Local and regional leaders from across the Mediterranean and the European Union have urged national governments and the international community to work more closely with mayors and governors to help stabilise North Africa and the Middle East.
The conflict in Libya and the challenges of migration and climate change were particular concerns for the mayors, governors and regional representatives at the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), which met in Malta on 23 February.
At their principal meeting of the year, members of ARLEM, who are drawn from the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and from non-EU states in the Mediterranean region, pointed to recent cooperation with Libyan cities as evidence that, even in difficult circumstances, cities can forge partnerships that contribute to stabilisation. In a resolution on Syria, they also said they were "ready to support the Syrian people in their efforts to put an end to civil war and fight extremism and radicalisation", noting that "this help starts in neighbouring cities welcoming refugees and dealing with the humanitarian emergency".
The co-chairman of ARLEM, Markku Markkula, President of the CoR, said: "We cannot truly have a secure and prosperous Europe if we have an unstable neighbourhood. The Nicosia Initiative , through which European and Mediterranean partners share their know-how and practical support with Libyan authorities, is just one example of how local and regional authorities can have a real added-value, through tools such as city diplomacy and decentralised cooperation. It is only by working together on the ground that the EU will be able to find sustainable responses to the migration crisis, human trafficking, existing wars and the threat of terrorism."
His fellow co-chairman, Hani Abdalmasih Al-Hayek, mayor of Beit Sahour in Palestine, said on behalf of non-EU members of ARLEM that: "Local administrators will deliver many of the basic services that will lead to the economic and social rebirth of cities in Libya, but also in Syria. We all have a responsibility to help how we can. We also have a duty to address other threats to stability and security in the Mediterranean region, such as climate change."
Carmelo Abela , the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security of Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, said: "It is only when we have established a migration set-up managed by the authorities rather than by the migrant smugglers that we will be able to say that we are addressing migration efficiently and effectively. " He added: "The European Union is seriously committed to addressing the root causes of migration together with partner countries of origin and transit. Within an EU context, Malta has consistently argued for this and it remains a priority for our country, be it as an EU member state or as the current Presidency of the Council. Our trans-continental cooperation should be as comprehensive as possible, encompassing and giving equal importance to all five priority domains agreed upon in the Joint Valetta Action Plan."
Syrian local authorities was not represented at the ARLEM meeting, but a delegation from Libya – led by Abdelrauf Beitelmal, mayor of Tripoli, and Mustafa al-Baroni, mayor of Zintan, and including representatives from Benghazi, Sebha, Sirte, and Tobruk – spoke at the ARLEM plenary session and also at conference focused on migration on 22 February.
Mr Beitelmal said: "Local leaders have managed to maintain a significant degree of stability in many parts of Libya over the past five years, but our ability to provide services has suffered. In January 2016, we asked ARLEM members for help in six areas, from training in financial management to support for water management. Regions such as Flanders and Murcia, and cities such as Antwerp, Mechelen, Nicosia and Vila Real De Santo Antonio responded, and more support has been promised. We hope that the European Union and the international community will see this success and enable long-term cooperation. Everyone needs a functioning and stable Libya."
Migration from Libya was a central topic in the conference on migration and at the plenary session. The speakers included:Bettina Muscheidt, head of the EU Delegation to Libya; Jose Carreira, executive director of the European Asylum Support Office; Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES), CoR rapporteur on asylum and mayor of Catania, a port that has in recent years received many thousands of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean; and Peter Bossman (SI/PES), rapporteur for the CoR on the EU's migration partnerships.
At the meeting, ARLEM adopted recommendations on energy and climate policy – drafted by Mohamed Sadiki, Mayor of Rabat – and on cross-border cooperation in the Mediterranean, drawn up by Francesco Pigliaru, President of the Sardinia Region. Morocco has been pursuing an ambitious energy transition policy for almost a decade. Sardinia hosts the managing authority of a cross-border cooperation programme created under the EU's European Neighbourhood Instrument.
Among other decisions taken in Malta, ARLEM agreed to send members to Tunisia to monitor local elections this year, as part of a mission organised by the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.
Note to editors
Since 2015, the European Committee of the Regions has developed a close relationship with Libyan cities, with the aim of improving public services in Libya and of helping Libyan cities to enter the international community. In January 2016, at the request of Libyan cities, the CoR agreed to mobilise and facilitate partnerships between Libya and EU cities and regions. Under the Nicosia initiative , named because the idea was agreed in the capital of Cyprus, EU cities and regions have so far provided or pledged support for Libya's local authorities in the areas of water management, waste management, primary health care, public administration, language training, budgeting, fisheries, policing and counter-radicalisation.
In an opinion drafted by the mayor of Rabat, Mohamed Sadiki, on " Energy and climate change in the Mediterranean region ", ARLEM urges countries across the Mediterranean to move away from fossil fuels, and calls on the EU's member states to go "above and beyond" the Neighbourhood Policy in helping the region take climate-related action. It calls on policymakers – at all levels – to consider the climate in all their policies, and urges diplomats to engage in more "regional dialogue", with the aim of establishing a "robust Mediterranean climate cooperation framework". At the same time, it argues that – in the energy sector – the EU should stop "political negotiations between whole regions" and, instead, adopt a bilateral approach. Among its recommendations for local and regional authorities, it advises them to join the Global Covenant of Mayors, a bottom-up approach to climate action in which communities make ambitious pledges in exchange for technical support and easier access to funds.
The European Union's cross-border cooperation programmes in the Mediterranean have benefited both EU and non-EU regions, ARLEM states in an opinion drafted by Francesco Pigliaru, president of the Sardinia Region. However, it recommends a "prudent and gradual" approach to the development of cross-border cooperation in the Mediterranean region because of political, economic, and administrative diversity and continuing instability. It highlights that, while cross-border programmes are popular with local and regional authorities, differences in administrative capacity have affected take-up by authorities in the southern Mediterranean and help explain why local authorities are leading partners infrequently. It calls for more efforts to build up their institutional capacity and to give them more of a role in developing programmes.
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