Revision of EU's strategy with its eastern neighbours should do more to stimulate social, economic, and governance reform at the local and regional level.
The European Union's partnership with six countries on its eastern border, including Ukraine, should receive significantly more money in the next decade, the European Committee of the Regions said on 5 December in a set of recommendations that also called for the EU to work harder to extend the benefits of cooperation beyond national capitals. Among the many other specific proposals are a call for the creation of an academy to train civil servants in local and regional government and more support for local cross-border projects.
The opinion comes at a point when the EU is deciding its 2021-27 budget and reviewing its work with the six members of the Eastern Partnership: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The overall opinion vindicates a decade of efforts by the EU to support tangible changes that improve governance, boost the economy, support civil society, and strengthen links. It also supports the EU's approach of investing most time, money and effort in the more reform-minded countries but argues that the EU should step up its support for reform at the local and regional level.
The rapporteur – Tadeuš Andžejevski (LT/ECR), a member of Vilnius city council – said: "Over the past decade, we have seen some redistribution of power towards regional and local administrations, critically in Ukraine, and – very positively – a real appetite on the part of regions and towns for reform and for participation in bottom-up initiatives created by the EU. One example is the Global Covenant of Mayors, which is focused on climate action; another, new initiative is the Mayors for Economic Growth, created specifically for Eastern Partnership countries. With the EU's support, we are seeing sub-national governments cooperating with peers in the region, and we have successfully tested partnerships between cities and regions in the EU and the Eastern Partnerships. We need to support these grassroots changes, politically, financially and technically. Such support should include a shift in the balance in the relationship, by giving cities and regions a greater role in decision-making and management of projects in their area."
He continued: "Like the European Commission, we believe a 25% increase in the budget is justified. There is clearly a huge amount that the EU can do to improve governance, boost the economy, support civil society, and strengthen links. At the local and regional level, changes in three areas in particular could have deep and long-lasting benefits. One is greater investment in good governance – through an academy to train civil servants, for example. We can stimulate economic growth, by helping to improve statistics, easing access to EU programmes, and helping small business. And, from experience in the EU, we know that increasing contacts between people and developing cross-border programmes pays rich social, cultural and economic dividends; we need to invest more in extending those models in our relationship with our eastern neighbours."
He concluded: "These are ambitious but still modest proposals that are good for citizens, business, public administration, democracy and the rule of law in these six counties. They are also good for the EU's citizens, business, foreign policy and the new European Commission's wish to be more geopolitical."
The CoR's opinion – entitled 'Local and regional authorities shaping the future Eastern Partnership' – will feed into inter-governmental deliberations ahead of a summit in mid-2020. The CoR has already contributed proposals to a now closed stakeholder consultation held by the EU. The current strategy focused on '20 deliverables for 2020' with four objectives: a stronger economy, stronger governance, stronger connectivity, and a stronger society.
The CoR's recommendations incorporate many, more detailed ideas promoted or supported by local and regional politicians in the Eastern Partnership countries, through the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) created by the CoR in 2011. These include reports on local democracy, economic development, energy efficiency, cross-border cooperation, the capacity of local and regional government, and region-to-region and city-to-city partnerships.
Under the CoR's recommendations, CORLEAP would be strengthened, to provide greater support for decentralisation in Eastern Partnership countries and to deepen cooperation between associations of local and regional authorities from the EU and from the Eastern Partnership countries.
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