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To boost the Eastern Partnership, promote cross-border projects  

European Committee of the Regions and partners in the Eastern Partnership also propose the creation of an Eastern Partnership Academy for Public Administration.

Extra support for cooperation between border communities and for the developments of local administrations would add significantly to the value of the European Union's maturing relationship with countries on its eastern borders, leading members of the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) said when they met in Yerevan on 28 March. They also emphasised the centrality of decentralisation to ongoing reforms intended to find an effective and democratic balance of power in the region.

The six members of the Eastern Partnership are Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

The meeting of the executive bureau of CORLEAP did not result in official positions, but the exchange of views – which built on work done by the grouping since 2011 – may feed into recommendations to national ministers attending a conference on 14 May to mark the tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. Good governance is expected to be a prominent theme at the anniversary conference.

The bureau's exchange of views will also contribute to two reports that CORLEAP will adopt on 12 September, at its annual plenary session. One is on promoting people-to-people contacts through cross-border cooperation programmes; the second is on building up the capacity of local and regional public administrations.

Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR), deputy mayor of the rural border community of Rádlo, who is drafting the recommendations on cross-border contacts, said that people-to-people projects had been crucial to rebuilding the trust of people of his region and argued that little, low-cost projects in small areas often carried the seeds for far bigger cooperation projects. These projects do not always emerge naturally, he said. Incentives are needed – and EU funding is one such incentive.

Sergii Chernov , chairman of Kharkiv Regional Council, was concerned about the process of reforming and decentralising local government in Ukraine keeping its pace ahead of parliamentary elections in October, warning that legislative support is still needed to ensure the reforms are implemented effectively and irreversibly. Among ideas that he put forward in his discussion paper, Mr Chernov argued that the EU should consider creating an Erasmus programme for local and regional representatives, as well as developing curricula and courses tailored to local and regional civil servants and politicians.

Members of the CoR, which created CORLEAP in 2011, drew on experience from Europe to encourage more contacts between border communities. Andris Jaunsleinis (LV/ALDE), member of Ventspils Municipal Council, said people-to-people projects are an important means of countering disinformation; while Micaela Fanelli (IT/PES) of Pontecorvo municipality said that her region of Italy – Lazio – had benefited from cooperation on rural issues with Croatian and Albanian communities.

Human rights and fiscal decentralisation were other topics that CORLEAP members argued should be higher up the Partnership's agenda. There were also calls for the principle behind an initiative by the European Union – the creation of a Tbilisi-based European School – to be expanded. Ms Fanelli said that an Eastern Partnership Academy for Public Administration, an idea put forward by Mr Chernov, could address a flaw in decision-making – local and regional authorities largely base their decisions on perceptions because they lack the technical support necessary to assess the impact of political choices.

In addition to Mr Chernov, politicians from the Eastern Partnership countries who attended were Sandro Sordia from Zugdidi in Georgia, Alexei Busuioc, mayor of Capaclia in Moldova, and Anar Ibrahimov, a member of the parliament of the Nackhichivan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan. The meeting was chaired by Emin Yeritsyan, president of the Union of Communities of Armenia.

After the bureau meeting, members were joined by Vache Terteryan, Armenia's first deputy minister of territorial administration and development, at a conference on cooperation between local authorities and civil-society organisations, with speakers from the EU and the Eastern Partnership addressing a large audience comprised principally of Armenian politicians and civil-society representatives.

The conference focused on how civil society and local authorities can overcome challenges of coordination and capacity-building as part of their efforts to implement agreements reached between the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. The event was co-organised with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the Union of Communities of Armenia, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development of the Republic of Armenia, and the EU funded project “Commitment to Constructive Dialogue”.