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Speech: Strengthening and empowering Ukraine through decentralisation

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/14/280   02/04/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Strengthening and empowering Ukraine through decentralisation

Plenary session of the Committee of Regions on Ukraine with the participation of the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman

Brussels, 2 April 2014

'President Valcárcel, Deputy Prime Minister Groysman, Mayor Abuladze,

Honourable Committee Members,

This is not the first time that I have come to this forum. The Committee of the Regions has always been very supportive of the Eastern Partnership, in particular through creating the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP). I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural session of CORLEAP in Poznan in September 2011. I am pleased that in the meantime, it has become a regular forum for cooperation and exchanges between regional and local authorities from the European Union and Partner countries.

The Eastern Partnership is more than an intergovernmental initiative. From its inception, participants at the 2009 Prague Summit agreed on the need for a policy that involves all interested stakeholders – governments, parliaments, regional and local authorities and civil society.

The involvement of these actors is indispensable if we wish to succeed in achieving the ambitious goals of the Eastern Partnership: close political association and deep economic integration. Meeting these two goals requires considerable efforts by partner countries to complete their transition to sustainable democracies and market oriented economies.

When we combine the efforts of governments, parliaments, civil society and regional and local authorities, we are much better placed to advance the democratic values on which the Eastern Partnership is based.

Today, it is an honour for me to attend this particularly important meeting, in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman.

In many ways, Ukraine has been a pilot case for solutions adopted later by other Eastern European Partners. For example, it was the first country to begin negotiations of the Association Agreement and to start implementing the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. At the same time, progress has not always been consistent. At times, we witnessed serious backtracking on a number of important issues, related to democratic governance and human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to profit from today's exchange with you to highlight three key messages for the new Ukrainian authorities:

First, Ukraine will not be left alone in its reform efforts. The European Commission adopted, in cooperation with International Financial Institutions, a support package for Ukraine on 5 March, worth 11 bln EUR. Following an agreement with the IMF, recently reached by the Ukrainian Government, the European Union will complement the IMF's stand-by arrangement with its macro-financial assistance of 1,6 bln EUR.

Political provisions of the Association Agreement were signed on 21 March. Pending signature and provisional application of the remaining provisions of the Agreement, including the DCFTA, unilateral trade preferences will soon be adopted by the European Union to open its market to Ukrainian goods immediately.

Last week, I visited Kyiv with my colleague, Commissioner Lewandowski and a high level delegation comprised of a significant number of Director Generals and Deputy Director Generals representing various areas of importance for reform.

Our visit resulted from the commitment of President Barroso to further step up our practical support to Ukraine for their urgently needed reforms. We have been able to develop, together with our Ukrainian counterparts, a practical tool to help guide Ukraine’s reforms on short and medium term priorities and our support for these reforms.

My second message is that these reforms and this support cannot succeed without grass-roots engagement at regional and local levels. For this reason the European Union has always emphasised the importance of local and regional authorities in shaping its policies.

This is what CORLEAP has always supported and should continue to support by exchanging best practice and experience of such reforms in European Union Member States.

Our financial backing demonstrates this approach, examples being the 2013 budget support of EUR 55 million for Ukraine's Regional Policy, targeting social, economic and territorial cohesion of Ukraine or the EUR 31 million we provided for Regional Development Policy in the past, covering capacity building and regional/local development programmes.

We will soon celebrate the 10th anniversary of accession of Central European countries. We have witnessed the key role of decentralisation in ensuring the success of their political and economic reforms. Genuine autonomy in managing the regional and local budgets, coupled with accountability to their constituencies, has sparked a quality change in the response of regional and local administrations to the communities' needs.

This engagement at local and regional level strengthens the European Union, fully respecting the subsidiarity principle which is the basis for regionalisation and which underlines the necessity to respect the competences of local and regional authorities within the European Union.

In Ukraine, there have been many announcements of similar reforms to come in the last decade. They have never materialised: the temptation to keep the vertical power has been too strong. Now, as you will certainly hear in more detail from Deputy Prime Minister Groysman, decentralisation reform features prominently in the programme of the new government. This is welcome.

My third message is about the concerns that are often expressed about the impact of decentralisation on the unity of the country. Let us make no mistake: decentralisation is not federalisation. There are many differences, some of which I have addressed in this speech. But the biggest one lies perhaps in the fact that whereas decentralisation is called for from inside Ukraine, federalisation is promoted by outsiders.

My deep conviction is that the impact of decentralisation can only be positive. In recent months, inhabitants of Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Luhansk and other Ukrainian cities have publicly shown their support for a united Ukraine. They deserve capable and accountable self-government to efficiently manage the economic and social development of their regions and cities. Genuine decentralisation reform, as proposed by the Government of Ukraine, will undoubtedly strengthen Ukrainian statehood.

At this very difficult time for Ukraine, let me be very clear about one thing. The Association Agreement is there to strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, to empower it and to enable it to deliver on its full potential.

It would help Ukraine to deeply root the values and principles on which the European Union is based. The Customs Union is a different project, from a different world. It undermines sovereignty and it builds on economic and trade relations based on subsidies controlled by Gazprom and the Kremlin. Political cooperation is based on the demands of Moscow. Events in Crimea, the illegal referendum and annexation, which I deeply deplore, are proof beyond any doubt.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A formidable amount of work lies ahead for both Ukraine and those who seek to support its integration efforts. I am therefore particularly pleased that, together with the International Financial Institutions, we have been able to propose a substantial support package to stabilise its fragile economic and financial situation and that work is now underway to allow us to mobilise the necessary resources and response over the coming months.

This support and the involvement of local and regional authorities will also contribute to the overall success of Ukrainian reforms and implementation of the Association Agreement. As the Foreign Affairs Council stated in its conclusions of 3 March, this Agreement does not constitute the final goal in European Union-Ukraine cooperation. It is now up to Ukraine to demonstrate what its ambitions are by vigorously and consistently undertaking the necessary reforms.

Thank you.'


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