At the Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) held on 22 March 2018 in Brussels, the Committee presented the draft opinion on ”Enlargement: Inclusion of Western Balkan Local and Regional Authorities in the EU’s Macro-regional, Cross-border and other Transnational Cooperation Initiatives”, with participation of Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who had a Statement on the new EU Enlargement Strategy and debated with the members of the CoR.
The important and crucial role local and regional level play in the enlargement process was stressed during the Plenary Session, by the CoR President Karl-Heinz Lamberts, Commissioner Hahn, members of the political groups and the Special Rapporteur Franz Schausberger, responsible for the draft opinion on Enlargement.
Introducing Commissioner Hahn and opening the session dedicated to Enlargement, Mr. Lambertz mentioned the best practices local governments provide as support to the EU. To build capacities at local level was indicated as a crucial support. In this context, the elimination of the Local Administration Facility (LAF) is regrettable from the CoR point of view inviting the EU Commission to rethink it.
Commissioner Hahn rated local and regional governments’ support as decisive when it comes to the implementation and the sustainability of EU acquis. It is a process where taking over the acquis is one thing, but more important is their implementation.
He referred to the local governments as having an anchor role to play for stability by promoting socio-economic development and facilitating cross-border cooperation. Even though there is no EU acquis on the division of responsibilities between central and local level, and the Commission faces this fact as a difficulty when the issue comes up with external partners, the Commissioner expressed his conviction that strong local and regional governments can have positive impact on the countries’ development.
The Commissioner values partnerships with local governments. Due to their direct relationship with the citizens local and regional governments have an important role to play regarding the protection of EU policy and its standards with much potential at hand. The case for a bottom-up approach as a useful direction was made by Commissioner Hahn in the context of the local and regional level’s contribution with knowledge on the ground.
During the question-and-answer session with members of the political groups David Simmonds of the European Conservatives and Reformist Group clearly spoke in favour of a substantial role of Local Government Associations (LGAs) in the region. He called on the EU Commission for greater involvement of LGAs as a point of principle and a matter of political strategy to build good will and enthusiasm from the community upwards and considered this involvement as absolutely vital. Furthermore, participation of Associations through Macro-Regional Strategy would help generate Cross-Border-Cooperation.
Right in this context, special rapporteur Franz Schausberger mentioned NALAS as a very important Association in the region and made the stance for local associations being involved in capacity building of local administrations so that they can be actively involved in the enlargement process.
To see the video from the event, click HERE.