Empowering and better involving local and regional authorities in shaping the Eastern Partnership should become a cross-cutting deliverable for the next decade.
A strategy to strengthen existing and regional and local initiatives would have a positive effect on the implementation of democratisation and reform processes. It also strengthens the economic power of the regions and municipalities in the EaP countries and thus creates new development perspectives for the citizens living there.
Through an own-initiative opinion, the CoR would contribute to the consultation process on the future of the EaP and raise awareness of the importance of targeted support for decentralisation and capacity building at local and regional level, through dialogue with LRAs, but also with civil society partners, who could play a major role in the process of decentralisation in EaP countries.
The opinion would be part of building momentum to secure the deserved acknowledgement of the role and engagement of local and regional authorities by heads of state or government at the next EaP Summit in June 2020.
The opinion represents the CoR contribution to the structured consultation launched by the Eu-ropean Commission and the EEAS on the future of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). The political "Joint communication on the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020: Reinforcing Resilience - an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all", issued on 18 March 2020, captures the findings of the consultation, the state of play regarding the 20 EaP deliverables, as well as an overall evalua-tion of the policy achievements in the past ten years, in view of their endorsement at the next EaP Summit (so far foreseen on 18 June).
The joint communication includes the CoR's and CORLEAP's proposal to establish an EaP School of Public Administration. This success is the result of focused and persistent efforts throughout 2018 and 2019, including adoption of the CoR opinion on "Local and regional authorities shaping the future Eastern Partnership".
Furthermore, the joint communication puts emphasis on strategic communication and, within this context, on engagement with people at local level, which should be increased to improve the understanding of EU values, political priorities and actions:
"Outreach will focus on key multipliers and opinion leaders (including but not limited to local authorities, religious leaders, and teachers, through study visits, local discussion fora and train-ings) to make the EU message heard in the regions".
This resonates with the declaration of the last EaP summit, which refers to CORLEAP as an ef-fective instrument for local and regional authorities to advance the objectives of the EaP at the level of governance closest to citizens, and also resonates with the messages reiterated by the CoR and CORLEAP, that subnational authorities have an essential role in promoting the Eastern Partnership beyond the capitals.
In addition, in its follow-up report provided to the opinions of the CoR, the European Commis-sion welcomed the Committee contribution as a key input to the debate on the achievements and the future of the Eastern Partnership. It stated that involvement of local and regional authorities in focal regions had increased in the current EaP policy framework and would be further devel-oped in the future, as well as successful initiatives with Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG) and with the Covenant of Mayors East (CoM East). Governance and rule of law were the highest priority identified by Member States and partner countries during the structured consultation, the reform of public administration at national, regional and local levels should therefore be contin-ued in the post-2020 policy framework. The European Commission also confirmed that cross-border cooperation remains an important element of the Eastern Partnership policy.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
values the Eastern Partnership and supports its further development;
has become actively involved through developing and consolidating the initiative at the level of regional and local authorities;
believes that local and regional authorities play a significant role in ensuring that the Partnership's objectives are achieved and calls for wider participation of local and regional authorities in EU programmes implemented in the EaP countries;
recommends strengthening the institutional basis of CORLEAP, so that the Conference better supports the process of stepping up decentralisation in EaP countries;
advocates strengthening the capacity and quality of public administration and supports the CORLEAP initiative to create an education platform for online training and set up a school of public administration in one of the EaP countries;
recommends ensuring stronger support for initiatives to boost local and regional entrepreneurship, particularly among SMEs;
points out that cross-border cooperation initiatives are an important tool which could help achieve EaP goals;
believes that expansion of communications networks should be an important element of strengthening cooperation.