitute the smallest administrative units in Germany's political system. They are not only responsible for implementing national decisions and recommendations at the local level; they also provide impetus for civic engagement. Being close to citizens, they are particularly well suited to raise people's awareness of sustainable, environmentally sound and equitable development.

More and more German cities, municipalities and counties are engaged in development cooperation. Other key development policy actors of relevance to the municipal level are the local government associations: the German Association of Cities (Deutscher Städte­tag), the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (Deutscher Städte- und Gemeindebund) and the Association of German Coun­ties (Deutscher Landkreistag). They offer opportunities to exchange experience and help to identify potential partners in developing countries.

As global challenges such as climate change and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) require action to be taken at all levels, development policy engagement at the sub­na­tion­al level is very welcome and its importance is being emphasised increasingly in the international arena as well.

Development potential and responsibilities at the municipal level

  • Development information and education
    The local authorities can do much to increase the visibility of German de­vel­op­ment policy within Germany itself. Being close to citizens, they are particularly well suited to raise people's awareness of development policy issues.

  • Development policy implications of municipal action within Germany
    The municipalities have a responsibility to consider de­vel­op­ment policy implications and to serve as a role model within the locality (for example, in their public procurement practices or in action to mitigate climate change).

  • Supporting civil society
    The municipalities are involved in numerous forms of co­op­e­ra­tion with development-oriented civil society organisations in Germany and abroad (for example, with local associations and initiatives or non-governmental organisations). They thus help to strengthen civic engagement at the local level.

  • Establishment of partnerships with municipalities in developing countries
    "Classic" town twinning or cooperation within the framework of project partnerships can create permanent networks (of in­sti­tu­tions, universities, schools or NGOs, for example) and help to establish a wide range of personal contacts.

  • The municipalities: specific expertise of relevance to development cooperation
    In their international activities, the municipalities have com­par­a­tive advantages to offer in specific areas such as de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion, establish­ment of and capacity-buil­ding for ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures at muni­cipal level, public service delivery, and infra­struc­ture. The local autho­ri­ties can also make their own experts available for official de­vel­op­ment co­op­e­ra­tion. Such co­op­e­ra­tion can be beneficial for both sides, as the municipal representatives can work with their partners on an equal footing in support of reform processes, which greatly increases acceptance and ownership of these measures.

The formal bases

In June 2010, the Federation-Länder Committee for De­vel­op­ment Cooperation – with the participation of the German Association of Cities (Deutscher Städtetag) and the Association of German Coun­ties (Deutscher Landkreistag) for the first time – adopted a res­olu­tion­ on mu­ni­ci­pal en­gage­ment for de­vel­op­ment. It includes not only a shared understanding of roles and priorities for municipal de­vel­op­ment policy but also sets out a work pro­gramme to define ways to en­courage more muni­ci­pal­i­ties to take on a de­vel­op­ment role or strengthen their existing com­mit­ment, as ap­pro­priate, to the extent that is poli­tically and legally feasible.

In October 2008, the Council of the European Union adopted the European Charter on Development Cooperation in Support of Local Governance, which recognises the importance of the regions and local authorities as development actors and encourages them to play a greater role in this context.

Practical action

The central instrument used by the German govern­ment to sup­port de­vel­op­ment activities at local level is the Service Agency Com­mu­ni­ties in One World (Service­stelle Kom­munen in der Einen Welt – SKEW). It provides in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice to the muni­cipa­lities on all aspects of community-level development cooperation.

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