CORLEAP: Looking forward to democratic reform in the Eastern Partnership countries

​Devolution in the Eastern Partnership countries was the main topic discussed at a conference on 28 April organised by the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) in Brussels. The issue was also the focus of debate in the following Bureau Meeting of CORLEAP, together with developments of the Eastern Partnership initiative (EaP).

Devolution of powers is, besides territorial cooperation and capacity building, one of the three thematic priority areas of the CORLEAP political action plan in the EaP region for 2014-2015.

The conference was opened by Mercedes Bresso, CoR First Vice-President, who pointed out that the EaP initiative is going through dramatic changes. Substantial structural reforms will have to follow in order to support those countries committed and engaged in the EaP process. "We heard so many times that without democracy at regional and local level there is no true democracy. Therefore, a proper devolution of powers is necessary for democratic reform” Ms. Bresso said. “There is no universal model of institutional structure and the sharing of powers between the different levels of governance. However, decentralised executives are more efficient and cost effective in many policy areas and more adapted to the local needs."

The debate also centred around the constitutional and legislative reforms and the legal challenges for inclusive governance. The discussion started with an overview of the constitutional and legal frameworks that strengthen the role and powers of sub-national authorities and institutions.

The conference was followed by the CORLEAP Bureau meeting, which was co-chaired by Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, president of the CoR, and Mamuka Abuladze, President of the National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia.

In view of the signature of EU Associations Agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in May Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso stressed that, "Local and regional representatives have to be involved in this significant process.” President Valcárcel insisted on the need to consider the possibility of extending the Local Administration Facility (LAF) programme to those Eastern partner countries having signed an Association Agreement with the EU. “Traditional diplomacy and dialogue between national governments are not enough. The involvement of social, economic and local governments can make a huge difference and can go beyond what is possible for Head of States and National Governments”, concluded President Valcárcel before referring to the call made by Commissioner Stefan Füle to CORLEAP to continue supporting reforms for local democracy in Eastern Partners.

Mamuka Abuladze stressed the importance of greater involvement of not only national governments but the society at large, notably local and regional authorities and civil society organisations. “Devolution is one of the main priorities of CORLEAP, and EU member states are an obvious example of how proper devolution can contribute to better governance and how the sharing of powers and decentralised local governance can be achieved through the relevant constitutional and legislative amendments” stated Mr. Abuladze.

Olgierd Geblewicz presented the main aspects of the CoRs' opinion on European Neighbourhood Policy which emphasises how CORLEAP and the local and regional authorities play a key role in communicating the EaP and European Neighbourhood Policy to a wider audience at a local and regional level and in demonstrating the commitment to reform and deepen relations with the EU.

Dorin Chirtoacă, Mayor of Chişinău and former CORLEAP co-chair, called for the EU to envisage, "exceptional measures in exceptional situations". He argued that, "Both the EU and EaP municipalities have a shared commitment to improving local and regional governance. Yet without urgently putting in place the right measures, those in the EaP could end up under the control of Russia facing similar consequences to Crimea. Through a differentiated approach, the EU must show their true support for the EaP countries by demonstrating that EU membership is a real possibility"

The next CORLEAP annual meetings will be held on the 29 September 2014 in Tbilisi (Georgia) and 2015 in Riga (Latvia) ahead of the EaP Summit of Riga.