The SI Committee on Local Authorities met in Budapest, on 24-25 October, hosted by the Hungarian Socialist Party, MSzP.
The meeting, chaired by Hermes Binner (Mayor of Rosario, Argentina, PSP), Chair of the Committee, took as its main theme 'Democracy and Local Government'. Participants also addressed the issues of 'Local authorities and the organisations of civil society' and 'The political and financial dimension of local government in a modern state'. The Committee declared that cities were a vital force for collective efforts, capable of integrating people, providing political orientation to achieve social justice and the full participation of citizens in the political process.
It supported the old principle of "thinking globally and acting locally" and the relatively new principle of subsidiarity. Both were strongly supported. The efficient application of these principles in practice can ensure that decisions about citizens are taken at the most adequate corresponding level. The application of the principle of subsidiarity obliges central government to respect the channels of consultations with local authorities; it involves increased consultation between the local, regional and international levels. The efficient practice of subsidiarity also provides a chance to combat all forms of centralisation and bureaucratisation, which lead to political apathy among the citizens.
We should also not forget that by improving local democracy there must be a balance between the work for democratic rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the permanent fight for social causes on the other. Both are aimed at defending human rights, but with an ever stronger emphasis on the fight against unemployment, economic crisis, corruption, violence, drugs, or different forms of discrimination. In this context we are constantly analysing the effects of new phenomena such as the changes in the world economy, in the role of the state in society, the boom in communication and information technology, or the transformation of cultural and human values.
We are convinced, that answers to these challenges - among them the strengthening of local democracy, participation of citizens in decision-making, decentralisation of power and solidarity with the handicapped members of society - give an efficient framework for local authorities to realise their main goal, which is to serve the people.
Local authorities should stimulate the development of civil society by organising training, clubs, forums for citizens, giving political and financial support for setting up new initiatives and organisations, groups or associations. They must lend their support in order to create the correct and democratic legal and financial background for the functioning of these organisations. They have to react positively and flexibly on the positive and new actions of civil organisations, be it in the field of environmental issues, health, housing, helping the homeless, helping the disabled, looking after orphans, fighting criminality, drugs, representing interests of women, ethnic minorities, immigrants or others. Strong civil society means strong democracy and strong democracy means strong local self-government.
The participants exchanged views on the different practices of local financing. The machinery for financial redistribution must, they agreed, implement the principles of solidarity and fairness between rich and poor local authorities. We must do our utmost against the unequal distribution of potential sources of finance by strengthening procedures which guarantee the financial autonomy of the local authorities and their basic freedom to exercise policy discretion within their own jurisdiction. On the other hand, transparency and effective public control in local finances is essential.
The Socialist International, the Committee declared, should initiate the elaboration and adoption of an International Charter on Local Authorities. This document would collect the principles respected by the International all over the world in this field, and would also register the minimum criteria of rights and responsibilities of local authorities in a democratic society of the 21st century.
The Committee's discussions and conclusions were summarised in the Budapest Declaration.