The European Committee of the Regions has urged the European Union to focus more of its efforts and money in its neighbourhood on cooperation with local and regional authorities, as well as on local projects and civil society.
In an opinion adopted at its plenary session on 11 October, the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians welcomed the EU's new 'global strategy' and its revised European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) but argued that, at a time when the EU is "facing more crises than ever before", the ENP is under-funded. The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) emphasised "the role of LRAs [local and regional authorities] in entrenching democracy and the rule of law in society" and stated that the EU should strengthen "the rights and responsibilities" of sub-national administrations, as well as making more funds available to them.
The rapporteur, Anne Quart (DE/PES), the State Secretary for Europe in the Land of Brandenburg, said: "We must increase the visibility of ENP, focus more on civil-society activities at local and regional level, and ensure that there is sufficient funding. The purpose of ENP is to support political, economic and social reform processes of the countries in the EU's neighbourhood. For this to be more successful, the EU should draw more on the experiences of cities and regions, which, together with civil society, can give important pointers and share knowledge about how social and economic cohesion, and democratic systems and the rule of law, can be promoted at local and regional level."
The ENP covers 16 countries, of which 12 have agreed action plans with the EU. Algeria is currently negotiating an ENP action plan; Belarus, Libya and Syria remain outside most ENP structures.
In its recommendations, the CoR's calls for an increased focus on job creation and "promoting social rights", and identifies young people and women as "essential" to the development of countries in the EU's neighbourhood. It stresses the need for the EU to encourage more personal contacts, including through town twinning and an expansion of the EU's Erasmus programme for students. It argues that that EU's newly announced External Investment Plan should "tackle the root causes of migration" and that European regional and local authorities should be involved from "the very beginning in this process".
The opinion also highlights cooperation on energy issues, noting that many countries in the EU's neighbourhood are "significant suppliers" of energy to the EU. The opinion argues that the EU should help its neighbours develop energy infrastructure, improve energy efficiency, diversify their sources of energy, and encourage action to limit climate change. The CoR is urging local and regional authorities in the EU's southern and eastern neighbourhood to join the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a voluntary bottom-up initiative in which cities and regions agree to go beyond the EU's climate targets in exchange for technical support from the EU and eased access to EU funding.
1/ Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Vice-President of the European Commission, presented " A global strategy for European Union's Foreign and Security Policy " in June 2016. On 18 November 2015, the European Commission and the European External Action Service issued a joint communication on reform of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The ENP is chiefly a bilateral policy between the EU and each partner country. It is further enriched by regional cooperation initiatives — the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean. The European Committee of the Regions decided on 27 November 2015 to write an opinion on the revised ENP.
2/ The CoR is engaged in city and region-to-region diplomacy in much of the EU's neighbourhood, particularly through the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), and the Ukraine Task-Force. The opinion suggests that the European Commission and the EU's delegations could make greater use of these bodies.
3/ The CoR's opinion urges the EU to involve local and regional authorities and their associations in every phase of implementing the ENP, "from programming to democratic control", and to be given "permanent observer status" in the EU's Association Committees and Association Councils with neighbouring countries. It suggests that there should be a "contact partner" for local and regional authorities in the EU's delegations in the ENP countries. The concentration of ENP funding for cooperation at the national level should be "gradually reduced" and the EU should consider reviving its Local Administration Facility.
4/ The opinion states that "although it is necessary to make a distinction, balance must be maintained between the eastern and the southern neighbourhood", and that neighbours to the EU's south and east should share more of their experiences of cooperation with the EU. It calls for "sub-regional strategies that meet the very different challenges and situations in the southern neighbourhood", and suggests that, in the eastern neighbourhood, "new avenues explored in the latest agreements between the EU and Armenia" could be pursued in relations with Azerbaijan and Belarus. It notes the "particular importance" of "economic cooperation and political dialogue" with Russia, but points out that "normalising economic and political relations with Russia is dependent on the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement" intended to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.