AMBASSADOR'S BLOG - IF YOU LOVE SOMEBODY SET THEM FREE

Kyiv
10.01.10


Is the heavy winter snow of the past few weeks being cleared effectively in Kyiv?  How has it been in Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk or Lviv?  Is there more that could be done at local level?  Or is this something which the central government should sort out?

The balance of power between local and central government is a puzzle for every country.  The UK has had several tries over the past 40 years at re-organising counties, devolving power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and setting up regions in England.  Few people would argue that the present set-up is exactly right.  But there is a widely-accepted principle that it's right to devolve maximum power to the most local level that makes sense.  Central government shouldn't be involved in micro-managing education, fire services or public transport, because that generates bureaucracy and bad decisions. This principle is sometimes known as subsidiarity, particularly in the context of the relationship between EU institutions and EU member states. 

This is relevant in Ukraine because one of the charges levelled at some of the presidential candidates is that they're too keen to re-centralise power.  I'm not talking here about the relationship between president and  parliament, although that might be up for reform also.  Rather, it's the suggestion that cities and regions throughout Ukraine have been doing their own thing rather too much and need to be brought to heel.  For their part, the cities complain that they send their tax money off to Kyiv, but receive little in return.  The tension is understandable to some extent, particularly for the older generation who grew up in a system where everything was set out in a five-year plan and controlled from Moscow.  And it's fair enough that whoever is elected president on 7 February should take a close look at the whole set-up and make sure that the overall framework of governance is working properly. 

At the same time, my travels around Ukraine have convinced me that one of the great strengths of this country is its diversity.  Result: even when things haven't been going too well at national level, some cities and regions have continued to make progress or have been able to learn from the good examples of others (eg in setting up conditions which attract foreign investment).  So, based on what I've seen so far, I'd be inclined to encourage Ukraine's next president to pay attention to the subsidiarity principle in proposing any reform of the relationship between the capital and the regions; avoid any temptation to centralise all the power in Kyiv; and ensure the cities and regions of this splendidly multipolar country have enough freedom to develop and spread best practice.  Or am I wrong?

PS in case anyone's wondering, yes, I had in mind the old Sting track (great song, odd video).  I debated with experts whether the title might make anyone think I was advocating separatism - I'm not - and whether I should call it something else, eg "Five Year Plans and Subsidiarity", but decided against on the grounds that the original was snappier.  So there's another question: does the title of a blog matter?

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: http://blogs.fco.gov/roller/turner



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