Annual Update 2020 VNG International

Involvement in

Policy Development

VNG International has always been active in international networks of local government organisations to exchange experience and feed the policy development on international cooperation. Therefore, we are happy with the election, in November 2019, of Jan van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht and President of the VNG, as co-president of UCLG. We see it as both a recognition of the work done over the years, and as an opportunity for our continuing advocacy for the recognition of local governments worldwide in building better futures for their citizens.


United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

Jan van Zanen identified three focus areas for his co-presidency: Sustainable Development Goals; Local democracy and citizen participation; Urban/Territorial development and multi-level governance.


CIB Working Group

In the UCLG’s Capacity and Institution Building (CIB) Working Group , which we chair together with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the focus in 2019 was among others on gender equality at the local level. A publication, based on a survey and existing experiences, will be shared at the (online) CIB annual meeting in June 2020. 2019 also saw the first experiences with reviewing programmes of other CIB members: colleagues from VNG International and the city of Ouagadougou participated in an evaluation mission of the ongoing VVSG programme in Benin. Peer reviewing will be further piloted in 2020 and should lead to recommendations on this form of evaluation in 2021, as an alternative for external evaluations of international programmes.


UCLG Peace Prize

Late 2019 the 2nd edition of the UCLG Peace Prize has been awarded, for which VNG International provides the secretariat and expert support. This triannual award celebrates successful local government initiatives in preventing conflicts, building bridges and dialogue after conflict and promoting peaceful coexistence. Five finalists have been supported to produce short videos about their inspiring initiatives. Winner was the Lebanese municipality of Arsal. In the framework of the award, VNG International organised various events, e.g. as part of the Geneva Peace Week in November 2019, together with UNDP, and at the World Urban Forum in February 2020, together with the Lebanese Red Cross, Barcelona Province, and the Governorate of Duhok in Iraq (also a Peace Prize finalist). A publication on strong local government initiatives for peace is forthcoming, to inspire local politicians in conflict-affected regions.



Mostly through PLATFORMA, the pan-European coalition of 30 local and regional governments and their associations– active in city-to-city and region-to-region development cooperation, we continued to advocate for a dedicated and accessible budget for local government development cooperation in the next Multi-annual Financial Framework of the EU. The European Parliament supports the revival of the dedicated budget line for local authorities in the proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).


Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In December 2019, in a meeting between the Minister for Development Cooperation and a VNG delegation headed by VNG President Mayor Jan van Zanen, the minister recognised the importance of capable democratic local governments for stability and the well-being of people. She expressed her wish to establish a new programme for capacity building of local governments in developing countries for which VNG should take the lead in mobilising relevant expertise from its members. Dialogue on the design of such a programme is now taking place between the ministry and VNG.

Furthermore, we presented a short policy brief on the role of local governments in developing countries in the response to COVID-19. We noted that there is a wide variety in how local governments respond, from passive to pro-active; that effectiveness very much depends on the credibility or legitimacy of local governments; and that credibility cannot be built suddenly, when there is a crisis: it needs to be built on a permanent basis.


Sino-Dutch municipal partnerships

For the period February 2020 – June 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and VNG agreed on an intensified effort by VNG International to promote the cooperation and exchange between Dutch municipalities with a partnership in China. We will analyse the opportunities for more synergy between the various Sino-Dutch municipal partnerships, and facilitate more exchange and coordination on issues that influence all these partnerships.


Urban refugees

At the request of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, twice a year we provide part of the course on migration by its Academy for International Relations. This is a course designed for staff of all Dutch ministries dealing with the various aspects of that subject. In this course we share our approach and experience in the field of urban refugees and using scenario planning to deal with a refugee crisis and the period after.


Civil-military cooperation

Every fall, we join the Common Effort civil-military exercise organised by the German-Netherlands army corps (1GNC). Together with this corps and VNG policy committee on European and International Affairs, we are also assessing what civil-military cooperation could look like for Dutch municipalities in NATO article 5 situations. That relates in the first place to disruption caused by cyber-attacks from foreign powers.



For the fourth year already, and invited by the Dutch government, we wrote a chapter on the contributions by Dutch local governments, for the national report on the implementation of the SDGs. VNG President, Mayor Jan van Zanen, is also a member of the official Dutch delegation to the UN High Level Political Forum. In various ways (advice, publication of guidelines, exchange of best practices, organisation of workshops and joint events) we encourage Dutch municipalities to join their peers in our Municipalities4GlobalGoals campaign. The number of municipalities that participate has grown to more than 90 now.


Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to the Council of Europe

We continued our support to the municipal members of the Dutch Delegation to the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. During its meeting in February, Mayor Harald Bergmann presented a draft of the Contemporary commentary on the explanatory report to the European Charter of Local Self-Government to the Congress’s Monitoring Committee. At the same meeting, the findings of the Congress’s monitoring visit to Turkey, for which Mayor Jos Wienen was one of the two rapporteurs, were discussed. Furthermore, we have been preparing for the upcoming assessment by the Congress of the implementation in the Netherlands of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Key issues outlined by VNG are inter-administrative relations and cooperation (moving towards equal partnership), financial relations between the State and local governments, and the impact of the decentralisation of major responsibilities to municipalities in the social domain, in 2015.


European Committee of the Regions (CoR)

VNG International supported in particular the CoR’s Nicosia Initiative in its efforts to strengthen Libyan local authorities and connect them with their European counterparts. The Nicosia Initiative brings together eight Libyan municipalities from all parts of the country and across conflict lines. Within that framework, we supported in 2019 a study visit to Galicia for Libyan participants to learn about sustainable fishery.




VNG International is an active member of the Development Partners Network on Decentralisation and Local Governance (DELOG). DELOG is a group of 29 bi- and multilateral development partners, organisations and associates. At the 2019 Annual Meeting of the network, VNG International organised a workshop on addressing the challenges of local authorities in fragile contexts. We also participated in meetings of the network in the framework of the UCLG World Congress in November 2019 and the World Urban Forum in February 2020. In May 2020, VNG International organised a webinar in cooperation with DeLoG on the role of local authorities in addressing protracted urban violence.



Sometimes, involvement in policy development is also part of project implementation, or follows from contacts in projects. Some examples of such forms of involvement in policy development are given here:



As part of our IDEAL programme (2017-2021) we continue our efforts to strengthen Local Government Associations (LGAs) in their intermediary role between central and local governments. Given their character as a membership organisation, in most cases representing all or most local government authorities in a country, LGAs can voice their members’ needs, and support or help develop the performance of their members. Also donors, when developing their vision or programmes relating to themes that require implementation at local level, have an interest in involving LGAs from the start. That recognition is growing. In 2019/2020 we worked with LGAs from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali, Rwanda, Somaliland and Uganda. With some individually, but also through a regional exchange in Bamako, Mali, in November 2019.



Through the Governance of Inclusive Green Growth in Cities programme, the cities of Pereira in Colombia, Kumasi in Ghana and Pathein in Myanmar developed policies and strategies for waste management, municipal markets and mobility. Informal waste pickers in Pereira received extra support after we developed a policy guide for candidate Mayors and the municipal waste management team. A waste audit and data collection exercise led to informed-decision making in Pathein. Data-collection in Kumasi led to more information on market and mobility functions, associated behaviours and financial streams of the urban poor.



And in Libya, the Ministry of Local Governments under the Government of National Accord (GNA) has approached us to jointly touch base with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to find ways to keep up the support to municipalities in the East, by providing them with the resources and budgets for their plans to continue the provision of basic services to citizens in a politically neutral manner and away from armed conflicts.