EU urged to add “fuel” to local democracy in neighbouring states

In a report entitled "Developing civic participation as a way to strengthen local democracy in the Eastern Partnership countries", the politicians argued that local and regional authorities are "well placed" to support the emergence of a strong civil society and to help ensure that the "uncertain and very remote prospect of joining the EU" does not weaken the democratisation, modernisation and Europeanisation of local communities.

The meeting, which was held in Brussels, brought together members of CORLEAP, the political forum of local and regional authorities from the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries. CORLEAP's EU members are drawn from the Committee of the Regions - the EU's assembly of regional and local politicians - while members from the Eastern Partnership countries are nationally appointed representatives of local and regional authorities.

Pawe? Adamowicz, the mayor of Gda?sk, who drew up the report, said that - as in the EU - citizens in the Eastern Partnership states have "more trust in local and regional authorities than in national authorities", and that local and regional administrations are therefore "extremely important" as "a link between the state and citizens".

There is a great deal of energy, strength and optimism in civil society in the Eastern Partnership, the mayor of Gda?sk said, "but some fuel is necessary", such as greater financial and structural support.

"Trust can be built from the bottom up," said Mr Adamowicz, urging cities and regions to learn more from each other, join international networks and address "identity issues".

There are many examples of "best practice" from Europe that could be shared with local authorities in the Eastern Partnership but "people do not know anything about them", Mr Adamowicz said, arguing that Poland's experience from the 1990s - when local authorities received support from Swedish, British and other cities - needed to be replicated. He suggested that local authorities from the six countries - and Turkey - to join the existing range of international forums. A "European identity" could emerge from the "current fragmented identity" in some countries by showing the ties that have linked cities and regions in these countries to Europe over history.

The report, which concluded with eight recommendations, drew partly on the results of a survey in the Eastern Partnership countries conducted by the European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA). Recommendations in the Adamowicz report include calls for a "substantial increase in EU support" for the region, recognition "to a much greater extent" of the importance of local communities, "thorough reform" of local government, an "intensification" of cooperation between local and regional authorities, increased support for local media, and promotion of "the shared democratic European heritage".

Mr Adamowicz's paper was the first report produced by CORLEAP, which was established in 2011 with the aim of boosting funding, reform, and good practice in sub-national administrations in the Eastern Partnership countries. The practical importance of CORLEAP continues to grow, since local and regional authorities must implement a large percentage of the EU rules to which Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova agreed when they signed up for deep and comprehensive free-trade agreements (DCFTA) in recent years.

The meeting on 30 September also marked the launch of work by CORLEAP on another report, on energy efficiency. The rapporteur, Emin Yeritsyan, the president of the Union of Communities of Armenia, said that national strategies frequently still lack references to the role of local and regional authorities, describing this as a "gap" that needs to be filled. Mr Yeritsyan, who is also a councillor in the community of Parakar, urged municipalities and communities in the Eastern Partnership to sign up to the Covenant of Mayors, a bottom-up initiative in which local and regional authorities agree to climate targets that are more ambitious than the EU's. In exchange, they can secure technical support from the European Commission and easier access to EU funding.

Tamar Taliashvili, a member of Tbilisi City Council, offered the example of the Georgian capital's efforts to increase energy efficiency. Tbilisi is now building energy-efficient kindergarten, retrofitting public buildings to improve energy efficiency by 20%-30%, and plans to use EU money to create a new fleet of eco-friendly buses.

Source: European Union