How to support Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia on their path to joining the European Union?

30 September 2022
In the wake of Russia’s war of aggression, the people of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are more determined than ever to join the European Union. But how can this “Associated Trio” of countries, and in particular their local governments, be supported in implementing the sometimes difficult reforms necessary to become full members of the bloc?

Local leaders from across Europe gathered on Monday (26 September) during CEMR’s annual retreat to discuss the Trio’s challenges and prospects on the path to EU membership.

Fighting for freedom and Europe

In 2014 the EU signed bilateral association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. These agreements set the foundation for their political association and economic integration with the EU, and aim to foster democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance and economic development.

There is no questioning these nations’ determination to live the European dream. In Ukraine in particular, this has become a matter of life and death. “EU candidate status is very important for all of us“, said Nataliya Lazarenko, international cooperation manager of the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC). “People are dying for the sake of European values.

While these reforms must mostly be undertaken by the national government, the AUC is also pushing for reforms to ensure strong local democracy, in line with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Ms Lazarenko stressed that learning from EU countries’ success stories and mistakes during their European integration would be of great value to Ukrainian local governments.

Helping local governments make the most of the EU

Back in July, CEMR endorsed in formal Declaration a “Trio holistic approach” to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia’s accessions. Concretely, European local governments will continue to support their peers in these countries through peer exchanges, study visits and training to help them develop the skills and knowledge to make the reforms needed to harmonise with EU legislation and make the most of European funds.

Magda Kostava, member of Kutaisi City Council in Georgia, welcomed the opportunities for sharing guidance and good practices from European partners. “We know we have to work a lot to be the candidates and we are ready for that” she said. “We see our bright future here in Europe. CEMR is one of the big opportunities and platforms to help us to do the necessary work.

Alexandru Osadci, coordinator of international relations at the Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova (CALM), stressed that the pace of reforms in candidate countries had slowed down as a result of having to react to constant crises and reduced external funding. “We need to do much more than emergency ‘firefighting’ in response to these crises,” he said. “We need to adjust to the acquis communautaire, we need to implement the EU policies. The necessary reforms are the key issue in Moldova.

While local governments in Moldova have been steadfast in their support for European integration, the national government has often changed its composition and orientation. As a result, the political will to reform administration, justice and anti-corruption offices has been lacking. Furthermore, external funding is needed to undertake the costly reforms required by EU membership.

Dusica Perisic, executive director of the North-Macedonian local government association (ZELS), highlighted the fact that EU candidate status had facilitated cross-border cooperation with municipalities in neighbouring countries. While expressing the hope that North Macedonia would eventually join the EU, she warned that this would be a difficult winter with a loss of both funds and energy.

Annika Vaikla, councillor for Viimsi Municipality in Estonia, said that leaving the Soviet Union had enabled her country to embrace local democracy and fight corruption. Even the leaders of small villages now participate in municipal work and reducing corruption means local administrations are genuinely serving their citizens.

Vaikla also emphasised that Estonian municipalities are ready to share their experiences and good practices on how to prepare for EU membership. “We are so glad to help you and support you so can be among us“, she said.

Officials from the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) presented their study on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova’s prospects for joining the EU. The main takeaway from the session’s exchanges? Even though each of these countries will follow a different path towards the EU, local and regional governments’ efforts will will go very much in the same direction.
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