While the previous opinion "Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy" contributed to the European Commission's consultation exercise towards detailing the proposals for the future direction of the ENP, this opinion would briefly re-iterate key messages, refer to developments since the adoption of the opinion in July 2015, including the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy and focus on the challenges and concerns in the implementation process of those policies at sub-national level.
Highlight that stability and cooperation within and outside the European Union is one of the five political priorities for the current CoR's mandate 2015-2020 and within this context, the CoR is set out to ensure that efforts to cooperate with our neighbours are founded on cooperation between local and regional authorities and people-to-people contact.
Underline the fact that regional and local authorities are not only key to sustainable implementation of reforms and policies, it is also necessary for them to be associated in the identification of priority areas for cooperation which will shape the future partnerships, in the sense of enhanced ownership.
Express the belief that strengthened cooperation in more concrete and targeted areas will increase the benefits of the implementation of the ENP and its Eastern and Southern dimension for partner countries and EU Members States alike.
• Reaffirm that local and regional cooperation brings a significant contribution to development and global stability. ARLEM and CORLEAP are the anchors to evidence on the ground in support of this message.
Outline the importance of cross-border cooperation, which enable the LRAs to benefit from real opportunities to implement concrete joint projects and programmes.
Emphasise that irrespective of the chosen degree of partnership with the EU, the overall objectives of local democracy and public administration reform, including through a process of decentralisation, should remain in focus for the contribution to the implementation of the policy at local and regional level.
Welcome that mobility and migration were taken up in the list of proposed joint priorities for cooperation.
Stress the importance of engaging with citizens on the necessity and benefits of policy implementation, of a closer relationship with the EU and among themselves, improving communication on access to funding and show-casing good practice.
Reiterate the request to develop a suitable mechanism to encourage dialogue, direct information exchange and transfer of know-how at the regional and local level in the partner countries.
Call for empowering local and regional authorities in order to enable them to act as impact multiplier.
After the adoption of the CoR Opinion on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, at the CoR plenary session of 10-12 October 2016, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted on 14 November a set of conclusions dedicated to the Eastern Partnership – the first since 2013.
Supporting the CoR's position according to which tangible results for citizens should be an overarching objective of the EaP, the Council's conclusions explicitly mention the need for local authorities to be involved in setting priorities in what regards cooperation with EaP countries. The Council also reaffirms the importance of engaging local authorities, civil society and youth organisations in the implementation of Association Agendas and Partnership Priorities, thus contributing to the democratic and economic transformation of the Partner countries. Other topics highlighted in the CoR Opinion such as the need to give priority to fight against corruption are also included in the Council's conclusions.
The findings of this Opinion are being reflected in the CoR contribution to the implementation of the ENP through the ongoing activities of CORLEAP, ARLEM and the Task Force Ukraine, and through its cooperation with the Congress of the Council of Europe.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- takes the view that promoting stability in its neighbourhood should be a top priority for the EU's external action, considering that a balance must be maintained between the eastern and the southern neighbourhood, and that the involvement of the neighbours of the neighbours, notably the Russian Federation, should also be considered in order to achieve the stabilisation of the neighbourhood;
- notes that good governance, the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights and democratic freedoms are fundamental for the stabilisation of the neighbourhood, stressing the need to tackle in the first place the socio-economic root causes of the current security and migration challenges, and to focus on the issues of job creation and youth employability;
- considers that the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) can only have an enduring impact if it brings practical benefits to the people of the EU Member States and of the ENP countries and emphasises that this requires a multilevel approach, from national to regional and local level as well as regional, sub-regional and cross-border cooperation;
- emphasises the role of local and regional authorities (LRAs) in entrenching democracy and the rule of law in society, urging more support to be provided for decentralising reforms in the neighbourhood countries, and to be given to national associations of LRAs so as to promote exchanges of experience between LRAs within the ENP countries;
- calls for the involvement of LRAs and their associations in every phase of the implementing the ENP – from programming to democratic control – considering that they should take part in the work of the Association Committees and Association Councils and be given permanent observer status;
- draws the attention to the engagement and potential of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) in relation to regional cooperation – notably through the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) and Ukraine Task Force;
- favours a significant expansion of the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) instrument, as well as of the Twinning programme, asking the Commission to provide not only political but also financial adequate support for activities led by the CoR and developed through ARLEM, CORLEAP and Ukraine Task Force.
- demands that EU financial resources must be adapted to target the needs of local and regional stakeholders, including by supporting small-scale projects and organising co-financing in a flexible way.
- calls the Commission to consider the possibility of bringing back the Local Administration Facility (LAF) used by the accession countries and broadening the scope of its use to the ENP countries with stricter reimbursement rules requiring more specific and more sustainable projects.