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Banat Ripensis micro-regional development association

From Municipal Cooperation

Banat Ripensis micro-regional development association
Service Areas: Culture and Education, Socio-Economic Development, Solid Waste Management, Water Management
Country: Romania
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
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Coordinates: 45° 47' 59" N, 20° 43' 5" E

Description of the problem/need for IMC practice

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:

  • All communities are multicultural and multi-ethnic (80 percent of the population is Romanian, 8–9 percent Roma, 2–3 percent Serbian, 2–3 percent German Swabian) and located in the area where the German-speaking Swabian population settled. At present, the German-speaking population is small due to mass migration to West Germany during the years of the Communist regime, but under Swabian influence, the communities are still culturally different from the others in the region.
  • Since these municipalities are located along the Romania-Serbia border and at a short distance from the Romania-Hungary border, there was need to enhance cross-border cooperation with the neighbouring municipalities from Hungary and Serbia.

Description of the IMC practice

Areas of cooperation

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:

  • A draft Agro-Innovative Development Strategy of the Banat-Ripensis Microregion, Romania and the Northern Banat, Serbia;
  • the ExpoRipensis, an exhibition centre for innovative agriculture, comprising a 300 m2 exhibition hall, 220 m2 of paddocks for exhibiting livestock and 3 ha of land for future development. The centre was inaugurated in 2005 to promote local traditional products, new agricultural technologies and machines, together with innovative and natural building materials – a local specialty; in Jimbolia, there used to be the largest roof tiles and brick factories in Europe.

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.

Youth activities

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.[1]


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.[2]

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.

Municipalities involved

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.

Legal form of cooperation

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.

Staff serving the 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.

Financing

The financial resources of the Association are based on three sources:

  • grants for different projects, from governmental or EU sources or from international donors;
  • a symbolic membership fee paid by the municipalities (RON0.1 per inhabitant per year, i.e. a total revenue of approximately EUR1,000 per year at the January 2009 exchange rate);
  • sponsorship from local businesses.

Accountability to citizens

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.

Monitoring and evaluation

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.

Establishment of the IMC practice

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:

  • reluctance to cooperate, which is rooted in the Romanian culture as a result of the experience of Communism and enhanced by the party affiliations of locally elected officials;
  • fact that some Local Councils first rejected the idea and had to be convinced to change their minds, which prolonged the process;
  • lack of information: there was no Romanian model and all possible models from abroad, identified through the Internet, were not necessarily appropriate;
  • difficulties in drafting the Statute: outside legal expertise would have been beneficial at that point, but it was too expensive, so the problem had to be taken care of locally.

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).

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

  • the cross-border exchange, which helped to identify opportunities and common solutions to common cross-border problems;
  • the promotion of local projects in several areas, with insignificant costs;
  • cultural and sport events organized each year by the Association;
  • the activity of the CABs ran by the Association;
  • development of local businesses and trade across the border, as a direct result of CBC activities;
  • more information about local government activities and increased transparency of the local governments.

Shortcomings

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.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

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:

  • improving farmers’ skills in order to ensure better management of agricultural and connected activities;
  • increasing the competitiveness of local farms, encouraging of the conversion subsistence farms into commercial farms;
  • modernizing and restructuring the processing and marketing of agricultural products in the region;
  • conserving and improving natural resources and habitats;
  • supporting diversification of economic activity in the region, unrelated to agriculture and its associated activities;
  • developing infrastructure in the region, conservation of natural sites and cultural heritage;
  • improving local governance.

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.

Main lessons learned on how to establish IMC and make it a success

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.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

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.


Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Cristina Stanus.


  1. More details on youth and children local councils in Romania are available at: http://www.paltin.ro/en/index.html.
  2. More details on CABs and how they work in Romania can be found at: http://www.robcc.ro/despre_bcc.aspx, the website of the National Association of Citizen Advice Bureaus in Romania.