Boosting regional cooperation, consolidating decentralisation and strengthening institutional capacity at local level are essential to ensure the success of the current period of transition facing the Southern Mediterranean. These priorities will guide the work of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) to help facilitate the reform processes in the region. This was the commitment made by local and regional politicians, supported by the Union for the Mediterranean, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Commission, who gathered on 18 February in Brussels for the ARLEM's 4th plenary session.
Two years after the Arab spring uprising, ARLEM steps forward its commitment in supporting the democratic transition in the Mediterranean partners. Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, President of the Committee of the Regions and ARLEM co-chair, stressed during the opening of the plenary: "Fostering democracy at local and regional level will ensure the continuity of the reforms in order to boost territorial and social development. I believe that decentralisation and multi-level governance are also ways to avoid new breakdowns in the Mediterranean region".
Youssef Ali Abd El-Rahman, Governor of Giza (Egypt) and ARLEM co-chair, insisted on the pragmatic approach on which the work of ARLEM must be based: "ARLEM must be a support mechanism to assist cities and regions in developing sustainable policies in sectors having high potential, such as water management, renewable energies, urban development, green tourism and technical education. Easier access to funding to support these policies must be encouraged. We also see the strengthening of the institutional capacity of local and regional actors as essential and we aim to launch concrete action in that perspective".
Also addressing ARLEM members, Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, emphasised the crucial responsibility of local and regional authorities as "factors of change" during the transition phase in the Southern Mediterranean, stressing that cities and regions fulfil the threefold role of "shock absorbers, stabilisers and amplifiers for the people's voice".
Since its creation, the ARLEM has been engaged to enhance the territorial dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). In this regards, Fathallah Sijilmassi, Secretary General of the UfM who signed a letter of intent with ARLEM, strongly emphasised the negative consequences stemming from the absence of a model for regional cooperation: "The Mediterranean is the weakest integrated region in the world. The lack of gain coming from this situation clearly shows that it is time for the Mediterranean to move to regional cooperation". Mr Sijilmassi also eagerly highlighted employment as being the heart of UfM priorities, stressing the pressing need to support initiatives to create "productive and quality jobs" in the Mediterranean countries.
ARLEM's objectives for 2013 were endorsed by the plenary with the adoption of the report on the territorial dimension of the UfM, focussing on three priorities: consolidating decentralisation and regionalisation; acting to ensure that UfM priorities include a territorial dimension; and contributing to the development of a macro-regional strategy and cohesion policy in the Euromed area. This was warmly welcomed by Bernardino León, EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean Region, who has invited ARLEM to join in the existing Task Forces set up to boost cooperation between partners. The Vice-President of the EIB, Philippe de Fontaine Vive, highlighted the need to boost capacity building of local actors in partner countries, in line with the ARLEM's co-chairs' proposal to develop a project aimed at strengthening skills and institutional capacity in local and regional authorities.
ARLEM members also debated the role of cities and regions with regard to two specific issues having special relevance for the Mediterranean: the promotion of green tourism to mitigate extensive pressure on natural resources and the environment (rapporteur Michèle Sabban, President of the Assembly of European Regions and Vice-president of Ile de France Region) and the modernisation of technical education and vocational training to raise the quality of the human capital and facilitate labour mobility (report presented by Peter Bossman, Mayor of Piran (Slovenia)). In this regards, the ARLEM also signed a declaration of intent with the European Training Foundation (ETF), aimed at creating synergies between ARLEM and the EU agency that focuses on the reform of education, training and labour market systems in the context of the EU’s external relations policy. The ETF was represented by its Director, Madlen Serban.
ARLEM was set up in 2010 to bring a territorial dimension to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and strengthen the role of local and regional authorities in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. It is a joint initiative of the Committee of the Regions, regional and local authorities around the three shores of the Mediterranean and European and international associations representing cities and regions working on the ground.
ARLEM is composed of 84 local and regional representatives from the EU and its Mediterranean partners, and is chaired by a co-presidency, equally representing the Mediterranean partners and the EU. The Plenary to be held on 18 February will be the first session chaired by the current co-presidents, namely Youssef Ali Abd El-Rahman for the Mediterranean, and Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, for the EU.
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4th ARLEM Plenary Session