Despite positive recommendations by the European Commission, in October 2019, the European Council took the decision to postpone the starting date of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. The entire progressive family in the European Union strongly regrets this decision, as both countries had progressed considerably on their reform paths and deserved now to receive a positive signal from the Council.
As a consequence of the negative Council decision, the European Commission decided to revise its Enlargement policy and, on the 5th of February 2020, it put forward a proposal for a new methodology for European Enlargement forward, with the aim of making the enlargement process more credible, dynamic, predictable and political.
For our Group, enlargement has always been a top priority. For the second consecutive year, the PES Group has decided to take the lead on the discussions on the enlargement package within the European Committee of the Regions.
‟If we want to make the enlargement process more transparent and accountable, it is crucial to involve and empower local and regional levels of government in the accession process.” Our opinion is meant to send a crucial message to the Commission: ‟let's bring enlargement closer to the citizens”, underlined our member Jaroslav Hlinka, Mayor of Košice-South and our rapporteur for the Opinion on the Enlargement Package 2019.
The role of the European Union to act as a catalyst for political, social and economic progress relies on the contribution of mayors, governors as well as of local and regional councils, which are the closest level to address citizens.
The Commission, in its new methodology for European Enlargement, has called for a greater involvement of Member States. If, on the one hand, we welcome the greater participation of Member States in the process, we deeply regret, on the other, the absence of any reference to local and regional authorities, which are key actors in driving the process of reform in candidate countries.
First, it is at the level of regions and cities that European funds are effectively managed. Those funds could make a difference in ensuring social and economic cohesion in candidate countries. This is the reason why we strongly call on the Commission to increase the horizontal cooperation between regional and local authorities. Cooperation at local and regional levels of government between the EU and accession countries is fundamental to exchange best practices and to foster a process of peer-to-peer learning.
Moreover, we are seriously concerned about the legality and integrity of the electoral process in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey. If in the city of Mostar no local elections were held since 2008, in several Turkish cities the political will of citizens is simply reversed by arbitrary repressive means of the central government. Such actions are simply unacceptable! Our Group will continue to foster the quality of local democracy and the respect for the Rule of law as fundamental prerequisites in order to achieve economic growth, social as well as territorial cohesion, and finally join the EU.
Another crucial area in which candidate countries are called upon to act is the transition into a green economy. The PES Group welcomes the inclusion of the green agenda and sustainable connectivity as separate negotiation chapters. However, cities and municipalities are fundamental to ensure that a just transition that leaves no people and no places behind can happen. However, we regret the absence of a specific policy proposal to involve candidate countries’ local and regional governments in bottom-up initiatives and movements. Change starts from the bottom, not from the top.
"If we want to make the enlargement process more transparent and accountable, it is crucial to involve and empower local and regional levels of government in the accession process.
Let's bring enlargement closer to the citizens!"
— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) February 12, 2020
Thereof, the PES Group calls on the European Commission to include in its revised methodology:
- a greater inclusion of local and regional authorities, as the only way to make the enlargement process more transparent and accountable;
- a stronger focus on social and territorial cohesion, to be included as one of the negotiation chapters;
- a set of specific policy proposals to build local administrative capacities, in order to make local governments able to cope with EU standards and rules.
We, together with the S&D Group in the European Parliament, the Party of European Socialists and the wider progressive family, will work hard to make the voice of cities and regions heard in the future of the enlargement process. We will equally stand side by side with those countries that are striving for a more prosperous, democratic and inclusive future.