War in Ukraine has reinforced case for the EU to tailor cooperation to match the different priorities of the EU's neighbours to the east, European Committee of the Regions argues.
The war in Ukraine should prompt the European Union to adapt how it works with countries on its eastern borders, the European Committee of the Regions argues in an opinion that calls for the EU to adopt a more flexible approach to each of the six countries in the Eastern Partnership and to work more closely with local and regional authorities.
The opinion on the
future of the Eastern Partnership from a local and regional perspective was drawn up by the European Committee of the Regions at its own initiative, but it complements a broader debate within the European Union in the wake of Russia's attempt to seize the whole of Ukraine about how to adapt the Eastern Partnership framework in a more challenging context. The EU had already differentiated its cooperation with the six members of the
Eastern Partnership (EaP) – Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – prior to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but the paths chosen by the EaP countries have diverged further in the past 12 months, with the EU's member states agreeing in June 2022 to give Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidates for membership. They also confirmed their willingness to grant Georgia similar status, subject to further reforms.
The rapporteur –
Alin-Adrian Nica (RO/EPP), president of Timiş County Council – said:
"The most powerful European political response to the Russian invasion in Ukraine will be the support for free democratic states and for culturally and economically vibrant cities and societies committed to European values. The Eastern Partnership remains a relevant framework. The Eastern Partnership is here to stay. Of course, the Eastern Partnership has to change and respond to the new realities. We favour more flexibility and differentiation to match the different priorities of each partner."
The CoR's opinion, which was adopted on 15 March, also suggests that the EU should look at the region in a more global way, by identifying forms of potential cooperation – via the Eastern Partnership (EaP) – with countries in the Balkans and in central Asia.
The CoR's opinion backs the agenda set for the EaP in the wake of the COVID pandemic – recovery, resilience, and reform – but argues that, in the wake of Russia's invasion, there needs to be a greater emphasis on the resilience of energy and transport systems and on advancing the transition to a green and digital economy. The opinion also makes the case that regional and local authorities should have a greater influence on setting Eastern Partnership priorities in areas where regions and cities typically have significant responsibilities.
Mr Nica said:
"We support the stronger involvement of local and regional administrations when deciding on priorities in areas such as energy, transport, connectivity, environment, and climate. These are areas where local and regional authorities are involved. Giving them a say will help ensure and maintain an all-embracing democracy."
Mr Nica drew particular attention to the contribution that the Eastern Partnership could make to accelerating cities' and regions' progress towards the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He called for the creation of an Eastern Partnership platform for the SDGs that that would include local and regional authorities. The CoR opinion argues that this would, for example, help establish environmentally friendly energy systems independent of Russian energy resources. The SDGs set 17 goals and 169 targets to be met by 2030, roughly two-thirds of which require action by local and regional authorities.
To boost the capacity of local and regional administrations, the CoR calls for a virtual Academy for Local and Regional Public Administration – an idea initiated by the CoR – to be established, argues that two EU exchange programmes – the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) programme for officials and experts and Twinning programme for officials from public institutions – should be extended to regional and local authorities in the Eastern Partnership countries, and suggests that the creation of an investment platform under the Eastern Partnership could facilitate projects to improve public administration. The EU has allocated €17 billion to the Eastern Partnership through its Economic and Investment Plan.
On 16 March, a day after the CoR adopted its opinion on the future of the Eastern Partnership, the CoR will host a meeting of the politicians from the Eastern Partnership countries. The meeting of the
Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) will be co-chaired by the deputy leader of Tbilisi City Assembly,
Zurab Abashidze, and by CoR
President Vasco Alves Cordeiro and will consider some of the new initiatives for cooperation at the local and regional level in the Eastern Partnership as well as discussing support for regions and cities in Ukraine. The CoR created CORLEAP in 2011 to support the local and regional dimension of the Eastern Partnership, which was created in 2009.
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