Libya - Nicosia Initiative  

Why the European Committee of the Regions is working with Libyan cities

Since 2015, the European Committee of the Regions has developed a close political and, increasingly, a very practical relationship with Libyan cities. The relationship has the twin aims of helping to improve public services in Libya and of helping Libyan cities to enter the international community. The cooperation is a response to the political turmoil and insecurity that Libya has experienced since 2011, which has eroded municipal services in Libya, kept Libyan cities isolated internationally, and transformed the country into a major transit route for irregular migrants.

At the request of Libyan cities, the European Committee of the Regions has been mobilising partnerships for Libya's local authorities since January 2016. The CoR is matching the requests of Libyan cities with offers of expertise from EU cities and regions. The purpose is to improve the lives of ordinary Libyans, by helping municipalities provide better services in areas ranging from primary health care to waste management. The initiative is also a contribution – through city diplomacy – to the stabilisation of Libya at a point when political turmoil and insecurity have led to the freezing of cooperation with Libyans.

This is a bottom-up process – known among participants as the 'Nicosia Initiative' – that responds to the needs of one of the EU's closest and most fragile neighbours. The CoR's involvement reflects the assembly's belief that city diplomacy and peer-to-peer diplomacy need to be activated to address major, long-term international challenges. It is also in keeping with the EU's global strategy and a conviction that the EU should think globally and act locally.

With whom is the CoR working?

Libyan cities participating in the Nicosia initiative or with which the CoR has been in contact include:         

  • Tripoli (estimated population: 1.1 million)
  • Benghazi (estimated population: 630,000) 
  • Ghariyan (190,000) 
  • Tobruk (120,000)            
  • Sabha (97,000)
  • Sirte (80,000) 
  • Zintan (82,000) 
  • Zliten (270,000)

The mayor of Tripoli, Abdelrauf Beitelmal, and the mayor of Zintan, Mustafa Abdullah al-Baruni, are representing Libyan mayors, as the focal point for the partnerships and as observers in the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM). Most European members of ARLEM, which brings together politicians and political representatives from the EU and the Mediterranean region, are members of the CoR.

The CoR serves as the secretariat of ARLEM and of the Nicosia initiative.

How is the CoR supporting Libyan cities?

The CoR is a political assembly. The long-term bedrock of the CoR's relationship with Libya is political – a desire to help Libyan cities join the international community and to benefit from the partnerships and common goals commonly forged by cities and regions through regular contact.

Since 2011, however, Libya has suffered at the national level from political turmoil and the security and political situation remains fragile. The crisis has affected the health, schooling, livelihoods, and prospects of Libyans across the country. Nonetheless, many local authorities have managed to sustain basic services, and many enjoy a continued electoral mandate and robust popular legitimacy. Through the crisis, they have provided some stability for their populations.

The CoR therefore concluded that support for Libya's cities and regions was one promising way in which the EU could help Libya. The EU's cities and regions had already shown that they have the political experience, institutional capacity and technical skills to help counterparts around the world. Through the Nicosia initiative, it seeks to catalyse support for Libya in areas identified as critical by Libya's local administrations.

What kind of support do Libyan cities need?

EU regions and cities have provided or pledged support in the following areas:

  • Water management: Murcia (ES)
  • Waste management: Antwerp (BE)
  • Primary health care: Vila Real (PT) 
  • Public administration: Nicosia (CY)      
  • English-language training: Maltese local authorities (MT)
  • Budget: Flanders (BE)
During study visits to the EU, Libyan experts have made on-site visits to operational facilities and participated in workshops and debates.

Libyan and European mayors have accompanied each study visit, holding meetings with the aim of establishing the basis for longer-term relationships.

The CoR is currently working on:      

  • matching requests and offers in the following areas: budgeting, youth work, counter-radicalisation, fisheries, international cooperation
  • developing a network of European schools of local administration willing to provide training for Libyans, potentially leading to the establishment of a school for public administration within Libya
  • encouraging the development of full-scale projects involving Libyan and EU cities.         

Timeline of the relationship

  • July 2015 : Delegation from of five Libyan mayors visit the Committee of the Regions in Brussels
  • October 2015 : The Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) invites Mayor Beitelmal to Brussels as an observer at is commission on sustainable development
  • January 2016 : A delegation of Libyan mayors is invited to Nicosia, Cyprus, to attend ARLEM's annual plenary meeting as an observer. Mayor Beitelmal presents a letter with request for support in six areas. ARLEM responds by launching the 'Nicosia initiative'
  • May 2016 : The first result of the CoR's match-making effort is a study visit on water management, organised and hosted by the Region of Murcia
  • June 2016 : Study visit co-organised with Antwerp City focusing on waste management.         
  • July 2016 : A delegation of Libyan mayors met Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The meeting in Brussels comes during a study visit on waste management, organised and hosted by the City of Antwerp
  • September 2016: The study visit co-organised with the Municipality of Vila Real, Portugal, aiming at exchanging good practices in the sector of primary health
  • September - October 2016: Training sessions co-organised with Nicosia Municipality, Cyprus, in areas such as management of human resources, administrative control or reconversion of historical sites
  • February 2017: Exchange co-organised by the government of Flanders on financial management and transparency
  • March 2017: Field workshop and study visit to Tozeur, Tunisia, in view of determining the best technology for installing organic waste Compost Units in 6 Libyan municipalities. 
  • April 2017: Pilot training for 20 young opinion leaders in Positive peace, co-organised with Unicef and the Institute for Economics and Peace
  • May 2017: First meeting of the Network of schools of public administration for Libya with Libyan Universities and Municipalities. The aim of the meeting was to provide a first assessment of the needs of the Libyan municipalities and to explore various ways in which Universities could assist them in capacity building
  • June 2017: A study exchange organized by the Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, focusing on fishery and fishery cooperatives
  • October 2017: International seminar on Urban strategies, tools and technologies in the era of sustainability in Sfax City
  • November 2017: First block of 3 schools modules on pressing issues for representatives of Libyan Local and Regional Authorities 
  • November 2017: 2 days training / coaching for local researchers in Tunisia on transparency and good governance
  • November/December 2017: Training of 100 hours for 20 Libyan technicians in waste water treatment and reuse for irrigation

This initiative by the Committee of the Regions would not be possible without the financial and political support of the European External Action Service and of the European Commission's DG NEAR (Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations), via the EU Public Administration Facility for Libya.

Logistical support is provided by Crown Agents, an international development organisation.

The Union for the Mediterranean, which brings together the 28 member states of the EU and 15 Mediterranean states, has also provided strong political support. Libya is not a member of the Union for the Mediterranean.

Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign-policy chief, has described the CoR's cooperation with Libyan cities as an example of "city diplomacy at its best". She has argued that "municipalities can play a central role in the reconstruction of Libya, and we need [the CoR] to keep engaging with them. They need you as a partner in this difficult time." She has stated her conviction that cities and regions must play an active part in "new architectures" in foreign policy.

The CoR considers this bottom-up approach to be suitable for transformation into long-term projects and programmes administered by the European Commission, with the CoR providing political support. The Union for the Mediterranean could also transform some of these small-scale initiatives into longer-term projects.