Local leaders from the European Union and Eastern Partnership have given their full backing to two sets of proposals on how to strengthen local economies in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, drawing particular attention to the potential stimulus provided by tailored partnerships beyond national capitals.
The reports were the central policy-linked results of this year's principal meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), which the CoR set up in 2010 as a means of sharing the experience of EU local and regional authorities. CORLEAP has gradually moved to concrete forms of collaboration, and policy debates in Kyiv were coupled with a session on EU financial assistance available to local and regional authorities in the Eastern Partnership, building on a study recently commissioned by the CoR. The study will also inform a CoR opinion on the EU's Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument; the rapporteur, Hans Janssen (NL/EPP), led debate in Kyiv on the topic.
In another example of CORLEAP's expanded engagement beyond the policy arena, CORLEAP members judged four strategies for countering disinformation presented by 28 young people from the Eastern Partnership countries. The plans – addressing scenarios of election fraud and false claims about diseases and secret deals – were developed in EU-funded and EU-organised workshops held in Kyiv on 23 September by Ruurd Oosterwoud from the Platform for Critical News Consumers (DROG) and Ijsbrand Terpstra of Leiden University. The winning team, led by Lilya Syamenchyk, a young Belarusian professional, developed a plan intended to counteract false claims of a disease in the fictional country of Corleapia.
The policy advice agreed by CORLEAP included recommendations on 'Economic cooperation and economic development at local level' drafted by Emin Yeritsyan, President of the Union of Communities of Armenia. Mr Yeritsyn said that reforms needed to foster decentralisation, to ease cooperation, to simplify paperwork, to bolster public-private partnerships, involve civil society, to encourage participatory budgeting, and to improve respect for the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
A critical component in the EU's policy approach should be to encourage cross-border partnerships, said Andris Jaunsleinis (LV/ALDE), CORLEAP's rapporteur on 'Facilitating sustainable municipal development through bilateral municipal cooperation', member of Ventspils Municipal Council, and former leader of Latvia's local-government association. He said that areas for cooperation between municipalities would need to be co-ordinated with the reform plans of individual countries' central governments, but he suggested that cooperation between EU and Eastern Partnership cities and regions – or between Eastern Partnership peers – could be particularly valuable in increasing fiscal decentralisation, easing civic participation, improving relations between central and local authorities, and fostering 'social sustainability'.
Several examples of municipal cooperation were highlighted in a meeting the following day, of the Ukraine Task-Force, which was co-created in 2014 by the CoR and Volodymyr Groysman, then Ukraine's minister for regional development and now the country's prime minister. One involves five in-depth partnerships created by EU cities and regions to provide political advice and technical expertise to Ukrainian local and regional authorities seeking to develop the local economy. The partnerships, which are co-funded by the EU's U-LEAD programme and the EU partners, were launched in March 2018 as a one-year pilot project. Another form of municipal cooperation that was discussed was the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative, through which the European Commission offers technical support for local communities interested in drawing up economic-development plans.
CORLEAP was invited to Kyiv by Volodymyr Prokopiv, head of Kyiv City Council and the co-chairman of CORLEAP for the past 12 months. The co-presidency of CORLEAP passes to Armenia on 1 October, with Mr Yeritsyan serving as co-chairman.