The European Union's relationships with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have advanced significantly over the past decade, the president of the European Committee of the Regions said on 13 May at the foreign affairs ministerial meeting to mark the tenth anniversary of the EU's Eastern Partnership. During the second decade of cooperation, Karl-Heinz Lambertz said, the EU should lend greater support for decentralisation, pay greater attention to governance and be prepared to increase funding for people-to-people projects and cooperation between local and regional authorities.
Addressing an audience of national ministers and senior EU officials, President Lambertz made a specific call for the creation of a 'Eastern Partnership Academy for Public Administration', to support the empowerment of local authorities. He emphasised the benefits for the EU of engaging with local and regional authorities in the region, saying that collaboration supports domestic political reforms and brings benefits felt by ordinary citizens.
President Lambertz said: "The Eastern Partnership has strengthened the economic, social, political, and physical links between the EU and all its closest eastern neighbours – very significantly in many cases. At the level of local and regional authorities, we have seen some important efforts to decentralise power and to bring politics and policy-making closer to citizens, most notably in Ukraine. As we enter the second decade of the Eastern Partnership, we should focus more – politically, technically and financially – on supporting this important shift in governance. For national governments, devolving power and funding is not easy, while local and regional councils sometimes struggle with taking on new responsibilities. The creation of an 'Eastern Partnership Academy for Public Administration' would help ensure that the work being done by the EU and national governments is translated into tangible and sustained benefits for citizens."
The European Committee of the Regions has been working with local and regional politicians from the six countries since 2011, through the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) and has provided an opportunity for confidence-building between politicians.
Similarly, invoking the need to invest in long-term relationships, President Lambertz called on the EU to devote more attention to helping the six members of the Eastern Partnership develop bilateral ties. "People-to-people projects are often low-cost projects, which carry the seeds for far bigger cooperation projects," he said.
CORLEAP will next meet in plenary session in Turku, Finland on 12 September under the co-chairmanship of Armenia. Azerbaijan and Belarus will serve as co-chairs in 2020.