Mayors and regional elected representatives from the EU and Eastern Partnership countries have adopted political recommendations ahead of the forthcoming 3rd Eastern Partnership Summit of Heads of State giving new impetus to the initiative. Meeting yesterday in Vilnius, the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) agreed that in order to make a decisive difference in the Eastern Partnership's policies for citizens, local authorities must be involved as active partners in the Eastern Partnership strategy.
CORLEAP has worked for the pa st two years on a number of priority areas and focuses its recommendations on public administration reform, fiscal decentralisation and territorial cooperation.
Opening CORLEAP's third annual plenary session which was co-organised and took place in the framework of the Lithuanian EU Presidency, Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, President of the Committee of the Regions and CORLEAP co-chair, said: "We firmly believe that the moment for rethinking the Eastern Partnership has come. We need a new approach which considers the Eastern Partnership as an instrument to support all concerned countries in achieving modernisation and reform. Local and regional authorities can and are ready to make a substantial contribution to driving this change. The objective is to see the contribution of local government fully recognised but we also expect clear deliverables and tangible results from the upcoming Summit".
CORLEAP calls for concrete action in the three main areas identified as slowing down the development of local and regional democracy across Eastern Partner countries, namely:
a lack of financial autonomy and limited fiscal capacity;
the need for public administration reform which includes also local and regional authorities;
and limited territorial cooperation across the Eastern Partnership (EaP) space.
In this regard Dorin Chirtoacă, Mayor of Chişinău (Moldova) and CORLEAP co-chair, emphasised: "Public administration reform, fiscal decentralisation and territorial cooperation could have a strong effect on enhancing local and regional authorities' capacity. It could also improve the key issue of ensuring that EaP policy is more aligned to citizens' needs."
Also participating in the meeting, Andrius Krivas, Lithuanian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed the central role of local government in sustaining and strengthening the democratic process: "The Eastern Partnership is one the priorities of Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The valuable recommendations from this conference will make a real contribution in helping to successfully deliver the Eastern Partnership initiative. We strongly believe that the democratic transformation in Eastern Europe cannot be achieved without the sound functioning of local and regional authorities".
CORLEAP recommendations to the Heads of State Summit in Vilnius are backed by a comprehensive political report and call for:
the inclusion of local and regional authorities in the definition and implementation of EaP policies and strategies;
direct access to adequate financial instruments (European and national) for EaP countries' cities and regions together with the removal of existing barriers to spending such funds (e.g. incompatible public procurement rules). CORLEAP also pleads for the limitation, or even removal, of the co-financing requirements for local authorities within the EU aid programmes, as those requirements further hinder their limited financial capacities;
territorial cooperation to be recognised as a priority in the EaP. The European Commission is encouraged to support the further pooling of efforts in this respect;
the agreement to be signed by the EU Summit in November to explicitly state the key importance of local democracy and local autonomy.
The meeting also saw the nomination of Mamuka Abuladze, Member of the Rustavi City Assembly and President of the Georgian Association of Local Authorities, as new CORLEAP co-chair representing the EaP partner countries. In his speech, Mr Abuladze said that: "It is an honor to have been appointed co-chair. During my mandate I will seek to consolidate the excellent work already done by CORLEAP, in particular echoing the voice of local authorities within the European institutions and across national governments. Only together will be able to achieve our goals in order to foster local democracy and promote territorial cohesion". Mr Abuladze will also host the next CORLEAP plenary session in 2014 to be held in Tbilisi, Georgia.
CORLEAP will participate to the Vilnius Summit on 28-29 November 2013 where it will deliver its recommendations. Based on the Summit's conclusions CORLEAP will then develop its Action Plan for 2014-2015.
The Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) was established by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2011 to bring a regional and local dimension into the EU's Eastern Partnership. CORLEAP brings together 36 regional and local politicians - including 18 from the CoR representing the EU and 18 from the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). By involving the local and regional levels in the implementation of the EU's Eastern Partnership, the CoR aims to strengthen local and regional self-government in the partner countries and bring the Eastern Partnership closer to its citizens.