Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers on 15 October, the foreign-policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, underlined the importance of working with local and regional authorities to communicate about the EU with citizens of the six Eastern Partnership countries.
The Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg was attended by two representatives of the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), which was created by the European Committee of the Regions in 2011. Other stakeholders who were invited were the EaP Civil Society Forum, EURONEST, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The meeting took stock of progress over the past 10 years towards achieving 20 deliverables intended to strengthen the economies, governance, connectivity and societies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The discussions also considered what should happen beyond 2020, preparing the ground for a 10th anniversary event in 2019 and paving the way towards the Summit of national leaders from the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries in 2020.
CORLEAP will contribute to debate with recommendations and hopes to be able to set out its principal proposals directly to national leaders, as was the case at the last Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2017.
At the ministerial meeting, Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR), a member of the CoR and deputy mayor of Rádlo, said: "A policy focus on common ownership, joint commitment and tangible benefits for citizens cannot be sustained without the involvement of local and regional authorities. Our main message is straight-forward: Help us deliver even more!"
He continued: "The understanding and acknowledgement of the sub-national efforts are essential for further pursuing decentralisation reforms and sustained empowerment of local and regional authorities, with the ultimate aim of consolidating local democracy and territorial development – seeds for overall stability and prosperity."
The importance of communicating about the Eastern Partnership and of countering disinformation emerged as common threads during the debates on the achievements and future of the Partnership, and it was one of the principal points made to foreign ministers by Emin Yeritsyan, president of the Union of Communities (Municipalities) of Armenia and co-chairman of CORLEAP.
Mr Yeritsyan said that CORLEAP plans "to help local and regional authorities fight disinformation, raise media literacy and improve understanding of disinformation technics in their constituencies". CORLEAP will draw on its experience of organising a youth workshop on disinformation in Kyiv on 24 September, during which "four mixed groups of young people from all six EaP countries created complex disinformation campaigns and proposed concrete steps to counter those".
Looking back over the years since the Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009, foreign ministers highlighted the conclusion of visa-liberalisation agreements, Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements, and association agreements as the central achievements, while Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, also stressed the value of the EU's support for social and medium-sized enterprises and of a now-finalised action plan to invest in 5,500 kilometres of road and rail projects by 2020. Looking ahead, a range of speakers identified the need to build up the resilience of countries to cope with hybrid attacks, in part by increasing cooperation between members of the Eastern Partnership and with countries within the EU.
Mr Yeritsyan is CORLEAP's rapporteur on "Economic cooperation and economic development at local level in the Eastern Partnership countries" and, in 2016, developed CORLEAP's recommendations on "Energy efficiency: The role of the local and regional authorities". As president of the Union of Communities (Municipalities) of Armenia, he has championed the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative by the European Commission. To date, 266 communities have joined initiative, which is currently in its pilot phase; of these, 72 are from Armenia. Thanks to the scheme, local communities gain access to the technical support of the European Commission in drafting local economic-development strategies.
Mr Branda is the CoR's rapporteur on "People-to-people and small-scale projects in cross-border cooperation programmes", which was adopted in mid-2017, and, as a member of CORLEAP, he champions the potential of cross-border projects as a means of improving relations between communities.