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Task-force calls for capacity-building support for local authorities in Ukraine  
The voluntary amalgamation of local communities in Ukraine over the past year has been welcomed by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) as a sign of progress, as Ukraine continues along a process of decentralisation intended to empower local governments and increase their financial autonomy.

The need to continue with reforms of local government was the central message sent by members of the CoR on 29-30 June when they met Vyacheslav Nehoda, Ukraine's First Deputy Minister of Regional Development, Building and Housing and Communal Services, and elected politicians from the regional and local level of government in Ukraine.

The meeting, which was held in the town of Khyriv, close to Ukraine's border with Poland, was the third time that the Ukraine task-force has met since it was established in 2015 by the CoR. The principal aim of the task-force to date, in addition to consolidating political support for Ukrainian authorities, has been to establish a list of peers from both sides ready to cooperate in administrative fields where local authorities in Ukraine have been empowered with new tasks.

Markku Markkula (FI/EPP), the president of the CoR, cited the merger of numerous local communities as a particularly positive feature of the decentralisation process so far, while Ukrainian participants noted that local authorities are now able to retain a greater share of tax revenues raised in their communities. Predictable cash flows, improved project management and the continued consolidation of local authorities were among the current challenges noted by Franz Schausberger (AU/EPP), a special adviser to Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for the European Neighbourhood Policy. Mr Schausberger is also a member of the CoR, from the province of Salzburg.

Andreas Kiefer, secretary-general of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, also attended. CoR members of the task-force present included: Bart Somers (BE), president of the ALDE group and mayor of Mechelen; Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) member of Zarasai district municipal council; Christophe Rouillon (PES/FR), mayor of Coulaines in France; and László Lóránt Keresztes (HU/ECR) from Pécs. Two members of the CoR who are not members of the task-force – Władysław Ortyl, marshal of the Podkarpackie Region in Poland, and Andres Jaadla (ALDE, EE) from Rakvere in Estonia – also chose to travel to Ukraine to join the discussion.

Decentralisation has been identified by the Ukrainian government and by the European Union as a political priority, with the aim of supporting the emergence of a system of governance that is transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of the population. The EU has made available around €100 million to support the process through a dedicated programme, U-LEAD with Europe: Ukraine Local Empowerment, Accountability and Development Programme. With the support of this programme, one of U-LEAD's implementing agencies – GIZ – and CoR envisage launching a peer-to-peer pilot initiative, through which CoR members could transfer knowledge and skills to Ukrainian local partners through workshops and specific trainings. 

CoR has also commissioned and, in January 2017, published a study on "Regional development in Ukraine: Priority actions in terms of decentralisation". A co-author of the study, Svitlana Slava from the University of Uzhgorod, presented the main conclusions at the task-force meeting, referring in particular to the existing bottlenecks in the decentralisation process and outlining possible ways to unblock these.

The meeting included a session dedicated to areas in which cities and regions in the EU and Ukraine could develop practical partnerships. Andres Jaadla presented his experience of attracting tourism to the city of Rakvere through cultural projects. Health care is another area in which Ukrainian cities have already an interest in securing support. At the task-force meeting, as well as at a conference of local and regional Ukrainian politicians held in Khyriv later that day, Arnoldas Abramavičius elaborated how his municipal council has managed to improve the health care provided to its community.

In a separate form of practical cooperation already enabled by the CoR, Hungary last year formed the first European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) with Ukraine. The initiative took an important step forward on 26-27 May, when members of the recently formed Tisza EGTC presented their strategy for cross-border cooperation in the Carpathian region to members of the Ukrainian and Hungarian governments. The CoR acts as the EU's registrar for EGTCs and provides day-to-day support for scores of such cross-border initiatives across the EU.

The Ukraine task-force will meet again in mid-October in Brussels, giving the Ukrainian delegation a chance to take part in Eastern Partnership-related events in the European Week of Regions and Cities, a major annual event co-organised by the CoR and by the European Commission focused on regional policy. Before that, a Ukrainian member of the task-force will take part in September at a meeting of the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), a forum established by the CoR to bring together elected officials from the EU and from the six countries of the Eastern Partnership: Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as Ukraine.
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