The CoR has a statutory role in EU enlargement policy via the Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) where the CoR represents the EU. Its integrated EU enlargement approach also includes Working Groups (WGs) for countries without JCCs of their own yet, as well as the annual flagship Enlargement Day event. In addition, the CoR monitors the enlargement process via the adoption of regular opinions – such as this one - on each annual enlargement package of the European Commission.
The Commission will continue to use TAIEX at both central and local level throughout the Western Balkans. Building on the successful outcome of the 2018-2020 pilot in support of local authorities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, TAIEX continues to support local authorities in all Western Balkans. Activities are aligned with the priorities of the Economic Investment Plan (EIP), which are taken forward also at the municipal level. The Commission remains committed to using the expertise of EU Member States through the Twinning Instrument, funded from the bilateral programmes, as a proven tool of capacity building and expertise exchange.
The Commission will work with both central and, where appropriate, local authorities in the Western Balkans in order to optimise the use of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III) and Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Rural Development (IPARD) funds, including where relevant the LEADER approach. Within IPARD, it is underlined that it is up to the beneficiaries to select the most appropriate measures for implementation under IPARD, including measure 5 implementation of local development strategies - LEADER approach’. Particular emphasis will be placed upon faster implementation as well as outreach to all
levels of governance.
the TAIEX instrument allows exchange of best practices among local and regional authorities. In addition, the EU funded Regional School of Public Administration, the
Support for Improvement in Government and Management (SIGMA) programme and bilateral projects can provide support in this regard if Western Balkan partners consider this a strategic priority. The Commission encourages but cannot oblige partners to work on this, having in mind that the choice of local level participatory budgeting falls within the autonomy of EU Member States among whom it is not widespread.
The Commission will work with both central and local authorities in the Western Balkans in the implementation of IPA III. While the main contacts shall continue to be via the central authorities, there will be a number of ways where the Commission will help facilitate the cooperation of central and local authorities. While a number of mainstream bilateral programmes will have important parts implemented outside the capital cities, there will also be specific programmes, such as the cross-border
cooperation programme, which will facilitate cooperation at a local level throughout the region or an innovative access to Financial Instruments to municipalities as for example issuance of Green Bonds to help local governments in contributing to meet the Green Agenda targets. In addition, EU macro regional strategies, including the Danube strategy and the Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region, will play an important role. In parallel, IPA and the European Regional Development Fund
(ERDF) Interreg programmes with EU Member States such as Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria will continue to play their role in opening up the Western Balkans to further capacity building, knowledge exchange as well as potentially further investment.
The Commission is committed to continuing focus on public administration reform as one of the fundamentals of EU accession. This focus will continue via the on-going policy dialogue, in addition to a range of bilateral public administration reform programmes, as well as various multi-country initiatives including, notably, the EU financed Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) managed Support for Improvement in Government and Management
(SIGMA) programme, which has been working for 30 years with partner countries on strengthening public governance and capacities. The Commission would like to further highlight that the Regional School of Public Administration and the SIGMA programme can provide guidance and support on multi-country basis. Western Balkan partners decide on including specific support measures for local and regional authorities under the IPA programme, based on their strategic priorities. The Commission already makes reference to multi-level governance and local and regional authorities related issues in the annual enlargement package.
Based on earlier discussion with the Committee, the Commission has developed a new and specific strand on multi-level and sub-national governance in the SIGMA programme.
The new version of the assessment framework ‘Principles of Public Administration’ developed jointly by the Commission and SIGMA will incorporate specific principles and indicators related to multi-level and sub-national governance.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
− recalls the historic importance of the decision of the European Council of 23 June 2022 to grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine and Moldova. The European Council likewise recognised the European perspective of Georgia and confirmed its readiness to grant the country candidate status once the priorities specified in the Commission's opinion on its membership application have been addressed; looks forward to the Commission's 2023 Enlargement Package in which, for the first time, the new candidate countries' progress will also be reported;
− reaffirms its commitment to a merit-based EU enlargement, which contributes to peace, democracy, prosperity, security and stability in Europe. The CoR considers at the same time that the EU must re-energise its enlargement process to retain geostrategic relevance and credibility by setting a clear roadmap and timeline, providing more meaningful incentives to spur reform and favouring gradual integration, for example, in the single market and the energy, digital and green transitions. In turn, the CoR expects candidate countries and potential candidates to take ownership and demonstrate the credibility of their commitments and political will through implementation of necessary reforms;
− reiterates that it is in favour of all Western Balkan countries joining the EU, as outlined in the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans back in 2003, provided they meet all the accession criteria; underlines the importance of sending positive signals to countries of the Western Balkans to foster their engagement in the regrettably long process of becoming EU Member States;
− recalls that 70 percent of the EU acquis is implemented at the sub-national level; encourages exploring and applying best practices in the cooperation with and involvement of LRAs in enlargement-related matters, as they are strategic partners in the process and key actors in making the enlargement successful for citizens;
− reiterates that public administration reform in the Western Balkan countries cannot be implement without good governance at local level; welcomes that the Commission agrees and has taken steps to develop a policy approach that includes dimensions of multi-level governance in the public administration reform framework.