Chaired by Luc Van den Brande (BE/EPP), the Committee of the Regions' (CoR) CIVEX commission (Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs) held its meeting and a seminar on "Local democracy and good governance" in Dubrovnik, Croatia, from 21 – 22 June. The two events took place at the invitation of Nikola Dobroslavić, Prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County. Local and regional authorities have an active role in ensuring transparency in the public sector and tackling corruption, thus achieving good governance and sound administration for their citizens. The CoR is committed to act as a forum where efforts in advancing good governance and transparency at local and regional level can be coordinated and disseminated.
The CIVEX event marks the first time since the Accession Treaty was signed that a standing body of the CoR has held a meeting in Croatia signalling the CoR's political will to cooperate closely with Croatian local and regional authorities ahead of the country’s accession to the EU.
The objective of the seminar, which took place on 21 June, was to share experiences of EU Member States and Croatia on local self-governance and share lessons learned from projects to support good governance at local and regional level. It was organised within the scope of the European Commission’s Local Administration Facility Programme set up to increase the capacity of regional and local authorities to prepare for EU accession.
In his opening address, Luc Van den Brande stressed that: “Corruption is a matter of concern for all EU Member States. Local and regional authorities are particularly vulnerable: corruption – or in any case perception of it –exists within sectors of activity that lie within the competences of cities and regions, such as health and safety inspections, building permits and award of public contracts". Van den Brande was keen to underline the strategic role of local and regional authorities in this matter: “Although the added value of measures taken at national, EU and international levels is broadly recognised, the most successful means of dealing with this problem are the ones which are closest to the citizens and to which they have a direct access”.
Nikola Dobroslavić emphasised the considerable progress made over recent years in detecting, prosecuting and punishing corruption in Croatia at all levels of government. He pointed out, however, that the decentralisation process in the country remains insufficient and called for more power and more financing to be transferred from the national government to the regional and local level.
At the beginning of the CIVEX meeting,the Head of the EU Delegation to Croatia, Paul Vandoren, provided an analysis of the situation of Croatia as regards its accession to the EU. He focussed on the major remaining challenges, such as overcoming corruption, restructuring the shipyard industry and improving the rule of law. In particular, he stressed the opportunities offered by the EU's regional policy and structural funds for Croatia and highlighted the role that Croatia could play in building bridges in the region.
Representatives of local authorities also shared experiences about methods of preventing corruption that have been successfully implemented at local level. Doris Šajn, Head of Cabinet of the City of Rijeka (Croatia) presented some of the measures her city had taken to enable it to be recognised as “the most transparent city of Croatia”. Andrej Hrnčiar, Mayor of the City of Martin and member of the Slovak Parliament, presented the project “Transparent Town”. The project is aimed at fighting corruption in a unique way. With the overall goal of eradicating corruption by making all processes, steps and town decisions transparent, the project seeks to truly engage citizens by encouraging them to get involved in what is going on at the town hall and thus acting directly as supervisors.
During a press conference organised in the framework of the seminar, Zvonimir Frka-Petešić, Head of the Directorate for Support to the EU Accession Process at the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, presented the brochure, “The Committee of the Regions welcomes the Croatian territorial authorities”, which was produced by the CoR in collaboration with Croatian authorities, that will be widely distributed in Croatian counties, towns and municipalities.
The CIVEX meeting that took place on 22 June dealt with issues such as the financing of External Action (Rapporteur: Lotta Håkansson Harju (SE/PES)) and protecting the licit economy (Rapporteur: Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES)). The CIVEX commission also adopted guidelines on the Joint Consultative Committees (JCC) and Working Groups between the CoR and local and regional authorities of the enlargement countries, as inspired by the successful operation of the JCC with Croatia.
The Committee of the Regions' CIVEX commission
The CoR CIVEX commission is responsible for issues including justice and home affairs, fundamental rights, smart regulation and the reduction of administrative burdens, citizenship and broader institutional issues such as governance and devolution. It also deals with the Union's external dimension, focusing on neighbourhood and enlargement countries, and decentralised cooperation for development. It gathers 109 regional and local politicians from the 27 EU Member States and is chaired by Luc Van den Brande (BE/EPP), Chairman of the Flemish-European Liaison Agency.
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