The European Union should in November make a commitment to increase its collaboration with local government in an effort to boost economic and political progress in the six countries on its eastern borders, the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) told foreign ministers from the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries on 19 June.
The meeting, which brought together ministers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the EU's 28 member states, was part of the preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2017, at which national leaders will review progress in relations. The partnership is developing along four tracks – to strengthen the economy, develop democracy, secure energy, and increase personal contacts.Paweł Adamowicz
, the mayor of Gdańsk, also said that local and regional authorities could help achieve a short-term objective, of encouraging open local elections in Belarus next year. He argued that "we should start helping prepare democratic candidates for city councillors and making a programme of self-government in Belarus".
Speaking on behalf of the European Committee of the Regions, which created Corleap in 2011, and of local government in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, Mr Adamowicz said: "The effectiveness of the EU's involvement with the Eastern Partnership countries requires a stronger involvement with local communities." He noted that local communities in the six countries "are becoming increasingly active".
Mr Adamowicz said that CORLEAP would like to see the summit acknowledge that local and regional authorities are "well placed" to promote democratisation and modernisation and to support them through adjustments to the EU's current economic assistance. CORLEAP is calling for local government to be given a role in developing programmes and for existing EU funding schemes – such as funds for twinning and for technical assistance and information exchange (TAIEX) – to be more closely tailored to local needs. Economic development will be "a key aspect" to efforts in the Eastern Partnership to decentralise government and increase local democracy.
CORLEAP was created to promote local democracy and good governance, and to provide an institutional framework for cooperation and the exchange of good practice between local and regional administrations.
In 2016, Mr Adamowicz authored a CORLEAP report
on 'developing civic participation as a way to strengthen local democracy in the Eastern Partnership countries
' and, in his speech to ministers he emphasised that cities and regions in the EU – particularly in Poland and the Baltic states – could do more to strengthen civic society and local democracy in the Eastern Partnership countries, including in Belarus. Belarus currently holds the rotating presidency of CORLEAP and in May hosted a meeting of members of the CORLEAP's executive in Minsk
. During the visit, Markku Markkula, the president of the European Committee of the Regions, met Belarus's president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as well as the leader of the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament.
As an example of bilateral cooperation between local authorities, Mr Adamowicz pointed to Gdańsk's creation of a counselling office, called the Local Democratisation Agency, in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.