|Banat Ripensis micro-regional development association|
|Service Areas:||Culture and Education, Socio-Economic Development, Solid Waste Management, Water Management|
|Municipalities:||Jimbolia town, Cărpiniş, Cenei, Comloşu Mare, Lenauheim, Săcălaz, Uivar, Gottlob, Checea, Iecea Mare|
|Contact persons:||Arcadie Ordodi, Ioana Belega|
|Legal form:||Private law association|
The main incentive for cooperation was the need to access funds for specific local projects together with the acknowledgement that cooperation would make the municipalities stronger. The Association aims at “contributing to the economical, social and cultural development of the communities, the protection of the environment and conservation of local traditions” (Mission Statement of the Banat-Ripensis Microregional Development Association) and seeks to access funds for projects in line with this mission.
Together with this two factors contributed to initiation of cooperation between these particular municipalities:
Stimulating cross-border local economic development and supporting innovative agriculture
The main activities in this area were part of a Poland and Hungary: Assistance for Restructuring their Economies (PHARE) Cross-Border Cooperation 2005, a Romania-Serbia-funded project developed in partnership with the Novi Knezevac Rural Development Centre in Serbia, entitled ‘ExpoRipensis: Promoting Agricultural Businesses and Products in Romanian and Serbian Banat’. The main results of this project were:
Other cross-border cooperation (CBC) activities were focused on organizing meetings of local elected officials and local entrepreneurs from the Banat-Ripensis microregion with counterparts from Serbia and Hungary. These resulted in the identification of cross-border business opportunities, especially in the field of bio-crops. Municipalities also used these meetings to establish common ground and initiate projects, such as a joint project on waste management developed by the Municipality of Uivar, Romania and a Hungarian counterpart.
Preservation of cultural tradition: organizing cultural and sport events at the community, microregional and cross-border levels
The Association has a rich experience in organizing local and cross-border cultural and sporting events, and has managed to transform local festivals into international events, such as the International Choirs Festival organized with Serbian and Hungarian partners. The Association is also involved in organizing arts and literature summer camps, locally and internationally. The Association was the Romanian partner in a three-year LEADER-funded project, developed in cooperation with German and French counterparts, involving the organization of international art summer camps in the three countries.
Another important activity in this area is related to the conservation of local traditions and history – six museums are open or in the process of being opened in the microregion, in which the Association has been closely involved.
Another area of focus was stimulating participation in local decision-making with a focus on youth. The Banat-Ripensis Association successfully established Youth and Children Local Councils in all member municipalities. These councils were established as part of the national PAL-TIN project, initiated in 1994 by a coalition of NGOs, focusing on stimulating youth civic participation in local administration. The Youth and Children Local Councils have similar representation structures to the local councils, elected by the respective target groups (elections usually organized at the school level). The difference between Romanian youth and children’s local councils and the Western examples is the emphasis placed on youth- or children-initiated projects, which are developed and implemented following training of the participants (elected members of the councils) in project management, fundraising and communication, etc.
Citizen information and counselling
An important part of the activity of the Association is related to the establishment and operation of the Jimbolia and Lenauheim Citizen Advice Bureaus (CABs). CAB information and advisory services aim to support citizens in exercising their rights and duties, and in solving their more complex problems, as well as in facilitating citizens’ relations with local or central authorities. Information provided relates to legislation, where to address demands, and how to fill in official forms, inter alia, while the advice component is focused on helping citizens in problem solving (the citizen presents his/her problem and the adviser provides possible solutions and their implications). The services are provided free of charge; CAB activities are funded via grants and donations. Usually, CABs are projects initiated by non-governmental, non-profit organizations that are active in the domains of social services, human rights, property regime, child protection and consumer protection, among others. In Romania, 40 CABs were set up through a special pre-accession funding programme of the Delegation of the European Commission.
Water supply, and purification, and sewage services, and waste management
Cooperation in these areas has just begun; the Association has written some applications for EU funding on behalf of the municipalities. For both areas, projects will be implemented directly by the municipalities, with the Banat-Ripensis Association only marginally involved. In the water supply and purification and sewage area, the funding for a project is being contracted, while in the waste management area, project implementation has recently started.
In 2006, the Association represented 51,870 citizens. The communes of Iecea Mare, Checea and Gottlob were not founding members of the Association. All of them were separated from municipalities to form new communes. Iecea Mare and Checea were formed by separating from two of the founding member communes, Cărpiniş and Cenei. The Association covers an area of 83,712 ha, out of which 77,183 are used for agriculture. The economic activity in the region is focused on agriculture and associated activities, and half of the population engages in agriculture.
