The road to enlargement must be local
On 14 December 2023, EU member states took a historic decision for the future of the EU project: gathered in Brussels for the European Council, they decided to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova as well as to grant candidate status to Georgia. This decision marks a strong signal for the legitimacy of accession processes and their path to joining the EU family.
Beyond the positive impacts of enlargement for peace and security on the continent, accession can act as a key driver for the consolidation of local democracy, local autonomy and decentralisation reforms, crucial for the long-term sustainable development of territories.
However, the path to accession is a long and meticulous process requiring substantial transformation in governance, judiciary, and economic areas, among others, and where the involvement of all stakeholders will be crucial. In this context, it is important to recall that Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) constitute the backbone of our democracies, providing representativeness, delivering essential public services and ensuring policies are closely tied to the needs of their citizens. When it comes to the accession process, they are responsible for up to 70% of the implementation of the EU acquis. Therefore, EU institutions must commit to ensuring sound multi-level cooperation, policy dialogue, and involvement of LRGs at all stages of pre-negotiation and negotiation steps.
The PLATFORMA coalition welcomes the decision to open accession negotiations and remains committed to working in close collaboration with LRGs and their associations from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and their peers in Europe to accelerate the integration process, with particular attention given to decentralisation and public administration reforms.
Decentralised cooperation is strengthening the capabilities of local and regional governments
PLATFORMA recalls that decentralised cooperation emerges as a critical instrument in bolstering decentralisation efforts and public administration reforms in aspiring EU member states. Its diverse modalities, such as twinning arrangements, peer-to-peer exchanges, and capacity-building programs, serve as catalysts for strengthening the capabilities of local and regional governments. Such collaborations enhance their capacity to deliver high-quality public services, fortify governance structures, and facilitate the alignment with EU norms and standards. As such, associations of local and regional governments (LRGs), must be seen as vital partners and interlocutors to ensure coherent territorial reforms. As the first port of call for citizens, LRGs possess an intricate understanding of the diversity of their territories and their needs, as well as the capacity to leverage local expertise and enhance the effectiveness of decentralised cooperation.
However, it is also essential to recognise that soft interventions must be complemented by robust investment in infrastructure development. Adequate funding for critical infrastructure projects is indispensable for enabling LRGs to effectively implement EU standards and policies. Whether it involves upgrading public utilities, transportation networks, or digital infrastructure, investments must be seen as the bedrock for sustainable development and seamless integration into the EU framework.
Lastly, it is paramount to ensure that the enlargement process does not merely encompass national-level negotiations and agreements. The role of LRGs is not only pivotal in the implementation of EU policies but also in fostering a sense of ownership and commitment among the local and diverse communities within aspiring member states. Their proximity to and understanding of the challenges at territorial levels put them in the best position to ensure a much-needed human-centred approach capable of addressing citizens’ needs and fostering local sustainable development.
Since 2015, the PLATFORMA coalition operates a Neighbourhood East cluster, gathering associations of local and regional governments from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, and their EU peers, to foster the autonomy and competencies of LRGs in the three countries by creating a political dialogue at local, national, and European levels, and facilitating capacity-building and peer-learning between EaP local and regional governments and national associations, with EU peers.
 Committee of the Regions, Background note for the thematic debate on the role of local and regional authorities in the enlargement process, CIVEX Commission, September 2023.