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Decentralisation and green agenda are critical for Eastern Partnership  

​​War in Ukraine adds urgency to local leaders' focus on green issues and need for greater local powers.

Local leaders have highlighted the need effort to raise awareness of the 'green transition' in countries on the EU's eastern borders and for more political pressure to support the process of decentralisation in the EU's Eastern Partnership. The two recommendations on energy and local democracy – topics given added urgency by the war in Ukraine – also raise concerns that the drive for a greater ​sharing of powers with local governments has been weakened by the COVID pandemic.

The reports suggest that stronger local authorities could play a major role in climate action and improving democracy, with one report suggesting that decentralisation should be considered as seriously as rule-of-law and anti-corruption reforms.

The debates at a meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) – held in Liberec in the Czech Republic, the country that currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union – came at a point when the six countries in the Eastern Partnership are moving on increasingly divergent trajectories. The EU in June granted the status of candidate country to Ukraine and to Moldova, and confirmed that Georgia could become a candidate once it has addressed some key issues. By contrast, long-standing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have erupted into open conflict on several occasions since 2020, while Belarus has suspended its participation in the Eastern Partnership. Above all, Russia's war on Ukraine has dramatically changed political dynamics around the world, as well as across the region.

The CORLEAP meeting, which was attended by local leaders from all five countries currently active in the Partnership, was coupled with a conference organised by the Czech Presidency on 4 November, at which scheduled speakers included mayors of Ukrainian cities particularly heavily affected by Russia's attacks and by internal displacement: Kyiv, Bucha, Lviv and Kremenchuk.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Vasco Alves Cordeiro (PT/PES), member of the Parliament of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, said in a video message to CORLEAP: "The war against Ukraine and the granting of EU candidate country status to Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, as well as a European perspective to Georgia, have profoundly changed our relation with, but also duty, towards the Eastern Partnership. Frameworks and institutions exist to serve a purpose. With a radical change of circumstances, they should not persist with 'business as usual'. That applies, of course, also to the Eastern Partnership and therefore to CORLEAP."

The overarching message of the discussions in Liberec was simple, but clear: both the Eastern Partnership and CORLEAP are here to stay for foreseeable future. However, both need to be redefined and refocused, probably with more emphasis on practical, project-based and peer-to-peer cooperation.

The CORLEAP report on "Localising the green agenda of the EaP", which was as drafted by Gints Kaminskis (LV/Renew Europe) of Auce Municipal Council, highlighted that the EaP has helped to achieve successes in mitigating climate change – through its support for energy efficiency, for renewable energy, and for greenhouse-gas reduction – and in the development of 'green cities'. It also highlighted the EaP as an important part of local-government networks emerging globally, such as the Covenant of Mayors, ICLEI, the World Resources Institute, and Sustainable Development Network Solution. Working together towards environmental and climate resilience is one of the five long-term EaP policy objectives beyond 2020. Unsustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices are areas of particular concern highlighted in the report.

Support for local democracy was another priority identified as central to the prospects of the Eastern Partnership. Constantin Cojocari, mayor of Edineţ in Moldova, warned in his report on "The role and place of local democracy and decentralisation in the modernisation and consolidation of democratic processes in the Eastern Partnership" of "widespread" attempts at centralisation, a tendency aggravated by the COVID pandemic. "Unfortunately, apart from maybe in Ukraine, complex decentralization efforts have been poorly supported by means of international aid," the report states. It calls for greater political emphasis to be placed on the European Charter for Local Self-Government and for the type of pressure applied for judicial reform and anti-corruption reform to be exerted to support decentralisation.

The CORLEAP meeting, which was chaired by Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), mayor of Gdańsk, and Zurab Abashidze, deputy leader of Tbilisi City Assembly, was attended by the Czech Presidency's special envoy to the Eastern Partnership, Jan Marian, and Eduard Auer, head of the division for the Eastern Partnership in the European External Action Service (EEAS). Other speakers included Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP), president of West Pomerania Region and Vaida Aleknavičienė (LT/PES) of Joniškis district. Ukraine was represented at the CORLEAP meeting by Sergiy Chernov of the Ukrainian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, Serhii Zamidra of the All-Ukrainian Association of Communities, and Yana Litvinova, mayor of Starobilsk in the Luhansk Region.  

Ukrainian mayors who addressed the associated Eastern Partnership conference on "Resilient municipality and public administration in the Eastern Partnership countries" organised by the Czech Presidency on 4 November were Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv and President of the Association of Ukrainian Cities, Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, Anatoliy Fedoruk, mayor of Bucha, Vitalii Maletskyi, mayor of Kremenchuk, and Luidmila Biriukova, mayor of Velyka Pysarivka. They spoke about the reconstruction of Ukraine and about energy self-sufficiency. The meeting was addressed by Jaroslav Kurfürst, deputy foreign minister of the Czech Republic.

The European Committee of the Regions and territorial associations representing cities and regions in Ukraine and the EU joined forces in June to create the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for the Reconstruction of Ukraine. President Cordeiro spoke on behalf of the Alliance on 25 October at an EU-G7 meeting in Berlin, the International Expert Conference on the Recovery of Ukraine.

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