Dedicating €500 million to work with cities and regions abroad would make the EU's external policy more consistent and coherent.
The European Union should earmark €500 million for collaboration with cities and regions across the globe after 2021, the European Committee of the Regions said on 6 December in a set of recommendations that argue that the EU's external policy should pay fuller, more explicit attention to local and regional authorities.
The opinion by the EU's assembly for local and regional governments particularly emphasises the need to step up cooperation with cities and regions because two-thirds of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals require action by local and regional authorities. One of the goals specifically aims to "make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable".
The rapporteur on the EU's proposed budget for external action – Hans Janssen (NL/EPP), mayor of Oisterwijk – said: "Achieving the SDGs requires action by cities and regions. Making a success of the EU's Eastern Partnership means that cities and regions such as in Ukraine and Georgia have to be involved. Deepening relations with countries in the EU's southern neighbourhood obliges the EU to look beyond national capitals. Put simply, working locally should help to embed reforms locally. So the EU needs to mainstream collaboration with local and regional authorities in its budgeting as well as in its policies. The EU is rightly proposing earmarking funding for civil society in 2021-27; it should also set aside €500 million for local and regional authorities, who should be partners both of civil society and central government."
He continued: "The EU aspires to a consistent, coherent and flexible foreign policy. It is gradually learning that collaboration with cities and regions can increase consistency, coherence and flexibility. But the Commission's budget proposals are in some ways a regression: the proposals give less explicit recognition of the role of sub-national administrations than in drafts; there is a lack of detail on support for cities and regions; and, overall, the emphasis on the geographical spread of spending risks reinforcing the EU's focus on national governments. We believe our proposals make the budget proposals more consistent with the EU's own European Consensus on Development."
Mr Janssen also highlighted the value of encouraging the EU's cities and regions to launch or expand international partnerships. "Europe's cities and regions have a long tradition of finding partners in other countries," he said. "Twinning played an important social and practical part in Europe's post-war recovery, and across Europe there are local and regional authorities that have for decades been working with in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The CoR itself is showing that, by pooling our expertise, we can make a meaningful practical and political contribution to stabilising Libya. Early results from a similar pilot project in Ukraine are also promising. And, above all, with climate talks underway in Katowice, we should remember that the Covenant of Mayors created in Europe is now a global network that boosts hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change."
The CoR and the European Commission will on 4-5 February 2019 bring together cities and regions from Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia that are already engaged in international cooperation for development. The forum of Cities and Regions for Development Cooperation will the sixth biennial meeting of its kind.
The CoR's opinion welcomes plans for the EU to spend more on external policy in 2021-27, as well as the additional flexibility injected into its bilateral, multi-country and cross-border programming while underscoring that the EU's new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) must continue to serve the EU's long-established long-term development objectives. The recommendations highlight existing networks, platforms and alliances and existing EU tools – such as twinning, the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) instrument, and the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) – that could be more fully used to promote collaboration with cities and regions. Among international challenges to which the CoR believes regions and cities could usefully contribute are gender equality and the UN's Global Compact for Migration.
Most of the recommendations relate to the NDICI, which should be created by the merger of seven existing instruments and which should contain most of the funds that the EU spends outside the EU. The CoR, however, also refer to another budget line – the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance, available to would-be members of the EU – and praised it for setting "specific objectives reinforcing the effectiveness of public administration and supporting structural reforms and good governance at all levels, and supporting territorial and cross-border cooperation". In a separate opinion adopted on 6 December, the CoR identified ways in which the EU could encourage progress at the local and regional level in the Western Balkans.
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