Ways to show solidarity with Ukraine in focus at
CoR plenary, as Swedish Presidency welcomes European Alliance of Cities and
Regions for the Reconstruction of Ukraine.
It is "very important" for local and
regional authorities to be involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine, the
Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union has stressed, voicing
support for the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for
the Reconstruction of Ukraine and hailing Ukraine's
decentralisation process as an important factor in the Ukraine's resilience in
the face of Russia's invasion.
The Alliance was brought together in June 2022 by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), which also serves as the Alliance's secretariat.
Speaking at the CoR's plenary on 15 March, Erik Slottner, Sweden's Minister for Public Administration, emphasised the centrality of the war in Ukraine to the EU's agenda, saying that Russia's invasion has had "a huge impact" on the priorities of Sweden during its six months in the chair of ministerial meetings. "Our main role as the Presidency is to help ensure Europe's security -- nothing is as important as that," he said. He said that the Alliance "strengthens the role of the local and regional level in reconstruction, together with Ukraine's central government, the EU and other international partners" and that it is "very important" to have LRAs involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine.
The president of the European Committee of the Regions, Vasco Alves Cordeiro (PT/PES), said: "A year ago, Russia illegally, brutally, unprovoked, invaded Ukraine, waging war on European soil. While we all look forward to a free, sovereign, united Ukraine, I reiterate the European Committee of the Regions' full support to Ukraine. What cities and regions did from the start of the full-scale invasion and still do today to support Ukraine is the definition of solidarity: solidarity in welcoming Ukrainian women and children fleeing the war, solidarity in sending humanitarian aid and electrical generators, but also solidarity in rebuilding Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine!"
Solidarity in action: cooperation with Ukraine's regions and cities
The plenary also included a debate on how cities and regions should continue to show solidarity in action, through support for Ukraine's local and regional administrations and for Ukrainian refugees in the EU. To date, 3.8 million Ukrainians have been granted temporary protection by the EU, facilitating their access to housing, jobs, education, health care, and social welfare assistance. In early March, their protections were automatically rolled over for another year.
Zdeněk Hřib (CZ/Greens), mayor of Prague, said that, looking ahead, Ukrainian cities will need support from EU cities particularly to increase renewable energy in their energy mix, provide equipment for rehabilitation centres for injured soldiers, and support social services, above all for disabled children. Expert help in city planning, transportation, sustainable development, education, social services, and the restoration and protection of cultural heritage "can help Ukraine on their way towards joining the EU in the near future", he said.
Prague is home to "more than 100,000 refugees" and it has donated food and basic-needs supply packages to Ukraine, ambulances and emergency vehicles via the Red Cross, medical equipment worth nearly €550,000 to Ukraine's Public Health Institute, oil heaters and power generators directly to Kyiv and Mykolaiv, as well as 20 trams to Kharkiv and two buses to Khmelnytskyi.
Similar needs and help were noted by other speakers, including Gustaw Brzezin (PL/EPP), president of the Warmińsko-Mazurskie Region, who said that a partner region – Rivne – had highlighted its need for support for rehabilitation of the wounded and for buses, but also for de-mining efforts.
Florian Hassler (DE/Greens), state secretary for political coordination and Europe in the State Ministry of Baden-Wurttemberg, drew attention a major match-making initiative by a small town – Sindelingen – that is successfully galvanising aid across Europe, by setting up a platform Cities4Cities to enable city-to-city cooperation. Gerry Woop (DE/PES), the state of Berlin's state secretary for Europe, said that, while Berlin is developing a range of different partnerships at different levels, a simple approach – to send a councillor to Ukraine to identify needs – is also valuable.
Solidarity in action: support for Ukrainian refugees
Mayors and regional presidents emphasised the depth and strength of support for Ukrainian refugees. Aoife Breslin (IE/PES), member of Kildare County Council, noted that 76% of European local and regional authorities have received refugees from Ukraine and 700,000 Ukrainian children are being schooled in the EU, while José Enrique Millo Rocher (ES/EPP), secretary-general for External Action, the European Union and Cooperation in the Government of Andalusia, highlighted the medical support being provided to 15,000 refugees as well as his government's decision to develop a plan to counter sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women. Tobias Gotthardt (DE/RE), member of the Bavarian State Parliament, highlighted cultural projects and summer camps as initiatives that have supported integration in his region.
Members also identified ways in which the EU could help EU regions as part of the EU's support for Ukraine and Ukrainians. Władysław Ortyl (PL/ECR), president of the Podkarpackie Region, said that the EU could help its region, which he said had the EU's largest border crossing with Ukraine, by funding improvements to transport infrastructure as part of the EU's support for Ukraine's reconstruction. Aires Pereira (PT/EPP), mayor of Póvoa de Varzim, said the EU's financial support is needed for local administrations – like his – whose housing budget is being stretched by the need to house refugees. And Ms Breslin of Kildare County Council said that there is still a need for a better alignment of local, regional, national and EU action plans for integration and inclusion. "In order to promote integration of migrants from Ukraine, or elsewhere," she said "our communities must be properly empowered," she said.