Rights of minorities, decentralisation process and financial independence of local and regional authorities: despite the efforts already made by Armenia, Ukraine and Belarus, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) calls on its eastern partners to go further with their reforms. Nearly a year after the first meetings on the subject at ministerial level, and having adopted opinions on Moldova and Georgia last October, the CoR is continuing to evaluate the situation of local and regional authorities in the Eastern Partnership countries. On 2 December the members of the CoR adopted three opinions welcoming the reforms made but highlighting shortcomings in each of the countries concerned, in particular with regard to the allocation of financial resources and the development of local democracy.
"New and democratic laws are needed. However, attention must also be paid to how these new laws are applied and enforced" stresses Teet Kallasvee (EE/EPP), member of Haapsalu City Council in his opinion on the implementation of the Eastern Partnership in Armenia. He adds that in Armenia "international experts and election observers have often had their work cut out in getting the authorities to follow through on promises made" and that "one of the most needed of the forthcoming reforms, as well as one of the most difficult to implement, is the consolidation of local authorities and clarification of how they are funded".
István Sértő-Radics (HU/ALDE), Mayor of Uszka, arrives at the same analysis in relation to Ukraine: Decentralisation in Ukraine remains patchy. It is essential that Ukrainian legislation guarantees the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities. In order to encourage these reforms, the members of the CoR want to strengthen links between European local authorities and those in the Eastern Partnership countries. Thus, last month a CoR delegation went to observe local elections in Ukraine. The members of the CoR today called for the EU to facilitate cross-border exchanges, for example by exempting residents of cross-border regions from visa requirements.
In relation to Belarus, CoR members call for still more radical reforms: the CoR strongly urges the Belarusian government to return to the path of democratisation and to put an immediate stop to the imposition and carrying-out of death sentences, human rights violations and intimidation of civil society groups, as well as to end discrimination against ethnic minorities. The discussions on the subject were led by Werner Jostmeier, Member of the North Rhine-Westphalia Landtag (DE/EPP). In particular he recommends that in future the EU makes its financial support for Belarus and implementation of humanitarian aid projects even more contingent on progress in respecting human rights. Nevertheless, in order to encourage respect for democratic values in Belarussian local and regional authorities, the members of the CoR encourage the local and regional authorities there and NGOs to become involved in projects in partnership with the European Union.
Following the adoption of an opinion on Azerbaijan, scheduled for January, the CoR will be able to draw on these detailed analyses by holding the first EU/Eastern Partnership conference of local and regional authorities in Hungary in the first half of next year. This work can also foster closer relations between the CoR and the Hungarian presidency of the European Union, which will make the Eastern Partnership one of its priorities.
For the full text of the draft opinions, click on the links below:
Note for editors:
The CoR has been involved in the development of territorial cooperation in the framework of the Eastern Partnership since it was launched by the Czech presidency of the EU in May 2009. The European Commission and the Council of Ministers asked the CoR to play an active role in implementing the Eastern Partnership , by establishing regular cooperation with local and regional authorities in the six countries concerned (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). The partnership adds a specific Eastern dimension to the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy. The reforms carried out in the six countries concerned could lead to full-scale association agreements with the EU, promoting free trade and ensuring the development of human contacts as well as energy security.
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