How to advance decentralisation reform despite the Russian war

7 February 2023

The 4th edition of the annual EU-Eastern Partnership Local Leaders Forums on “How to advance decentralisation reform and localise the EU-EaP agenda” took place in Brussels on 2 December 2022. It was jointly organised by the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania (ALAL), the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG), the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) and PLATFORMA.

In the framework of the PLATFORMA Eastern Partnership programme, Local Leaders conducted a multilevel discussion on advancing decentralisation reform as a cornerstone of local democracy, stability, development, and a fundamental pillar to localising the EU-EaP agenda.

This year, one of the main focuses was the Russian war in Ukraine and the current rapidly developing situation in the region, but also decentralisation reforms in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and the necessary tools to accompany local governments and their associations in order to make sure that the successful decentralisation process is not harmed and will continue.

Conversations were built around three principal topics which are especially relevant to the region:

Assessing the implementation of the EU-EaP agenda in the context of the Russian war in Ukraine

The representatives from Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, the Secretariat of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and the European Commission took part in the debates and exchanged on the current difficult situation in the region. Participants shared their vision of the future Eastern Partnership.

For instance, they highlighted that the ability to adapt to the new reality must be the key approach and resource in the future, considering the aggressive policy pattern manifested by Russia not only in Ukraine. There is a need for acceleration in the EU integration process without affecting the quality of the process and its outcomes.

In this regard, quality will be granted only if local and regional governments are actively involved in all steps of the integration process, same for local-to-local  cooperation (EU-EaP). Towns and regions have an important role to play as a hub of expertise in developing and strengthening the know-how, especially when it comes to pre-accession period-related issues and topics such as the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy, good governance, and alignment with the EU legislation in general.

Decentralisation as a cornerstone of local democracy and resilience

Furthermore, speakers highlighted that decentralisation is a key approach to be further developed in the EaP, following the successful example of Romania since 2010, pushing municipalities to work with a cooperative approach and achieving in this way a positive goal of decreased costs and more developed expertise.

From the point of view of Georgia for instance, even if political polarisation might look like a more national subject, LRGs and local public institutions are the only true and sustainable answer to instability, and in order to develop their role in this sense, they should receive short and understandable suggestions and proposals for local authorities and local administration reforms. A good example in this sense has been the Georgian Decentralisation Strategy reform which had a big coverage on financial and fiscal decentralisation and will be assessed in early 2024.

Localising the green agenda in the Eastern Partnership

Regarding the localisation of the green agenda in the Eastern Partnership, the representative of the European Commission underlined that the EU executive would like to “export” the Green Deal approach also in EaP countries, making the green transition in the Eastern neighbourhood a reality.

A green economy should be the tool to combat environmental degradation, resource misuse and biodiversity loss. The use of fewer fossil fuels will make countries more independent, that’s why decarbonisation is now a key topic (also related to the energy crises and the Russian invasion of Ukraine). EU has the objective to reach climate neutrality by 2050, also for partner countries.

From the point of view of Moldova, managing public buildings in a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach, using green solutions, is a big trend that should be addressed now. At the same time, green housing and waste management are on the pipeline of topics to be addressed urgently and properly developed.

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