1. Establish a multi-dimensional approach and active consultation involving all stakeholders when undertaking and assessing territorial reforms

Whilst the rationale for undertaking territorial reforms may be explained by the need to increase efficiency, cut costs, decentralise or transfer the delivery of services, the value of such reforms should never be assessed solely on the basis of cost savings. The potential impacts of a reform on democracy and accountability are factors much too important to not be considered as well. It is crucial that preliminary steps be taken to anticipate, prepare and arm against all possible risks arising from a territorial reform, not only the budgetary ones. Having these ex-ante assessments will then help in determining how best to prepare the ground and execute the process. The use of financial incentives in implementing reforms can also be a success factor. Once the territorial reform has been carried out, an ex-post assessment should also be performed to mitigate any negative effects and adapt as needed. Lastly, other accompanying voluntary reforms such as mergers, which may be the most effective territorial reform approach, can also be considered.


2. Guarantee Local and Regional Governments adequate financial transfers and powers

Any changes to the responsibilities or powers exercised by LRGs as the result of territorial reforms, particularly when decentralisation is involved, must be accompanied by the appropriate fiscal transfers to carry out the new tasks and functions. Decentralisation often involves a greater number of functions and responsibilities being delegated to local and regional governments but without the means necessary to properly execute them. It is essential that any transfer of powers from the central government to other tiers of government not create the problem of underfunded assignments. This is particularly relevant in the domain of public health which, in some countries, can be managed through shared competencies across different tiers of government.  


3. Clarify and respect the division of responsibilities between different tiers of government

It should be generally accepted that a clear demarcation of powers and responsibilities is beneficial for effective governance processes. It fosters the ability of local and regional governments to identify and implement relevant place-based solutions. By redressing the balance of power and enabling all tiers of government to fulfil their role and governance potential, this, in turn, allows national governments to better manage their own responsibilities. These responsibilities include preparedness in the face of future crises.


4. Foster governance-in-partnership through collaboration and co-ordination across different tiers of government

Most responsibilities for delivering public services, including public health care provision, are shared across tiers of government. Although there is no clear evidence as to whether federal or unitary systems responded best to the pandemic, it can be said with certainty that collaboration and coordination in the area of healthcare have been determining factors in producing an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis. Local and regional governments are best suited to provide place-based knowledge, an important contribution to cultivate effective joined-up policy-making. To best achieve this, along with objectives such as improving service delivery or boosting territorial regeneration, it is vital that they be associated in the early stages of preparing and implementing plans. Transparent mechanisms for defining joint responsibilities, areas for collaboration and coordination and clear lines of accountability must be put in place. The process of collaboration and coordination needs to be responsive and adaptive. There must be assurances that any experience gained at the local and regional tier in terms of service provision will be subsequently shared across tiers of government and taken into account, further improving upon the functioning of governance processes and the delivery of public services. This involvement also extends to any changes being planned to adapt Europe’s health care systems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated only too well the need for effective joined-up policy processes.


5. Maximise the impact of the Future of Europe Conference to strengthen our municipalities and regions

As we make our way forward into a future where solutions to challenges are being cultivated at the local and regional levels, Europe’s governance model needs to adapt to this new reality in order to deliver change and to strengthen our towns, municipalities and regions. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique opportunity for Europe’s leaders to engage citizens through their elected local and regional representatives. Given their proximity to the communities that they serve, LRGs are best placed to come forward with practical ideas, suggestions and workable solutions, for both the national and European contexts, to address present and future challenges. They must be present and heard during the discussions on the future that we want for Europe and its territories.