CIVEX members call for increased solidarity in migration policy and "multi-level" protection of the rule of law

​Luc Van den Brande

Efforts to promote genuine solidarity on a real European migration policy and the role of local and regional authorities in protecting fundamental rights were among the main focus of debate at the last Committee of the Regions' commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX). The meeting was followed by a joint meeting with the Governance Committee of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities with a view to deepening the debate on the protection of the rule of law in Europe, regionalisation and devolution, and the new forms of local governance.

Last March, the European Commission adopted a new framework to address threats to the rule of law in EU Member States that will be complementary to existing infringement procedures. The new framework establishes an early warning tool allowing the Commission to enter into a dialogue with the Member State concerned to prevent the escalation of systemic threats to the rule of law. CIVEX members discussed the initiative on the basis of a draft opinion prepared by Luc Van den Brande (BE/EPP), Chairman of the Flemish-European Liaison Agency and former president of the Committee of the Regions (CoR).

In light of the essential role of cities and regions in safeguarding fundamental rights, the rapporteur calls for "multi-level governance" to be explicitly taken as the starting point for the protection of fundamental rights and puts forward concrete proposals in that sense. He considers that cities and regions should be encouraged to set up information points that the public can access directly, and put an alert system in place, for instance in cooperation with a regional or local ombudsman. Mr Van den Brande also calls for the CoR to consider a general European awareness-raising campaign for local and regional authorities (LRAs) in protecting the rule of law, while setting up a reporting point for LRAs. The draft opinion, which CIVEX members adopted by a large majority, will be submitted for adoption by the CoR plenary in February 2015.

The Italian Presidency of the EU has placed the issue of immigration and the development of a Common European Migration Policy at the top of its political agenda. It has called on the CoR to put forward the views of cities and regions in an opinion drafted by François Decoster (FR/ALDE), Mayor of Saint-Omer. Coming himself from a region subject to increasing migration pressure (Nord-Pas de Calais in France), Mr Decoster emphasises that the reception of migrants is unevenly spread both within and between Member States, with some regions having to take a greater share of responsibility by processing a large proportion of new arrivals which often exceeds the capacities of individual region. With this in mind, he urges that mechanisms be put in place so as to ensure "genuine solidarity" between, on the one hand, the various levels of governments in the EU, and with the local governments of the third countries of origin of migratory flows on the other. The draft report is due to be adopted at the CoR plenary session early December.

CIVEX members also held a first exchange of views on the EU enlargement strategy and main challenges 2014-2015 (rapporteur Franz Schausberger (AT/EPP)) and on the issue of local and regional support for fair trade in Europe (rapporteur Barbara Duden (DE/PES)).

The CIVEX meeting was followed by a joint meeting with the Governance Committee of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. This is the first time the two committees met together to debate topical issues of common interest. Among the items on the agenda were the protection of the rule of law and human rights at local level, regionalisation and decentralisation trends in Europe and new forms of local governance. Participants also reviewed the recent Congress election observation missions in Georgia and Ukraine, to which CIVEX members had contributed. Alongside CIVEX members and the Congress's Governance committee, speakers also included representatives from the European Commission and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions.

The Committee of the Regions' CIVEX commission:

The 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 EU external dimension, focusing on neighbourhood and enlargement countries, as well as decentralised cooperation for development. CIVEX gathers more than a hundred regional and local elected representatives from all the 28 EU Member States. It is chaired by Antonio Costa (PT/PES), Mayor of Lisbon.