National leaders from the European Union and Africa on 30 November emphasised that local and regional authorities have an "important role" to play in strengthening relations between the two continents, a recognition of the value of cities and regions in managing critical challenges that is welcomed by the European Committee of the Regions
At their summit in Abidjan
, capital of the economic capital of Côte d'Ivoire, EU and African leaders identified economic opportunities for young people, peace and security, mobility and migration, and cooperation on governance as priorities for the next four years, stating in their joint declaration
that there is a "need to strengthen [the] capacity [of local and regional governments] and develop tools that can help them in this regard". The European Committee of the Regions, the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians, has consistently argued that the African cities and regions are critical to the success of the EU's partnership with Africa and of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This was the first EU-Africa summit to be accompanied by a forum for local and regional governments. The European Committee of the Regions was represented at the forum, held on 27 November and co-organised by United Cities and Local Governments-Africa
, by Hans Janssen
(NL/EPP), mayor of Oisterwijk and rapporteur on migration
through the Sahara, the protection of refugees
and the role of local authorities in international development aid
Mr Janssen also spoke at a conference organised by the Conseil des Collectivités Territoriales de l'Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine
(CCT-UEMOA). The conference resulted in a declaration by the CCT-UEMOA
, supported by the European Committee of the Regions, that contains recommendations on financial decentralisation, regional development, cross-border cooperation, sustainable development, migration and youth employment.
Mr Janssen said: "This was a truly inspiring gathering of local governments, in which many local and regional leaders showed very clearly that cities and regions are determined to work to reduce the impact of climate change, manage migration, and promote sustainable development. We want to make our villages, towns, cities and regions inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – which is precisely one of the 17 major goals for 2030 agreed by the United Nations in 2015. Local and regional governments are partners in meeting challenges facing Europe, Africa and the globe. National leaders have not fully grasped that yet, but this forum is a sign of progress."
Mr Janssen spoke at two panels, discussing the role of local and regional governments in fostering EU-AU political dialogue and leadership and – at a second panel – the role of direct cooperation between cities and regions in Europe and Africa to address the challenges of sustainable development, migration and youth unemployment. He also participated at a roundtable on migration.
Mr Janssen said that the CoR is pushing the EU to provide more support for local governments in Africa, to help them adapt to climate change and to develop their economies. Strengthening municipalities through empowering them to fulfil important functions was, he said, good for people, good for the places they live, and good for politics. Development can be adapted more closely to the needs of local communities, the legitimacy of local and national governance is strengthened, administrative capacity is developed, and factors that drive young people to migrate can be reduced. The UN's sustainable-development goals need to be on the public and political agenda, which can be achieved more readily if local governments are given the authority to adapt policies to local needs and circumstances, he argued.
The European Committee of the Regions, which has a consultative role in the EU's policymaking, promotes the involvement of local and regional authorities in international cooperation through policy recommendations to the EU's decision-making institutions, through structured political contacts with local and regional politicians in neighbouring countries, and through promotion of region-to-region and city-to-city cooperation. In Africa, it works with the CCT-UEMOA, one of whose commissioners, Paul Koffi Koffi
, addressed a plenary session
of the CoR in July 2017. Commissioner Koffi Koffi also attended the Assises de la coopération décentralisée / Regions and Cities for Development
, through which the co-organisers – the CoR and the European Commission – brought together local authorities interested in working directly together on sustainable development.
In Abidjan, Mr Janssen underlined that decentralised cooperation – city-to-city or region-to-region cooperation – is an increasingly important feature of international development efforts. In a separate specific initiative, the CoR has since 2015 been helping Libyan cities to find partners in Europe