Mr. Jaroslav Hlinka (SK/PES) rapporteur of CoR opinion on EU Enlargement Package 2019 from the Committee of the Regions together with Mr. Boris Tonhauser (Technical adviser) visited North Macedonia during 09-10 September, where they had consultative meetings with the Mayor of Veles, Mr. Ace Kocevski (9 Sept.), with NALAS Secretariat, the Minister of local self-government (Mr. Goran Milevski) and the Mayor of Skopje, President of NALAS, Mr. Petre Shilegov.
The objective of visit was to get impressions/ opinions/assessments of important multipliers from the local and central government level about the decentralization process in North Macedonia and expectations as well as challenges and opportunities for local governments regarding the enlargement process.
NALAS shared the following recommendations crucial to be duly taken into consideration within the frame of the 2019 Enlargement Package in order to enhance the potential contribution of local governments within the enlargement process and to pave the way for their active involvement in the accession process as strategic stakeholders:
- MAP REA: NALAS considers the Regional Economic Area (REA) as an important milestone for the preparation of WB6 EU accession to support the transformation process in the Western Balkans offering a new impulse to the EU enlargement perspective. The Smart City concept is directly related to the digitalisation agenda of the Regional Economic Area. Local governments have the potential to contribute to improvement of quality public services tapping in the technological advancement. REA should therefore include activities to promote the trends and facilitate exchange with cities from EU member states, link experience of EU MS to challenges and opportunities in candidate countries and foster peer-to-peer on best practices.
- Bridge Funding Facility for local governments to be extended to all WB6 countries – In this regard, support for local governments to access available EU funds and ensure pre-financing of municipal projects through the establishment of a needs-oriented financial instrument would support local governments in preparation and implementation of EU funded projects. Here, a Bridge Funding mechanism could provide for:
- Covering temporary shortage of funds in the process of project implementation and
- Financing of ineligible costs, which are important in order to ensure the sustainability and integrity of a project.
- In order to enhance possibilities of municipalities with insufficient financial resources to participate in EU programmes and access EU funding, NALAS recommends the set-up of a Bridge Funding Facility for Local Governments in the region.
- Cohesion policy: An alternative Cohesion Fund facility for WB6 countries could play a crucial role in supporting our regions and rural areas to keep up with the transformations of the world around us (growing urban-rural divide, climate change, migration).
- Energy Efficiency/Climate change: extension of CoMo to WB6 – Climate Action and Energy Efficiency Plans at local level are of crucial importance for sustainable economic growth and development. In this context, the Covenant of Mayors, as a bottom-up movement, could be the driver for enabling cities and municipalities of WB6 countries to contribute to 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by localizing them. For this role, NALAS has obtained full support of Energy Cities and the CEMR. In fact, NALAS is in the best position to transfer the Covenant of Mayors model to the region since the network, as of 2010, is part of the CoMo Support Structure.
All interlocutors from North Macedonia highlighted the ongoing preparations of relaunching the decentralization process in Macedonia, which has been put on a halt since 2005, and expressed their expectations that the proposed devolution of competencies will benefit North Macedonia by and large and help local governments in their daily work to provide quality public services to their citizen.
The enlargement process has been seen as an opportunity to improve the living conditions of Macedonian citizen and to boost the necessary reforms to get the country on the road of inclusive and sustainable long-term development. Expectations were voiced that the EU Council vote in October will be in favour of opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and warned at the same time about the negative effects in case this approval will not be granted.