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EU can reduce "desperate journeys" to Europe by working more with local governments in Africa and Middle East  

Recommendations underscore challenges and necessity of supporting Libyan cities

The European Union needs to help strengthen the administrative capacity of local and regional governments in Africa and the Middle East if it is to reduce the reasons for migration in the long term, the European Committee of the Regions says in a set of recommendations adopted on 12 July.

The recommendations, which the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians drafted at the request of the European Commission, address security, economic, social, administrative, and political challenges along the migration route from West Africa and the Middle East through the central Mediterranean to Italy. The opinion focuses, however, on Libya, noting that the crisis since 2014 has plunged the country into "utter chaos" and precipitated a "sharp deterioration in living conditions throughout the country". Traditional social structures are, struggling to cope with young people and with crime, it says, but it also argues that local authorities have "a degree of legitimacy" and need immediate and long-term support.

The rapporteur, Hans Janssen (NL/EPP), mayor of Oisterwijk, said: "One of the dramas of our times is the increasing number of people fleeing from their countries in the Middle East and Africa. Our policy should be to help the transit countries – such as Libya – and the countries of origin to develop their capacities to prevent people from beginning their desperate journeys. The tragedy of migration starts in the countries of origin, not in Libya or in the seas off Libya. People want better life chances, and we want them to find those chances in their communities. That requires good local administrations."

Mr Janssens continued: "There is a particular need to support Libya, not just because it is the jumping-off point to Europe. Libya has opted to decentralise its governance system, and this agreement remains a reference point for all Libyan parties, regardless of their political affiliation. A comprehensive political solution needs effective decentralisation."

The opinion also highlights the potential of partnerships between European cities and regions and counterparts in Libya, by pointing to the example of an initiative by the European Committee of the Regions – the ' Nicosia initiative ' – through which CoR members have, over the past 18 months, organised study visits by Libyan mayors and officials in the areas of water, waste and financial management, public administration, health care, fisheries and counter-radicalisation. The mayor of Tripoli, Abdelrauf Beitelmal, is the CoR's main counterpart. The financial support comes from the European Commission.

On 10-11 July, a large delegation of Libyan mayors of officials from Benghazi, Gharyian, Harawua, Sabha, Sirte and Zintan took part in a gathering in Brussels, co-organised by the European Committee of the Regions and the European Commission, to encourage partnerships between local and regional administrations in EU and non-EU countries. Leaders from other countries on the migration route from West Africa also attended the Assises de la coopération décentralisée / Regions and Cities for Development event.

Andrew Gardner

Tel. +32 473 843 981