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Brussels, 15 November 2012
Enlargement: Committee of the Regions brings together
The newly-established Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) between the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Montenegrin local authorities held its first meeting yesterday in Brussels. The JCC, which gathers CoR members and local representatives from Montenegro, aims to ensure that Montenegrin local authorities are involved in the enlargement process, in particular as regards the proper implementation of the EU acquis at local level. The new body is committed to ensuring a meaningful contribution to Montenegro's course towards full EU membership.
The inaugural meeting of the EU-Montenegro JCC comes at a timely moment in the EU political agenda. A few months after the opening of the accession negotiations with Montenegro and one month after the European Commission presented its progress report on the country's accession, the JCC was launched to complement the other joint structures within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Process aiming to pave the way to Montenegro’s integration into the EU.
Introducing the debate Stanisław Szwabski (PL/EA), Chairman of Gdynia City Council and co-chair of the JCC, underlined the objective underlying the new body: "The work of the JCC has the ambition to closely follow the enlargement process and the accession negotiations leading to Montenegro’s full membership of the EU. The JCC is a platform which should improve the effectiveness of dialogue between Montenegro and the EU and prepare representatives from local authorities in Montenegro for their eventual participation in the CoR. The JCC should also provide concrete input and expertise to the ongoing accession process".
In his opening statement the Montenegrin JCC co-chair, Miomir Mugoša, Mayor of Podgorica, stressed that: "the Union of Montenegrin Municipalities and the city of Podgorica have been fully devoted to the achievement of meeting EU membership criteria" but pointed out that they were still at the beginning of the process and that much remained to be done. He was also keen to emphasise the "real transformation, both visually and in terms of quality of life" that towns and cities in Montenegro, including the capital Podgorica, are now experiencing due to the accession prospect.
Speaking about the progress made by Montenegro towards accession Joost Korte, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enlargement, insisted on the: "importance of involving local and regional authorities in the EU accession process as they are an important link between central administration and citizens". In his view this has contributed to high support for enlargement within Montenegrin society and is to a large extent behind the progress expressed today. He further emphasised that the capacity of a country to meet the Copenhagen Criteria is determined by all levels of government, including regional and local administration. Presenting the European Commission's 2012 progress report in more detail, he underlined the overall good progress made by the country while encouraging further efforts to implement recently adopted legislation about territorial organisation and local self-government with a view to establishing transparent, efficient and accountable administration at local level.
The Ambassador and Head of the Mission of the Republic of Montenegro to the EU, Ivan D. Leković, expressed his hopes that the work of the EU-Montenegro JCC would act as an open forum for exchanging opinions, disseminating information and inspiring new initiatives so as to significantly contribute to the course of accession of Montenegro to the EU.
Luc Van den Brande (BE/EPP), chairman of the Flanders-Europe liaison agency and CoR rapporteur on the enlargement strategy and main challenges 2012-2013 referred to the role of subnational authorities in the enlargement process and emphasised that this role should not be limited to communication and implementation of the acquis. Bodies such as the CoR JCC aim to ensure a good involvement of local authorities from the partner countries, which are the first to be confronted by challenges across the board.
The meeting gave participants the opportunity to discuss the issue of increasing the absorption capacity of EU Pre-Accession funds at Montenegro's local level, which is a topical issue on the table of negotiations for the next financial framework and a key point in such a period of economic crisis. Aleksandar Bogdanović, Mayor of Cetinje and President of the Union of Municipalities of Montenegro, shared his expertise in this matter and stressed that since 2010, all Montenegrin municipalities had the opportunity to participate in EU-funded projects. In particular, he referred to the training of local authorities' staff on how to apply and implement EU projects and to ongoing inter-municipal projects.
JCC members also adopted the Committee's work programme for the next two years which, among others, includes as main topics for its activity the use of pre-accession funds, progress as regards decentralisation and local self-government, promotion of territorial and cross-border cooperation, and progress in the fields of fundamental rights, justice, governance, transparency and the fight against corruption.
The JCC is due to meet twice a year. It is composed of eight CoR members and an equal number of local representatives from the partner country.
The EU Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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