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EU's foreign policy will be stronger with sharper focus on local communities  

EU's global strategy is right to focus on developing resilient economies and societies in neighbours but should focus on work that can be done with local and regional leaders.

Leaders of the European Union's regions and cities have thrown their support behind the European Union's decision to channel much of its diplomatic efforts and international aid into building up the economic and social 'resilience' of partner countries. At the same time, they have urged EU decision-makers and diplomats to focus more attention on local and regional authorities outside the EU, arguing that "they are to a large extent responsible for the strength and quality of resilience."

The recommendations by the European Committee of the Regions, the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians, collectively suggest that, by bolstering the resilience of local communities outside the EU, the EU would be to contribute more effectively to making states and societies strong enough to withstand crises. The rapporteur, Marcin Ociepa (PL/ECR), President of Opole City Council , draws particular attention to regions on the EU's eastern and southern borders, arguing that more support needs to be directed toward projects "in the area of security, education, economic, social and cultural policy."

Mr Ociepa said: "The concept of resilience implies building up the long-term strength, stability and flexibility of our neighbours. The world changes and shocks happen, and we want to help our neighbours to cope with and adapt to such changes. A society will be more able to cope with political, economic and environmental crises and to develop healthily if it pursues democracy, forges trust in public institutions, and seeks socially inclusive sustainable economic development. So we believe it is critically important for the EU to focus on education, social inclusion, vulnerable groups, economic development, investment, disaster risk management and developing international cooperation. And the EU should also focus, where it can, on working with local and regional authorities, as they run emergency services, can identify and assess risks, and can often reach out more effectively to the local population."

He continued: "Instability abroad has knock-on effects on Europe. We have seen that with the refugee and migration crisis, and the Ukraine crisis and hostile propaganda against the EU and its member states have raised the risks on the EU's borders. So I think helping border regions is especially important. We need to pay more attention to reports and analyses from regions and municipalities in these areas. And we need to counter disinformation campaigns with the help and to the benefit of local and regional authorities."

The rapporteur also emphasised that "tackling the root causes of irregular migration (such as poverty, inequality, etc.) is one of the key measures in building resilience."

The opinion, "A Strategic Approach to Resilience in the EU's External Action", highlights the need for the fresh policy emphasis on resilience to be reflected in the EU's research priorities, urging the EU to ensure that local academia, "as regional centres of expertise", should be "involved more in this research." The opinion, which was adopted unanimously, stresses that the EU needs to gather accurate knowledge at the local level, since local circumstances demand a tailored approach rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy. It also draws particular attention to the importance of families, communities, associations and churches in communication, prevention, crisis response and recovery efforts.

The CoR strongly advocates support for the development of contacts between EU cities and regions with municipalities and regional administrations beyond the EU's borders, as well as the collation and sharing of policy ideas. The CoR has itself established two forums with local and regional leaders from the EU's eastern and southern neighbourhoods – the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) and the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) – and fosters city-to-city and region-to-region exchanges to promote sustainable development. An example of its bottom-up approach is the support that CoR members are providing municipalities in Libya , in areas such as water management, waste management, accounting, policing and fisheries.

The CoR is also deeply engaged in trying to reduce the risks posed by natural hazards, and it has called for the EU to be far more ambitious in reducing carbon missions to limit extreme weather changes. To minimise the effects of natural disasters , the CoR is working with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to persuade cities and regions to devise local strategies. As part of its effort to limit climate change , the CoR is championing the Covenant of Mayors (now the Global Covenant of Mayors), which provides technical support and eases access to finance for any community prepared to go beyond the EU's carbon-reduction targets. At the COP23 climate talks in Bonn in November, the CoR will press for cities to be brought into the global system of climate governance and will strengthen city-to-city climate alliances.

Andrew Gardner
Tel. +32 473 843 981

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