Energy efficiency in focus as local and regional leaders prepare for Eastern Partnership summit

The forum for regional and local authorities from the European Union and the EU's eastern neighbours – the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) – met in Belarus on 22 May for the first time since its launch by the European Committee of the Regions in 2011.

Debate at the meeting of CORLEAP's bureau in Minsk focused on energy efficiency and job creation, as part of a broader preparation by the CoR and local and regional administrations from Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine for a summit of the Eastern Partnership in November. CORLEAP is working to ensure that, at the summit, national leaders recognise the concerns and adopt the recommendations of local and regional authorities in a wide range of areas, including energy efficiency. In Minsk, CORLEAP's bureau discussed an report on obstacles to energy efficiency in the Eastern Partnership countries, which the rapporteur – Emin Yeritsyan, president of the Union of Communities of Armenia – identified as limited authority, insufficient government support, inadequate funding, and a lack of private-sector involvement in municipal energy-efficiency programmes.

"Our engagement in CORLEAP should ultimately benefit people, creating conditions for prosperous societies in the region," the president of the CoR, Markku Markkula, said. "European municipalities and regions stand ready to help their partners from the Eastern Partnership countries to develop policies that would bring them closer to the citizens and make local democracy work in an efficient way to the benefit of the society as a whole."

President Markkula said he believed that recommendations already adopted by CORLEAP – on "Developing civic participation as a way to strengthen local democracy in EaP countries" – stood a "good chance" of being reflected in the conclusions of the Eastern Partnership summit. The author of that report, Pawel Adamowicz, mayor of Gdansk, was in Minsk.

President Markkula thanked the hosts, saying that he took the invitation to Minsk "as a positive sign that Belarus appreciates the importance of local and regional administrations and that your country is open to the possibility of deeper partnership with cities and regions of the EU. As a local politician, I am firmly convinced that a strong country needs solid links with its rural and urban areas in order to close the gap with citizens and civil society."

Belarus currently hosts the rotating co-chairmanship of CORLEAP for the Eastern Partnership countries. The two preceding co-chairs were Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Belarusian co-chair is Aleksandr Popkov, vice-president of the Council for Cooperation of Local Self-Government Bodies in Belarus and former deputy prime minister. Mr Popkov also chairs the commission on regional policy and local self-government in the Council of the Republic, the upper house of the Belarusian parliament. Members of the Council of the Republic are representatives of their region. Also on 22 May, President Markkula held a bilateral meeting with the leader of the Council of the Republic, Mikhail Myasnikovich, who served as prime minister in 2010-14, while Oleg Kravchenko, one of four deputy foreign ministers, met members of CORLEAP's bureau. The programme for CoR members included a meeting with representatives from civil society.

Belarus will hold local elections in spring 2018. "As president of the European Committee of the Regions, I know that the foundation of good government – at the local, regional, national and European level – is the rule of law," President Markkula said. "So, with everyone I have met here in Minsk, I have emphasised that the local elections must be free and fair, meeting the international standard and therefore prepared with care. I hope that members of our institution will be invited back to Belarus for those elections, as part of a monitoring mission of the Council of Europe."

At the invitation of the Belarusian authorities, the CoR's president will meet the president of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, on 23 May.

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Last modified on Monday, 29 May 2017 18:19