A pilot project that aims to forge deep working partnerships between cities and regions in Ukraine and the European Union has won strong praise in a preliminary assessment by participants. The partnerships, which began in March 2018, aim to help Ukraine's newly empowered local and regional authorities to develop effective local projects in areas ranging from energy efficiency and rural tourism to projects to boost civic engagement.
The five current partnerships, which have been developed through the patronage and support of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and primarily involve communities represented in the CoR, entail a deeper level of cooperation than in many existing pairings between cities and regions in the EU and Ukraine, with the partners collaborating on drafting development strategies, developing regular political contacts, and hosting weeks-long professional internships for local officials. The initiative, which is co-funded by the European Commission and by the EU partners, has secured high-level interest in Ukraine, with Hennadiy Zubko, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development, Construction and Housing, deciding to attend a meeting of CoR's Ukraine Task-Force in Kyiv on 25 September. The meeting was co-chaired by, his deputy, Vyacheslav Nehoda, and by the first vice-president of the CoR, Markku Markkula (FI/EPP) from Espoo City Council.
Andres Jaadla (EE/ALDE) said that he and other councillors from his city, Rakvere, had initially been sceptical about the prospects for the project, but the project was going "extremely well" and had already produced practical results for Rakvere's partner-city, Vesele. The two communities are working together to help Vesele, which is in southern Ukraine, improve energy efficiency and identify promising forms of sustainable economic development.
Similar messages came from the other four partnerships, and from Mr Markkula, who said he was "very pleased to see that the support offered by the CoR to our Ukrainian friends falls on fertile ground, and that a more tangible capacity-building approach has taken root", adding that "the most important added value is that these programmes allow people to be active and to change things in their communities".
The Wielkopolska region in Poland is working with Kharkiv region in north-eastern Ukraine to help develop the rural economy, while Zarasai municipality in Lithuania is helping Chemerivtsi, a town in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, to change the way it involves local citizens in decision-making processes. Szabolcs Szatmár Bereg County in Hungary is sharing its experience of developing green rural tourism with the western Ukrainian region of Khmelnytskyi, while Barleben from Saxony-Anhalt in Germany helping Shyroke in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine to help support local SMEs and attract foreign investment.
The partnerships are financially supported through the European Commission's U-LEAD programme and managed by one of an implementing agency, the German development agency GIZ.
The idea for partnerships that combine political, economic, and technical support emerged from contacts that the CoR developed through its Ukraine Task-Force, which the CoR created in 2014 together with Ukraine's then regional-development minister and current prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman. The pilot project is part of a broader effort by the CoR to support the process of political and financial decentralisation in Ukraine. It is also intended to demonstrate that, by working more deeply with local and regional authorities, the EU can stimulate economic development beyond Kyiv.
During the Task Force meeting, Ukrainian speakers provided a picture of developments in national policy – set out by, for example, Yuriy Solovey , deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada's committee on economic policy – and at the regional and local level. Oleksandr Slobozhan of the Association of Ukrainian Cities and Serhii Chernov, president of the Association of Regional and Regional Councils, provided an overview of local and regional trends, while Glyb Prygunov, chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Council, presented the plans of one of Ukraine's economically most significant regions, and Yuri Bova, mayor of Trostyanets in northern Ukraine, provided examples of innovative solutions possible in a small town.
CoR members of the Task-Force, most of whom come from formerly communist countries, emphasised lessons from their countries and communities. Stanisław Szwabski (EA/PL) of Gdynia City Council stressed, for example, the value for local businesses of establishing information centres, developing business incubators, and introducing soft skills – such as negotiating, teamwork, presentational and management skills – in local schools; while Pavel Branda (ECR/CZ), deputy mayor of the small town of Rádlo, said that his council had found business parks, programmes to attract foreign investors, and solar farms had been particularly beneficial.
The meeting of the Ukraine Task-Force also highlighted general opportunities open to Ukrainian communities through the EU's engagement with all Eastern Partnership countries: Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, plus Ukraine. The CoR presented a study that it commissioned that outlines EU financial assistance available to local and regional authorities in the Eastern Partnership. Particularly significant opportunities open to Ukrainian administrations were identified at the meeting by Annika Weidemann, deputy head of the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, while Kateryna Rigg of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development highlighted examples of EU support for business programmes.
Members of the Task-Force also had an opportunity to discuss the early impact of a large-scale pilot project – Mayors for Economic Growth – launched by the EU as a means to tap the enthusiasm for economic change expressed by regional and local councils across the Eastern Partnership. Through the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative, the European Commission offers technical support for local communities interested in drawing up economic-development plans. Over 100 Ukrainian communities have already signed up. The initiative is modelled on the Covenant of Mayors, which sees the EU provide technical support to local governments – including in Ukraine – that pledge to surpass the EU's climate-action targets. The CoR is a political patron of the Covenant of Mayors, which was set up in 2008 and has now become global in its range.
On 24 September, a day before the Ukraine Task-Force meeting, members had attended the annual meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), set up by the CoR in 2010. The meeting saw local leaders back two sets of recommendations on how to strengthen local economies in the Eastern Partnership countries. One report, on 'economic cooperation and economic development at local level', was drafted by Emin Yeritsyan, president of the Union of Communities of Armenia. The other – on 'facilitating sustainable municipal development through bilateral municipal cooperation' – was crafted by Andris Jaunsleinis (LV/ALDE), member of Ventspils Municipal Council, former leader of Latvia's local-government association and member of the Ukraine Task-Force.
Two other CoR members of the Ukraine Task-Force were present on 25 September: Petr Osvald (PES/CZ), from Plzeň City Council; and Arnoldas Abramavičius (EPP/LT), whose municipality, Zarasai, has formed one of the five partnerships. Oszkár Seszták (HU/EPP), president of Szabolcs Szatmár Bereg County; and Sören Herbst (DE/EPP) of Magdeburg City Council was invited as CoR rapporteur on 'Eastern Partnership deliverables for 2020'.