Forum provides Mexican senators a view of municipal government in Europe

The Forum and the Mexican Senate held a workshop recently in which Senators learned how Austria and the European Union devolved power to local governments.

The event, organized in partnership with the Senate Commission on Local Government, brought together more than 40 high-level participants to discuss the legislative bill before the Senate which recognizes subsidiarity as a guiding principle of federalism in Mexico. Subsidiarity is the principle that services to citizens in a federal system should be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized order of government.

Applying subsidiarity in Mexico is intended to strengthen municipal and state governments and allow them to develop their own institutions to move further away from the strong centralization of Mexico’s past. The Forum arranged the participation of Andreas Kiefer (Director of the European Affairs Department of Land Salzburg regional administration, Austria) who described how the concept of subsidiarity is applied practically in Austria, as well as in the European Union.

Mr. Kiefer’s presentation focused primarily on the mechanisms of mandatory consultation and requirement to avoid "unfunded mandates” in which local governments are given responsibilities from the central government without the proper funding to carry it out. The discussion session, originally programmed for 30 minutes, lasted for more than an hour and was followed by an hour of side conversations between Mr. Kiefer and the participants.

The strengthening of municipal government is a response to the extreme centralism that has characterized Mexican governments for decades. Due to a significant amount of concurrent responsibilities of municipalities, states and the central government, many obligations on local government in Mexico are confusing. And, in many cases, even clearly stated responsibilities, such as basic municipal services cannot be carried out due to lack of money or support. Currently, the various Commissions of the Congress are reviewing legislative proposals that would, in a variety of ways, increase the autonomy of local governments in Mexico. The legislative proposal enjoying the greatest degree of cross-party support is one that will enshrine subsidiarity as a guiding principle in Mexican federalism. This proposal advocates that local governments should take on all the obligations they can handle, and all those that they can negotiate, as long as new responsibilities are met with enough financial backing to support them.

The workshop was attended by high-level elected officials of the three major Mexican political parties: Yeidckol Polevnsky Gurwitz, Vice President of the Senate (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI); Ruth Zavaleta, President of the House (Partido de la Revolución Democrática or PRD); Ramon Galindo Noriega, President of the Senate Commission on Local Government (Partido Acción Nacional or PAN); Melquiades Morales, President of the Senate Commission on Federalism, as well as eight additional Senators from these commissions. Also in attendance were representatives from state governments, municipal associations, leading academics, national editorialists and international organizations.

The workshop was held in Mexico City on September 24, 2008.

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