The Banat-Ripensis Micro-regional Development Association has the legal status of non-government organization (NGO) (private legal entity). The Association is run by a General Assembly of Members, comprising the Mayors of all municipalities, the representation principle being ‘one community – one vote’. Decisions are taken by majority vote, but usually there is a consensus. This principle was preferred since at the establishment of the Association, 30 percent of the population of the microregion lived in the town of Jimbolia and representation according to municipality size would have created imbalances and disadvantaged the rural municipalities.
The Association has a staff of five: an Executive Director working on a voluntary basis, and four paid employees (the Manager of the CAB, the Manager of the ExpoRipensis Exhibition Centre, a project management expert and an accountant). In addition to its activity with the Association, the staff usually carries out project management activities for individual projects of the member municipalities.
The financial resources of the Association are based on three sources:
The Association has worked with the legal mechanism of indirect accountability to citizens, through the local councils of the member municipalities to improve accountability. For now, emphasis has been placed on informing citizens. The Association edits and distributes a newsletter to all communities containing information on the activities developed by the Association and on the activity of the municipalities, including publishing the minutes of the Local Council meetings.
The representatives of the Association consider this an area where they still need to make significant improvements. To date, the municipalities have evaluated the activity of the Association based on annual reports, which are detailed in terms of financial data, but still need improvement in their written content.
In addition, due to the large number of grants received from governmental and EU sources, and from other donors, project-related audits have been completed.
Cooperation within the framework of the Banat-Ripensis Microregional Development Association was initiated in 2000 by the Mayor of the town of Jimbolia. The Association was legally registered almost a year later, in April 2001, since the process was marked by a series of obstacles, as listed below. The Mayor of Jimbolia convinced the Mayors of six neighbouring communes and then each local council had to approve the participation of the municipality in this Association. After the approval of all local councils, a Statute was drafted and the organization was legally registered. The statute contained some strategic elements that guided Association activities until 2008. This process was entirely supported by local resources.
The main difficulties in establishing this Association were related to:
The main factors determining the success of the Banat-Ripensis Association related to the close collaboration of the mayors of the municipalities, which they handed down to their successors in office and the enthusiasm of other actors in the process (some of whom later became part of the Association staff).
Shortcomings of IMC for the member municipalitieswere based on unrealistic initial expectations. Local governments expected the Association to completely take over some activities and soon discovered that some of them were still under their responsibility, which implied that they had to continue to work and use their own resources. Other shortcomings stem from the unavoidable change of people in political offices. After the 2004 and 2008 local elections, the Association twice experienced the need to convince the newly elected mayors and local councillors of its usefulness, which has interfered with its activity for short periods of time.. Citizens were not affected by any shortcomings.
The envisaged expansion of the areas for cooperation is based on the Agro-Innovative Development Strategy of the Banat-Ripensis Microregion, Romania and the Northern Banat, Serbia. For the upcoming years, the Banat-Ripensis Association will aim at developing activities supporting the attainment of the following strategic objectives:
There is no aim to change the legal form of cooperation. Independently from the Banat-Ripensis Association, an inter-community development association (ICDA, a quasi-public entity with multiple competences) is in the process of being established. Only the municipalities from rural areas will be members of the newly created legal form of cooperation, as this Association will mainly focus on rural development and infrastructure issues, and aims at accessing funds that are solely dedicated to rural areas.
There is no aim at this point to expandmembership. Since its creation, the Association has accepted three new member municipalities. Two of these municipalities were actually created by separating from those that were already members of the Association. The representatives of the Association believe that it currently covers a homogenous area and that any further expansion would affect this homogeneity.
Lesson 1: Small contributions and small projects are important too, since they create premises for larger projects and changes.
Lesson 2: Some of the achievements will be more appreciated on the medium and long term, since there are still some people who believe that its activities focused on innovation in agriculture are not particularly useful.
Lesson 3: People from the outside of the IMC tend to regard the IMC than the IMC itself does.
Replication is considered possible with enough commitment on the part of the municipalities involved. The most important action to be taken by the Romanian Central Government and the associations of municipalities is a shift in attitudes towards NGOs in general.
The Banat-Ripensis Association already provided support to interested municipalities. Site visits were received from representatives of municipalities from several counties in Romania. This support will continue and will consist mainly in providing information on how to establish, organize and run such an NGO, whose members are municipalities.
The information about this practice was collected and presented by Cristina Stanus.