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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Speech at the inaugural session of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities of the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP)
Poznan, Poland, 8 September 2011
First of all I would like to thank you for inviting me to your inaugural session. I am happy that the Eastern Partnership is now complemented by the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities of the Eastern Partnership. I trust it will become a regular forum for cooperation and exchanges between regional and local authorities from the EU and EaP countries.
The Eastern Partnership was never conceived as only an intergovernmental initiative. From the beginning, participants to the Prague Summit in 2009 agreed that we need a policy that reaches out to, and involves, all interested stakeholders - governments, parliaments, regional and local authorities and civil society.
The involvement of all these actors is indispensable if we wish to succeed in achieving the ambitious goals of the EaP: close political association and deep economic integration.
To meet these two goals will require considerable efforts by the partner countries in completing their transition to sustainable democracies and market-oriented economies.
This is the time, to underline the importance of the democratic values on which the Eastern partnership is based.
When we can combine the efforts of governments, parliaments, civil society and regional and local authorities, we are better placed to advance those values. We are following the situation in Belarus closely and will continue stress the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and lend our support to the Belarusian people.
There is no true democracy without local democracy that allows people to feel that they can decide on the issues of their daily life. Hence I am very glad to see here representatives of the EaP Civil Society Forum which is already a well established element of the multilateral track of the EaP.
Deep reforms leading to the approximation of partners with European rules and standards play an important role in this process of transformation. They pose however a daunting challenge which has to be tackled by the whole society. No government is able to succeed in such an endeavour without broad support of the people.
The EU Member States have a long record of cooperation between local authorities and civil society organizations for the benefit of local communities. This is an approach that we are fostering through cross border cooperation programmes and I believe that this could be also on your agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Regional and local authorities are an important link between central administration and citizens. They also represent local communities and know their problems and specificities.
For this reason the EU has always emphasized the importance of involvement of local and regional authorities in shaping its policies. We also apply the same approach to our relations with Eastern partners and welcome the initiative of the Committee of the Regions in this regard.
At the EU level we have strongly encouraged such involvement. The EaP thematic Platform on Democracy, Good Governance and Stability, where the Committee of Regions is a permanent participant, is the forum where the regional development aspects of our initiative are discussed.
We are currently developing – in close collaboration with Eastern partners’ authorities Pilot Regional Development Programmes, with the overall budget of EUR 70 million.
The overarching aim is to promote regional development and social cohesion and help reduce partner countries’ socio-economic disparities. These programmes will therefore serve as an introduction in the EaP countries of the European concept of the regional development and will be based upon the EU Cohesion policy.
Further support will be given to this goal through the establishment of the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD).
Let me underline the importance we attach to supporting the regions on the border between the EU and our partners. Six of our Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) programmes focus on the regions bordering the EU and our Eastern partners or between our partners.
Overall, we are launching calls for proposals for the amount of more than EUR 400 million for the period of 2007-13. So far, the response to these calls for proposals has been excellent. We have received hundreds of applications. The first funds already have started to flow to the beneficiaries.
The general goal of these programmes is to support socio-economic development of local communities. But they aim also at facilitating contacts between people and exchanging of ideas across borders.
Building on the positive experience of our cooperation on the border, we are preparing to expand our programmes addressed to regional and local authorities in the Partner countries.
We are currently designing, in the framework of the multilateral track of the EaP, new programmes of territorial cooperation at the borders between the EaP countries. We have set aside some EUR 18 million over 2011-2013 for such pilot programmes. The first component of this action will focus on reinforcing the capacities of local and regional authorities to effectively manage and participate in these programmes.
As you see the EU interest in cooperation with the partner countries at local and regional level is constantly growing. The expertise of regional and local authorities through the CORLEAP could bring strong added value to the Eastern Partnership.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The EaP Summit in Warsaw will take place on 29-30 September 2011. The Summit will send a strong political signal of the EU’s determination to play a leading role in the EaP region and set an agenda for the next two years.
The recommendations which you adopt here will be submitted to the summit and will help set that agenda. I very much look forward to seeing your work.
Thank you very much for your attention.